Title: The Wild West in Nottingham | The Opening Day

Periodical: Daily Express

Date: August 25, 1891

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Well, Nottingham has been to the Wild West, and found it good. They went in thousands—six or seven in the afternoon, and as many or more in the evening—we did not count them. Buffalo Bill has said the English are apt to think American life is not picturesque. He has, therefore, for our special behoof—and a little on his own and that of his partner, Mr. Nate Salsbury — undertaken to show us some of its most picturesque aspects. It is true, however, that Kicking Bull and his colleagues, in their vermilion and ocbre and eagles' plumes, would be as strange phenomena in New York Broadway as on Long-row; but for all that the exhibition is racy of the American soil. We feel a debt of gratitude to Colonel Cody for originating his magnificent enterprise, and for bringing his show to our doors. Englishmen can imagine American cities. They have their own. But we needed to be shown the red man and the cowboys of Colorado to realise them, and Buffalo Bill has enabled us to complete a picturesque mental vision. His name is now a world-wide fame, and through him we conjure up scenes of prairie and frontier life such as novelists have alternately painted in glowing and romantic, or weird, fantastic, and tragic colours. For it may truthfully and sincerely be said that the Wild West Show realises to the full all the anticipations which may have been formed. With as much fidelity as it is possible to simulate are portrayed with panoramic regularity the stirring episodes in which the veteran, but still lithe and eagle-eyed man, who sits so gracefully on his grey horse, has taken part. Colonel Cody has "been there," and so have all who take part in a performance that for dramatic and peculiar interest pales all displays that have taken place here previously.   The "Wild West," as we have said, has its own peculiar interest apart from the excitement its incidents arouse. It may safely be predicted that within a few years the scenes which are illustrated will have become but a memory. In twenty years time men with grey hairs will remember the originals of the mimic dramas of Buffalo Bill's show with somewhat of the faint romantic interest with which we now regard the cross-bow and broad-sword battles of our forefathers. The children who watched with excitement, not untinged with alarm, the development of the vivid pictures yesterday afternoon, will have for their manhood a memory of wild phases of Western life in a time that is fast fading away. The American pony express and the Deadwood coach have indeed long gone the way of our own running footmen and the mail coach. Buffaloes on the prairies of the great lone West are almost as extinct as the wolf in Great Britain or France; yet fifteen years or so ago Colonel Cody killed his hundreds a day. Cowboys and vaqueros still exist, but as horses become more valuable, as civilisation marches westward with giant strides, horsebreaking will undergo such a change that the rough and ready method which has produced such a race of wonderful riders—and they are nothing less than wonderful—will be more extinct than Spanish bull-fighters. Colonel Cody himself is one of the few living representatives of the race of Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone, and the times which called into activity the qualities which go to make up such a unique personality are last changing.

Soon the tomahawk and the hunting knife will be seen only in the arena of mimic battle and adventure, and when the scout and the frontier soldier find their occupation, like Othello's, gone, America and   England will realise that after all civilisation has "marched in Buffalo Bill's train." Colonel Cody made his own history years back; he is perhaps engaged now in commencing a new one for the Sioux. Moralising, however, is not particularly profitable. And it is necessary besides to say something as to the details of the performance. Quite apart from the absorbing features incidental to a rapidly-disappearing state of society, there are attractions of a nature which appeal strongly to all who admire activity, developed athleticism, and phenomenal skill. The gun and pistol shooting at the show is as admirable as it is extraordinary. Miss Annie Oakley—"little sure shot," was the graceful title bestowed on her by an old Indian chief—performs marvels of accurate shooting with shot-gun and rifle at glass balls thrown up into the air; Claude Daly, a shot with a very remarkable development of muscle, does most extraordinary feats with revolver and pistol. "Johnny" Baker might apparently be matched to stand on his head and shoot a match with Carver. "Johnny" indeed seems really to prefer the upside down position. Then Colonel Cody himself, riding full speed round the ring on horseback, discharges his Winchester magazine rifle with as much rapidity as one can count, hitting anything and everything that an attendant riding ahead or behind him can throw into the air. Ordinary circus-riding pales into utter insignificance before the Centaur-like feats of the "bronco-busters," while as a specimen of real aboriginal skill the clever arrow-throwing by Indians was appreciated by everybody.

It is a well-diversified programme, and the attractions follow one another in quick succession. The grand processional review with which the show opens is not one of the least interesting features. The sections of individual characters—the Indians figged out in all their splendor, and grouped tribally, the Mexicans and the cowboys—formed pictures of quite an instructive nature. An accident occurred almost at the commencement of the performance in a race between representatives of the three classes noted above. The pony ridden by the Mexican slipped up, and the rider falling was trodden on by the horse of a colleague in the race, the Mexican receiving some injury to his shoulder. The shooting of Miss Annie   Oakley has been referred to above. We saw the clever little lady in her neatly arranged tent after the performance, and learned from her several interesting matters as to her shooting. She uses both shot-guns and rifles during her feats—rifles principally—and smokeless powder. "The English can beat Americans at making powder and shot-guns," said Miss Oakley, "but the Americans make the best rifles and pistols. Some of my English shot-guns cost as much as (40 pounds). The smokeless powder is perfectly harmless in bulk if left loose, even if a lighted match is dropped into it." (This was proved by experiment.) "It is only when compressed that it is a dangerous explosive." "She was not shooting quite so well yesterday as sometimes," said Miss Oakley in reply to a question. "I feel now and then as if I could not miss a shot; but this afternoon I missed three. Occasionally, I have indeed missed on purpose; because it looks so easy if you never miss, and the spectators might think there was a trick in it." Miss Oakley was very complimentary in speaking of the shooting feats of her colleagues connected with the show; and, indeed, this part of the business is quite wonderful. But it is all clever and interesting. 'A Virginia reel' danced on horseback, led off by Colonel Cody and his partner, is a capital exhibition of horsemanship; but everything of this line in the performance gave way to the skill of the cowboy who rode the bucking horse Jubilee. Some day Jubilee   will fly into pieces. The "Buffalo hunt" was hardly as lively a picture as might have been wished; but seeing how scarce these animals have become, the very sight of the "buffler" must be considered a raree show. When the Smithsonian Museum (America) committee sent out an expedition in search of buffalo, in their effort to preserve a few specimens of the millions of these animals which only a few years ago roamed the prairies, they succeeded in capturing only 25: We need not catalogue all the various items of the show, however. Everybody came away highly satisfied in the afternoon, and at night the throng was greater. The Wells light [1] proved a real success, and probably not a single member of the audience missed a detail of the performance. A good word should be said for the Cowboy band. Their playing is capital.

Note 1: Wells lights were large kerosene-fueled lamps used to illuminate the performances of Buffalo Bill's Wild West. [back]