Starter – Imag(in)ing The Wild West



Everybody thinks they know about the Wild West.  We have all watched the movies, and we have an image in our minds … of cowboys and Indians, soldiers who always come to the rescue at the last moment, gunmen and lawmen, saloons and sheriffs, buffalo-shoots and cattle drives, the noon stage into Deadwood coming on down the track ‘whipcrack-away’, the Pony Express, railroad tracks and the little house on the Prairie. 


It is almost certain – whatever your image of the Wild West – that you have got it very, very wrong!!!


For example … how long do you think the Wild West lasted?  What is most amazing about the ‘frontier’ is that in any one place it lasted a very short time – ten years at most.  And the whole period of the Wild West, from beginning to end, lasted little more than 50 years.



After you have studied this webpage, answer the question sheet by clicking on the 'Time to Work' icon at the top of the page.


The following websites will help you research further:


• A PowerPoint to show you where the 'Wild West' was.

• Amazing photographs of 1870s America by photographer Timothy O'Sullivan 

Artists of the Wild West


1: Buffalo Bill’s Raid of Death

This picture is the cover illustration from the book, Buffalo Bill’s Raid of Death.  The story, from the 1900s, was allegedly written by Buffalo Bill himself, but was almost certainly written by a novelist:


2:  The Death of the 'Border Robin Hood'

This is the story from the book, Buffalo Bill’s Raid of Death.  Buffalo Bill has tracked down a renegade called ‘the Border Robin Hood’.  When he finds him, however, the robber has already been defeated and mortally wounded by Wild Wolf, a Sioux Chief.  This is how the story ends:


‘Hold! Wild Wolf; I bid you hold!’ sternly cried Buffalo Bill, as the Indian seemed still to want to rush upon the wounded robber.

‘Wild Wolf has killed the dog of the prairie; let him take his scalp.’

‘No; yonder comes the daughter of this man.  She shall see him die in peace.’

Thus replied Buffalo Bill, as on dashed Maud, followed by Nina.

‘My father!  Oh God!  He is dying!’ and Maud threw herself beside him.

‘Maud, daughter; I have been to you a bad father, for I have brought you here amid wild scenes of bloodshed; but I feel you will forgive me…  We all have our time to die, Maud, and the sooner I am out of the way the better.  But I know that you were not touched by the wickedness about you.  You are still good, and pure, and loveable.’


Thus the Border Robin Hood was dead. 

His daughter could but mourn him, wicked and murderous as had been his life.

As for Buffalo Bill, the famous scout, he had many more wild border adventures before him, and more than once it was to be his destiny to run to earth renegades like the Border Robin Hood, and lead soldiers against the wild Indian tribes of the frontier.  





3:  Custer's Last Stand

A scene from the wild west – Custer’s Last Stand – as enacted by Buffalo Bill’s ‘Wild West’ show.

 Buffalo Bill’s ‘Wild West’ Show toured America and Europe, giving shows of life in the American west. It was much more ‘circus’ than ‘exhibition’. Stars included the Indian Chief Geronimo and Annie Oakley (‘Little Sure Shot’).

The actual battle of the Little Bighorn took place on the open plains, and looked nothing like this AT ALL – this was a tableau, mocked up to ‘put on a show’ for an audience: