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September 23: Buffalo Bill’s Cossacks

September 23, 2014

The New York Times reported on this date in 1895 that a Cossack performer with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, while performing in Paterson, New Jersey, beat a young Jewish spectator, Bernard Benes, “severely lashing him” until several other spectators put a halt to it. The horseman then disappeared and was still being sought by police the following day. Georgian horsemen, billed as Russian Cossacks, were prominently featured in the Wild West Show for nearly thirty years, beginning in 1893. “There were ten of them, ranging from 18 to 25,” according to a Wikipedia article, “under the leadership of a man called Prince Ivan Makharadze.... There is no doubt that those so called “Cossacks” were Georgians, because almost in every case the surnames of this horsemen ended with suffixes ‘-dze,’ ‘-shvili.’-ia” and ‘-iani.’ These endings of Georgian surnames indicate which area of the country they first originated.” The “Cossacks” rode with weapons, sang folk songs, danced, and performed impressive horseback tricks that significantly influenced American rodeo riders. “Only Indians and cowboys enjoyed similar popularity,” according to Wikipedia. To see footage of Buffalo Bill’s company parade in 1902, look below. For documentary footage of the Georgian riders, look below that.

1899cossacks“The Brave Cossacks of the Caucasus in wild strange feats and fearless equitation.’ Despite the Cossacks physical whiteness, the wild and strange tactics to which the poster emphasizes both textually and visually, and which appear strikingly similar to the Arabs, clearly differentiate them from the practical skill and higher manly character associated with other white riders.” —“Buffalo Bill, Rough Riders, and the Manly Image”