Title: The Stage and the Ring | The Rage for Foreign Actors | Luck of English and American Stars | The Wild West Show—Buffalo Bill's Big Time—Crowned Heads Among the Cowboys—A Princess in the Indian Melee

Periodical: The Sun

Date: August 29, 1887

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The Wild West Show—Buffalo Bill's Big Time—Crowned Heads Among the Cowboys—A Princess in the Indian Melee.

LONDON, Aug.14.—It would be rather a difficult task to calculate how many thousands, or millions of dollars for that matter, English and continental singers, players, and literati have picked up in the United States in the last thirty or forty years. It has appeared to be only necessary for a reader, a lecturer, a singer or an actor to hail from this side of the Atlantic to be saluted with a golden shower when appearing on the stage in any city of importance in America. Now and then some of those who have landed on our shores filled with anticipations of dramatic, histrionic or musical triumphs have been disappointed, but these few exceptions do not in the least invalidate the rule. English "professionals" in particular have most always met with a warm reception in America, have pocketed our dollars and have been made social lions. To be "English, quite English, you know," has been the "open sesame" to American hearts and American purses. Our artists have generally had a different experience on this side, and it is only a small proportion of those who, having achieved deserved fame and success at home, and who, coming here for fresh triumphs, have met with the reception to which their talents justly entitle them. It is a matter current in theatrical circles that more than one American star has lost in a disastrous English campaign the money accumulated at home, and it is asserted that a liberal estimate would not give to more than one in two of those who have made ventures in the old world a return sufficient to pay expenses. This season, however, an American venture of this character has achieved a success both in a social and pecuniary degree which is absolutely unparalleled in either Europe or America. The "show," for it can properly be called by no other name, which has this distinction has made the tour of the United States I do not know how many times, and while it probably always attracted average "paying" houses, it was never considered "swell," and one would not meet there the kind of an audience that would be seen on an opera night. Here this "show" has "caught on" in the full meaning of the term, and at its performances the attendance has rivaled if not exceeded in point of fashion, elegance and distinction the combined attendance during the same period at all the principal theatres of London.


Buffalo Bill and his company were brought here merely as an adjunct to the American Exhibition, but it is the most remarkable case of the tail wagging the dog that was ever known. This American Exhibition was heralded in advance with a great blowing of trumpets in both hemispheres, and President Cleveland was announced to open it by Atlantic cable. The auspices under which it was conducted are said to be entirely proper and respectable; and there seems to be nothing that is not strictly legitimate about it, but somehow or other it was not enthusiastically taken hold of in the United States, and the President, after reflection, declined to have any official connection with it. The exhibition is not much. It puts one in mind of the old Maryland Institute fairs. It is, however, in a most eligible location. The grounds, which are very large, are the joint property of seven railroad corporations. These corporations gave the grounds free of charge, and through their branches, underground and otherwise, they are getting pretty well paid for their liberality, as they have conveyed passengers by the hundred thousand. The grounds are very tastily arranged and adorned, and at night, with the display of electric lights, gas, Chinese lanterns, &c., the effect is quite inspiring. But, as I have intimated, the exhibition is really "very thin," and there is not much loitering around the "chestnuts," which have done duty at one and another town and county fair in the United States for lo! these many years. One glance is given, and the visitor then hurries on to get a seat in the vast amphitheatre where Buffalo Bill and his company prance around and burn powder. The character of this performance seems to have taken a deep hold of the British mind as furnishing a type of American life. If it was realized that such scenes and customs as are depicted are really as unfamiliar to nine-tenths of the American people as to themselves, it is altogether probable that the English would not take so much interest in them. Be this as it may, the fact remains that Buffalo Bill has taken all England by storm, from loyalty and nobility down. Frequent intimations of this have been sent to the United States by cable and letter, but I was totally unprepared for what I find to be the case by actual observation. Buffalo Bill commenced his performances on May 9, more than three months ago. He has given two performances every day since that time, Sundays only excepted. I saw both the afternoon and the night performance of yesterday, and at the two there could not have been less than thirty thousand people. Yesterday was damp and chilly, and the attendance was much under the average, which is 40,000 per day. The daily attendance at times has gone up to 50,000.


Between the afternoon and the night performance several gentlemen, including your correspondent, were invited to his tent by Mr. Cody, and afterwards dined with him. The occasion was quite interesting, as Mr. Cody talked freely of his antecedents at home and of his experience in London. His father, a Pennsylvanian, went to Kansas in the troublous days, was a free State man, and met a violent death. His son commenced as a stage driver on the plains and a scout when he was a mere child, and was driver of one of the wagons in the Utah expedition of Albert Sidney Johnston. [1] He has displayed in his tent the certificate of his services as a scout under all of the United States commanders on the frontier, and he showed with special pride a four-page letter from General Wm. T. Sherman, complimenting him in the highest manner on the reception he has met with in England. In answer to inquiries he gave an account of his trip across the ocean and subsequent occurrences. Of more than two hundred horses only one died on the trip. He said that every man in his company had his own horse, who knew him just as well as if he was a human being. At his suggestion the men two or three times a day would go down to the hold of the vessel, speak encouragingly to their horses and feed them, and to this companionship he ascribed much of the good condition in which the horses were landed. He brought with him nearly a hundred Indians and almost as many cowboys and other attendants. The camp is kept under strict military discipline, and he has appointed from his Indians a regular police force, whose duty is to correct their fellows, keep them from running out at nights, and to keep a strict eye that they do not get an undue amount of fire water. Some of the people who come to see the show are at times incredulous as to the genuineness of the Indians, and intimate their suspicions that they are white men painted and done up for the occasion. They are given all reasonable opportunities to satisfy their doubts, as after the performance the Indians wander freely about among the crowds. I never was at any of Buffalo Bill's performances in the United States, and never came in contact with him until yesterday. One might suppose that his experience over here would have turned his head, as it certainly would turn the heads of many men of much higher attainments and far greater advantages than any ever enjoyed by this frontiersman. But he talked it all over in the most unassuming manner, and I am quite sure that he lays much more store on Gen. Sherman's letter than on the incidents which caused it to be written. The Prince of Wales has called him "Bill;" the Grand Duke Michael, of Russia, brother of the Czar, [2] has slapped him familiarly on the back, and he has sat at the right hand of marquises and viscounts. At one of his performances six kings and twenty-four princes were present.


