Buffalo Bill, Rough Riders, and the Manly Image

Brent M. Rogers and Douglas Seefeldt


In 1893, the introduction of the Congress of Rough Riders of the World to the American public demonstrated Buffalo Bill Cody's concern with the status of American manhood on a global stage. Since the middle of the nineteenth century, the masculine power structure in the United States had been assaulted by the women's rights movement, the problems of an intensely competitive individualistic economic system, and the emergence of a technological, urban civilization. In the later nineteenth century, a shift in the conception of masculinity took place. Cody used his exhibit to introduce horse riders from all over the world to heighten awareness and understanding of general masculine traits. Cody established the Congress of Rough Riders for illustration of the accomplishments and methods of cowboys worldwide in emulative comparison with the American riders. The first six delegates of the Congress included the American cowboy, American Indian, Cossack, Mexican Vaquero, Riffian Arab, and the South American (Argentine) Gaucho. Soldiers from the armies of the United States, England, France, Germany, and Russia were also included in the "Grand Review" of Rough Riders. In the writings about the performance, and in the performance itself, the riders of the world showcased athletic skills and strength that connected the men in a brotherhood of manly international riders. However, each group of men possessed certain traits that set them apart as oddities. Often associated with their race or nationality, the men were often described as peculiar, strange, or savage thereby differentiating each group's manliness. Other men did not match up to the combined practical skill, intelligence, bravery, and strength of the American cowboy or U.S. cavalry rider, who stood as the finest image of manliness. Understanding Buffalo Bill's conception of manliness must connect with the Rough Riders of the Spanish-American War. For five years prior, the imperial display of the Congress of Rough Riders had presented to American audiences all over the country the supremacy of white American manhood. The heroic actions of the First Volunteer Cavalry, or Rough Riders, led by Theodore Roosevelt proved Cody's ideal. The season following the end of the Spanish American War, Cody added a contingent of Roosevelt's Rough Riders to his entertainment. With the annexation of lands and people following the Spanish American War, the Congress of Rough Riders added Filipinos, Costa Ricans, and Hawaiians, with promotional materials billing them as "strange people from our new possessions." This piece of e-research investigates the use of masculine imagery in publicity and description of the Wild West performance in the written word and in visual imagery. It also examines how that imagery was portrayed and distributed to peoples all over the world. Through a close analysis of promotional materials and newspaper reports and essays related to this large and most popular amusement, one can witness Cody's strategic construction of ideal manhood. In this construction, Cody as the creator, claimed authority for the ideal and demonstrated it through emulative comparison.


Textual Analysis of Gendered Terms (Coming Soon)

Time-based Distribution of Rough Rider Press Coverage, 1893-1903

Global Distribution of Rough Riders

Spatial Distribution of Wild West Attendance

Roosevelt's Rough Riders By Occupation

Wild West Publicity Images of Masculinity

Roosevelt's Rough Riders Biographical Data

Browse Sources (Coming Soon)