Title: Buffalo Bill in Camp

Periodical: Era

Date: April 23, 1887

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Of all pleasant cicerones commend us to Mr Frank Richmond, the genial lecturer of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, who welcomed us on our visit to the camp in the American Exhibition Grounds last Tuesday afternoon. After we had passed through a portal in the hoarding that separates the enclosure from the main thoroughfare near Addison-road station, even before we had walked up the long path leading to the "camp," we had recognised the Western drawl and noted the tanned complexions and characteristic garb of several of the "cow-boys" who passed us. These cow-boys, we may explain, are simply the mounted drivers who manage and control the vast herds of semi-wild cattle which graze upon the prairies of Western America. The typical cow-boy possesses several strongly-marked characteristics. He is a perfect hero with respect to bearing pain and meeting danger. He has a code of honour which, half-savage as it is, he adheres to with far more rigidity than is the case in similar circumstances with the denizens of civilised districts. Absolute indifference to peril, perfect fealty to a friend, extreme amiability and openness, coupled with a readiness to "shoot" as soon as a certain code of civility has been transgressed, and a habit of indulging in periodical "sprees," which are dangerous alike to his pocket and his life, are, roughly speaking, the peculiarities of the cow-boy's character. Doubtless the latter custom has been abandoned by the members of Buffalo Bill's company, without any detriment to their admirable qualities. The camp at Earl's-court is composed of two double rows of tents, at the juncture of which are Buffalo Bill's headquarters. This roomy and comfortable domicile is neatly carpeted, and adorned with various fur-rugs, and with a pretty clock, the case of which is made of pieces of Colorado quartz, near which lies a most curious Indian "pipe of peace," cut out of hard red clay. In a chair near the entrance sits Mr W. F. Cody, "Buffalo Bill." Our readers have been already made familiar by lithographs with the long hair, handsome features, and broad hat of the manager of the Wild West Show. Mr Cody was at one time an actor well-known in the States, and Mr Nate Salsbury, of "Salsbury's Troubadours," who now acts as his right-hand man, was Mr Cody's agent when that gentleman was on tour. Being in the town of North Platte, Nebraska, on a Fourth of July, and having to arrange an exhibition of some sort in honour of the glorious celebration, they hit upon the idea of assembling the best riders and shots in the district, and getting them to display their skill and prowess. This was the germ of the intensely interesting show which is to form a powerful factor of attraction in the forthcoming American Exhibition. It need scarcely be said that as the Wild Westerns only reached their camp on the Friday before our visit, everything was in a transition state on our arrival. Passing along the line of tents, we found their tenants busy at work with characteristic American handiness contriving to make themselves as comfortable as possible. In spite of the extremely unprepared state in which we found the ladies of the troupe, they received us with remarkable affability and perfect "repose." Miss Oakley, "Little Sure Shot," whose wing-shooting is something extraordinary, and whose feats with glass balls and clay pigeons are phenomenal, bade us welcome to her canvas dwelling with as perfect an absence of hauteur as if she could not have hit a ten cent. piece held between our thumb and fore-finger at a distance of 30ft., and, without betraying the least sense that her collection of medals and prizes won in matches is considered the finest in America. None the less agreeable was our reception by Miss Lillian Smith, the "Californian girl," who styles herself "the champion rifle shot of the world," and who is equally good, we hear, at all kinds of markswomanship. We felt positively pained to intrude upon Miss Hickok [1] , who was just "moving in" without the assistance of a furniture van, and who awaited us calmly amidst her scattered household goods. A young lady who, besides being a very fine manège rider, breaks in the most restive animals and equals the bravest of the "cow-boys" in skill and daring in the saddle, can, however, afford to despise mere surroundings. Amidst so many first-class riders precedence is hard to fix; but, perhaps, all round, "Buck" Taylor, to whom we were next presented, stands pre-eminent. In height, at least, he does so. Six feet four inches in his stockings, and broad in proportion, with a frank smile and a voice that rings true