Buffalo Bill's Wild West: How the Myth Was Made Arena


Buffalo Bill's Wild West: How the Myth Was Made

Dramatic reconstruction and archive footage recreates the life of the American Wild West showman and mythmaker, Buffalo Bill.


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Transcript


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20TH CENTURY FOX FANFARE

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THEME MUSIC PLAYS

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I have always been a far-gazer.

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All my interests are with the West,

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the modern West.

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I have met king and commoner, men of might and imagination,

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men without whom the future would be a dark and savage jungle.

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In 1913,

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they wanted to make a film about my life.

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I refused, but it gave me the idea to make one myself

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with, as far as possible, the original cast.

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Who else would know the details

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of the campaigns I had lived through?

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This was going to be my story -

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the story of Buffalo Bill in The Taming Of The West.

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MUSIC: "Star-Spangled Banner"

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Turn him round a bit that way. That's better. >

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-It's gone over a little bit in terms of the...

->

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-No, that's all right. Now the horse has turned, I'm seeing lights in the tree.

-He'll be all right.

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-Back into the centre.

-You need to move him round. >

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-The first one was all right.

-OK. >

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-Good.

-Good, all right. Board. >

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NATIVE AMERICAN DRUMMING AND SINGING

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My debut onto the world stage occurred on February 26th, 1846.

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The scene of this first important event in my adventurous career

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began in Scott County in the state of Iowa.

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My parents,

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Isaac and Mary Cody, who were among the first pioneers of Iowa,

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gave me the name of William Frederick.

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I was the fourth child in the family. At the time of my birth, we resided on a large farm.

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When the Californian gold fever broke out, Father gave up the idea of farming

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and moved to Le Claire, Iowa, with plans to head West. He took sick

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and had to abandon the idea.

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As a child, most of my time was spent trapping quails, which were very plentiful. I greatly enjoyed

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studying the habits of little birds and devising traps to take them in.

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Thus I think it was that I acquired my love for hunting.

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I remember a friend of my father's breaking in my first pony.

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He managed the horse by rope alone. When riding,

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he stood straight up on its back,

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then jumped to the ground and threw himself in a complete somersault.

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His horsemanship was the most skilful I had ever witnessed. My ambition

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was to become as good a horseman as he was.

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Good morning, folks.

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Buffalo Bill was one of the few who became legends

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in their own lifetime,

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and were international celebrities while they were still alive.

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President Theodore Roosevelt called Cody "an American of the Americans".

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He embodied those traits of courage, strength and self-reliant hardihood vital to the nation's wellbeing.

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Roosevelt was particularly concerned

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with developing something he called "the national character".

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For him, it has aspects of race.

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His notion was that the Anglo-Saxon, or Anglo-Teuton, as he'd have said,

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has the traits of the conqueror, the administrator, the ruler.

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He liked to celebrate people like Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, Kit Carson and Buffalo Bill,

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who represented those dominant racial traits in their purest and most heroic form.

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In the mid-19th century, a quarter of a million Americans crossed what's now the United States

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in a search for land, for wealth to be gained by mining gold,

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for a free and independent life in a new territory.

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They had to cross what was called the Great American Desert,

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a trek that would last months and which, if not completed in time,

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might see them starve to death or cannibalise each other.

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My father was determined to move to some new territory,

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so the family departed for Kansas

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which was still unsettled country.

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The Enabling Act of Kansas Territory was passed in 1854.

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Thousands of people flocked thither, a large number of immigrants coming over from adjoining states.

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Missourians, mostly, were pro-slavery.

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At enthusiastic meetings they expressed their desire

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that Kansas should be a slave state. At one meeting,

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my father, who happened to be there, was called upon to make a speech.

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Whether Kansas should be a free or a slave state...

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He was in favour of keeping Kansas

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a white state, and that negroes, whether free or slave, should never be allowed to locate within it.

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There was a glint of a knife, a plunge downwards, and my father toppled off the improvised platform

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with only the hilt of the knife protruding from his body.

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He never really recovered, and a year or so later, he died after catching a severe winter cold.

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This sad event left my mother and family

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in poor circumstances.

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I determined to follow the plains for a livelihood for them and myself.

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-SINGING TO HIMSELF

-I obtained work

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with the government freighters Russell, Majors and Waddell,

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who sent beef cattle and wagons across the plains to the army.

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SINGING

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THUNDER OF HOOVES

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Wake up! Where are they coming from?

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We scattered and made a run for it. I, being the youngest, fell behind.

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I was surprised by a noise

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in the undergrowth. I instantly aimed my gun and fired.

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This, of course, was the first Indian I had ever shot.

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As I was not more than 11 years of age, my exploit created quite a sensation.

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I was interviewed by a newspaper reporter, and the next morning

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my name was in print as the youngest Indian slayer in the plains.

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GUNFIRE

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My exploit

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was related in a very graphic manner,

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and for a long time afterwards I was a considerable hero.

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The superheroes who inhabit comic books and movies are the folklore and fairy tales of modern society.

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They're models for heroic and moral action in our world.

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But before there were superheroes, American popular culture took its heroes from real life, from history.

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It took figures whose real deeds brought them to public attention and made them the centrepieces of myths.

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# Wait along...

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# I do not know what fate awaits me

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# I only know I must be brave... #

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Only to the white man was nature a wilderness.

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Only to him was the land infested with wild animals and savage people.

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To us, it was tame. Not until the very animals of the forest began fleeing from his approach,

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that then it was for us that the Wild West began.