The Prince of Wales has come eight or ten times, and the Princess of Wales [3] has twice ridden in the old rickety Deadwood coach, which will fall to pieces some day when they are tearing around with it, while the sham attack of the Indians was made upon it. Upon the second of these occasions the Indians outdid themselves in hideous screeching and blazing away with their carbines, and the Prince, who was looking on, was alarmed for fear his princess would be nervous. When the coach stopped, however, she descended in the smoke, fairly radiant with smiles, and expressing her delight at having such a deliciously exciting time. The fox-hunting and the dare-devil riders of the nobility and gentry are particulary fond of coming to witness the bare-back riding of cowboys and Indians, and they take special interest in witnessing the antics of the "bucking" mustangs and the desperate efforts very often required to mount them. There was also some little incredulity at first as to the "bucking" horse, and it was intimated they were trained for this purpose. But close observation has always convinced the experienced horseman to the contrary. Since the Princess of Wales set the fashion there has been a great competition for riding in the coach, and it seldom has its baptism of fire that one, two or three ladies more or less prominent are not inside, with as many gentlemen on top. Last night, the son of a duke, who was in a very convivial frame of mind, scrambled up to the box just as the coach was starting, and amused himself and the audience by putting on frontier airs.


After Buffalo Bill and his people, the sensation of the hour is the American bars, which are also an adjunct of the exhibition. One of those bars bas a "complete list of genuine American drinks," and this list includes some four hundred varieties. There are fifty different specified cocktails, a hundred varieties of punches, and so on. Of course this is the sheerest humbug, as no one in America ever heard of one-tenth of the drinks mentioned, and it would be impossible to concoct beverages of so many different flavors. I know nothing about such things myself, but am told this by all the Americans who have seen this wonderful list. It must be admitted that a most vivid imagination was set to work to invent these names, as many of them are alluring and attractive. It is quite a study to Americans to stand around and watch the English ladies and gentlemen pore over this list and pick out something to try. Their exclamations of astonishment at the length of the list are frequent, and one of the first remarks they will make to an American is, "What a people you are for mixed drinks." Straight drinks are the rule here, and leaving out 'alf and 'alf they know nothing more about mixed drinks than what little knowledge they have imported from the United States.


One of the most animated features of the Wild West show, the lassoing of the buffaloes, has been abandoned. The cattle, when the lariat tightened about their necks, made a great fuss, snorting and kicking, creating the impression that they were undergoing severe bodily pain. Mr. Cody denies this, and says that the cattle and the men were so accustomed to the performance that the former suffered no inconvenience thereby, but rather enjoyed it. The S.P.C.T.A., which is a very formidable institution, did not take this view, and a warning notice was served, which, of course, was respected. This has had the effect to induce laziness in Mr. Cody's buffaloes, for they do no more now than canter slowly around the ring, and the cowboys and the Indians, who are supposed to be giving a representation of the buffalo hunt, have sometimes trouble to keep from running over them. It is all, however, very interesting and entertaining to English eyes.


The English gentlemen who are devoted to sporting are very fond of having the cowboys come out to their places on Sunday to look at their dogs and horses, and tell them of the stirring scenes on the frontier. Frequently there are not enough of the cowboys to go round. They enjoy the visits very much, and an active rivalry exists as to who shall tell the tallest stories. If they could all be collected they would make vastly entertaining reading.


Note 1: In 1857, at the age of 11, Cody began working as a wagon loader and later became a driver for Russell, Majors & Waddell, the company which held the freighting contract for the Utah expedition, under the direction of Albert Sidney Johnston. [back]

Note 2: Grand Duke Michael Nikolaevich (Nicolaievich) of Russia (1832-1909), son of Tsar Nicholas I of Russia (1796-1855), and brother to Alexander II of Russia (1818-1881). [back]

Note 3: The Princess of Wales was Princess Alexandra of Denmark (Alexandra Caroline Marie Charlotte Louise Julia, 1844-1925) and later Queen Alexander, consort to Edward VII, King of Great Britain, 1844-1925. [back]

Title: The Stage and the Ring | The Rage for Foreign Actors | Luck of English and American Stars | The Wild West Show—Buffalo Bill's Big Time—Crowned Heads Among the Cowboys—A Princess in the Indian Melee

Periodical: The Sun

Date: August 29, 1887

Topics: Buffalo Bill's Wild West in Britain

Keywords: Actors American bison American Indians Buffalo Bill's Wild West Company Cattle Cocktails Cowboys Historical reenactments Horsemanship Horses Nobility Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Russell, Majors and Waddell Stagecoaches Theater Utah Expedition (1857-1858)

People: Alexandra, Queen, consort of Edward VII, King of Great Britain, 1844-1925 Cleveland, Grover, 1837-1908 Edward VII, King of Great Britain, 1841-1910 Johnston, Albert Sidney, 1803-1862

Place: 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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