Artworks
Col. William F. Cody (Buffalo Bill)

Contributor

Paris gossip held that Buffalo Bill and Rosa Bonheur were lovers...and in many ways they did seem to be soul mates.  

Bill and his Wild West Show set sail for the Paris Exposition of 1889 aboard a steamship loaded with 97 Native Americans, 180 horses, 18 buffalo, 10 elk, 5 Texas longhorns, 4 donkeys, and 2 deer. Rosa herself kept a menagerie at her chateau in Fontainebleau, including a lion and lioness, a stag, a wild sheep, a gazelle, and numerous horses. Bill was a renegade frontiersman turned circus ringmaster. Rosa was a rebel who identified with the wild, independent American spirit, carried a government permit to wear pants, and smoked like a chimney.

In Paris, Buffalo Bill’s entourage set up camp around the newly built Eiffel Tower, complete with teepees. The circus showcased the pretty young Annie Oakley, who could outshoot any man, and the real life Chief Sitting Bull in a reenactment of his famous Battle of Little Bighorn. Sitting Bull supposedly cursed the gawking white audiences in Lakota as he rode around the arena.  Bill exploited...ahem, we mean “honored” Native American performers. It was a bad time for Native Americans, and they were desperate for work. Bonheur was fascinated by them, and spent days wandering around Bill’s camp sketching them.  She referred to them as “the unfortunate race” and “redskins.” Again, not the best time for Native Americans. Though it never was when Europeans were involved.

Bill gave Rosa a free pass to his show and she in turn invited him to pose at her chateau. He liked his handsome mug so much he had it reproduced as his headline poster and sold postcards of it as souvenirs. He had an unusual way of thanking her, too. After his beloved horse died, he gave her its head as a token of his affection.  Next time just send flowers, Bill.

Despite the romance rumors, their relationship was most likely platonic. Bill sent this portrait to his wife as a gift, and Rosa was thought to be a lesbian.  In fact, some even claim that Buffalo Bill was down with the gays before “gay” was even a thing, citing his close friendships with cross-dressing Bonheur and king of queer Oscar Wilde.  Buffalo Bill, a gay icon?  Those rhinestone cowboy circus costumes were pretty fabulous...