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I met the agent of the Pony Express and asked for employment as a rider.

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I was so young, he thought I would not be able to withstand the fierce riding required.

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He knew that I had been raised in the saddle and I was confident,

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so he gave me a short route of 45 miles and three changes of horses.

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The Codys moved into Kansas just in time to catch the opening act of the American Civil War.

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It went on in Kansas with murders,

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mob actions, right through from 1854 to 1865. Cody was part of that.

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He even participated in some what are called jayhawker activities and redleg activities.

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These were armed gangs of free state men who fought against the slave state men,

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taking an eye for an eye, a burning for a burning.

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One day I received a letter stating that Mother was seriously ill.

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On November 22nd, 1863,

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she died.

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I loved her above all other persons.

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# We're tenting tonight

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# On the old camp ground

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# Give us a song

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# To cheer

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# Our weary hearts

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# A song of home

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# And friends we love so dear

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# Many are the hearts

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# That are weary tonight

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# Wishing for the war

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# To cease

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# Many are the hearts That are looking to the right

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# To see

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# The dawn of peace

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# Tenting tonight

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# Tenting tonight

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# Tenting on the old camp ground... #

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One day, when the 7th Kansas returned from the Civil War,

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having been under the influence of bad whiskey, I awoke to find myself a soldier in the regiment.

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I did not remember how or when I had enlisted,

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but I saw that I was in for it and it would not do for me to back out.

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In the spring of 1864, the regiment was ordered to Tennessee.

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This kind of fighting was all new to me.

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My talents were soon recognised by the authorities, and I became a non-commissioned officer.

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They put me on detached service as a scout.

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Cody, by the time he joined the 7th Kansas, had probably experienced a lot of illegal violence.

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It's something that he would have wanted to glide over silently,

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because the jayhawkers had a bad name, even among pro-Union people.

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During the winter, while I was at military headquarters in St Louis,

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I became acquainted with a young lady named Louisa Frederici.

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She was refined and elegant, and I made up my mind to capture her heart.

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I was not slow in declaring my sentiments to her, and she agreed to marry me.

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I bought a hotel and tried to settle down with my wife in Salt Creek Valley.

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I made a good landlord, but it was too tame an employment. I sighed for open spaces and the plains.

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# Give me back my saddle

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# Give me back my gun

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# Give me back that bronco

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# That I used to run

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# Let me spread my blanket

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# By a peaceful stream

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# Hear the cowboys singing

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# By the campfire gleam

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-# Oh, carry me back

-Yodel-ay-ee-hoo

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-# To the lone prairie

-Yodel-ay-ee-hoo

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-# Where the coyotes howl

-Yodel-ay-ee-hoo

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-# And the wind blows free

-Yodel-ay-ee-hoo

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# And when I die

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# You can bury me

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-# Neath the western sky

-Yodel-ay-ee-hoo

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-# On the lone prairie

-Yodel-ay-ee-hoo

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# And when I die

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# You can bury me

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# Neath the western sky

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# On the lone...

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# Prairie-i-i-i-i-ie... #

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I sold the hotel

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and sent my wife and new baby daughter Arta to St Louis.

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It was about this time that the Kansas Pacific railway track

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reached buffalo country.

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The company was employing 1,200 men.

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After the Civil War there was a tremendous need for national projects and national heroes

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to find a substitute for the things that divided the nation in the war.

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Settling the West became that national project that could unite North and South. A hero was needed

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to symbolise that new national frontier. The chosen symbol

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turned out to be Buffalo Bill.

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The company said that they would require 12 buffalos a day.

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That would be about 24 hands.

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As this would be dangerous, on account of the Indians,

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they agreed to give me 500 a month. It wasn't long before I received considerable notoriety.

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The end of the Kansas-Pacific track reached Sheridan in May, 1868.

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As my services as a hunter were no longer required,

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I concluded once more to take up my old vocation of scouting and guiding for the army.

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NATIVE AMERICAN DRUMS BEAT

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It became known to General Carr's command

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that Tall Bull's Cheyenne held captive two Swedish women -

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a Mrs Alderdice and a Mrs Weichell.

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The Indians had attacked settlers along the Solomon River,

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carrying off the women after strangling Mrs Alderdice's baby

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and killing Mrs Weichell's husband.

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The command took up the Indian trail.

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On top of a hill, we overlooked the camp

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of the unsuspecting Indians. General Carr called to sound the charge.

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We soon found the two white women. One had just been killed by Tall Bull's wife with a hatchet,

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and the other wounded.

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The Indians were driven off but they soon returned,

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led by Chief Tall Bull, riding a fine-looking horse and entreating his men to fight until they died.

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The horse was extraordinary, fleet as the wind.

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I determined to capture him for myself.

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I was afraid to fire at first, for fear of killing the horse.

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News of our victory rapidly spread across the land, and my reputation

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really began to soar. I later included the event in my Wild West exhibition.

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The audiences marvelled at our depiction of this historic scene.

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Cody picks the Indian off and spares the horse.

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But they rode in shooting left and right, nominally to rescue captives,

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and in at least a couple of cases ended up killing the captives, too.

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Company, prepare to mount!

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Mount!

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Left into line!

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The American Western symbolises the racial struggle, the cultural struggle between Indians and whites

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for possession of the land or of the woman - symbolising white civilisation needing to be rescued.

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So when Sheridan, who was commanding in the district, sent the army out in 1868/69

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one of the motives for supporting the war was to rescue white women.

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But there's a letter that Sheridan wrote saying that they had already suffered a fate worse than death.

