One of the highlights of Buffalo Bills Wild West was when the troupe performed in Paris France. After their fascinating success touring the United States, the group sailed to Europe and played a number of cities on the continent.Their original performances in England during 1887 paved the way for a much larger tour which included a six month engagement in France. The world was ready and eager to see these old west shows.
The tour in England had coincided with Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee celebration and the Buffalo Bill Cody planned his French tour to take place during the Exposition Universelle in Paris during 1889. The Paris Exposition commemorated the one hundred year anniversary of the Storming of the Bastille, a somewhat similar event to the one hundred year anniversary of the United States. William Cody Buffalo Bill gained the reputation of being an excellent showman. This was not only for his performances in the arena but equally so for his skill in building publicity. Cody’s worldwide reputation along with an advertising blitz created an overwhelming response from the French. The opening performance alone drew some 10,000 spectators including Sadi Carnot, the French President. The French newspapers were filled every day with accounts of the Wild West and its performers. The Indians, just as in England, had attracted huge attention. As if their presence in France wasn’t enough, the French press put out large stories of Cody’s Indians climbing the famed Eiffel Tower.The public domain photo below shows the Eiffel Tower under construction in July 1888.
The French engineer Gustave Eiffel won a contest to build a gigantic tower as the spectacular centerpiece of the 1889 Exposition Universelle and Cody’s Indians surely would have been the first Native Americans to ascend this symbolic tower. The very act of touching the Indians became a popular pastime for young French couple in particular who thought such contact would assure fertility. French children were so thrilled by the Wild West and it’s authentic American Indians that they set up their own wild west encampment in the Bois de Boulogne. Everything in the Wild West show was intriguing to the Parisians of the time including the wild west buffalo itself.
All throughout the summer of 1889, as Buffalo Bill performed during the Exposition Universelle, it almost appeared that the Wild West was the main event in Paris rather than the Exposition itself. One side note to the Wild West’s tour of France involved Buffalo Cody trying to present a special gift to the French president. The gift was a nine foot tall lamp with a preserved bison head at the top. The lamp shade was scarlet red. While the gesture was surely meant as a compliment, the French president declined the offer. It’s not clear what happened to the intended gift after that.
Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, featuring among others, the famous sharpshooter Annie Oakley and a full contingent of Native Americans, thrilled Parisians at the same time that Thomas Edison, come to promote his new talking phonograph in Europe. Clearly the excitement of the American frontier coupled with advances in science and engineering, such as Eiffels Tower and Edison’s inventions made the Exposition Universelle a showcase of the old and new.
Another historical side note regarding the Wild West’s performances in Paris involved that of Annie Oakley.Two years prior in 1887, Oakley had quit the show amid poor relations with the show’s other female sharpshooter, Lillian Smith, almost ten years younger than Oakley. By 1889 Smith had also quit the Wild West and Buffalo Bill was successful in persuading Annie Oakley to rejoin his group for their upcoming tour of Europe.
After the Wild West performed in Paris they moved through southern France and then onto Spain for sold out performances there. The Buffalo Bill show and all it’s advance publicity headed south.
The story of American old west frontier history has proved to be a lasting attraction. Today, in the 21st century, visitors to the Disneyland Paris show can see a sort of reenactment of what Buffalo Bill Cody brought to France over one hundred years ago. Now, twice daily, a man by the name of Trent Vance (Vance plays Buffalo Bill Cody) heads up a cast of up to 70 cowboys, Indians, bison, longhorn cattle, horses and a donkey in a 90-minute dinner performance portrayed just like Buffalo Bill’s Wild West shows. The show includes chuckwagon scenes, a buffalo chase, rodeo games and a stagecoach attack along with other frontier acts. Named appropriately, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, there are two performances nightly and includes dinner. Disney’s knowledge of Buffalo Bill Cody goes all the way back to Walt Disney himself, who saw Buffalo Bill in a parade that came through Disney’s boyhood hometown of Marceline, Missouri.
Aside from attending the new Wild West at Disneyland in Paris, many artifacts and records can be seen at two Buffalo Bill Cody museums in the United States. One is the Buffal Bill Historical Center in Cody Wyoming just east of Yellowstone National Park. The other is at the Buffalo Bill Museum in Golden Colorado. The Buffalo Bill Museum’s Golden Colorado exhibits include memorabilia from Buffalo Bill’s life and Wild West shows, Native American artifacts, a large collection of antique firearms and other Old West artifacts. Golden Colorado is also the grave site of William Cody.