William Cody, a.k.a. Buffalo Bill, was the most famous American of his age. A child of the frontier Great Plains, Cody was renowned as a Pony Express rider, prospector, trapper, Civil War soldier, professional buffalo hunter, Indian fighter, cavalry scout, horseman, dime-novel hero, and actor. But Buffalo Bill’s greatest success was as impresario of the Wild West show, the traveling company of cowboys, Indians, Mexican vaqueros, and others, numbering in the hundreds, with which he toured North America and Europe for more than three decades. The show company came to represent America itself, its dazzling mix of races sprung from a frontier past, welded into a thrilling performance, and making their way through the world via the modern technologies of railroad, portable electrical generator, telephones, and brilliantly colored publicity–an entrancing vision of the frontier-born, newly mechanized, polyglot United States in the Gilded Age.
For more on Buffalo Bill, I recommend the book Buffalo Bill’s America.