Kit and Barry Cody were killed in a plane crash in Central Florida on February 16, 2013. The Missoulian identified the victims as the great-grandsons of William Cody, the founder and star of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. For better or worse, the sad story will be noticed by many because of the brothers’ link to William Cody and his over-the-top, circus-style production of the American West. The late-nineteenth century cigar-store statue of William Cody on display in the Mercer Museum in Doylestown, Pennsylvania is a glimpse into Cody’s popularity during his lifetime. The statue appeared on the streets of Philadelphia after Cody’s Wild West Show visited the city in the late 1880s. The four-hour, distinctly American, circus-style extravaganza toured the United States, Great Britain, and Europe from 1883-1913. The Library of Congress has a plethora of research material on Cody’s Wild West Show. The Cody Archive is also a good source and includes Thomas Edison films of the diverse performers in this over-the-top extravaganza. http://codyarchive.org/multimedia/wfc.vid00001.html
Studio 360 did a terrific audio presentation, available online, analyzing the Wild West Show’s continuing influence in shaping the public image of the United States and its history.
It is interesting that Cody’s great grandsons sadly lost their lives in Florida, a state that the Wild West Show ignored, but was another important part of the settling of America’s last frontiers. Land hungry Americans rapidly grabbed land in Central and South Florida at the same time Cody’s Wild West Show popularized images of the Wild West. The modernization of both regions depended on industrialization and the country’s increasingly diverse population. Questions about immigration, citizenship, land development, and the role of the federal government continue to shape today’s political debates. The settlement of these last frontiers within the continental United States contained huge commitments from the federal government. Understanding the breadth of U.S. expansion in the West and the Southeast in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century offer valuable insights about the roots of continued political debates. Broadening the history of frontier settlement to include Florida as well as the iconic West helps to explain why this battleground state today is so influential and and important contributor often to the circus-like politics that surpass the battles in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.