Vatican Corner 06-30-2019

One of the strangest spectacles that was ever seen at the Vatican took place on March 3, 1890. It was the 12th annual thanksgiving of the coronation of Pope Leo XIII and it was also when Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show came to the Vatican. American William Frederick Cody, better known as Buffalo Bill, was a legendary figure of the American West. He was a Pony Express rider at age 14, a Civil War soldier, a scout for the Army and the railroad, a buffalo hunter, and by the age of 23 became the subject of hundreds of books, plays and exaggerated news stories. The thirty year period known as the “Wild West from 1865 to 1895, with its cowboys, native Indians, lawmen, gunslingers, pioneers, prospectors, and scouts was of great interest to the American population, especially those living East of the Mississippi River. The eastern newspaper writers had singled Cody out as an ideal example of a man of the West and he became a folk legend. Recognizing the financial possibilities, Cody was easily persuaded in 1872 to star in a western drama. Eventually he became a superb showman and for many years performed during the winter and continued scouting for the Army or for hunting parties in the summer. He even started blurring the line between the two occupations by wearing his flamboyant theatrical cloths all the time. In 1883 he with the help of a producer created his own Wild West Show. It was an outdoor spectacular with a cast of nearly 200, featuring fancy-shooting, hard-riding cowboys, whooping Indians, Mexican vaqueros, a recreation of a buffalo hunt, an Indian mock attack on a stagecoach, a pony express ride, a simulation of the battle of the Little Big Horn, and a reenactment of the famous hand-to-hand combat between Cody and Chief Yellow Hand. The show’s stars included Annie Oakley who shot a cigar out of her husband’s mouth, and Chief Sitting Bull, the actual leader of the Lakota Sioux Indians. The show was more like a replay of current events than a circus. It played for sold out audiences in the United States and it traveled to Europe where it was a sensation. The audiences were captivated by the stories of the American West and ignited “Wild West Fever.” Cody and his show were invited to the Vatican to attend Pope Leo XIII’s anniversary celebration. The show set up camp in the Roman meadows near the Vatican. Cody rejected the Roman Coliseum because it was too small and rubble cluttering the arena. To be continued…