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A crowd gathers under the grandstand to watch Buffalo Bill’s Wild West. P.6.0117.1

A special exhibition on view in our McCracken Research Library

Our McCracken Research Library presents the special exhibition, Best Seats on the Grounds: Behind the Scenes of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, as a companion to the larger exhibition, Advertising the Frontier Myth: Poster Art of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West.

Through the McCracken’s photograph and manuscript collections, venture behind the scenes of those posters: Meet the people who inspired the marketing team that made the Wild West famous around the world. And explore backstage life for the performers and the advertising crew.

Best Seats on the Grounds is on view in the Shiebler Family Library Gallery, adjacent to Advertising the Frontier Myth in the Center’s Lower Level through late 2024.

This ticket, issued by W.F. Cody himself, grants admission to the 1909 season of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West & Pawnee Bill’s Far East show, promising the “best seats on the grounds” to a “Mr. Cottle & wife.” MS6.4075.54.6

A few exhibition highlights

A photograph of the Wild West’s arena and show tents in Germany—along with the arriving spectators—inspired a show poster depicting the same scene.

⇑  Wild West “actual scene” poster. 1.69.6688
⇐ Wild West arena and grounds photograph. P.69.1512

Poster of Iron Tail, with Buffalo Bill & Pawnee Bill shows, ca. 1912. Original Buffalo Bill Collection. 1.69.50

Wild West cast members enjoyed playing games during their free time. Below, a performer who may be Oglala Lakota Chief Iron Tail plays ping pong with a fellow castmate as Joe Black Fox and a group Native performers, cowboys, vaqueros, and Cossacks watch the match. The poster featuring Iron Tail is on view in the Advertising the Frontier Myth exhibition.

Advertising brigade in Scotland

In 1904, the advertising team for Buffalo Bill’s Wild West papered their wagon with show posters for a Sunday drive to see the birthplace of poet Robert Burns in South Ayrshire, Scotland. (MS6.3678.092.00)

Men's dressing room tent

Male cast members of the Wild West show gather in the dressing room tent in 1897. Performers in the photograph include Cossacks and cavalry riders. ( P.6.0099)

Bloomberg Connects logo
Explore More through Bloomberg Connects!

Find even more “behind-the-scenes” photos and documents through the McCracken’s new digital guide, just launched through Bloomberg Connects, a free arts and culture app created by Bloomberg Philanthropies. Simply download it via this QR code to get started!

In addition to the virtual version of Best Seats on the Grounds, the app includes archived exhibitions, a rare book spotlight, and much more—even some helpful tips on how to care for your own family papers and photos.

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