Title: The Wild West Show

Periodical: Era

Date: May 14, 1887

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THE WILD WEST SHOW.


As we took our places in one of the little boxes which edge the arena in the grounds of the American Exhibition, where Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show is given, we could not help being struck with the effectiveness of the scene before us. The size of the enclosure was one element of the impressiveness of the coup d'œil, and this was cleverly increased by the picturesque scenery which inclosed half of the circle. For the illusion to have been as perfect for those in the lower tiers and seats as it was for those placed above them, the canvas should have been carried up high enough to conceal the neighbouring houses, and for the pictorial sky to have blended with the real one; but this is a mere detail, and to attain perfection would doubtless have entailed considerable extra expense. Certainly no one thought of criticising the background minutely when at the edge of the ash-covered circle in the centre were drawn up on parade the whole strength of the Wild West company. There were the various tribes of Indians in their war-paint and feathers, the Mexicans, the ladies, and the cow-boys, and a fine array they made, with the chiefs of each tribe, the renowned Sergeant Bates, the equally celebrated Buffalo Bill, the stalwart Buck Taylor, and others who were introduced by Mr Frank Richmond, who, from the top of an elevated platform, described the show as it proceeded. The post of lecturer is no sinecure when such a vast area has to be filled by the voice of the speaker; but Mr Richmond made every sentence distinctly heard, and the interesting information conveyed by him in a mellow and decidedly audible voice was one of the most agreeable features of the performance. Few, perhaps, of the audience would have remembered, without the notification of the lecturer, the history of the pony Express, one of the most romantic in the annals of intercommunication, or have enjoyed fully the exposition by one of the leading cow-boys of the way in which the mails were carried. The emigrant train, which next wended its way across the arena with its teams of oxen and mules, its ancient waggons, and their burden of families and household goods, to be attacked by a tribe of redskins, who were soon repulsed by the ever-ready cow-boys, was an equally interesting resurrection of a method of peopling the soil practised even now in the remoter regions of the West, though the redskins, we believe, are pretty well confined nowadays to the Indian territory, and are reduced to, at least, an outward "friendliness." The next sensation was created by Miss Annie Oakley, who did some wonderful things with her rifle. Miss Oakley is of petite figure, and only just twenty years old. One of her most remarkable feats was that of standing twenty feet from her gun, running and catching it up, and, with a double shot, hitting two clay pigeons, right and left. A more difficult trick even than this was throwing up two balls with one hand, and knocking them both to pieces, and performing the same feat casting the articles backwards over her head. Miss Oakley's performance was a decided hit, and she was loudly applauded. We should like much to see a match between this lady and Miss Lillian Smith, "the California girl," whose forte is shooting at a swinging target. She complicates her feats by adding all kinds of difficulties to her aim, and her crowning achievements of smashing a glass ball made to revolve horizontally at great speed and clearing off ball after ball on the target just mentioned to the number of twenty were really marvellous. The part of the entertainment most novel to Londoners was undoubtedly the riding of the "bucking" horses. As Mr Richmond explained, no cruelty is used to make these animals "buck." It is simply "a way they've got." The horses are saddled coram publico, and the ingenious manœvres by means of which this is accomplished were extremely interesting to observe. Some escaped altogether from their masters, and had to be pursued and lassoed; others had to be thrown down in order that they might be mounted. When the cow-boys were in the saddle came the tug of war. There were various degrees of violence in the leaps and springs of the animals, but the mildest of them would have thrown even a moderately good rider to the ground in a moment. The "ugliest" of the lot seemed to be that bestridden at the conclusion of this part of the show by Antonio Esquival, but those mounted by Jim Kidd, Buck Taylor, Dick Johnson, Mitchell, and Webb were all "customers" of the "awkwardest" description, and showed what a rebellious demon there is in a half-broken horse who has lost his fear of man. There was enmity, savage or sullen, in every attitude, and in every movement of these creatures. The bucking horses should be seen by everyone in London who takes an interest in the "noble animal." The attack on the Deadwood stage-coach, which is a celebrated item of the show, was a very effective spectacle, and in this, as in an attack on a settler's homestead, there was a great amount of powder burnt. Mustang Jack performed the startling feat of clearing a horse sixteen hands high, having previously covered thirteen feet with a standing leap. He is, without doubt, an extraordinary jumper. Buffalo Bill's speciality is shooting whilst riding at full gallop, and he does this to wonderful perfection. He is accompanied by an Indian, bearing a basket full of glass balls, which he throws high into the air, and Mr Cody smashes each with unerring aim, whilst both horses are going at a hard gallop. The buffalo hunt was realistic, but necessarily a little lacking in incident. There was also some interesting manège riding by two ladies, and several short races between them, and also one between Indian boys mounted on mustang ponies. Summing up the Wild West show from an English and theatrical point of view, we should say that it is certain to draw thousands from its remarkably novel nature. When the first "rush" is over, alterations will probably be found necessary. One of the three attacks by Indians, for instance, might with advantage be removed and replaced by some novel "sensation." Could not a prairie fire be managed? We would also suggest for consideration the advantage of the introduction of a little scalping. Why should not the Indians overcome a party of scouts, and "raise their hair?" Wigs and scalps are not very expensive, and carmine is decidedly cheap. But it will be a long time before public curiosity will be glutted, and until then, "Buffalo Bill" may be content to "let her rip," and regard with complacency the golden stream that is flowing with such a mighty current into the treasuries of the Wild West Show and the American Exhibition.

Title: The Wild West Show

Periodical: Era

Date: May 14, 1887

Topic: European Tours

Keywords: American bison American bison hunting American frontier American Indians Cowboys Firearms Horses Mexicans Mustang Scalping Sharpshooters Shooters of firearms Shooting Shooting contests Wild west shows

People: Oakley, Annie, 1860-1926 Taylor, William Levi, 1857-1924

Place: Earl's Court (London, England)

Sponsor: This project is supported in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Geraldine W. & Robert J. Dellenback Foundation.

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