Illinois Quarterly, 40/3 (Spring 1978), 5-21.

When The Wild West Went to Florence

William Urban

This account is based on Italian newspaper stories found in the National Library in Florence, where the author was the director of the Arts of Florence program of the Associated Colleges of the Midwest in 1974-75.

"Buffalo Bills WILD WEST" made three tours of Europe. The first (1887) was the most successful and was limited to Great Britain. The Queen and millions of Britons were thrilled and charmed by William Cody (Buffalo Bill) and his troupe of actors. His show was unusual in that all the actors played themselves only authentic cowboys, Indians, wild horses and bison were shown - and all the episodes acted out had occurred exactly as they were replayed for the audiences. Encouraged by the reception given in England, THE WILD WEST spent 1889-1890 on the continent, and some parts of the show remained there almost continuously until the final tour of 1893.

For many Europeans this was their first encounter with the stories of the American frontier. Germans and English knew of the West through dime novels and lecturers, but, unbelievable as it seems, many other Europeans had never heard of cowboys and Indians - and what many had heard, they did not believe. But they learned to believe when Buffalo Bill brought the western stories right into their towns, complete with rough cowboys, mean horses and Indians who often came directly from government prisons where they had been confined for having made war against the American army.

How these Europeans reacted to the savage West as shown by Buffalo Bill depended on the country they were visiting, but the reactions were always enthusiastic and the impressions long-lasting. This was important because thereafter they interpreted western history from Buffalo Bills presentation. Hollywood also adapted its view of the West from THE WILD WEST so that its influence later reinforced the interpretation that had become standard among Europeans. The Spaghetti Western was born on the continental tour of 1890, when THE WILD WEST was in Italy.

Although Florence was a comparatively small city in 1890, it was one of the centers of European culture. Rich in art and architecture, it basked in the knowledge that theater and opera had been born there, that Dante and Petrarch had created the Italian language there, that Leonardo da Vinci was a native son and that Galileo had taught in the university, that Michelangelo and Brunelleschi had decorated their home town with unsurpassed buildings and statues, that skilled artisans and musicians still abounded and that native cooking and wine were deservedly world famous. In the general level of culture only Paris (and perhaps Vienna, Berlin and Rome) could offer themselves for comparison. Probably nowhere was there a greater contrast to the civilization of the American West.

Florence was a sophisticated city, a city that specialized in spectacular entertainment. It was a city that had raced chariots in the city squares and built volcanoes for firework displays. Tens of thousands crowded the city on holidays, and there were always tourists to visit the shrines of art and architecture. Because Florence was a sophisticated city, and a city that lived by entertaining others, it was a very hard city for visitors to entertain.

It is not surprising, therefore, that few were excited when Buffalo Bill announced that he would arrive in Florence on March 11, 1890. The success of the performances in Naples and Rome had not reached the public further north, and the billboard advertisements caused more amusement than interest. His "I m Coming" ads most likely provoked only sallies of the famous Florentine wit. The newspaper was filled with politics, the activities of the royal family, the activities of other royal families, the crisis in Africa where Italy was trying to begin a colonial empire, and the influenza epidemic. In comparison with the visit of the La Scala Opera Company from Milan, what was a traveling group of Americans?

Fortunately an editor named Sigabetta was interested; a former student of Paolo Mantegazza, the famous pathologist, scholar and politician who had founded the Ethnological Museum in Florence, he was impelled by a desire to see the Indians. Making his way from the office of La Nazione in the center of town down the Corso (the long straight street once used for horse racing) to Piazza Beccaria (where a tower remains from the old city wall that was dismantled in the 1860s), he then went left a block to the railway freight depot (long since removed), and began making notes for the article which appeared in the evening paper:

This morning at 8:30 the special train of the Buffalo Bill Company arrived from Rome. The long train was composed of tens of cars for equipment and animals and several cars of first and second class. I saw in one covered car the famous Deadwood stagecoach that has been attacked so many times by Redskins. A truly historical object. The sides of cracked varnish and the squashed carriage showed that it had had adventures. Once there was a time when taking a ride in the stagecoach from one place to another was likely to lead one to death. The great stagecoach, of which today only the carcass remains, was then pulled by six horses. It was the first vehicle to serve for communications in the West before the railroad.

