Wild West Show history rides into Stillwater Public Library Nov. 14

May Lillie and Pawnee Bill

Story and image provided by Stillwater Public Library

The Wild West is coming to Stillwater Public Library on Tuesday, Nov. 14, at 6 p.m. when historical interpreter Anna Davis presents, “Surpassing in Truthfulness: The History of Pawnee Bill’s Wild West Show and the life of Major Gordon W. Lillie.”

Wild West Shows in the late 19th and early 20th centuries captured a piece of American history that was quickly disappearing, bringing Native Americans, cowboys, and rustic animals into American cities and abroad to entertain audiences with daring acts and tall tales. Davis will explore this little slice of American history, introducing audiences to the life and legacy of Pawnee Bill.

“Oklahoma was home to two of the largest Wild West Shows to tour America,” said Davis. “Most people know about Buffalo Bill’s, which was the largest, but fewer know about Pawnee Bill’s Wild West Show, the second largest, and the 101 Ranch Wild West Show, the third. We have a wealth of history in our own backyard!”

Pawnee Bill, also known as Major Gordon W. Lillie, began the Pawnee Bill’s Wild West in 1888 with his sharpshooting wife, May. The Pawnee Bill Ranch revives the show each summer, reenacting the acts from the original Pawnee Bill’s Wild West Shows. In 1908, Lillie and Buffalo Bill Cody formed the short-lived Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Pawnee Bill’s Great Far East show.  Lillie died in 1942.

“I think it’s important for people to learn about Pawnee Bill’s life because of everything that he accomplished,” said Davis. “It’s the story of a self-made man who helped to capture a piece of American history that was slowly starting to disappear.  He’s very much a man to be admired in today’s world, one that believed in hard work and, above all, a deep love of history.”

For further information on Pawnee Bill and the history of Wild West shows, Davis recommends reading “Pawnee Bill: a biography of Major Gordon W. Lillie” by Glenn Shirley and “The Real Wild West: the 101 Ranch and the creation of the American West” by Michael Wallis. Both books are available for checkout in the library. Other titles available and of interest include:

  • The 101 Ranch by Ellsworth Collings
  • Native performers in wild west shows : from Buffalo Bill to Euro Disney by Linda McNenly
  • Buffalo Bill’s America : William Cody and the Wild West Show by Louis S. Warren
  • Buffalo Bill’s Wild West: celebrity, memory, and popular history by Joy S. Kasson
  • Wild West shows by Paul Reddin
  • Wild West shows and the images of American Indians, 1883-1933 by L.G. Moses
  • Annie Oakley and Buffalo Bill’s wild west by Isabelle S. Sayers

Books will be available for checkout from the front display featuring information and images of past Wild West shows.

Anna Davis graduated from Oklahoma State University with a BA in History. Since 2006, she has worked for the Oklahoma Historical Society.  For 11 years, she has been helping to preserve the life and legacy of Gordon W. Lillie and his wife, May Manning Lillie at the Pawnee Bill Ranch and Museum in Pawnee, OK.

“History of Pawnee Bill’s Wild West Show” is a free program open to older elementary aged children, teens and adults. To attend, please register on the libraries webpage at http://library.stillwater.org or go to https://tinyurl.com/splwildwest. For more information about the program, contact the library Help Desk at 405.372.3633 x8106 or askalibrarian@stillwater.org.

The Stillwater Public Library is located at 1107 S. Duck St. (the corner of Duck and 12th Ave.).