Buffalo Bill’s Wild West traveled for some 30 years, both in the U.S. and in Europe. As with all such extravaganzas, marketing was a given. Aside from so-called “earned media” in the popular press, promotional posters—similar to the billboards of today—advertised all that audiences would see within the show’s arena. Fortunately, the Buffalo Bill Center of the West has dozens of these posters for the 21st century audience to peruse.
The posters depicted reenactments of historical events like Custer’s Last Stand and the Pine Ridge Peace Treaty of 1891. Other acts included an attack on the Deadwood Stage, Battle of Summit Springs, Great Train Robbery, and the Pony Express. Still other posters focused on the horse-riding demonstrations by Cossacks, vaqueros, gauchos, and Arabs.
And just to be sure that everyone knew the show was more than a flash-in-the-pan, a handful of posters boasted the dignitaries who had seen the show. Yes, William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody was a name-dropper—Kings and Queens (including Queen Victoria); Prince and Princess of Wales; assorted duchesses, princesses, and countesses; and the U.S. Generals under which Cody had served. Humor and fun were subjects of other posters, too, including a football game played with horses. The idea was that people would see a poster and simply have to shell out their 50¢ for the show; they certainly didn’t want to be the only people in town who hadn’t seen Buffalo Bill’s Wild West.
I recently learned about two other posters in which Buffalo Bill used his Wild West to perform public service. A Marine Feature in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West actually depicts a sea rescue, but on dry land! A man stands high on a platform much like the mast of a ship. A cannon shoots a line in his direction, and then the men on the “ground” use a pulley affair to transfer the “breeches buoy” that will carry the rescue-ee back to land. The whole thing reminded me of today’s zip line.
Another poster, titled Preparedness, featured the U.S. Field Artillery in “expert [team] driving and whirlwind battery drills.” Buffalo Bill wanted to showcase the readiness of America’s military—just like some present-day world leaders .