The central question facing the McCracken Research Library six years ago when it launched The Papers of William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody was basic: why should Cody’s papers be edited and published? Cody was not a great statesman; he was not an important philosopher nor a literary genius. Though widely recognized as a show business pioneer, his contribution to cultural consciousness and advancement has too often been, and in large measure continues to be, relegated to the margins of American history. Cody is readily accepted as a pop culture icon of his day but not always seen as a subject of serious scholarly study.
As this present volume illustrates, William Cody deserves the level of attention afforded by this documentary editing project not because of his intellectual, economic, or political contribution but, rather, in part, because he was the most successful cultural export in American history. No other enterprise before or since has so boldly claimed to represent the American experience. Moreover, Cody did not merely represent American culture—he defined it for generations of Europeans. In so doing, he gave it a definition that resonates today. From Cody’s prescient perspective, the United States is a pluralist, multicultural, exceptional nation. For European audiences, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West stood for the frontier, and the frontier stood for America. The American West was the canvas