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The book, ‘Buffalo Bill’s America’, is an historical account of the legendary William Cody and the ‘Wild West show’. The author, Louis Warren, attempts to reconstruct Cody’s persona by giving a detailed account of Cody’s heroic exploits during his career. The three-part book covers the life of the infamous Buffalo Bill Cody and his popular entertainment show, the “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West” that focused on American prosperity in the 19th Century (Warren 8).
In the first section, Warren traces the origins of the Wild West show and its influence on Cody’s early life. In the second section, he describes the evolution of Cody’s Wild West show and his exploits during his adventures in America and beyond.
In the third and final section, the author narrates the fall of Bill Cody in the early 1900s, his devastating divorce in 1904, the collapse of his mining business in Arizona and the fall of the World West show. Also, in this section, the author links Cody’s eventual downfall in the early 20th Century to unpopularity of his mythical strategies.
Important Lessons a Reader can Learn from the Book
After reading the book, the theme of American prosperity and civilization in the 19th Century becomes clear to the reader. Warren describes how Cody teamed up with a gifted publicist, John Burke and a popular promoter, Nate Salsbury, to attract the American bourgeoisie by depicting their show as an epitome of American progress (172).
The promotional material described “’Buffalo Bill’s Wild West’ as not a show in the theatrical sense of the term, but an exposition of the progress of civilization” (Warren 156). The reader gets the impression that Cody’s show enlightened the audience about the rich history of the American West.
Another important theme in this book is the merging of diverse cultures and the multiculturalism that characterized the Wild West heritage in the 19th Century. The author explains how Cody ‘inverted’ everything in his shows by presenting the British as the innocent and the native tribes as the rebels.
Warren writes that “gunpowder entertainment and Indian wars” characterized Cody’s entertainment show, which is an indication of the merging of cultures (172). Cody showcased the Western heritage, including buffaloes and horses, wars, fires and cyclones, which appealed to both the Native Americans and Europeans. The packaging of his shows tells the reader about the attitudes of his audience towards labor strife, gender relations and race, which characterized the Wild West’s past.
How the Author Communicated His Message
Warren employs a number of strategies in his book to create a balanced portrayal of Cody. Cody’s life, career and exploits are largely mythical. To differentiate truth from fiction, Warren delves into Cody’s love life, his marriage in Kansas and the role his family played in his show business.
According to Warren, the desire to appear authentic and appeal to his early clients (white families) motivated William Cody to marry and start a family life (117). By exploring Cody’s marriage and his subsequent divorce, Warren succeeds in separating truth from the myths that surrounded Cody’s life and colorful career.
Warren also chronicles Cody’s life through various social, economic and political contexts, which characterized the 19th Century. Instead of discrediting his false exploits, Warren seeks to understand Cody’s deeds from his perspective.
Warren traces Cody’s journey through many contexts, including his Wild frontier experiences as a gold seeker, an Indian fighter, a soldier, an entrepreneur and a scout, which became embodied in the legendary Cody Buffalo Bull. In this way, the author identifies plausible items in Cody’s achievements and separates them from fictitious deeds.
For example, Warren regards Cody’s assertion that, as a boy, he rode for a horse-race (Pony express) as false, but regards his claim that, in 1876, he helped solders mounted on horses cross the border between Nebraska and Wyoming as authentic (98). The author’s approach helps demystify Cody’s life and accomplishments.
What the Author was Trying to Do
The author explores Cody’s life and career, which were shrouded in mystery, in a bid to unearth the truth. He examines each aspect of Cody’s show and delves into his family life in a bid to reconstruct Cody’s true persona, which embodied the Wild West. More importantly, in his search for the truth, Warren attempts to tell the readers about the attitudes and values of the 19th Century audiences.
His account of Cody’s exploits tells the readers about incompatible societal attitudes towards issues of race, industrial relations and masculinity in the 19th Century America. Warren contends that Cody’s performance, which involved cowboys and cowgirls riding horses, was a show of “the superiority of the white people in the making of domestic space and in settling” (175).
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He further explains that Cody’s riders, who were drawn from the immigrant communities, “reinforced the white supremacy as the culmination of world history” (181). In this regard, Warren achieves two things; first, he reconstructs Cody’s actual persona, his show and exploits, and second, he communicates to the readers the history of multiculturalism in the Wild West.
Warren, Louis. Buffalo Bill’s America: William Cody and the Wild West Show. New York: Vintage, 2006.