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So the army was to shoot everything that moved. If they rescued the women, that would be something.

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That letter was not published at the time.

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One day I accompanied an expedition to catch some Redskins who were creating trouble on the railway.

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The expedition was unusual,

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as I was informed we were to have an important guest with us, a man who was to change my life.

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Colonel EZC Judson, alias Ned Buntline, the famous novelist.

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He was rather stoutly built and wore a blue military coat,

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on the left breast of which were pinned medals and badges

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of secret societies.

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At that time, Buntline was returning from California

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after an unsuccessful tour as a temperance lecturer.

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He was mighty interested in the things I had done,

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and asked me a great many questions.

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His fertile imagination turned my life into pages of adventure.

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Buffalo Bill - six feet and one inch in height,

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straight as an ash,

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broad in shoulder, round and full in chest, slender in the waist,

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swelling out in muscular proportions at hips and thighs, with tapering limbs, small hands and feet,

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his form a study.

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Ned Buntline was one of the leading entrepreneurs in what we have to call a culture industry.

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The dime novel, popular literature business in the United States

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by the mid-century had become a kind of industrial enterprise.

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It's cheap literature on a wide range of subjects from American history to made-up pirate stories,

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what we might call science fiction. Buntline was a pioneer in this area.

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He thrived by finding out what the public wanted and giving it to them

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as cheaply and quickly as possible. In the 1870s there's a tremendous enthusiasm

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for the new country that's being opened up.

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Buntline goes where the action is and comes up with Buffalo Bill.

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CIRCUS MUSIC

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"I don't mean to kill old Jake if I can help it.

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"I want to take him back to the spot where he murdered my father and roast him over a slow fire.

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"Death - a mere man's death - is too good for him.

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"He wants, and shall have, a taste here of what he'll get when he IS dead.

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"I could glory in every pain that wracked his frame.

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"I could see his eyeballs start in agony from his head.

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"The beaded sweat, blood-coloured, oozed from his clammy skin,

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"each nerve and tendon quivering like the strings of a harp struck by a maniac hand."

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One way or another, meeting Buntline

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changed my life.

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After his expedition with me, he wrote the first of four stories about me.

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His attentions alerted others

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to write about my escapades, too.

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I became known to every man, woman and child from East to West Coast.

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"Buffalo Bill's trusty rifle barked, and another Redskin bit the dust.

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"Riding like the wind, he swept from the ground the beautiful girl,

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"last survivor of the wagon train.

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"He spurred his mustang to greater speed, sending leaden messages of death into the ranks of the foe.

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"But the Redskins, with fiendish screams, still pursued him."

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Whilst away on an expedition the following year, my wife gave birth to a son.

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I named him Kit,

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after the great scout Kit Carson.

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The white man knows how to make everything,

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but he does not know how to distribute it.

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The love of possession is a disease with them.

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They take tithes from the poor and weak to support the rich who rule.

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They claim this mother of ours - the Earth - their own, and fence their neighbours away.

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DRUMMING AND CHANTING

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In 1872 I was asked to visit Spotted Tail, one of the friendly Sioux,

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to induce him and his braves to demonstrate the manner in which they killed buffalo.

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This spectacle was for the Grand Duke Alexis of Russia, who was to join us on a big buffalo hunt.

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CHANTING

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The Indians were objects of great curiosity to the Grand Duke,

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who spent a considerable time looking at them.

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That evening, they gave a grand war dance.

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General Custer, one of the hunting party, carried on a mild flirtation with Spotted Tail's daughter.

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It was noticed also that the Grand Duke Alexis paid attention to another handsome redskinned maiden.

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The Grand Duke Alexis tour was set up by the army. Custer and Sheridan accompanied Buffalo Bill on it.

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It was a major media coup.

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It was really part of the army's and the railroads' attempt to promote the expansion of railroads

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into Indian territory.

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Rich men, newspaper editors, political leaders, hunting buffalo.

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They would ride the trains out to where the herds were. Many times they would not even dismount.

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They would just shoot out of the car windows to kill the animals.

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In the evening we had a splendid dinner,

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as will be seen from the following bill of fare.

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Soup - buffalo tail. Fish - cisco, broiled. Fried dace.

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Entrees - salami of prairie dog,

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stewed rabbit, fillet of buffalo or champignons.

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Roast - elk, antelope, black-tailed deer,

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wild turkey.

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Broiled - teal, mallard, antelope chops,

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buffalo calf steaks, young wild turkey.

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Vegetables - sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, green peas.

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Desserts - tapioca.

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Wines - champagne frappe, champagne naturel, claret.

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Whiskey, brandy, Bass ale.

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Coffee.

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This I consider to be a pretty square meal for a party of hunters, and everybody

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did ample justice to it.

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Of course, the main thing was to give Alexis the first chance and the best shot at the buffalos.

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GUNSHOT

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Seeing that the animals were bound to escape,

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I gave him my celebrated buffalo hunting gun -

0:32:050:32:09

Lucrezia Borgia.

0:32:110:32:13

GUNSHOT

0:32:550:32:58

The wiping out of the buffalo was not really done by the sport hunters but by the hide hunters.

0:32:580:33:05

They would slaughter huge numbers of buffalo, which are easy to kill,

0:33:050:33:11

and take only the hides, leave the meat to rot, later on go back to collect the bones for fertiliser.

0:33:110:33:19

Buffalo hides were extremely strong, very useful for belting in industrial machinery.

0:33:190:33:25

So there's a direct tie

0:33:250:33:28

between the wiping out of the buffalo and the industrialisation of the American economy.