Colonel Cody (Buffalo Bill) was among the most valiant in fighting the Redskins and driving off bandits. In one of the places that the stagecoach passed Buffalo Bill killed the Indian chief Yellow Hand in personal combat. A nephew of this chief was at the station Porta alla Croce. He had a face the same color that his uncle had only for the hand.

On another wagon one could see the wooden house, with its wheels dismantled and without its smokestack (so that it could pass through the tunnels) that served as the kitchen for the savage Indians.

There was no one at the station when the special train arrived except for some agents of the company who were interpreters for the workers. Later some people gathered at the unloading platform of the station.

Several men and women got off the first class wagon, among whom was the famous shooter, Annie Oakley.

The Mexicans got out, some in their costumes, and then all the Indians in their picturesque fashions, wrapped in colorful blankets (carpets), with their faces almost covered. They come from all types of races - Sioux, Arapahoe, Blackfeet, and Ogallala. Little by little they opened the blankets and one could see the color of their faces - copper, gold, chocolate. Some were of an orange color, others reddish. But as for the color of the cheeks, we have some civilized people right here who could compete with the most savage.

One of the Indian chiefs spoke to me while he waited for the wagons with the horses and bison to be opened: "Please, sir, something to smoke." And I almost fell in two - I gave him two cigarettes.

There are about a hundred Indians.

The chief of the Redskins told me that they were very happy. They have only two women with them - perhaps that explains why. "We have other women," he observed, " but they have returned home." It seemed to me he would have liked to have added "fortunately."

Many of the Americans who are part of the company have gone to lodge at various hotels. The savages and the others are camping on the fields of the Mint. They sleep by their horses.

One should see how fast they get from the wagons the horses, the bison, and the Texas mules - which are a marvel, twice as big as our mules. They did not need any help; they did it all alone.

The horses were gotten off by a very simple means. Four cowboys held a small iron platform and the horses ran down it from the wagons onto the street. Then the Indians each took away one, two, or three horses. The horses are small, young and unshod.

The unloading was completed within a half hour of arrival. The horses, bison, and mules were out of the cars, led by hand here and there in the unloading area of the station by the Indians.

The morning was clear and mild. In the sun the Indians let the blankets in which they were enfolded fall half away. They were in clothes of many colors, with necklaces of strange manufacture. At first they all looked like women. In their figures, you understand, very ugly women. Long hair, very black, parted in the middle so that it was open in front and falling back over the shoulders. Some wore long braids, like our women wear, tied with ribbons made of colored material, and finally little mirrors.

Whoever had gotten up early (if you could call it early) and was along the Viale Eugenio or Piazza Beccaria a little after nine could have enjoyed a rare and picturesque spectacle.

Having finished the unloading, the Indians jumped on their horses, the Mexicans with them, with their pants of bison skin and their large hats, and some cowboys, and this cavalcade in unusual costumes, each horseman in addition to his mount leading by the bridle two, three or four others, went from the station of Porta dalla Croce to the Prato della Zecca. Among the horses, about two hundred in number, half mounted, were the bison. Groups of cowboys on foot ran and yelled some words of American slang. The wide road was almost deserted.

I assure you it was, on that beautiful clear morning, a spectacle worthy of being seen by an actor.

