Despite what many
may think, Buffalo Bill and Wild West Shows helped preserve Lakota
culture, authors say
of the book Lakota Performers in Europe, Francois Chladiuk,
left, and Steve Friesen at their book signing at the Buffalo
Bill's Pahaska Tepee gift shop Jan. 12, 2018. (photo by Andy
Cross, The Denver Post)
On top of Lookout Mountain, past roads named Moonview and Indian
Chladiuk inscribes a message in Old Lakota in an open book.
"Wakan ni un," the 65-year-old Belgian says to the couple standing
over him at Buffalo Bill's Pahaska Tepee gift shop and café.
"It's a quote from Walter Littlemoon. It means, Live in a
sacred manner.' "
The glossy, 276-page hardcover, titled "Lakota
Performers in Europe: Their Culture and the Artifacts They Left
Behind," is the third from author Steve Friesen who until
his retirement in October was the president of the Buffalo Bill
Museum and Grave on Lookout Mountain.
Friesen's good friend Chladiuk is a Belgian collector of American
West artifacts who helped with the book, which published in June.
Some of Chladiuk's most prized artifacts, particularly those used
during the 1935 World's Fair in Brussels by Lakota performers, have
enjoyed their own exhibit at the Royal Museums of Art and History
"As a collector, I appreciate and respect the items, and I respect
the people that the items belonged to," said Chladiuk, clad in a
cowboy hat, oversized turquoise bolo and hippo-skin Lucchese boots.
"It's one of the reasons why I'm never going to sell it. My greatest
wish is that it should end up in a museum.
The story around
the collection is maybe more important than the collection itself."
As part of Chladiuk's first visit to the U.S. since the book
was published, he and Friesen held a meet-and-greet and book signing
Friday at the café next to the Buffalo Bill Museum, where
about a dozen people showed up in cowboy boots and hats to buy personalized
copies and sip hot chocolate at wooden tables.
CO JANUARY 12: Buffalo Bill's gave site near the museum
January 12, 2018. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)
It's a canny bit of timing, given the
record crowds at the National Western Stock Show, which continues
through Jan. 21 and itself celebrates an enduring idea of the Old
"The Stock Show got its inspiration from Buffalo Bill's Wild
West and other similar shows in the late 19th century. And like
this museum, they tap into the legend or myth of the west that Buffalo
Bill helped create," said Friesen, 64. As the museum's director,
Friesen has been credited with transforming a roadside attraction
for an entertainer into a first-rate
collection of Old West mythology, which last year attracted
about 70,000 visitors.
"Buffalo Bill brought his former foes, the Lakota, into that
experience, and because of him and the other Wild West shows, their
culture is valued today rather than completely eliminated
which was the goal of the U.S. government at the time," he said.
As Friesen has written over his two-plus decades at the museum,
the reality of the traditional Western myth includes not only the
contributions of white men and American Indians, but also women,
vaqueros (Mexican cowboys) and the African-Americans who migrated
west as Buffalo Soldiers.
Wild West shows, once ubiquitous in the 19th and early 20th
centuries, were not tools for exploitation but rather cultural assertiveness,
Friesen said, despite the criticisms of the "politically correct
but historically confused."
"That is a kind of paternalism that smacks of what the reformers
were doing in the late 19th century," he said, noting that people
like Chief Luther Standing Bear graduated from Wild West shows to
become successful advocates for American Indian rights. "We give
the (Indian performers) very little credit when we say these shows
only exploited them."
Friesen and his wife flew to Brussels over the summer, just
a few months after the 100th
anniversary of Buffalo Bill's death, to spread the same message
at Chladiuk's "Western Shop."
The 15th-century building near Brussell's Grace Place is stuffed
with Navajo snap buckles, Stetson hats and Rockmount Ranchwear shirts
that Chladiuk sources from Colorado, New Mexico and Texas.
The international process of trading American Indian artifacts
and telling their stories keeps their culture alive, Friesen added,
provided doing so is rooted in cultural respect and facts.
"Look at the information. Look at the history before making
your mind up," he said. "Don't just be building this up in your