The Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave

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Wilderness Scene with Indian in Canoe

Buffalo Bill’s Wild West both romanticized the American frontier and celebrated its fall to civilization. This duality was reflected in Buffalo Bill’s life itself. Buffalo Bill loved the wide and wild plains, yet he advocated their settlement by the railroad, the farmer and, ultimately, the city. Buffalo Bill’s Wild West was a traveling memorial to a vanishing era.

Annie Oakley

Miss Annie Oakley was neither a Miss nor an Oakley. Born Phoebe Ann Moses, she married marksman Frank Butler in 1876, a year after she beat him in a shooting match in Oakley, Ohio. In 1882 she joined her husband’s traveling marksmanship act and assumed the stage name of Annie Oakley. Annie and Frank joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West in 1885. Skillful, attractive and a born actress, Annie quickly became a star performer with the show. With the exception of one season, Annie stayed with the Wild West for seventeen years.

Buffalo Bill and Salsbury Poster

Most people first saw Buffalo Bill’s Wild West on posters. Designed to build anticipation and excitement, the posters depicted the scenes and people the visitor would encounter.


Buffalo Bill Shooting Glass Balls

The high point of a visit to Buffalo Bill’s Wild West was seeing Buffalo Bill himself. A legend within his own time, he was the most famous remnant of the Old West. Like any show business figure, some of his fame was a result of good publicity. But much of his reputation was built on his true life experiences. Feats of skill, like shooting glass balls or coins from the air, showed that his prestige as a frontiersman was earned through skill and hard work.


Johnnie Baker

Johnnie Baker was nine years old when he met Buffalo Bill. Five years later, in 1883, he became an original member of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West. Soon Baker was nicknamed “The Cowboy Kid” and developed skills in marksmanship that nearly rivaled Annie Oakley. His unorthodox style of shooting was a popular feature of the Wild West. Buffalo Bill was very close to Johnnie Baker and referred to him as his foster son. Baker stayed with Buffalo Bill until Cody’s death in 1917.

Buffalo Bill and Pawnee Bill Portraits

In 1909 Buffalo Bill decided to join forces with his former employee and competitor Pawnee Bill. By this time, both shows utilized acts from other parts of the world in addition to acts from the American West. The resulting combination was renamed Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Pawnee Bill’s Far East. Buffalo Bill and Pawnee Bill continued as partners until 1913, when the combined show was forced to close due to debts.


Breaking Fractious Steeds

Buffalo Bill greatly admired the skills of the cowboys. He remarked, “ In this cattle driving business is exhibited some most magnificent horsemanship, for the ‘cow-boys,’ as they are called, are invariably skillful and fearless horsemen - in fact only a most expert rider could be a cow-boy, as it requires the greatest dexterity and daring in the saddle to cut a wild steer out of the herd.” His showcasing of those skills in the Wild West laid the groundwork for the modern rodeo.


Buffalo Bill Cody

The Indians, cowboys, vaqueros, and trick shooters like Annie Oakley were all very important to the success of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West. It was, however, Buffalo Bill himself who was the Wild West’s main draw and America’s first great celebrity.



While the cowboys and Indians remained popular with Wild West audiences, the addition of new groups such as the Cossacks helped keep up interest in the show. The Cossacks’ portion of the show took approximately 12 minutes but was greeted with enthusiasm. The Cossacks (actually riders from the country of Georgia) performed with the Wild West for twenty years.


Whirlwind Horsemen

Horse racing played a major role in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West. One feature was a race between expert riders of different ethnic backgrounds. When first begun in 1884, the race included a Mexican, a cowboy and an Indian. Ten years later the race had grown to also include an Arab, a Gaucho, and a Cossack. When Buffalo Bill’s Wild West combined with Pawnee Bill’s Far East in 1909 the horse race continued as a popular feature.


The American

Suppressed by the government on reservations, the Plains Indian culture received top billing at Buffalo Bill’s Wild West. Audiences in America and Europe could watch a tepee being pitched; meet Indian men, women and children; and see mock battles re-created in the arena. William F. Cody sought to educate and entertain audiences with glimpses of life among the original Americans.

Football on Horseback

After nearly 30 years of Wild West re-enactments, American audiences demanded new acts. Football on horseback was added in 1909 in an effort to appeal to the public’s growing interest in spectator sports. The arrows and bullets of earlier confrontations between cowboys and Indians were replaced by a large ball which was pushed back and forth in the arena.

Buffalo Bill’s Rough Riders

William F. Cody gained much of his fame while serving the Fifth U.S. Cavalry as a scout during the Indian Wars. By the time he organized his Wild West show he was no longer working for the Army. Nevertheless he had many friends in the Army and retained a deep affection for it. From 1897 until it closed in 1913, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West included demonstrations of horsemanship by veterans of the Sixth U.S. Cavalry.


Bevy of Wild West Girls

Buffalo Bill felt that women should vote and have equal rights to men. His Wild West also conveyed the message that a woman could do anything a man could. This included wearing trousers, riding bucking broncos and riding at breakneck speeds while sitting on a regular saddle. Even Annie Oakley, the most lady-like performer in the Wild West, was able to outshoot every male challenger.



Many of the cowboys’ skills originated with the Mexican vaqueros. Exhibitions of riding by brothers Antonio and Jose Esquivel and rope tricks by Vincente Oropeza were a very popular part of the Wild West. Oropeza, pictured on this poster, inspired Will Rogers to begin his career as a roper.


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