Partly because he was a great showman, and partly because he was constantly short of ready money, Cody was expert at getting free publicity. No doubt about it, he was one of the greatest publicity men of all time. Even though few Europeans read newspapers, the press was still the best means of reaching the public. Therefore, Cody cultivated editors, educating and entertaining them with his stories about the wild West. After an interview with Buffalo Bill, an editor usually hurried to write up a colorful article about the American celebrity who had come to town. This article appearing on the day of the first show would support the publicity campaign that began with the colorful posters and concluded with a parade up the main streets. As a further inducement to the editor, he would pay for an ad and promise to take out more (not mentioning that each day it would be a smaller ad until by the last day one had to hunt to find it).

Anyone who had ever tried to "cultivate" an editor knows that it can be a difficult task. How did Cody do it? Well, let's hear again from the Florentine editor of La Nazione, who wrote this remarkable story in his March 13 issue:

At noon an embassy composed of two Indians, among whom was the famous Bear of the Rockies, "Rocky", two cowboys, and one "trap man" came to announce that the colonel would receive me at the "camp" in his tent, or in his drawing room at the hotel. I preferred to meet him in his drawing room at the hotel. I met him there with his best friend, Crawford, an American journalist well known in England and France for his book, The Life of the English Judged by an American. Colonel William Cody is a very amiable man, with very simple manners, who dressed normally except for his big green hat that was folded in the manner of the Texas cowboys. Buffalo Bill resembled in the principal lines of his face, in his look, in his long hair, and even in his stature, a famous man, beloved in all Italy, Professor Paolo Mantegazza. He has the same lively expression tempered by sweetness, and almost the same tone of voice. The honorable Mantegazza honored me by a friendship above my merits and so I remember him with a deep reverence. And today, having spoken with Buffalo Bill, I had the impression of speaking with someone I already knew. The similarity, I repeat, is striking, except that Buffalo Bill is much taller.

The life of Colonel William Cody.Here I stop. The Colonel is a General and Brigadier General of the Volunteer Army. And like all the famous men of the United States, he has followed the most varied professions. "Understand," he told me this morning, "that President Garfield was a carter, sailor, teacher in a college, soldier; I was a cowboy, stagedriver, pony express rider when there wasnt a railroad in the West. I went from Red Bluff to Trucky, a distance of 122 kilometers (73 miles) a long way, dangerous, lonely, and I had to cross the North Platte River which was 800 meters wide (730 yards) and, although not deep, it had three meters of water in places. I made 24 kilometers (15 miles) an hour on my horse, including changing mounts and time to refresh myself. Once, arriving in Trucky, I learned that the courier who was to have made the second stage, which was, 138 kilometers (83 miles), had been killed the night before. They asked me if I would do his run. I accepted, and reached Rocky Ridge at the assigned time. I made 531 kilometers (318 miles) without stopping other than to eat and change horses. And that was the most extraordinary ride the Pony Express ever made."

Buffalo Bill does not resemble at all the large posters of him we see attached around. In those pictures he had the air of a fierce toothpuller, while, I repeat, his attitude, his look is full of simplicity and good will. He does not speak or understand anything but English, but speaks with great correctness, even a little slowly. Perhaps an act of courtesy done for his listener.

I asked about his youth.

"Ah," he answered, "I broke off. I began to talk about my life, and suddenly told about my ride, which is much talked about in America. Look." He let me see a copy of Buell, History of the Prairie, at the page which told the ride made by Cody in his youth. He reclosed the book with a certain sadness and said, "I was born at Scott, in the state of Iowa (he did not say when, but the colonel appears to be more than half way through the number of years our century has gone). My father, Isaac Cody, emigrated to the frontier of Kansas. He was killed in the frontier wars while I was a boy. No use speaking about that war - everyone knows the story. The Whites were killing one another over a disputed territory. The Redskins sought to massacre the Whites who were trying to occupy their lands, to bring civilization there. I grew up during these wars. From youth I was habituated to going on horseback and to use firearms. I accompanied General Albert Sydney Johnstone in his expedition to Utah; I was a guide to a group of emigrants; I hunted for a living; and I competed against some professionals, among whom was Comstock, in hunting buffalo. In one hunting competition I killed 69 buffalo. Comstock killed only 46. I was scout for the 5th regiment of cavalry, then commanded by General E. Carr. And I could show you in some books my name in the history of the military actions of that regiment. But youre in a hurry...Ill tell you that I was the chief scout, ordered to protect the construction of the Union Pacific. When I was hired to furnish meat for the workers who were occupied in building the Kansas Pacific, I killed 4862 buffalo in one season. My nickname of Buffalo Bill comes from that. Bill is the diminutive of William."

