Wild West Shows

Wild West Shows became an enormous entertainment attraction well into the early Twentieth Century, particularly in the Eastern American cities. At the same time the real frontier was coming to a close, Eastern cities were filling up with native-born Americans and European immigrants who were wholly unfamiliar with the unique American frontier experience.

Buffalo Bill and others gave it to them in the form of vaudeville-style theatrics that forever mythologized the West with their presentation of that rapidly vanishing way of life. Buffalo Bill even took his show to Europe in 1886, to wild acclaim.

The first and prototypical wild west show was Buffalo Bill's, formed in 1883 and lasting until 1913. The shows introduced many western performers and personalities, and a romanticized version of the American Old West, to a wide audience with many different members.
In 1883 the very first performance of the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show was conducted in Omaha, Nebraska. Before long Cody had a well-established formula for success. Historical reenactments were a large part of the Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show.

Specific historical events included the Lewis and Clark Expedition, The Battle of Little Bighorn, and many other battles from the Plains Wars. But the show also performed generic fictionalized events of typical Western life, such as the buffalo hunt, a train robbery, or a wagon train crossing the prairie. These reenactments were combined with displays of marksmanship and skill with rope and horse and included hundreds of live animals such as rodeo stock, buffalo, longhorn steers, and even deer.

Male Heroes

William Frederick Cody (Buffalo Bill)
Buck Taylor
Dr. W.F. Carver
Pawnee Bill
"Buckskin Joe" Hoyt
Mexican Joe
Bill Pickett - the famous bulldogger from the 101 Ranch Wild West Show - his brothers
Voter Hall - billed as a "Feejee Indian from Africa"
Antonio Esquibel and Esquivel Brothers from San Antonio
Will Rogers
Tom Mix
James Lawson
Bill Pickett
Jess Willard
Capt. Adam Bogardus
Buck Taylor
Ralph and Nan Lohse
"Capt. Waterman and his Trained Buffalo"
Wild Bill Hickok
Johnny Baker (nicknamed the “Cowboy Kid”)

Native Americans

Red Cloud
Sitting Bull
Yellow Hair (Yellowhand)
Chief Joseph


Calamity Jane
Luella-Forepaugh Fish
the Kemp Sisters,
May Lillie
Lucille Mulhall
Annie Oakley (Phoebe Ann Moses), the Peerless Lady Wing-Shot” also named “Little Sure Shot” by Chief Sitting Bull.
Lillian Smith
Tillie Baldwin
Texas Rose
Bessie and Della Ferell
Calamity Jane (Martha Cannary)


Lee Martin
Buck Taylor (dubbed “The First Cowboy King”)
Bronco Bill
James Lawson ("The Roper")
Bill Bullock
Tim Clayton
Coyote Bill
Bridle Bill

Sharp Shooters

Buffalo Bill
Annie Oakley
Lillian Smith
Seth Clover
Frank Butler

Popular Shows

Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show - The first and most popular wild west show of all time.

Congress of Rough Riders of the World - The Congress of Rough Riders was composed of marksman from around the world, including the future President Theodore Roosevelt, who marched through the parade on horseback.

Article Index:

Gordon W. Lillie, better known as Pawnee Bill

Gordon William Lillie was born February 14, 1860, to Susan and Newton Lillie in Bloomington, Illinois. Newton Lillie owned and operated a flour mill and was considered one of the prosperous citizens of Bloomington.

Gordon, the oldest of four children (siblings Lena, Effie, and Albert), worked in the flour mill after school and on weekends. Gordon spent his free time reading dime novels about the Old West and Buffalo Bill.

List of Famous Wild West Shows

Most of the “Wild West Shows” did not include the word “show” in their name since the term indicated that the performers were simply acting. Terms like “exposition” or “exhibition” were commonly used to indicate that the spectacles were authentic ethnographic examples of people from the true Wild West.

William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody

William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody was born just west of the Mississippi River near LeClaire, Iowa, on February 26, 1846. By the end of his life, he had come to symbolize the American frontier itself.