0:33:280:33:34

I accepted an invitation from gentleman hunters to travel East.

0:33:430:33:48

When I arrived in New York, I spent a few days viewing the sights,

0:33:480:33:54

everything being new and startling, convincing me that as of yet

0:33:540:34:00

I had seen but a small portion of the world.

0:34:000:34:05

I was trotting with the wealthy and quite the best people in town.

0:34:050:34:10

I embarked on a round of swell dinners and parties and attended a number of theatrical events.

0:34:100:34:17

While I was in New York,

0:34:330:34:36

I attended the dramatisation of one of the stories Ned Buntline had written about me.

0:34:360:34:43

I was curious to see how I'd look, represented by an actor appearing in the character of Buffalo Bill.

0:34:430:34:50

That evening, the manager of the theatre offered me 500 a week

0:35:150:35:20

to play the part of Buffalo Bill myself.

0:35:200:35:25

I had to decline, owing to the lack of confidence in myself.

0:35:250:35:30

Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, Kit Carson had all been celebrities,

0:35:330:35:38

had all been written up in the day's cheap literature.

0:35:380:35:43

But only Buffalo Bill recognised that money could be made out of it,

0:35:430:35:48

because only Buffalo Bill, I guess, lived in a culture where mass media

0:35:480:35:53

were really available to him.

0:35:530:35:56

Buntline was exploiting his name.

0:35:560:35:58

He came to New York with a vague plan in mind of doing something to take charge of his fame

0:35:580:36:06

and turn it into a commodity.

0:36:060:36:09

Buntline wrote to me enthusiastically about a career on the stage.

0:36:100:36:16

Flattered and intrigued by the idea, I decided to try my luck.

0:36:160:36:21

I set off with Texas Jack, another scout. Together we starred in Buntline's first production -

0:36:210:36:29

Scouts Of The Prairie.

0:36:290:36:31

We were met with enormous success. There was no backing out after that.

0:36:400:36:45

A new way of life began for me.

0:37:010:37:04

Disappointed with my share of the profits, we reorganised -

0:37:040:37:09

without the help of Buntline.

0:37:090:37:12

From fall to spring, we toured theatres.

0:37:120:37:16

The summers were spent guiding hunting parties

0:37:160:37:20

or scouting for the military.

0:37:200:37:22

For years there were rumours that there was gold in the Black Hills.

0:37:380:37:43

In 1874 the army decided to establish that truth.

0:37:430:37:48

It sent General Custer with a large expedition to explore the hills.

0:37:480:37:53

Custer was accompanied by miners and by newspaper reporters, who were to publicise the discoveries

0:37:530:38:00

and create the mood of a public gold rush.

0:38:000:38:04

The Sioux, regarding this justly as a violation of their treaty rights,

0:38:040:38:09

called Custer "the Chief of the Thieves".

0:38:090:38:13

Full-scale war had broken out with the Sioux and the Cheyenne over the Black Hills

0:38:370:38:44

and I was anxious to take part.

0:38:440:38:47

Part of the success

0:38:470:38:49

of Buffalo Bill's theatrical enterprises came from the fact that he was still serving,

0:38:490:38:56

in the summer, as an army scout.

0:38:560:38:59

Although we associate the West with the distant past,

0:38:590:39:03

what Cody was doing was showing Eastern audiences that the West was current events.

0:39:030:39:10

It's that alternation between real events, newspaper events,

0:39:100:39:15

and the almost instant transformation of those events into myth, into metaphor, into melodrama,

0:39:150:39:23

that's his contribution to American culture. It brings him power.

0:39:230:39:28

He brings the authenticity of a man who does the real deeds,

0:39:280:39:33

army dispatch deeds, as his testimonials to the authenticity of the essentially false image

0:39:330:39:40

that he's presenting on the stage.

0:39:400:39:43

APPLAUSE

0:39:430:39:47

One day I was performing in Massachusetts when I received a telegram informing me

0:39:470:39:54

that my little boy Kit was dangerously ill with scarlet fever.

0:39:540:39:59

"To my older sister Julia.

0:40:090:40:11

"You are the first to write after our sad, sad loss.

0:40:110:40:16

"Julia, God has taken from us our only little boy.

0:40:160:40:21

"God wanted him in a better world,

0:40:210:40:25

"so He sent the Angel of Death to take the treasure He had given us five years and five months ago.

0:40:250:40:33

"We clung to him and prayed God not take him from us, but there was no hope.

0:40:330:40:39

"He could not speak, but put his little arms around me as much to say, 'Papa has come.'

0:40:390:40:46

"Goodbye, from brother Will."

0:40:460:40:49

I rejoined the 5th Cavalry.

0:40:550:40:58

The command operated on the south fork of the Cheyenne River for two weeks,

0:40:580:41:04

and we drove the Indians out of that part of the country.

0:41:040:41:09

As we started on our way to Fort Laramie,

0:41:090:41:13

we learned of the massacre of General Custer and his band of heroes on the Little Bighorn

0:41:130:41:20

on 25th June, 1876.

0:41:200:41:24

DRUM BEATS

0:41:240:41:27

The same evening we received news of the massacre,

0:41:320:41:36

a scout arrived bringing a message.

0:41:360:41:39

800 Cheyenne warriors

0:41:390:41:42

had that day left the Red Cloud agency to join Sitting Bull's forces in the Bighorn region.

0:41:420:41:50

We marched to intercept them at War Bonnet Creek.

0:41:550:42:00

Yellow Hand!

