Title: The American Exhibition

Periodical: The Newcastle Weekly Courant

Date: May 13, 1887

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The American Exhibition was opened on Monday, the 9th inst. Thanks to the kindness of a courteous editor I was able to be present, and also by invitation to partake of the first-rate luncheon usually provided for the privileged few. It was a feast indeed. Every luxury that the season does and does not afford was on the table. The fruit delicious, the wines also. I can treat my readers to a sort of barmecide feast by describing my share of the repast. First, soup, then salmon, with mayonnaise sauce; then chicken, tongue and salad, ices, and two slices of pine apple, followed by muscatel grapes. I was kept in countenance at the luncheon table by very few of my own sex, only about six I think, while there must have been at least three hundred gentlemen present; and I noticed the number of my waiter was 175, so that we were well cared for.

I sat very near to Mr Wyndham, [1] the David Garrick [2] of Criterion celebrity, [3] and he seemed quite as attractive off the stage as he did upon it.

I noticed Mr and Mrs Bancroft [4] also, and later Mr and Mrs Ledger, [5] he being the editor of the theatrical organ, the Era.

The heat and the crush were terrible. I advise those who go to take their opera glasses with them. I left mine behind and suffered in consequence. As in the case of similar recent exhibitions held at South Kensington, everything looked as if in need of the touch of the "Fairy order."

Beyond the Hon. W. F. Cody's "Wild West" Show, there was nothing particularly attractive, but the 20,000 people assembled seemed perfectly satisfied with the entertainment provided for them. The large amphitheatre is not covered in, but spectators in wet weather will be safely protected.

Buffalo Bill's personal appearance, is very fairly represented by the somewhat crude portraiture seen on the centre of the programme. He is a typical American. Long hair falling on to his shoulders, equally long moustache, and short Napoleonic beard. He wears a monstrous hat with prodigious brim, picturesquely tilted on one side, and a turned down collar showing a great deal of neck. His general physique and peculiar dress are unmistakably American.

The native tribes shown are veritable Indians, and the strange life and hazardous existence, as witnessed by these dwellers in the Far West is well represented. Every one would seem to carry his life in his hand, and the sternness of the law, for the lack of civil enforcement is upheld at pistol point.

The savagery and outlawry of so-called civilised men is hardly less dangerous than the fierce raids of their red-skinned predecessors. There is a very interesting sketch of the marvellous career of Colonel Cody and some of his strangely-named contemporaries.

So great are the dangers, and so critical the situations through which they have passed, that one naturally thinks they must bear charmed lives. Looking at these strange denizens of the almost trackless plains of the far West, one partially realizes how widely removed are the carefully governed and law-abiding folk of this Empire.

Life seems so curiously cheap, it is a marvel any escape the perils that spring up like blades of grass around. Violence, bloodshed, and general recklessness appear to be the material order of things. Murder frequent, and death apparently of no account. Most bloodcurdling are some of the situations we are introduced to, rough sketches of which are given in the book. Conspicuous enough is that which shows Mr Cody's first scalp, bristling with its panoply of feathers, and held aloft in fierce triumph; the bleeding foe lying prostrate at his feet.

The cow-boy proper is well represented, and is a sort of picturesque savage. He is bristling with venomous looking knives, revolvers, and other weapons, from the sight of which any woman would turn away her face with a sense of revolt.

The feats of arms to which we are treated are so realistic that it is difficult to believe it is a bloodless battle we view. The fierce encounter being followed by every imaginable sign of war to the knife. From the heart I pitied the woman whose loved ones are exposed to the terrible dangers of this wild life. Harrowing to the feelings was it to see a log hut wherein are the settlers preparing for rest, wholly unconscious of the stealthy foe, treacherously advancing upon them.

The attack, by Indians, on the historical coach of the Deadwood line, and the rescue by scouts and plainsmen, is thrilling indeed, the tearing horses, and the wild onslaught generally, make one thankful no such perils beset the traveller in this land.

Not particularly delicate is the dance of the Indian women, and to see them ride astride is rather shocking to insular notions.

Judging by specimens of the race, it would appear that the women of the Far West have not the horror of firearms which many of the sex feel here.

There is a young person of 15 years, not by the way very prepossessing looking, who seems as much at home with her rifle as most of us are with the needle; as a proof of this, of glass balls thrown from the hand she scored 323 successive hits, without a miss, and out of 400 in all, broke 395 balls.

The name of this lady is Lilian T. Smith, and a sister in arms is Miss Annie Oakley. At the age of 14, by the sale of game and skins, shot and trapped by herself, Miss Oakley freed her father's farm from a heavy mortgage.

