Jack Real Bird, Absalooka, putting on face paint for his role as a warrior in a Buffalo Bill Wild West show re-enactment held as part of the festivities marking the 125th anniversary of the town of Cody, Wyoming, 1996
Photograph by Morgan Baillargeon, CMC K96-952

People gather at rodeos to renew friendships, trade, participate in the rodeo, play gambling games and sports, and celebrate their traditional heritage through song and dance. They set up their tipis, tents and trailers in a temporary village. These activities originated hundreds of years ago as trade gatherings and continued into the nineteenth century as people assembled for annual payments promised when treaties were signed and, later, for fall fairs, and to celebrate July 1st and July 4th.

In the late nineteenth century, the traditional games, races, dances and parades that took place at these gatherings attracted the attention of theatrical entrepreneurs, who quickly integrated them into Wild West shows. From the 1880s to the 1930s, hundreds of such shows travelled across the Plains, along the west coast, and through the Great Lakes region and the Midwest. They employed hundreds of people from the Plains, Plateau and Great Lakes communities as actors, cowboys, stuntmen, trick ropers and buffalo riders. Native people were encouraged to live a traditional lifestyle, speaking their language, and performing dances, songs, mock ceremonies and battle scenes.

With the growth of the motion picture industry, at the turn of the century, Native people became the subjects of films. Today, they continue to be involved in the industry as actors, stuntmen, seconds and wranglers. Some are also finding employment in contemporary Wild West shows such as Disneyland Paris's recreation of Buffalo Bill's Wild West in Paris, France. In a few instances, Native people have established their own Wild West show.

Cowboy poetry and music are an important part of the lives of many Native Plains and Plateau cowboys, and while many have been active in this industry, very few are recognized. Roy Rogers and Will Rogers, for example, are well-known cowboy performers, but few people knew about their Native ancestry. Today, a growing number of Native cowboy performers make their way to the stage as poets, singers, songwriters and actors.

Introduction | Indian Days and Parades | Wild West Shows | Indian Villages and Pow-wows | Mounted Police | Entertainers | Motion Picture Industry