Apparently by this time Cody had his listener well hypnotized. There had been a time or two when he nearly lost him, as one can tell by reading the Italian text from which this is translated, such as when he started to skip over the war for Bleeding Kansas and when he was tempted to tell more about the 5th regiment. But Cody was watching his interviewer and told him the type of stories he obviously wanted to hear. Also, he or Crawford saw to it that all the names were correctly spelled, and wherever the Italian language lacked a word, it was usually left in English, in the expectation that the type of person who read La Nazione would probably understand it. That was probably right - only a well-educated minority ever bought a newspaper. But that type of person bought the high-priced seats. The interview continued:

Here Buffalo Bill gave me an issue of the New York Herald, where there was a long article in his praise by the famous general who had long fought against the Redskins, A. Carr. He translated a bit. This is what it said of Buffalo Bill:

"He has shown himself to be modest and without pretense. He is a gentleman in acts and in character. He has none of the typical frontiersman. He knows how to keep his dignity when it is necessary, and was never heard to use his knife or revolver, or mix in a brawl if he could avoid it. His ability in following the tracks of the Redskins, or in hunting, or in finding lost animals is extraordinary. In the summer of 1876 Cody accompanied me into the Black Hills where he killed Yellow Hand."

I asked the Colonel (I should say General Cody but I follow his common title) to tell me about his fight with the head chief of the savages, with Yellow Hand. A head called a hand - do you see the joke?

The Colonel answered me very simply. "Generals Merritt and Carr, for whom I was scout, had done prodiges of valor against the hostile tribes. Suddenly the news came of the destruction of the column commanded by that valiant leader, Custer. The Indians had heard of it, and after such a bold deed they couldnt be kept back; they observed no caution. They thought they could do anything. General Merritt heard that a hundred Cheyenne warriors were at Red Cloud, going to join Chief Sitting Bull at Big Horn. General Merritt, following my advice, resolved to attack the savages and defeat them before they could join the others. The 17th of June, 1876, I was sent ahead to see if the savages had already crossed the river. Not finding any tracks, I continued to look further. Going upon a hill, I saw some Indians advancing toward our camp, separating themselves from the others. I proposed an ambush to the General. The Indians were coming at full gallop. I was ready with 15 men and opened fire. Three fell dead. The others galloped back to their other men.

"Later a body of the army was sent against the Indians. We found them nearby, and the Indians outnumbered us greatly. Suddenly we saw them part, and one Indian covered with rich ornaments, came several yards out front, He was on horseback and armed with a Winchester rifle. "I know you," he said to me, "Pa-he-has-ka" (Indian meaning long hair). "You are a great chief. You have killed many Indians. I am a great chief. I have killed many Whites. Come and fight me." " Im ready, I yelled."

And here Buffalo Bill was totally calm and solemn, the pencil with which I was taking notes was worn out and without being distracted he reached in his pocket and offered one to me without stopping.

"I will fight with you," I said, "if the Indians and the Whites will remain separate to watch the Red Chief and me fight with rifles." Our troops and the Indians advanced so as to see the place and remained unmoving. I came about 50 meters toward my adversary, and we both charged at a full run. We opened fire. The Indian horse fell wounded, and my horse stepped in a hole and foundered. I got to my feet twenty steps from my adversary. We opened fire again almost at the same moment. But the Indian did not hit me, and I hit him in the chest. While He was on the ground, I took a knife and cut off his scalp the little ornament of feathers that he wore. It was the greatest insult I could do to that savage, the greatest sign of victory. All the savages then moved so as to give me the same treatment, but General Merritt had already given orders to the cavalry to cover me."