0:42:110:42:13

IN NATIVE LANGUAGE

0:42:130:42:16

Take your people back to their own country.

0:42:160:42:20

IN NATIVE LANGUAGE

0:42:200:42:24

Trooper Chris Madsen, Company A, US Cavalry.

0:42:390:42:44

I had an unobstructed view of what happened.

0:42:440:42:48

From the manner which both parties acted, it was certain that both were surprised.

0:42:480:42:55

Cody's bullet went through the Indian's leg and killed his pinto pony.

0:42:550:43:02

Cody's horse stumbled, but was up in a movement.

0:43:020:43:06

There's no doubt about it.

0:43:170:43:19

Buffalo Bill scalped this Indian, who, it turned out, was a Cheyenne sub-chief called Yellow Hand.

0:43:190:43:27

He was a son of Cut-Nose,

0:43:270:43:29

a leading chief of the Cheyenne.

0:43:290:43:32

Some called him Yellow Hair, on account of the blonde woman's scalp he wore from his waistband.

0:43:320:43:40

Cut-Nose

0:43:420:43:44

sent a message to the effect that he would give me four mules

0:43:440:43:50

if I would turn over Yellow Hand's war bonnet and other paraphernalia.

0:43:500:43:55

I sent back word to the old gentleman that it would give me great pleasure to accommodate him,

0:43:550:44:02

but I could not do so at this time.

0:44:020:44:05

Cody displayed the relics of Yellow Hand - his scalp and war bonnet -

0:44:050:44:10

outside the theatres in which he performed.

0:44:100:44:14

Many people, particularly the so-called Friends of the Indian, condemned the display as obscene.

0:44:140:44:21

But they improved Cody's celebrity and the attendance at his show and helped Cody to make his fortune.

0:44:210:44:29

When he prepared for battle - they knew they were fighting Indians -

0:44:390:44:44

he took off his buckskin scout gear and put on his theatrical costume,

0:44:440:44:50

which was a velvet vaquero kind of outfit.

0:44:500:44:54

He didn't know he'd kill Yellow Hand, but something would happen.

0:44:540:44:59

He was preparing for the moment when he would stand on the stage

0:44:590:45:04

and say to the audience that he was actually wearing the garb

0:45:040:45:09

that he had worn when he had taken "the first scalp for Custer".

0:45:090:45:15

I suppose my new life put some strain on my marriage and home life.

0:45:280:45:34

Lulu was used to my absence when my work took me across the plains,

0:45:340:45:40

but now that I had gained celebrity and my travels were to the great cities of the East, we grew apart

0:45:400:45:47

and our good times became less frequent.

0:45:470:45:51

Immense success and comparative wealth

0:45:530:45:57

obtained as a showman stimulated me to greater exertion

0:45:570:46:01

and largely increased my ambition for public favour.

0:46:010:46:06

Accordingly, I conceived an idea.

0:46:060:46:09

ANNOUNCER: Introducing...a congress

0:46:090:46:14

of the world's roughest riders! First, a group of Sioux Indians! Next, Crow Indians!

0:46:140:46:22

Cherokees! Cheyenne!

0:46:220:46:25

Blackfeet! And Arapaho!

0:46:250:46:28

Cowboys from Montana! From Wyoming!

0:46:280:46:32

From Oklahoma Territory! From Colorado! From Dakota!

0:46:320:46:37

Mexicans from old Mexico! Russian Cossacks from the Steppes of Russia!

0:46:370:46:43

And the South American gauchos!

0:46:430:46:46

And a troop of the United States Cavalry!

0:46:460:46:51

CHEERING AND APPLAUSE

0:46:510:46:55

And now, introducing...

0:46:570:47:00

Colonel WF Cody -

0:47:000:47:04

Buffalo Bill!

0:47:040:47:06

CHEERING

0:47:060:47:09

To accomplish this purpose, which in many respects

0:47:210:47:26

was a Herculean undertaking, I engaged Indians from several different tribes

0:47:260:47:33

and then set about the difficult enterprise of capturing a herd of buffalos.

0:47:330:47:40

After several months I secured the services of nearly 50 cowboys and Mexicans,

0:47:400:47:46

and several buffalos, elk and mountain sheep were obtained.

0:47:460:47:51

The expense of such a show as I had determined to give was so great

0:47:510:47:56

that a very large crowd must be drawn to every exhibition or financial failure would be certain.

0:47:560:48:04

Thus was born my Great Wild West Exhibition. I sank everything into the project,

0:48:060:48:12

determined to make it the most impressive and realistic entertainment ever, a demonstration

0:48:120:48:20

of how the Great West was settled and civilised.

0:48:200:48:24

Buffalo Bill was really serious about making his show realistic

0:48:260:48:31

and authentic. He always insisted that it was not a show.

0:48:310:48:36

He always called it the Wild West. He spoke of it as an exhibition, a recreation,

0:48:360:48:42

a monument to historical reality.

0:48:420:48:45

Despite the fact that he clearly had to fictionalise, there was an attempt to get at some poetic truth

0:48:450:48:53

about the reality of Western life. To these scenes,

0:48:530:48:57

he also mixed re-enactments

0:48:570:49:00

of genuine historical events like the killing of Tall Bull at Summit Springs and, most significantly,

0:49:000:49:08

re-enactment of Custer's last stand.

0:49:080:49:11

But he was very serious about realism and historicity and about it being a patriotic pageant.

0:49:110:49:18

He would attach testimonials from educators saying that Buffalo Bill

0:49:180:49:24

was teaching a very important lesson in national history.

