Act One: Buffalo Guys and Gals Historic photos of Wild West show performers from Buffalo Bill’s day.

buffalo_bill_wild_west_show_performers_cowboys_cowgirlsThey called her the Queen of the Sidesaddle in the 1870s-80s, but her entrances were anything but ladylike.

Emma Lake Hickok would burst into the arena standing atop a pair of chestnut mares, one foot in each saddle, then race around the ring at top speed. To top it off, she’d gather both sets of reins in one hand and tip her hat to the crowd.

And, yes, she also did some tricks riding sidesaddle.

Emma was just one of the entertainers who used Western legend, culture and history to fascinate folks around the world. For her, it was a family affair: her father was a circus clown, her mother, an internationally famous trick rider and her stepfather—Wild Bill Hickok—spent a little time with Buffalo Bill before deciding that he preferred to face down bad men to facing an audience.

Like Wild Bill, many of the performers had honest-to-God experience as cowboys or cowgirls (or Indians). Some were just as famous as the Prince of Pistoleers—outlaws such as Frank James, Cole Younger and Henry Starr all hit the bright lights, as did lawman Bill Tilghman. Bob Ford, the assassin of Jesse James, told the story of his deadly deed in theatres throughout the U.S. (although he frequently had to duck various objects hurled in his direction). Others were not as legit, perhaps, but as long as they could entertain a crowd, who cared?

Author Chris Enss introduces many of the female performers in her book, Buffalo Gals: Women of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show (TwoDot Press). Several of the photos in the slideshow above come from that publication. Others come from the incomparable collection of Robert G. McCubbin.

The entertainers of the Old West had a lasting impact. For ticket buyers in rural Indiana or small town Pennsylvania or big cities like New York, Paris or Montreal, the acts were not just representations of the West—they were the West.  The myths and legends they helped create still exist today, for better and for worse.

So without further adieu, ladies and gentlemen, gracing the pages of True West magazine, performing feats of incredible skill and courage—the great stars of the Wild West!

Buffalo Guys by Robert G. Mccubbin

Buffalo Gals By Chris Enss

Robert G. McCubbin, is a world-renown collector and authority on Old West photographs. Chris Enss is the author of Buffalo Gals: Women of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, which is available from Globe Pequot at GlobePequot.com or 800-243-0495.

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