Black Hills Knowledge Netowork

Sitting Bull with Buffalo Bill in 1895.
Sitting Bull with Buffalo Bill in 1895.
William Notman studios, Montreal, Quebec, Canada via Wikimedia Commons
April 18, 2017

IN HISTORY: Lakota People Travel to 1893 World's Fair Grounds in Chicago

On April 19th, 1893, over a hundred Lakota men, women and children, including many notable figures such as Red Cloud, Kicking Bear, and Short Bull, arrived in Chicago to participate in Wild Bill’s Wild West Show which was to be showcased during that year’s World’s Fair. The Lakota performers would spend nearly six months in Chicago captivating spectators from around the world.

Much like the modern-day Olympic games, the World’s Fair was a grand spectacle that gave countries an opportunity to showcase its wonders and grandeur to the rest of the world. In 1893, Chicago was chosen to host this grand amusement. The 1893 Fair celebrated the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s voyage to the New World and was thus dubbed the World’s Columbian Exposition. However, the six hundred acre fairgrounds would host attractions from a myriad of nations including Germany, Japan, Syria, and Egypt, drawing in millions of visitors. With such a grandiose event attracting so many, William “Buffalo Bill” Cody saw this as the perfect opportunity to present his Wild West Show, which had just returned from a successful tour of Europe.

After presenting the idea to the fair’s committee, they informed him that he would have to relinquish 50 percent of all money received in admissions as a concessions tariff. Cody refused this outrageous cost and instead decided to spite the committee by leasing plots of land directly adjacent to the fairgrounds so that fairgoers would have an easy stroll to the Wild West Show. This was not the only thorn Buffalo Bill put in the Fair’s side, however. Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show opened a month before the Fair opened its doors and would also give the poor children of the city a free admission day to enjoy the show as well as all the candy and ice cream they desired.

The show lasted for six months until closing just days before the fair. When all was said and done, the Lakota performers loaded their belongings and boarded a train headed west for home. While the fair itself turned out to be only a minor success for the city of Chicago, Buffalo Bill walked away with the profits from one of his most successful shows.

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