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Roaming Wyoming: Buffalo Bill, Queen Victoria, and "The Star-Spangled Banner"

By Peggy Jordan
Associate Editor, FMC magazine

During his lifetime, Col. William F. Cody — "Buffalo Bill" — was the most famous American in the world. So, maybe it's no surprise that the founder of Cody, Wyoming, has been credited with giving rise to America's good relations with Great Britain, and that some historians say he helped to make "The Star-Spangled Banner" the United States' National Anthem.

Buffalo Bill Star-Spangled Banner posterThe song already was popular in the United States by the time Buffalo Bill's Wild West show was created in 1883. The U.S. Navy, by 1889, used the anthem to accompany official flag-raisings.  However, other national hymns were contenders for our National Anthem back then — "Hail, Columbia" and "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" among them.

But Buffalo Bill kept "The Star-Spangled Banner" on everyone's mind. From 1883 to 1913, each performance of the Wild West show started with that tune. In 1887, when "Buffalo Bill's Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders" arrived in Europe, amazingly, an English band was playing it to welcome Buffalo Bill and his entourage to port.

The very notion that a song mentioning the "rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air" was being played by friendly British musicians probably put great hope in Cody's heart. Perhaps it meant good things were to come.

Buffalo Bill began the command performance of his show in England as he did in America: with his cowboy band playing "The Star-Spangled Banner." As the music swelled, out came a horseman bearing Old Glory, right in front of Queen Victoria herself. And the Queen fulfilled Col. Cody's hopes. She saluted the emblem of American liberty with a solemn bow.An 1890 photo of Buffalo Bill Cody with Indians during a tour of Europe.

"Then — we couldn't help it — there arose a genuine heart-stirring American yell from our company [that] seemed to shake the sky," according to Cody. "For the first time in history, a sovereign of Great Britain had saluted the star spangled banner, [which] was carried by a member of Buffalo Bill's Wild West! We felt the hatchet was buried at last."

Cody died in January 1917, and later that very same year, "The Star Spangled Banner" was performed for the first time at Carnegie Hall. It officially became the United States National Anthem 14 years later, in 1931.

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For more Wyoming stories and travel suggestions as you travel to Gillette for FMCA's 50th anniversary Family Reunion & Motorhome Showcase, visit www.wyomingtourism.org or call (877) 813 8071.

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