0:49:240:49:29

Sitting Bull was persuaded to perform one season.

0:49:290:49:35

He had returned from exile back in 1881, only to be confined to the Standing Rock reservation.

0:49:350:49:44

He signed a contract for 50 a week, with sole right to sell his photographs and autographs.

0:49:440:49:51

He was cast as a villain and was often hissed as he paraded.

0:49:510:49:56

He was credited as masterminding the Custer massacre.

0:49:560:50:01

There was much curiosity to see him, nonetheless.

0:50:010:50:05

The immortal bard has well said, "Ambition grows with what it feeds on."

0:50:070:50:14

Our unexampled success throughout America with the Wild West Show

0:50:140:50:19

excited our ambition to conquer other nations than our own.

0:50:190:50:25

We chartered the steamship State of Nebraska,

0:50:290:50:34

and on March 31st, 1887,

0:50:340:50:37

we set sail for a country I had long wished to visit -

0:50:370:50:41

the motherland.

0:50:410:50:44

The cowboy band played

0:50:480:50:50

The Girl I Left Behind Me,

0:50:500:50:53

and we were out upon the deep

0:50:530:50:56

for the first time in my life.

0:50:560:50:59

On the day after our departure the Indians began to grow weary

0:51:020:51:07

and their stomachs, like my own, became treacherous and rebellious.

0:51:070:51:12

They believed that soon after he attempted to cross an ocean,

0:51:120:51:17

a red man would be seized by a malady

0:51:170:51:21

that would prostrate the victim and then slowly consume his flesh

0:51:210:51:26

until the skin itself would drop from his bones.

0:51:260:51:30

The seal of hopelessness

0:51:300:51:34

stamped across the faces of the Indians aroused my pity.

0:51:340:51:38

Though sick as a cow with hollow horn myself, I used my utmost endeavours to cheer them up

0:51:380:51:45

and relieve their foreboding.

0:51:450:51:48

Cody, in his publicity for the show,

0:51:520:51:55

always spoke of the Indian as "former foe", "present friend", "the American".

0:51:550:52:02

He was offering them a livelihood,

0:52:020:52:05

a chance to at least ceremonially re-enact their old lifestyle,

0:52:050:52:10

their old ways of hunting and dancing and so on.

0:52:100:52:15

# Westward, roll the wagons Westward, roll

0:52:150:52:18

# Westward, roll the wagons

0:52:180:52:21

-# For Oregon's our goal... #

-We reached London,

0:52:210:52:24

where a special performance was to be given by the Wild West for Her Majesty, the Queen.

0:52:240:52:31

I welcomed her

0:52:330:52:35

to the Wild West of America.

0:52:350:52:38

Ladies and gentlemen,

0:52:380:52:42

permit me to introduce to you

0:52:420:52:45

a congress of the roughest riders of the world.

0:52:450:52:49

An influential London paper described the scene in a highly complimentary manner, then added:

0:52:510:52:59

"It is not a circus. Nor, indeed, is it acting at all in a theatrical sense,

0:52:590:53:06

"but an exact reproduction of daily scenes of frontier life.

0:53:060:53:12

"The Redskins, we believe, are pretty well confined nowadays to the Indian territory

0:53:120:53:18

"and are reduced to at least an outward friendliness."

0:53:180:53:23

A feeling of pride came over me

0:53:250:53:27

when I thought of our troupe from the once unsettled territory of the Central West

0:53:270:53:34

combined in an exhibition intended to prove to the centre of the old world civilisation

0:53:340:53:41

that the vast region of the United States was finally and effectively settled

0:53:410:53:48

by the English-speaking race.

0:53:480:53:51

Buffalo Bill's appearance in Europe was taken by Americans as a kind of validation of American culture

0:53:540:54:01

and what America had to offer.

0:54:010:54:04

His celebrity with people like Queen Victoria gives him a cultural power that he didn't have before.

0:54:040:54:12

The Wild West approach to empire is one in which gunplay - violence - has to play a central role.

0:54:130:54:21

The re-enactments of battles like San Juan Hill or the Boxer Rebellion,

0:54:210:54:27

are ones in which the whites have to impose their regime by force.

0:54:270:54:32

The notion that the whites, a race representing civilisation,

0:54:320:54:38

had the right to take over and supervise and educate and uplift the non-whites, the savage peoples.

0:54:380:54:45

"The rifle," Cody said, "is an instrument of civilisation."

0:54:450:54:50

Violence is the necessary instrument

0:54:500:54:54

for progress. That, he says, is the lesson of American history,

0:54:540:54:59

one that he applies on a world stage.

0:54:590:55:03

DRUMMING AND CHANTING

0:55:090:55:13

"Colonel Cody,

0:55:170:55:19

"you are hereby authorised to secure the person of Sitting Bull

0:55:190:55:24

"and deliver him to the nearest commanding officer of US troops,

0:55:240:55:29

"taking receipt and reporting your action. Nelson A Miles, Major General."

0:55:290:55:36

Sitting Bull's Sioux had become easy victims of the Ghost Dance religion.

0:55:370:55:44

The Indians believed a coming messiah would return to Earth

0:55:450:55:50

and restore everything to the idealistic condition of former years,

0:55:500:55:56

crushing the whites and restocking the ranges with game.

0:55:560:56:01

Buffalo Bill was brought in to talk to Sitting Bull

0:56:030:56:07

because he'd established good relations with the chief

0:56:070:56:11

and because he had good relations with the Sioux in general.