The Indians are almost all Catholic. Buffalo Bill told me "Their priests had spoken to them about the Pope, and of the magnificence of the Vatican. The Pope received them, and they were enthusiastic."

"And are you Catholic?" I asked.

"I dont claim any particular religion. I believe in God." "The Indians who are with me," he added, "are all prisoners of the government of the United States, and entrusted to me, under my supervision."

At that point the interviewer apparently stopped taking notes. Cody continued to tell about his life, and how he became an actor - from the need to make a living. The Italian editor concluded his description of Cody with the comment that if Cody could go from being a politician to being an actor, probably many other politicians could well do the same. And there is more than a hint in the way that he phrased it, that indicates he would be happy if some politicians would change professions.

Later in the day the editor went out of town along the Arno River, past Santa Croce Church, to the fields where the camp had been erected just south of the giant showgrounds at Porta alla Croce (now a suburb just west of Piazza Beccaria). He wrote:

I visited the camp at the Prati della Zecca about three. I entered the camp and asked for Buffalo Bill. He was pacing worriedly in his tent. He invited me to enter. Many photographs were hung up, that is, hung on the wall. I saw among them one by Rosa Bonheur that was dedicated to the Colonel. She had made a study of his white horse that she wanted to paint because she considered it a marvelous model of a horse. Colonel Cody showed me his diplomas - his appointment as a Brigadier General, his membership in the Freemasons. He is a Knight Templar of the Knights of the Legion of Honor.

In another tent was the treasurer of the company - Mr. Jules Keen. The strongbox was in the middle of the tent, with a writing table behind it. The treasurer, a fat, young American of the West, opened the safe. In it one saw only cigarettes.

I went into the tents of the cowboys. Along the sides of each tent there were two or three little iron beds and a table in the middle. All sorts of pictures - the Pope, Mazzini, King Umberto, the Prince of Naples, Garibaldi, and the Heart of Jesus.

In one tent separate from the others the prepared the bullets and cartridges for shooting. The little house that serves as a kitchen is on a wagon. I went in two big tents which were eating halls, one for cowboys, Mexican and American, and the other for the Indians. The Indians eat meat and bread like we do, only three times as much. One man was preparing the beefsteak for tonight. Two men were fixing so much mutton we think it could feed half the city. Yesterday between the Indians and the Americans they ate an entire cow. They eat beef, mutton, and milk three times a day.

The horses are kept in big tents, sixty to a tent, and are well cared for. Today they washed 200 horses one by one. The buffalo are in a corral in the open air.

The savage Indians are five or six to a tent, as if in the mountains or the prairie of their country. The tents of the chiefs are painted with horses and people - pictures like children draw -and above the door is a tail-like hat made of many colored bird feathers and the skins of other animals. The hat is worn whenever they leave the tent. They sleep inside the tent on a type of divan. In each tent is a fireplace with burning coals, and it is warmer there than in our rooms, even when well heated.

In one tent was the celebrated Miss Oakley. She is from Ohio. She is very polite. She is one of the greatest shots ever known - a prodigy. She says that one of her tricks is this: to throw two balls with one hand and hit them with all the bullets in the rifle that she is shooting with the other hand.

In another tent is the doctor, Mama Wittaker, also from the West. There is no doctor who could persuade the Indians to take medicine if she did not tell them to do so first. Whatever she says is right. Her tent is full of purgatives.

I went into the tent of William Levi Taylor, King of the Cowboys. He is from Texas. He says that his grandfather and uncle were killed at the affair of the Alamo. His other relatives died in the battles to secure the liberty of Texas. His family was decimated in that war. I spoke about "vaqueros." The name indicates superhuman strength and is very proper. They said that when he drank too much whiskey it was best to avoid him.

