American Studies ETDs

Publication Date



This study describes, analyzes, and interprets music accompanying the varied acts m Buffalo Bill's Wild West show at the end of the nineteenth century. Wild West performances included reenactments of frontier battles, ethnic demonstrations, shooting acts, and the Rough Riders of the World. Specific music analyzed includes instrumental music from the main arena played by the Cowboy Band, Native-American music performed as part of the exhibition's "Phases of Indian Life," and popular music of the day including parlor songs and "coon songs" enacted by the Concert Company performers. This study connects musical elements to social meanings and cultural values, discovering how music illuminates the cultural interactions between European-American, African­American, and Native-American cultures as they slowly synthesize into an American culture.

Chapter one metaphorically connects specific musical elements and styles to evocative meanings, social meanings, and cultural values. The following chapter establishes a cultural context for the Wild West and its music, tracing expressive components in the show to themes resonant in American culture: themes involving wilderness, civilization, and the controlled garden. Then, from primary source materials and the previously analyzed context, the study develops descriptions, analyses, and interpretations of the musical performers, their lives in the show, and music performed.

Findings reveal a dominant, progressive European-American influenced culture controlling the musical parameters and therefore, through cultural metaphor, the lives of the "darker" cultures represented in the show. Cultural dichotomies between the "civilized" music of the Cowboy Band and the "wild" music of the Native-Americans appear, as do cultural interactions and some cultural syntheses of European-American and African-American musics. Because the Wild West toured these late nineteenth century culturally interactive and dichotomous American musics, the sounds of the frontier, representing American culture and its values, were extended to the world.



Document Type


Degree Name

American Studies

Level of Degree


Department Name

American Studies

First Committee Member (Chair)

John Miller Clark (Co-Chair)

Second Committee Member

Vera Norwood (Co-Chair)

Third Committee Member

Peter L. White

Fourth Committee Member

Paul Fees