0:56:110:56:16

The arrest of Sitting Bull was conducted by the Indian police, and it did not go smoothly.

0:56:160:56:23

In a scuffle, Sitting Bull was shot. At the outburst of firing,

0:56:230:56:29

the horse which Cody had given to Sitting Bull after his time in the show frightened everyone there

0:56:290:56:36

by running through his repertoire of tricks - scraping his hoof, bowing, performing.

0:56:360:56:43

Thus ended the life of the great red chief of the Hunkapapa Sioux,

0:56:490:56:54

Sitting Bull.

0:56:540:56:57

The rest of the Indians fled south and were surrounded at Wounded Knee Creek, South Dakota.

0:56:570:57:05

After agreeing to surrender, artillery men acting without orders from an officer opened fire,

0:57:050:57:12

killing 200 men, women and children alike.

0:57:120:57:16

The messianic movement had ended, and with it,

0:57:160:57:20

the last possible struggle of the red man.

0:57:200:57:24

Thus, in the beginning of 1891,

0:57:260:57:29

America no longer had a frontier.

0:57:290:57:33

General Miles gave us permission to hire 100 of the ghost dancers,

0:57:370:57:43

and Sitting Bull's horse was added to the outfit.

0:57:430:57:47

Over the next few years,

0:57:470:57:50

six million people across Europe and America saw my Wild West Exhibition.

0:57:500:57:56

We spent months away from home. The weather in Europe

0:57:560:58:00

disagreed with me greatly.

0:58:000:58:03

I worried a great deal and became worn out with the relentless routine.

0:58:030:58:09

I suffered from the grippe and went off my feed.

0:58:090:58:14

The life was a continual strain, and my married life

0:58:140:58:18

grew more unbearable every year.

0:58:180:58:21

Lulu liked to be boss. She loves to be the whole thing.

0:58:210:58:26

Divorces are not looked down on now as they used to be.

0:58:260:58:31

People are more enlightened. Some of the best people in the world are getting divorced every day.

0:58:310:58:39

I began investing heavily in a number of projects,

0:58:540:58:58

which included a mine in Arizona and the purchase

0:58:580:59:02

of a large tract of land in the Bighorn country of Wyoming,

0:59:020:59:07

which would be a feasible eastern entrance to Yellowstone.

0:59:070:59:12

I invested millions of dollars into the area,

0:59:120:59:16

building irrigation canals and founding the new town of Cody.

0:59:160:59:21

There were only a handful of settlers there.

0:59:210:59:25

With investment, I was convinced the area would prosper.

0:59:250:59:30

I established a newspaper, and a grand hotel was built which I called the Irma,

0:59:320:59:38

after one of my precious daughters.

0:59:380:59:41

No expense would be spared. I furnished it fine and costly,

0:59:410:59:45

and ran it on the European plan.

0:59:450:59:49

Prices were so high that the toughs could not afford to hang around.

0:59:490:59:54

Relations with Lulu came to an all-time low.

1:00:421:00:47

She made a surprise visit to my hotel in Chicago,

1:00:471:00:52

only to be shown to the suite of "Mr and Mrs Cody".

1:00:521:00:56

In exchange for a quiet divorce,

1:01:061:01:09

I agreed to hand over all my properties in North Platte and several in Cody. It was not to be.

1:01:091:01:17

She refused to go through with it AFTER I had turned everything over to her.

1:01:171:01:24

"My dear sister,

1:01:241:01:27

"business is bad and we are losing our audiences.

1:01:271:01:31

"I look forward to a big summer and then will quit show business.

1:01:311:01:37

"We have got a mine. When we build a mill, we will have a steady income.

1:01:371:01:43

"What kind of millionaire am I? Busted. How would you like to be a busted millionaire?

1:01:431:01:50

"Wouldn't it jar you? Never mind. We will be all right. With love, Brother."

1:01:501:01:57

Towards the end of his life, Cody felt trapped by the role that he'd created for himself.

1:01:571:02:04

On the one hand he's a man who is from the past,

1:02:041:02:08

who made his reputation on the frontier and who now is making his living in the nostalgia business,

1:02:081:02:15

putting himself close to the Indians, to things pre-industrial.

1:02:151:02:20

On the other hand, he loves progress. He helped build the railroads.

1:02:201:02:26

Audiences want you to keep doing the things you've always done,

1:02:261:02:31

to keep killing Yellow Hand and Tall Bull over and over again.

1:02:311:02:35

When your enthusiasm for bloodshed and your simple-minded belief

1:02:351:02:41

in the rightness of wiping out the Indian has passed, you still have to keep acting out

1:02:411:02:48

that role again and again and again.

1:02:481:02:51

For over 30 years I have hammered one spot until the spot has grown too sore to stand it any longer.

1:02:551:03:03

I am nervous and oh, so tired.

1:03:031:03:07

Every cloud in the sky,

1:03:071:03:10

every time the wind flaps my tent or shakes the big top gets on my nerves.

1:03:101:03:17

I have just got to break away from this strain, or die.

1:03:171:03:22

I went in with other showmen and toured with Pawnee Bill Lillie.

1:03:331:03:38

We experimented with motion pictures and re-enacted the West on film.

1:03:411:03:47

At 66 years of age, Colonel Cody is taking a riding holiday on the plains,

1:03:471:03:54

revisiting places he knew in his youth.

1:03:541:03:58

He dismounts and prepares to rest.

1:03:581:04:01

He will dream of his momentous fight with the Cheyenne, Yellow Hand.

