Frontiersman and stage entertainer William F. Cody launched his Buffalo Bill Wild West show on the plains of Omaha, Nebraska, in 1883. Though the touring show had a slow and unprofitable start, by 1886 it had found its financial footing. In 1887, to coincide with Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, the entire troupe (cowboys, Indians, horses, buffalo, wagons and all) sailed abroad to England. The London performances were an immediate success, even the Queen attended, prompting a second European tour through France, Spain, Italy, and Germany beginning in 1889.
The Western Americana collection recently acquired a complete 40 issue set of illustrated adventure tales that were likely published to coincide with the company’s travels through Italy: Buffalo Bill: Il Domatore delle pelli rossi. (Buffalo Bill: Tamer of the Redskins). The issues were published by Edoardo Perino in Rome in 1890, the year the troupe performed in Rome and the year Cody had an audience with Pope Leo XII at the Vatican. The Italian tales and illustrations display the same melodramatic style found in the American Buffalo Bill dime novels and stage plays that helped spread Cody’s fame in the 1870s. Interestingly, several of the illustrations in the Italian Buffalo Bill are attributed to French artist Paul Philippoteaux, best known for large cyclorama paintings depicting historical battles, such as the Battle of Gettysburg.
As seen in the images below, issues of Buffalo Bill: Il Domatore delle pelli rossi were sold for 5 centimes, while the entire collection could be purchased for 2.50 lire. The set is now quite scarce: a copy is recorded in the Biblioteca Universitaria Alessandrina in Rome and the Princeton copy is likely the only set in the United States.
2021 Update: Princeton copy now fully digitized and available online–Buffalo Bill: Il Domatore delle pelli rossi .
Blackstone, Sarah. Buckskins, Bullets, and Business: A History of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West. Westport, CT: Greenwood Pres, 1986.
Kasson, Joy S. Buffalo Bill’s Wild West: Celebrity, Memory, and Popular History. New York: Hill and Wang, 2000.
Russell, Don. The Lives and Legends of Buffalo Bill. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1960.