Podcast | How Buffalo Bill shaped the West – and the Western

Audiences loved the show, but what he sold as “authentic” was anything but. Knute Berger shares how the myth shaped our idea of the frontier.

Buffalo Bill Cody portrait

Buffalo Bill Cody poses for a portrait while performing in England. (Library of Congress)

You’ve probably heard of Buffalo Bill. The name is nearly synonymous with “the Wild West,” a kind of cultural mythology created as white settlers colonized the American West in the late 19th century. 

Although he’s now larger than life, Buffalo Bill was, in fact, a real person who hunted buffalo, scouted for the U.S. Army and developed a wildly popular traveling show of sharpshooters, cowboys and other “rough riders.” It was a beloved pageant that catapulted him into global fame. In 1908, Buffalo Bill’s show arrived in Seattle.  

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Cascade PBS’s resident historian Knute Berger explored all of this in a recent episode of the Mossback’s Northwest video series, but there’s much more left to discuss.  

In this episode of Mossback, co-host Stephen Hegg joins Berger to more deeply understand who Buffalo Bill really was; unpack the genesis of his traveling show and what it meant to audiences everywhere; dig up firsthand accounts of his Seattle shows as well as that of copycat “Cheyenne Bill”; and interrogate the colonialist narrative that Bill and his supporters perpetuated and that still exists today.    


About the Hosts

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.

Stephen Hegg

Stephen Hegg

Stephen is formerly a senior video producer at Crosscut and KCTS 9. He specialized in arts and culture.