Tomorrow Im going to the show.

There was no article about the show, however. The editor was distracted by the influenza epidemic and local politics. Therefore, he confined his comments to saying that there was "una folle enorme (a huge crowd)." It is possible to reconstruct the outline of the program from the ads and from other shows presented by the company.

According to the Florentine ads, "La Compagnia Americana" of "Buffalo Bills Wild West" featured 100 Indians and 100 shooters, hunters, cowboys and cavalry. There also were many horses, buffalos, cows and mules. There was a ticket for every pocketbook (1-5 lira), the best seats up front in the center with a panoramic view of the huge arena (600 x 400 feet) and the gigantic backdrop painted with the mountains of the American West. No doubt the Italian master of ceremonies opened the program with a short speech similar to the one copyrighted by Cody five years earlier that emphasized the genuineness of the performance.

There followed a processional parade, the introduction of Buffalo Bill and his famous horse, and then the beginning of the Wild West: races between Indians on foot and horses, and Buffalo Bill killing Yellow Hand. Often the show had reenactments of famous events of the West, often using the actual participants (little Big Horn, for example, had half the original cast). Finally came the shooting and rodeo events. Buffalo Bill often did trick shooting together with Annie Oakley.

One favorite event was the holdup of the Deadwood stage. And, as was his practice everywhere else, he got the leading Florentine citizens to ride in the stagecoach during the performance. On the second day of the show, the only performance mentioned in the paper, the lucky individuals were Count Fabbricotti and an eccentric English millionaire named Frederick Stibbert, who founded one of the largest and most unusual museums in Florence. (He and Buffalo Bill must have had an interesting conversation about weapons, because Stibbert had one of the finest collections of swords, armor and firearms in the world.) There was a heavy rain, but a large crowd turned out anyway.

The newspaper ads were never large, but each day they were smaller, until by March 19 the show was listed under "Theaters" with only three lines announcing that the last performance would be the 20th (not the 21st as previously announced). Perhaps ads were not necessary. By now word of mouth had spread the news of the Americans fantastic show. On the 19th this article appeared, which reflects the impact the Indians had made on the normally sophisticated Florentines:

Yesterday evening some Indians of Buffalo Bills company came into the city, entering a linen shop in Via Calzaiaoli about eight. They complained that while the Queen of Serbia was in Florence, they couldnt enter a shop without gathering a crowd. Yesterday evening, indeed, hundreds of people crowded together outside the shop where the Indians were. I do not exaggerate. A trolley had to stop because the way was blocked. When the Indians came out, there were cries of joy. The multitude continued to walk with them. When they arrived at the Porta alla Croce, they were at the head of several hundred persons.

While the Americans gave the Florentines a taste of exotic culture, they hardly caused any profound changes in either their ways of thinking or acting. Even today Italians have little love for "noble savages" or untamed nature. Italians are so civilized that crime is quite rare, particularly violent crime (the Mafia is Sicilian, has little importance on the mainland, and became important only in America). The Indian culture, which honored only warfare and hunting and had no painting, music or literature worth mentioning, had nothing to teach Italians. The editor of La Nazione, whenever he mentioned Indians thereafter, cited them only as horrible examples of barbarity. While the Buffalo Bill company was still in Florence he wrote an editorial denouncing the conditions in the orphans hospital, which was being ravaged by the influenza epidemic. He ended his argument, saying: "I bet the Redskins, camped on the fields of the Mint, and obedient to Buffalo Bill, would not believe these things. We are the true Redskins of civilization, a false civilization, a civilization horrible." One orphan died the next day - a far cry from what was occurring on the reservations at that very moment, where the Indians were herded together under unnatural and unhealthy conditions and where life seemed to lack purpose. For those reasons, the Indians in the company were happier than those at home. They were well - paid; they lived as nomads in their tents; they were honored; and they were useful. Life had a purpose. The U.S. Consul in Berlin, where the tour gave a show in July, commented, "They are certainly the best looking and apparently best fed Indians we have ever seen."

