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For the last quarter of the 19th century, in places such as New York, Chicago, California, London, Georgia, even in smaller towns like Bloomington, Illinois, Wild West shows were the "it" thing. Presented to crowds of 20,000 and more, they were spine-tingling, rip-roaring sensations not to be missed, if nothing else, for the sake of a story to tell a grandchild fifty years later. As the harsh, open expanses of the American West closed in with the heavy footsteps of manifest destiny, the "character building" quality of Western land and Western life found a new home in Wild West shows and the public discourse surrounding them. The ability to construct distinctly American identities that contemporary historian Fredrick Jackson Turner attributed to the Westward moving pioneer was now available, in entertainment form, to all.



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