Buffalo Bill Wants to Have a Word With You

His Wikipedia page lists his occupations as “army scout, Pony Express rider, ranch hand, wagon-train driver, town developer, railroad contractor, bison hunter, fur trapper, gold prospector, showman.” Of course, it is the latter occupation that Buffalo Bill is mainly remembered for, and the preceding occupations gave him the credibility to present a darn good show. He also made an audio recording.

Arguably, Buffalo Bill Cody was the first celebrity superstar. Recognizing the international fascination with the opening of the American West, he shrewdly developed Wild West shows that toured America and Europe. The immense popularity of his shows helped to create the myth of the Wild West and in many ways what we think we know about that period in American history is based more on his shows than on reality itself. Of course, Hollywood expounded on that myth, and in fact Buffalo Bill made a number of silent movies.

He also made a voice recording for the Berliner company. On April 20th, 1898, he recorded "Sentiments on the Cuban Question." Addressing a hot political issue of the day, he argues for American intervention in Cuba, using force if necessary. Interestingly, four days after the recording was made, Spain declared war against the U.S. thus initiating the Spanish-American war. You can listen to his recording here.

It's not clear why Buffalo Bill made this particular recording on the topic of the Cuban War of Independence. Any recording in those days was a novelty and perhaps he simply wanted to give it a shot. But why would a Western showman make a statement on a serious political question? The sinking of the armored cruiser USS Maine in Havana Harbor on February 15, 1898, killing 268 sailors, was still front-page news in April, and in fact Buffalo Bill added a set piece of “Cuban Insurgents” to his Wild West show to capitalize on public fervor. So, the recording might have been a way to drum up business for his show. Or perhaps he simply felt very strongly about the Cuba question. At that time, rather than mere entertainment, many prominent people saw an audio recording as an opportunity to create a document for future historians. It's interesting to note that after all these years, America is still trying to figure out “the Cuba question.”

In any case, ever the showman, Buffalo Bill did not miss the opportunity to overtly plug his franchise; at the end of his recording, he bellows out the name of his show, Congress of Rough Riders of the World!

Catchy name, BTW.