As a rider her skill is most remarkable. It is said a gentleman possessed of a very vicious horse that none could break, offered it to this girl of 21 if she could make it tractable, and in three days the feat was accomplished and the prize secured.

Such women are well calculated to justify the opinion that our sex is physically as well as mentally the equal of man, an opinion I certainly do not share, nor am I desirous of being convinced that it is true.

Very interesting did I find the medicine man, but a more grotesque looking object I never saw, a bogie well fitted to frighten refractory children by unprincipled nurses.

The Indian in his way is as religious as the most devout Christian, and as careful of religious observance as the extremist Ritualist. His faith embraces two gods, equal in wisdom and power, the one beneficent the other evil. The savage firmly believes in immortality after death, and does not allow that his condition in a future state depends in any way on the course of conduct pursued on this side of the grave.

The soul is said to escape by the mouth, and only by two methods can it be prevented from reaching the Paradise that remains.

Strangulation is one means which precludes the chance of future happiness, hence the savages terror of that form of death. And again, scalping is a dire disaster that means annihilation. Indians sometimes refrain from scalping their victims because they believe such forbearance procures them the services of the vanquished in a future state. Another's belief that scalping deprives the savage of immortality leads to the extraordinary feats of courage, thereby Indians strive to save the dead friends from the enemy's knife. The Indian Squaws, and their pappooses, here are interesting to visitors; like all mothers, civilized or uncivilized, interest in their children was a source of satisfaction. The tiny bodies painted in Indian fashion gave a wierd look to these odd bits of humanity, and provoked in thoughtful minds many troublesome questions which the famous society in Southampton Street, Strand, would find it hard to solve satisfactorily.

I was fairly astonished to see how wonderfully some of the native riders kept their seats on the backs of certain mustangs, adepts at the art of back-jumping, arching their backs to perfect bow, and springing perpendicularly several feet in the air.

After the wonderful proofs of good horsemanship, there was a buffalo hunt.

The race of "Mexican thoroughbreds," which turned out to be very stupid donkeys, and, like the proverbial mule, persisted in going every way but to the right, to the rolicking suggestive tune, "We won't go home till morning," was a very amusing feature of the proceedings, and a pleasant change from the blood-and-thunder aspect of the preceding exhibitions.

The Royal family were conspicuous by their absence. Canon Farrar [6] read the opening prayer, and a sort of general thanksgiving, in which all present were expected to join, concluded the religious part of the proceedings. As a pleasant lounge, the American Exhibition will supply what we have lost by the closing of the gardens at South Kensington. There are, I believe, at West Brompton thirty-three acres of recreation grounds where, in fine weather, we may expect to enjoy fresh air, good music, and flowers as in past years; and we have reason to be grateful to the enterprise which provides such pleasant recreation for the dwellers in, and visitors to, the Metropolis.

Note 1: Sir Charles Wyndham (1837-1919), an English actor, manager, and playwright during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. [back]

Note 2: David Garrick (1717-1779), an English actor, playwright, theater manager, entrepreneur, and international celebrity credited with revolutionizing the British stage and acting during the 18th century. [back]

Note 3: The Criterion Theatre, a West End London theater on Piccadilly Circus in Westminster built and opened in 1874, is a 588 seat underground well-preserved Victorian theater with an intimate atmosphere. [back]

Note 4: Sir Squire Bancroft (1841-1926), born Squire White Butterfield, an English actor and theatrical manager who was knighted in 1895. Lady Marie Effie Wilton Bancroft (1839-1921), an English actress and manager. [back]

Note 5: Edward Ledger (d. 1921), an English editor and owner of The Era, a weekly newspaper about the theatre and music who authored The Era Almanack from 1868-1919, an annual publication of short biographies and photographs of leading theatrical endeavors and actors. Mrs. Ledger is not further identified. [back]

Note 6: Frederic William Farrar (1831-1903), an English theologian and cleric of the Church of England, honorary chaplain to Queen Victoria, Canon of Westminster Abbey, Archdeacon of Westminster and Dean of Canterbury. [back]

Title: The American Exhibition

Periodical: The Newcastle Weekly Courant

Date: May 13, 1887

Topics: Buffalo Bill's Wild West in Britain

Keywords: American Indians American bison hunting Cowboys Historical reenactments Horsemanship Horses Knives Mexicans Revolvers Sharpshooters Shooting

People: Bancroft, Marie, 1839-1921 Bancroft, Squire, 1841-1926 Garrick, David, 1717-1779 Farrar, F. W. (Frederic William), 1831-1903 Ledger, Edward, -1921 Wyndham, Charles, 1837-1919

Places: Brompton (Kent, England) South Kensington (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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