Native Americans were treated as Native Americans and were free from having to interact with the well-intentioned but narrow-minded missionaries, politicians and Indian agents.
Some of the performers included Oglala Lakota Chief American Horse and his wife, who traveled with Cody during the 1886-7 season, replacing current headliner Sitting Bull.
He was a major proponent of education for Native Americans and promoted friendship between his people and white Americans. Chief Flying Hawk, a Native teacher, often visited local white schools teaching Native philosophies and Lakota history.
He stayed with the Wild West show for over thirty years. While Lakota Natives were the primary performers, Sioux performers were also included, and performers such as Iron White Man, Joe Black Fox and Kills Close to the Lodge were free to openly discuss and educate about Sioux culture and history.
In 1887, Chiefs Blue Horse, American Horse, and Red Shirt along with their wives and children traveled to England to meet Queen Victoria during her Golden Jubilee celebration.
This was the first European tour for the Wild West Show.
They were given the opportunity to show Europeans the true culture of the American Indian.
They traveled throughout England for over five months educating British children and their families.
In 1898, photographer Gertrude Käsebier attended a Wild West parade in New York City and requested permission to photograph the Natives in the show.
Cody immediately granted her request and studio photographs were made of the Native participants on April 14.
The photographs were thoughtful and enlightening as they showed the performers in traditional garb and makeup in tranquil poses.
They show the intelligence and beauty of the Natives and became very popular in the United States, even though they were never used for advertising purposes and never appeared in the Wild West printed programs.
Today the photos are being preserved at the National Museum of American History’s Photographic History Collection at the Smithsonian Institution and can be seen there as well as online.