as a bell, "Buck" is a fine type of the "Western man." What he can do on horseback and with the lasso is almost incredible, but our readers will believe it when they see it in the "show." Then there are Mr "Jim" Kidd [2] and "Utah Frank," [3] bold riders both, the latter having been for some time driver for the Overland Stage Company, and many others equally courageous and athletic, who bestride the steeds of various shapes, sizes, and colours that occupy the long range of stables. Here stand the favourite horses of Buffalo Bill, the fine mules which are used to draw the old Dedwood stage coach, [4] which is attacked by the Indians, and every variety of equine animal, from a small, plump, and half-broken pony, which is undergoing the process of "breaking," to Miss Hickok's fine manège horse. Last we are shown the "bucking" horses. For the benefit of the initiated we may explain that the "buck" is a perpendicular leap with all four legs off the ground, which is particularly difficult to sit, especially when accompanied by a thrust downward of the horse's head till it is placed between his fore legs. The object of the riders in the Wild West Show is, of course, not to cure these animals of their trick, so as soon as the brute stops "bucking" the man dismounts, so that the horse believes that he has conquered, and resorts to the trick the next time he is mounted in the arena. The "bucking" horses are, indeed, vicious-looking brutes, and one, a great, ugly animal, has severely injured himself by his savage resistance to the annoyances of the voyage. We have only time for a passing glance at the Indians, who are sitting outside their wigwams in another part of the grounds, and as we gaze upon two "braves," whose faces are painted in various colours, and who are attired in breeches, mocassins, and what look like crimson tablecloths, we feel strongly that the comic side of the Indian exterior has never been done justice to. The drawings which adorn their dwellings, representing an elk with anatomical details, and another mysterious animal resembling a plum-pudding breathing forth flames, are also screamingly funny. "Poor Lo!" will form one of the most amusing and interesting features of the Wild West Show. The energy with which the preparations are being pushed forward is remarkable. Seats are rapidly rising around the spacious arena, an ambush of large rocks has been erected at one end, and boulder scenery is springing up round one half of the enclosure. The arrangements for the comfort of the troupe are singularly complete, and the cooking establishment, where Mr W. Langham, the steward, presides over the dressing of a bullock and a half a day, is both convenient and well arranged. Standing in the roadway near are two vehicles, equally interesting in widely different ways. These are the "Cody buggy," an invention of Buffalo Bill's, in which, by the use of strong vertical springs, instead of the more costly ordinary ones, no weight can affect the level bearing of the body of the vehicle; and the real original stage-coach which used to travel between Dedwood and Cheyenne, and which, after having been often attacked and plundered by the Indians, was set fire to and abandoned by them, and thus secured for the show. In a neat enclosure at one end of the grounds are the buffaloes and elks which are such picturesque elements in the exhibition. Like the rest of the stock, they are in excellent condition, taking into consideration their fourteen days' voyage across the Atlantic. After a hasty glance at them we depart, convinced that for real interest, colossal proportions, and variety, the Wild West Show is an exhibition the like of which has never before been seen in London.

The following record of the freight of the Nebraska may be interesting:—Saloon passengers, all connected with the Wild West Show, 83; steerage passengers, 38; Red Indians, about 100; horses, 180; wild Texan steers, 5; buffaloes, 18; donkeys, 4; elks, 10; deer, 2; American mules, 8. The whites include "bosses," or chiefs, cow-boys, Mexicans, and lady artists. The Indians are divided into Sioux, Cheyenne, Pawnees, and Raphoes.

Note 1: Miss Emma Hickok, a fancy rider in Buffalo Bill's Wild West during 1887 and 1888. Given almost imperceptible cues by their riders, the horses, trained in the style of the Spanish Riding School, jumped to music, stood on their hind legs, and bowed to the audience. [back]

Note 2: James G. "Kid" Willoughby (1857-1916), a cowboy with Buffalo Bill's Wild West during 1885-89. [back]

Note 3: "Utah Frank" is not further identified. [back]

Note 4: Deadwood stagecoach. [back]

Note 5: William Langan, supply agent and caterer for Buffalo Bill's Wild West during the tours of 1887-88 and 1891-94. [back]