Title: Buffalo Bill at Brompton

Periodical: Reynold's Newspaper

Date: May 15, 1887

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In connection with the American Exhibition an unusual attraction has been offered to Londoners in the large encampment of Sioux Indians at present located within the confines of the extended area which is occupied by the former project. This is Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, organised by the "Hon." W. F. Cody, whose sobriquet stands at the head of this article. After being in course of erection for some time, the American Exhibition was formally opened last Monday, many thousands of people being present. So far as attractiveness goes, however, the Exhibition itself certainly has to pale its ineffectual fires when compared with the startling realism of the picturesque appearance of the Buffalo Bill contingent, whose white tents, with their curiously coloured totems, and their semi-savage looking appointments, seen in curious contrast with such modern appliances of civilization as underground railways or the fashionably-dressed habitués of one of London's most fashionable suburbs. A large company was bidden to the opening of the Exhibition proper, which preceded Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. As is customary upon such occasions, a pleasant lunch was given by the executive, after which the visitors adjourned to a platform erected by Washington-avenue, the name of the location in the Exhibition where the function was held. Amongst those present were Alderman Sir John Staples, the always-youthful Sir John Bennett, Sir H. C. Knight, Colonel Hughes-Hallet, M.P., Cardinal Manning, and the Venerable Archdeacon Farrar, D. D. After the Grenadier Guards' band had played "Hail, Columbia," Dr. Farrar read a prayer, a proceeding which appeared to be almost painfully artificial, the crowd barely preserving a decent silence, and the clergyman, as he read the words from broad slips of blue paper, really seemed to be acting a part; and at this point, as throughout the whole of the proceedings connected with the opening itself an air of unreality prevailed. Upon the conclusion of the prayer, which was followed by some verses from the First Book of Chronicles, and a repetition of the Lord's Prayer, the Grenadiers played the National Anthem. Lord Ronald Gower next stepped to the front; and instead of addressing a few manly and hearty words to the assembly, proceeded with great deliberation to drone forth a set oration, in which he said he was speaking on behalf of the executive council of Englishmen who had been formed to welcome the American guests. If the welcome was not more warm than Lord Ronald Gower's speech, it is highly probable that no American of standing would care to have anything to do with it. After Lord Ronald had managed, by the help of keeping his eyes carefully upon the text, to get through his task, the president of the Exhibition, Colonel Henry Russell, responded in a manly and vigorous way. Colonel Russell said:—"In the name of those who are here from America with their products and inventions, I thank you for your generous welcome, and, through you, I beg to thank all the many Englishmen, high and low, for the encouragement they have given us in our effort to make a fair show of Yankee industries. When our forefathers two and three hundred years ago set sail from these shores in search of freer lives and opportunities, they may have dreamed that their sons would some day be back to claim a place in the busy market of the world, but never could they have realized the generous hospitality and brotherly kindness with which we have been received. It would be an easy task to lay before you figures showing the enormous yearly product of our country, and prove that her resources still underground are abundant to tempt many generation of Englishmen to explore and develop lands yet untouched; but our object here is merely to show what improvement we have made since the days when our ancestors reclaimed the American forests from the families of the very red men who are with us here. Sincerely we thank you, and cordially do we invite you, one and all, to join us in the future development of the New World."

