Popular Culture Association National Conference
Indigenous people, Native Americans, circus, wild west shows, metadata, digital collections
"The Wild West" has been romanticized and criticized as historical American trope. Much of this idea is based on the Wild West shows of Buffalo Bill, Pawnee Bill, and other traveling circus shows throughout the late 19th and early 20th century. Often these shows functioned as propaganda for American imperialism, condoning and perpetuating cultural genocide against Native American populations.
The presentation will use autobiographical information to explore how many Native American Wild West performances and exhibits worked subversively to critique racist American institutions. Exhibits like the 1904 World's Fair placed Native performers of the Wild West show in stark contrast to the Indian Boarding Schools of the day, undermining the school's white supremacist project. Exploring the individual lives of performers such as Samuel Lone Bear, Tom Yellow Thunder, and Lone Elk beyond the wild west show, I assert the agency and subversive strategies of Native performers. Ultimately, this presentation seeks to further redefine US notions of 'Wild West."
This research was conducted for the digital humanities exhibit, Agency through Otherness: Portraits of Performers in Circus Route Books 1875-1925. The exhibit is the final segment of the Council on Library and Information Resources grant project, Step Right Up: Digitizing Over 100 Years of Circus Route Books with collaborating institutions the Circus World Museum and The Ringling Archives.
Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR)
Wahl, Mariah and Yon, Angela, "Native Performance and Agency in the Wild West Show" (2021). Faculty and Staff Publications – Milner Library. 188.