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Museum Minute: Sharpshooters and myth-making in Buffalo Bill's Wild West show

Poster of Johnny Baker
The Buffalo Bill Museum
Johnny Baker was described as “The Marvelous Marksman” in this 1893 poster.

Some characters in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show were known for their sharp-shooting skills, but Buffalo Bill Museum Curator Jeremy Johnston says their performances built up a common myth about westerners.

“Shooting acts were very common in Buffalo Bill's Wild West. And people like Johnny Baker, Lillian Smith, Annie Oakley, would come out in the arena and make all sorts of marvelous shots, giving the impression to the audience members that everyone that came west here was this dead eye shootist that could hit anything they took aim at.

But (in) historical reality, we look at some of the immigration of the Oregon Trail, a lot of people basically died from accidental gunshot wounds. There wasn't a lot of these dead eye shootists out in the American West that we’ve been led to believe, not only through Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, but through film and television as well,” he said.

Olivia Weitz is based at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody. She covers Yellowstone National Park, wildlife, and arts and culture throughout the region. Olivia’s work has aired on NPR and member stations across the Mountain West. She is a graduate of the University of Puget Sound and the Transom story workshop. In her spare time, she enjoys skiing, cooking, and going to festivals that celebrate folk art and music.<br/>