Title: Our Ladies' Column

Periodical: Leicester Chronicle and the Leicestershire Mercury

Author: Penelope

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An invitation to be present at the opening of the American Exhibition tempted me to abandon a drive through country lanes and a ramble amongst daffodils and primroses on the finest and warmest day we have had this year. Nevertheless, as we went in an open carriage, we had a longer time to breathe the air of Kensington and West Brompton than we had anticipated, for the whole distance of more than a mile before we reached the great building at Earl's-Court Station was blocked with vehicles making their way thither. Carriages of every degree jostled with each other; coroneted carriages, neat little broughams, Victorias, and stylish hansoms, but the crowding was not alarming, unless a brewers' dray or a ponderous omnibus endeavored to push on through the fashionable throng. As we sat waiting to move slowly along, we saw as many notabilities making for the Exhibition as at the picture private views a few days ago, and so, though we were late by reason of our slow progress, we were in good company. As is inevitably the case at the opening of every exhibition I ever saw, things were by no means complete on the opening day. Even the road up to the principal entrance was rough and unformed, and most difficult for horses to traverse. Inside the building the very shavings of wood still lay about, and the stairs were covered with sawdust. Nothing seemed ready, and in this one was reminded of every great exhibition ever opened in London since the year 1851. Not a seat was to be had when we reached the covered galleries overlooking the large open area in which Buffalo Bill and his troupe were to exhibit their feats of horsemanship, &c. Under a bright, clear sky, we saw before us an expanse of rough ground, apparently surrounded by well-arranged rocks and boulders, with clumps of trees and thickets in the distance, which seemed capable of providing ambush for any number of hostile invaders. The stands on which we were placed seated some 20,000 persons, and there were another two or three thousand scattered about the place. On a rostrum in front of the raised seats stood a gentleman called the "orator," who explained and directed the proceedings from his elevated position, and in a stentorian voice and Yankee tones gave a sort of running commentary on all that was done.

Colonel Cody, or "Buffalo Bill" as he is called, is of course the centre of attraction in this his own particular domain. Here he is "at home," and his exploits in the Wild West seem almost to be re-enacted for the benefit of a fireside English public. The wonderful feats of horsemanship on backs of really untrained wild horses put to shame anything like our cut and dried, tame, tinsel circus shows. This was real riding, worth going to see, and it filled me with admiration for the pluck and skill of the rough riders of the Far West. The Indian camp, with its painted redskins, the squaws and hideous little papooses, all anxious to display their accomplishments, whether in a war dance or a love song, brought scenes from Fennimore Cooper's novels vividly before one, and seemed altogether to justify the reputation of this American bit of enterprise. Never was any exhibition better advertised, for has not the Queen herself patronised it? excluding the whole of the public whilst she watched the evolutions of Buffalo Bill and his troupe, and allowed a selection of them to be presented to her. How pleased an audience of ordinary visitors would have been to have welcomed her Majesty on such an occasion, when, had she so chosen, she could have been as little annoyed or disturbed as royalty usually is when it trusts itself at the theatre or any show amongst a loyal people. A week ago the Prince and Princess of Wales made acquaintance with Buffalo Bill himself, and shook hands with the redskins in their tents. Then every paper told us some days since how Mr. Gladstone was one of the first visitors to the famous "scout" of the Wild West, and how he applauded and enjoyed the sharp shooting, buffalo hunting, and cowboys' feud, with which we were all entertained on the opening day.

The wonderful rifle shooting, in which Western boys and girls seem equally expert, was, I confess, less interesting to me personally than the feats on horseback, the races between cowboys and Mexicans on wild Texas ponies, the efforts at mounting and keeping a firm seat on bucking, jumping, untamed steeds, which would, I fancy, have astonished a civilised full-dress circus rider, but which these plucky followers of Buffalo Bill seemed to think excellent fun; then the attack on the mail coach as it jolted over the plain, by a group of wild Indians, was most exciting, and I foresee that the front row of the raised seats will be besieged daily by schoolboys from every quarter, as soon as holiday times begin. Buffalo Bill himself does not do much beside looking very handsome and imposing as he rides about on his grey horse, firing at glass balls most successfully, and cracking a bullock-whip till it sounds like the sharp report of a gun. Mr. Cody, or the Hon. W. F. Cody as the programmes call him, earned the title of Buffalo Bill by supplying meat in his capacity of prairie ranger to the men who built the Pacific Railway, and he is said to have killed for them above 5,000 buffaloes, beside deer and antelopes. Mr. Cody was once for a time in the Nebraska Legislature; hence the prefix of "Honourable" to his name. His knowledge of the Indians and their territories was most useful and valuable in matters relating to border legislation and the Indian problem. Taller than most Americans, with a bronzed and handsome face, and considerable personal dignity indicative of physical courage, Buffalo Bill cannot fail to be admired by all ladies who see him, for I believe these characteristics go a long way to win favor with the fair sex, and amongst his numerous followers there are many fine fellows who deserve to divide such favours with him. But one item in the very attractive programme of camp life, buffalo hunts, attacks on travellers, and so forth failed to please me, and that we did not stop to see. I am told that bull baiting, to illustrate the use of the lasso, is cruelly carried on, and that it was not well received by the spectators. When the managers find that such performances are not according to the English taste they will undoubtedly omit it from the entertainment, which is indeed quite sufficient both in quantity and quality to satisfy the most voracious sightseer, even to the thrilling climax of beholding a party of painted and half naked Indian warriors seize their victims, apparently to scalp them.

I feel sure that this will prove to be one of the greatest and most popular exhibitions in London during the season. It was full of Americans on the opening day, who seemed highly pleased with these illustrations of some of the startling realities of far Western life. Whilst listening with interest to a conversation between two ladies just behind me, whose very decided Yankeeisms and tone of voice proclaimed their nationality, I was amused to hear them regretting that some friend of theirs had been so long in England that she had acquired the "English accent." I had no idea till then that the absence of Americanisms was ever to be regretted; but a Boston friend tells me that she always recognises the English by their "accent," not as I fondly imagined by their perfect freedom from anything of the sort.

Note: Excerpt.