American Indians, Playing Themselves

As Buffalo Bill’s Performers, They Were Walking Stereotypes. But a New York Photographer Showed the Humans Beneath the Headdresses.

Chief Iron Tail original portrait

In 1889, William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody led a spectacular parade down Fifth Avenue in New York. A troupe of hundreds of performers—American Indians in traditional headdresses, cowboys in 10-gallon hats, and military men from Europe, the Middle East, and other countries who were known as the Congress of Rough Riders of the World in colorful regalia—marched down the broad avenue, accompanied by hundreds of horses, buffalo, and other animals.

The parade was designed to entice the public to attend performances of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, which played across …

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