The Florentines not only did not learn from their visitors any more than the visitors learned from them, they even made fun of them (as the Indians did of the Swiss guards at the Vatican). But they did not do it to their faces. They were both too polite and too cautious. But they did it in typical Florentine fashion - professionally and imaginatively. On the 31st of March, some 10 days after the company moved further north into Lombardy and then into Germany, the actors guild in Florence gave a public performance of "Pecoro Bill" (literally Sheep Bill). Because modern theater was born and nurtured in Florence, we may assume that the parody was skillfully done. Just as Buffalo Bills Wild West had opened its show with a parade, Pecoro Bill opened with a presentation of the company. Groups of actors came out dressed as Indians and Mexicans, with costumes so accurately made that the audience was delighted. Then they had an attack on the stagecoach and a funny imitation of Buffalo Bill.

The editor of La Nazione attended the second performance and wrote some heavy-handed humor himself:

Artists know how to ridicule, and it pleases everyone to parody people, to make jokes about and even condemn persons of good quality, those superior to others. Genius has to resign itself to this. Whoever lacks that type of genius is lucky, because he will not know that inexpressible torture. But the artists of the humorist society demonstrated good taste, versatility, and an inexhaustible vein of humor in their accurate parody of Sheep Bill. Therefore it merited the applause of the cultivated, intelligent, and elegant public that Florence has. And note another novelty. All the statues in the theater were clothed.

Although they may have laughed some, the Florentines did not forget Buffalo Bills Wild West. In 1974 one Florentine told about a supposed contest between his cowboys and the riders of the Maremma that was supposed to have resulted in the Americans defeat. Although no record of this could be found, it is not impossible that such a contest took place, because there were only four regions in the world that could have produced horsemen able to challenge North American cowboys and vacqueros -Argentina, South Africa, Central Russia and the Maremma south of Florence - all areas with similar geographic features and a cattle culture. Florence is still the one place in all Europe where one can get a decent beefsteak. But probably no contest took place. Most likely, what was in mind was the challenge in Rome by the Prince of Teano. Doubting that Codys wild horses were really wild, the prince had challenged the cowboys to break two of his famed Cajetan stallions. Thinking that the cowboys would fail, and even some spectators be injured, he lined carts around the arena to keep the people back. Of course, it took the cowboys only a few minutes to break the broncs and their fierce reputation.

What Cody did was to stimulate an interest in America that had lain dormant since the 16th Century. An Italian had discovered America, and the continents were named for a Florentine (Amerigo Vespucci). But the early interest had died when foreigners took over Italy, a foreign yoke that remained until the time of the American Civil War. Consequently only now were Italians beginning to think about other countries.

One aspect of Codys show, the exotic savages, perhaps stimulated the desire of Italians to conquer exotic savages of their own. Italian colonialism subsequently moved hesitantly toward Ethiopia and resulted in an even bigger defeat than Little Big Horn.

Another aspect, that of the romance of the West, appeared later in a Puccini opera, "The Girl of the Golden West." Puccini was born near Florence, was living in Milan in poverty and contemplating immigration to America; he did not go and in 1907 adapted the successful Belasco play into the opera. Caruso sang the lead role at his debut at the Metropolitan opera in New York in 1910.

A third aspect was immigration. Many Italians saw that men of courage and ability could rise to wealth in America, where the land was apparently still empty. Soon Italian emigration went from practically nothing to hundreds of thousands a year.

Lastly, Buffalo Bill stimulated the imagination. The marvelously inventive talents of the Italians created a West more violent, more exciting (if possible) than which ever existed. The Wild West went straight from Buffalo Bill to "A Fistful of Dollars."


The author is responsible for all translations. He visits Florence almost annually with groups of students.

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