Upon the conclusion of Colonel Russell's speech, Mademoiselle Lilian Nordica, the famous prima donna associated with Mr. Mapleson's Royal Italian Opera, made her appearance upon the platform, and was loudly cheered. After being presented with a superb bouquet of azaleas and white roses, the cantatrice sang with charming feeling "The Star-spangled Banner," and in response to the applause which it evoked gave a verse of "Rule Britannia," the notes in the upper register being delivered with a crystalline resonancy, the effect of which could be heard in the most distant corners of the building. Mr. John R. Whitley, the director general of the Exhibition, next made his appearance, and treated those present to a dissertation, which he also, like Lord Ronald Gower, carefully read. And after all these essays had been duly given, it was quite pleasant to hear the familiar air of "Dixey's Land," after which Colonel Russell declared the Exhibition open. Finally, came a few extracts from "Yankee Doodle," while, the ceremonial business of the day being over, the crowd adjourned with some haste to the huge stand, which accommodates some 20,000 people, and which overlooks the vast arena in which Buffalo Bill's troupe gave their performances. In fact, so dull and so dreary was the make-believe speech-making, that long before Mr. Whitely had concluded his remarks nine-tenths of the audience were racing rapidly up-stairs, ready to cross the bridge which leads to the other part of the grounds. Here a word. The pitch at this flight of steps is most dangerously steep. In the event of a panic occurring with a crowded audience, it would be, to all appearance, practically impossible for a large number of people to walk swiftly down them, and the directors of an Exhibition which is otherwise remarkably well provided with almost every modern appliance pertaining to the comfort and security of those who patronise it should certainly in this respect make some slight structural alterations. On arriving within the arena set apart for Buffalo Bill's show, a most picturesque spectacle presented itself. Two-thirds round the expanse set apart for the evolutions of the redskins, the Western cowboys, and their various cavalcades, has been constructed an enormous range of seats, which rise tier above tier. This was absolutely crowded with a dense mass of spectators. On one side may be seen—and the make-believe is most perfect—the blue skies of California, its rocky canons, and its waving pine-trees. Punctually to the moment appointed, what is quaintly termed the "orator" of the show, Mr. Frank Richmond, made his appearance in the stand, constructed out of rough-hewn pieces of timber, and proceeded clearly, in a voice which reached every individual, to describe the various items of the performance. Evidently, wherever Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show has travelled, it has not been the custom to purchase programmes, and this verbal indication in the several parts of the entertainment was as welcome in its vigorous terseness as the previous speech-reading had been wearisome. At the far end of the ground, yet apart from the exercises of the Sioux and their confrères, a long procession of braves and Indian warriors was now seen making its appearance, gaily garbed in moccasins and feathers, daubed from head to heel in hideous green or yellow ochre, and presenting a fluttering of finery, the chief artistic merit of which was its violent contrast of tint. As the redskins entered the enclosure, and while the long line of riders and steeds was still coming into the field of view, they wheeled sharply round, and the various bands of colour seen as the whole tribe deployed was striking in the extreme. The several tribes into which Buffalo Bill's contingent of Indians is divided were then described by the orator as they shot ahead at a hard gallop, and then suddenly checking the speed of their steeds, reined in as immovable as statues, within a few paces of the grand stand. After a race, and such illustrations of frontier life as an old-fashioned pony race, an attack on an emigrant train by the Indians and its defence by frontier's men was depicted. The waggons composing the train, with the emigrants within, and covered with linen, plough their way across the plain, when suddenly, with a wild, savage yell, the Indians appear and dash forward, firing as they speed towards the point of attack, many of them hanging upon the sides of their horses and firing under the neck. The emigrants respond, hurriedly compelling their cattle to lie down, and making temporary breastments of their bodies. The battle is changed in favour of the attacked by the appearance of the frontier's men, who discharge shot after shot with their revolvers with telling effect. The fault, however, of the scene—and it is a fault which mars the exhibition—is that the realism is only carried up to a certain point. Enough gunpowder is burned to make a mimic Sedan, but not a man or horse appears to be touched, and in an instant everybody gallops merrily away from the scene of what ought to have been a most bloody conflict.

After some very clever shooting by Miss Annie Oakley, who seems to be a feminine Dr. Carver, and illustrations of "cowboys' fun" in throwing the lariat, and picking up objects from the ground while riding at full speed, the audience were treated to a spectacle of some very clever riding, several members of Buffalo Bill's troupe mounting bucking horses and ponies, which dash about in a manner which threatened to dislocate their own backbones, and much more to injure anyone who dared to try to ride them. In almost every case, however, the cowboys were successful in mastering their steeds. More rifle shooting by Miss Lilian Smith, and horseback riding by American frontier girls, led up to the attack on the Deadwood stage coach by Indians, and their repulse by cowboys commanded by Buffalo Bill. This was very much a repetition of the previous part of the programme, the attack on an emigrant train. The Deadwood coach, with its solid india-rubber springs and ancient woodwork, was drawn rapidly along the ring by its team of mules. Suddenly the Indians appear on the horizon, and with a wild war-whoop bear down upon it. The passengers in the coach respond vigorously with their revolvers, and in the end Buffalo Bull and his followers give a good account of themselves, and the Indians are obliged to sheer off. The warfare, as in the previous contest, hurts nobody, and it was quite amusing to see the attackers and attacked galloping off in such happy guise. A race between Sioux Indian boys on bare-backed Indian ponies, and another between Mexican thoroughbreds, were followed by an illustration of the phases of Indian life. As the nomadic tribes were seen camped on the prairie, an attack by hostile Indians was made, and this was followed by a scalp, war, and other dances. The latter were novel, if not musical nor particularly picturesque. Buffalo Bill, "America's practical all-round shot," then gave an exhibition of roping and riding of wild Texas steeds by cowboys and Mexicans. The latter, however, appeared to be a little cruel, and was not quite so successful as the other parts of the entertainment. After an illustration of the buffalo hunt came an attack upon a settler's cabin by hostile redskins, which was vivid to a degree.

After the performance, those present adjourned to the Sioux village which has been erected close to the entrance into the grounds from the West Brompton Station. Here the redskins and their gaily caparisoned "squaws" did the honours of their wigwams to all who chose to pay them a visit. With the exception of a wooden floor, the tents are practically the same as those used by the tribes on the prairies. In the plaster tents huge fires were burning, the smoke finding its way out of the rafters on the top. The lodges are pitched right and left at two main roads converging to a common point, and form quite a pretty spectacle. Buffalo Bill's hut is a miracle of really luxurious comfort, with its costly skins and cosy easy chairs; and all the appliances of the camp, including the rough log hut, with the aperture by the sides of the door for taking a "pot shot" at visitors who were not wanted, is an odd reminder of the necessities of existence amongst those who first designed this somewhat primeval kind of dwelling. The windows in its walls are almost too small for the ingress of a human body, and light is consequently somewhat scarce, but it is a faithful reproduction of the earliest settlers' huts. From the Indian encampment the visitors strolled into the gardens, which comprised an area of some twelve acres in extent, and which during the coming summer may become a very pleasant popular place of resort, seeing that no less than four railway stations, those at Earl's-court and West Kensington as well as the two West Brompton Stations, give access to the grounds.