William “Buffalo Bill” Cody launched his Wild West Show in 1883, and it ran for thirty years.
His traveling show consisted of hundreds of horses, buffalo, deer, elk, cattle, donkeys, mules, twenty-five cowboys, around a dozen cowgirls and over one hundred Native American performers.
Due to the shows usually portraying Native Americans as the aggressor in re-enactments, many saw them as degrading.
In fact, the Native Americans who participated in the show lived better lives than if they had stayed on the reservation.
While many Native Americans were being forced to abandon their own beliefs, Cody’s shows became lessons about Native culture. Tribal costumes, which were forbidden on the reservations, were celebrated on the show.
Tribal dances, an art that was being lost due to Native assimilation into white culture, were demonstrated and encouraged.
During the months they were on tour, the Native Americans lived in authentic tipis and were free to come and go as they pleased. Many of the high ranking Native Americans chose to visit local schools to speak to the students about Native culture, spreading facts to places that would normally receive such information from textbooks written by white men who knew nothing of their subjects and their values.
Cody provided interpreters for the Native Americans who did not understand English instead of forcing them to learn.
He also hired a police force of elder Natives who were paid more than the average performer to make sure everyone was obeying the rules and respectful to their hosts.
Cody paid his troupe very well. His white performers and Native performers made the same amount.
Transportation was provided to all as well as good meals three times a day, and the Native American women were paid extra for bringing along their children.
At the end of each season, Cody paid bonus wages and bestowed gifts of food and clothing on all of his performers. Native women were also permitted to make some money on the side by selling handcrafted souvenirs.
This allowed the performers to not only live well while on tour, but to send money home to help other members of the tribe.