Those of us who live in Cody, Wyoming sometimes forget that our town founder was a world traveler and his legend reached many corners of the globe, even long after his death.
Of course we all know about how his “Wild West Show” touched Europe, and how his friendship with Queen Victoria resulted in the magnificent gift of a Cherrywood bar that still graces Buffalo Bill’s Irma Hotel today. I thought I knew most of the stories about Col. William Frederick “Buffalo Bill” Cody. I was wrong
Here’s the story:
In the 1950s, more than a century after Buffalo Bill’s birth in Le Claire, Iowa, a generation of disenfranchised young men and women in the African nation of Congo, and in particular, the city of Kinshasa, found a role model in the pop culture version of Buffalo Bill. At that time, Buffalo Bill’s legend was popularized and romanticized in movies and TV shows. The actors who portrayed Buffalo Bill were tough, masculine, and they always got the girl. Scenes of conflict between Cowboys and American Indians had a particularly heady effect on the youth in Congo, a country under the rule of Belgian colonialists. Segregation was a lifestyle, and young people knew only poverty and unemployment, and had very little control over their futures.
Inspired by the portrayal of Buffalo Bill these young people began dressing like cowboys, wearing their best approximation of Western hats, cowboy boots and shirts sourced from family and friends in Belgium. And then they formed gangs, which they called the “Bills” and the “Yankees.” Somewhat like the fictional Jets and the Sharks of “West Side Story,” these gangs established and defended their territories. And very much like the Jets and the Sharks, they sang and they danced. The clubs they joined and defended were known for dancing the Rumba, Tango, Maringa and Polka. In fact, one Kinshasa Cowboy became famous for dancing the Rumba.
But more importantly, they rallied and rioted in protest of Belgian colonization and nobility. Their tactics ultimately worked, and Congo became an independent republic in 1960.
If you want to know more about the Kinshasa Cowboys of the Congo, read the CNN story here.
Until next time, I’ll be brushing up on my Tango — and humming “I Feel Pretty”—in Cody, Wyoming.