Wild West Shows

Author: Paul Reddin
Paper – $39
Publication Date
Paperback: 01/01/1999
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About the Book

The Wild West: a term that conjures up pictures of wagon trains, unspoiled prairies, Indians, rough 'n' ready cowboys, roundups, and buffalo herds. Where did this collection of images come from?Paul Reddin exposes the mythology of the American frontier as a carefully crafted product of the Wild West show. Focusing on such pivotal figures as George Catlin, Buffalo Bill Cody, and Tom Mix, Reddin traces the rise and fall of a popular entertainment shaped out of the "raw material of America."

Buffalo Bill and other entertainers capitalized on public fascination with the danger, heroism, and courage associated with the frontier by continually modifying their presentation of the West to suit their audiences. Thus the Wild West show, contrary to its own claims of accuracy and authenticity, was highly selective in its representations of the West as well as widely influential in shaping the public image of life on the Great Plains.

A uniquely American entertainment—colorful, energetic, unabashed, and, as Reddin demonstrates, self-made—the Wild West show exerted an appeal that was all but irresistible to a public hovering uncertainly between industrial progress and nostalgia for a romanticized past.


"Historian Reddin . . . kicks up the dust with this fast-paced and fact-packed book on how Wild West shows from the 1830s through the 1930s capitalized on new methods of mass entertainment and presented the American West as the essence of 'national character.'. . . With a sure eye and a steady hand, Reddin hits the mark every time in his insightful and very readable book." — Library Journal

"With acute historical insight, Reddin examines the contribution not only of Catlin and Mix but, most fully, William 'Buffalo Bill' Cody and the Miller brothers 101Ranch show. . . . Reddin's book offers analysis and scope missing in these volumes; it is superior for the shades of meaning and thematic discussions that the author expertly explores beyond the stated essence." — Choice

"A work of prodigious learning. . . . The author has delightfully crafted a history of a uniquely American entertainment." -- L. G. Moses, Western Historical Quarterly

"Very thorough research. Fresh readings using new material." — Silver City Press

"An important history of wild west shows . . . equally valuable for its contribution to ongoing debates about the meaning and function of American mass culture products, especially in terms of their export to Europe and reception by Europeans." -- Robert W. Rydell, Nebraska History

"Wild West shows are a highly visible and oft-mentioned fact of early American popular culture, yet the scholarly literature on this important subject is relatively thin. . . . Wild West Shows expands and revises our understanding of this important facet of antebellum and postbellum American popular culture." -- Mike Allen, Oregon Historical Quarterly

"A valuable book. . . . For teachers and students this book is a wonderful departure point for research and discussion on popular culture and the American West." -- Canadian Social Studies

"An entertaining and informative look at four important contributors to a decidedly American invention." -- Denver Westerners Roundup


A CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title, 2001