Summer is a time for traveling shows, and on August 18, 1902 Boise hosted a visit by Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. By all accounts the program put on by Colonel William “Buffalo Bill” Cody was spectacular and could thrill big city urchins as well as European royalty. For Boiseans, only twenty-five years removed from the days of Indian wars, the show was a tribute to a quickly-fading frontier life.
Cavalrymen of several nations paraded on Main Street in the morning, led by Col. Cody and a drum corps. Sioux Indians rode the route wearing beaded buckskin and war paint. Some veterans of the Spanish-American War participated. A color guard and U.S. Cavalrymen, white and black, in dress uniform provided the finale.
15,000 people filled the bleachers to capacity at the afternoon performance, with a somewhat smaller crowd at the evening show.   Col. Cody’s marksmanship on foot and horseback astonished the audience. Arab acrobats and a squad of men from the Coast Guard’s life saving service provided diversions from the riding tricks and roping performed by gauchos, Cossacks and cowboys.
The show also dramatized an event from the news: the storming of San Juan Hill in Cuba by U.S. troops in the Spanish-American War. The advertisement for the program promised “all the exciting elements of actual warfare and battle—in which ‘Old Glory’ always waves triumphant.” The performers, shouted the advertisement, were “Ready for War.” Modern readers may believe the Wild West Show ran too strongly toward conflict and war. It seems that popular entertainment in every era has over-dramatized its topic, whether the topic was war-making in the last century or promiscuity this century. Colonel Cody was at least not a hypocrite. He promoted a heroic view of military life, but he had lived that life. His show employed many military veterans, who got good grub and respect.
The spectators got their money’s worth: two hours of non-stop displays of horsemanship, shooting and gymnastic feats. After the last act, workmen had the show torn down and loaded on a train by 1:30 a.m. It was bound for performances on the west coast—and Europe.

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