Strobridge Lithograph Co., Great Wild West Exhibition, 1908. Lithograph, 38 1/2 x 27 5/8 in. Museum purchase, acquired from Roy Arnold, 1965-353.24. Photography by Andy Duback.


Before movie legends like John Wayne galloped across the silver screen, real bonafide cowboys and cowgirls entertained audiences in live dramatic Wild West shows that traveled the world in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody pioneered the role of the quintessential cowboy by acting out the exploits of his life in this uniquely-American form of entertainment. Combining period posters with historical film footage, Playing Cowboy explores the profound influence Buffalo Bill and other Wild West shows had on shaping our contemporary understanding of the American West, Native American history, and the cowboy way of life.

Playing Cowboy focuses on Buffalo Bill’s 34-year career as both an impresario and star of his own Wild West as well as his role as an attraction for other competing shows operated by Pawnee Bill and the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch. A consummate performer and self-promoter, Buffalo Bill recognized the potential of motion pictures and starred in some of the earliest portrayals of cowboys ever captured on film. Dramatic footage shot of live performances of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West became the prototype for Hollywood Western movies made in the mid-twentieth century.

Colgate Gallery, Pizzagalli Center for Art and Education


Jun 23, 2018 - Opening

Oct 21, 2018 - Closing