Founded by William Frederick "Buffalo Bill" Cody (February 26, 1846 – January 10, 1917)
It was the age of great showmen and traveling entertainers, like the Barnum and Bailey Circus and the Vaudeville circuits. Cody put together a new traveling show based on both of those forms of entertainment. In 1883 in the area of North Omaha, Nebraska he founded "Buffalo Bill's Wild West," (despite popular misconception the word "show" was not a part of the title) a circus-like attraction that toured annually.
As the Wild West toured North America over the next twenty years, it became a moving extravaganza, including as many as 1200 performers. In 1893 the title was changed to Buffalo Bill's Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World. The show began with a parade on horseback, with participants from horse-culture groups that included US and other military, American Indians, and performers from all over the world in their best attire. There were Turks, Gauchos, Arabs, Mongols and Cossacks, among others, each showing their own distinctive horses and colorful costumes. Visitors to this spectacle could see main events, feats of skill, staged races, and sideshows. Many authentic western personalities were part of the show. For example Sitting Bull and a band of twenty braves appeared. Cody's headline performers were well known in their own right. People like Annie Oakley and her husband Frank Butler put on shooting exhibitions along with the likes of Gabriel Dumont. Buffalo Bill and his performers would re-enact the riding of the Pony Express, Indian attacks on wagon trains, and stagecoach robberies. The show typically ended with a melodramatic re-enactment of Custer's Last Stand in which Cody himself portrayed General Custer.
In 1887 he performed in London in celebration of the Jubilee year of Queen Victoria, and toured Europe in 1889. In 1890 he met Pope Leo XIII. He set up an exhibition near the Chicago World's Fair of 1893, which greatly contributed to his popularity, and also vexed the promoters of the fair. As noted in The Devil in the White City, he had been rebuffed in his request to be part of the fair, so he set up shop just to the west of the fairgrounds, drawing many patrons away from the fair. Since his show was not part of the fair, he was not obligated to pay the fair any royalties, which they could have used to temper the financial struggles of the fair.