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Advertising the Frontier Myth:
Poster Art of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West

A special exhibition on view in our Anne & Charles Duncan Special Exhibition Gallery
What comes to mind when you think of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West?

Skilled riders on horseback, sharpshooters performing impressive tricks, dramatic reenactments of real and mythic moments in western American history? These and other compelling images were used in Wild West advertisements. They influenced the first—and lasting—impressions of the fascinating spectacle. 

Posters of “Marvelous Marksman” Johnnie Baker, range and ranch saddle horses, and a French version of “Attack on the Stagecoach.” 1.69.18, 1.69.2701, 1.69.6022

Buffalo Bill’s Wild West gained and retains its recognition due in part to the popularity of its namesake, but also due to its tremendous marketing success. Cody’s team of marketers, led by Major “Arizona John” Burke, produced countless posters highlighting the presentation’s scale and drama. 

Our poster collection now includes more than 300 originals, from smaller posters for window display to enormous billboard-sized works. This special exhibition, Advertising the Frontier Myth: Poster Art of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, invites you to explore the captivating world of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West. Be the first to see our finest selections and newest acquisitions. 

The exhibition is based on the award-winning book, Art and Advertising in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West (2019), by guest curator Dr. Michelle Anne Delaney of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian.

Advertising the Frontier Myth opened in the Center’s Anne & Charles Duncan Special Exhibition Gallery on May 18 and runs through October 24, 2024. The exhibition is supported with partial funding by Wyoming Humanities.

Hon. W.F. Cody “Buffalo Bill,” H.A. Thomas & Wylie, NY. Gift of Naoma Tate and the Family of Hal Tate. 1.69.6662

Buffalo Bill Center of the West logo

Read our news release announcing the exhibition, Advertising the Frontier Myth: Poster Art of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West.

Check out Wyoming Public Media’s story about this exciting new exhibition at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West.

A Sampling of Posters

Featuring posters from the esteemed Jack Rennert Collection, generously acquired through Naoma Tate and the Family of Hal Tate, alongside treasures from the Center of the West’s own extensive holdings, this exhibition boasts more than thirty large-scale vintage posters, original photographs, and engaging interactives. Here is just a sampling of posters.

Posters for Buffalo Bill’s Wild West displayed on billboards and buildings enticed audiences to attend the show. L–R: London, England, 1902; Italy, 1906; Scotland, 1904. MS 392 Harrison H. Gunning Collection, McCracken Research Library. P.392.008, 006, 009

Unique Scenes

Amongst the posters you’ll occasionally find an unexpected act from the show. While “football on horseback” didn’t exactly catch on, it appeared in the 1908 Wild West program, which billed it this way: “The newest form of equestrian sport, played under special rules and now seen for the first time in any arena. There will be no bloodshed, no call for ambulances, but plenty of horseplay.”
Wild West and Great Far East poster advertising "Football on Horseback," ca. 1908. U.S. Lithograph Co., Russell-Morgan Print. Gift of Naoma Tate and Family of Hal Tate. 1.69.6521
Football on Horseback in the Wild West arena. MS 047 David R. Phillips Collection. PN.47.26

These two works show poster art shared between publishers. Can you sleuth out the subtle differences? This “Museum Minute” podcast may help!

A Dramatic Scene

While many of us think of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West as focusing exclusively on scenes about the American frontier, some recreated contemporary scenes. In this “Museum Minute” podcast from Wyoming Public Media’s Olivia Weitz, Buffalo Bill Museum Curator Jeremy Johnston talks about this poster called “The Military Pageant – Preparedness” from 1916.

Poster, Military Pageant "Preparedness," 1916. 1.69.2035

Related Exhibitions

Guns of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Performers & Other Cowboy Acts
You’ll find a related exhibition in our Cody Firearms Museum! Performances of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West used firearms to tell stories and wow audiences with shooting feats. The guns in this exhibit were used by the performers of the Wild West or similar shows. More posters depict those performers posed with firearm in hand. Find Guns of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Performers & Other Cowboy Acts in the Firearms Museum’s special exhibition gallery, or click the bottom below for some highlights.
Best Seats on the Grounds: Behind the Scenes of Buffalo Bill's Wild West

And visit our McCracken Research Library’s Shiebler Family Gallery for Best Seats on the Grounds: Behind the Scenes of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West. Through photograph and manuscript collections, venture behind the scenes of the posters in Advertising the Frontier Myth. 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.

BUFFALO BILL CENTER OF THE WEST ◦ 720 Sheridan Avenue ◦ Cody, WY 82414 ◦ 307-587-4771Contact Us
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