1:04:011:04:07

I had an idea to make a series of historical films

1:04:451:04:50

depicting events in my life in the Old West as they really happened,

1:04:501:04:55

using the original cast.

1:04:551:04:58

General Miles, now retired, offered to take part.

1:05:071:05:12

The government permitted use of agency Indians.

1:05:121:05:16

In 1913 we set up at Pine Ridge reservation and the Battle of Wounded Knee was staged again.

1:05:161:05:23

# Their horns are black and shiny And their hot breath he could feel

1:05:231:05:29

# A bolt of fear went through him As they thundered through the sky

1:05:291:05:35

# He saw the riders coming hard... #

1:05:351:05:38

The Indians were difficult at first. Some of them wanted to use real bullets instead of blank cartridges,

1:05:381:05:45

to make a real slaughter in belated revenge for what the white soldiers had done there a generation ago.

1:05:451:05:53

General Miles was difficult, too.

1:05:551:05:58

He insisted that since 11,000 troops took part in his 1890 campaign,

1:05:581:06:04

all must be shown.

1:06:041:06:07

So the 300 cavalrymen present marched past the camera 40 times.

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He was not informed that after a few repeats

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the lens was closed.

1:06:171:06:19

Buffalo Bill's last exercise in making history and myth

1:06:221:06:27

was to be an epic film called The Indian Wars. He made the film.

1:06:271:06:33

It was so realistic that many in the audience were praying during the action sequences.

1:06:331:06:40

Some scenes were so graphic that government officials are said to have confiscated many of the reels.

1:06:401:06:48

Certainly, reels are lost. Buffalo Bill's last and greatest exercise

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in myth-making is beyond recovery.

1:06:541:06:57

# The ghost riders

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# In the sky...

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# Yippee-i-ay

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# Yippee-i-oh... #

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I have always been a far-gazer.

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All my interests are with the West, the modern West,

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with its waving grain-fields, fenced flocks and splendid cities

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drawing upon the mountains for water to make it fertile,

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and upon the whole world for men to make it rich.

1:07:291:07:34

I have met king and commoner, men of might and imagination,

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men without whom the future would be a dark and savage jungle.

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Men like Thomas Edison, who I visited in the year of the Great War in Europe.

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He recorded my voice for posterity.

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CODY'S VOICE: Today, in the cold of the eventful year of 1914,

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my visit to Thomas Edison at his great works in Orange, New Jersey,

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is one of the most enjoyable and instructive of my life.

1:08:061:08:12

It is a great pleasure and privilege

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to know one of the greatest men

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that has ever lived.

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It is also most gratifying to know that he is still exploring

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into the dark mysteries of the unknown,

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and developing and unfolding

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scientific fact

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that is to enlighten and benefit

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the human family through the ages.

1:08:451:08:49

The Indian of today,

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tamed, educated and inspired, with a taste for white collars

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and moving pictures, is as numerous as ever, but not so picturesque.

1:09:061:09:12

They were the inheritors

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of the land we live in. They owned it when the white man came,

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and the white man took it away from them.

1:09:221:09:26

I don't want to die and have people say, "There goes another old showman."

1:09:301:09:37

When I die, I want people to say,

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"This man opened up Wyoming to the best of civilisation."

1:09:411:09:45

America is an artificial nation,

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the creation of European immigrants who had to build a country in unprecedented circumstances.

1:09:481:09:56

It's critical for the United States to define a historical mythology.

1:09:561:10:01

Since the frontier, the movement of civilisation into the wilderness,

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was the most distinctive thing about American civilisation,

1:10:061:10:11

it was quite natural for us to take our earliest heroes from those who had advanced the frontier.

1:10:111:10:18

When America looked at its new West,

1:10:181:10:20

it mourned the passing of the wild, the surrender of a pre-modern age,

1:10:201:10:25

while celebrating the progress that brought civilisation.

1:10:251:10:30

This combination of a love of progress and a nostalgia for what was being lost to progress

1:10:301:10:37

is part of each of the legends of Boone, of Crockett, of Carson and of Buffalo Bill.

1:10:371:10:44

The difference is that Buffalo Bill's frontier was the last.

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After the great plains, there would be no more American Wests.

1:10:491:10:54

I have now come to the end of my story. It is a story

1:11:061:11:11

of the great West that was, the West that is gone for ever.

1:11:111:11:17

The West, the old times,

1:11:171:11:19

its stern battles

1:11:191:11:22

and its tremendous stretches of loneliness can never be blotted from my mind. Nor can it, I hope,

1:11:221:11:29

be blotted from the memory of the American people,

1:11:291:11:34

to whom it has become a priceless possession.

1:11:341:11:39

Subtitles by John Macdonald, Subtext for BBC Subtitling - 2001

1:12:211:12:26

e-mail us at [email protected]

1:12:261:12:30

The western movie, the cowboy novel, the rodeo and the wild west show are all means by which the West has become mythologised, distorted, caricatured and made larger than life.

The West no longer lives in reality, only in the world of the imagination, but the key figure in the historical process whereby the factual, historical West was transformed into the 'Western myth' was William Frederick 'Buffalo Bill' Cody. It was within his persona that the raw material of experience was transformed into showbusiness.

This documentary tells Buffalo Bill's story, including his life as a Pony Express rider, prairie scout, buffalo hunter and wild west show creator.

With rock legend David Johansen as the voice of Buffalo Bill, Arena uses drama and unique archive of the real Buffalo Bill to tell an extraordinary tale with strangely contemporary resonance.


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