Title: With the Indians on the Derby Day

Periodical: Punch

Date: June 4, 1887

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FOR many weeks past, go where I will, I have been unable to escape from a variety of highly and biliously coloured advertisement-pictures of savage Indians and picturesque persons in a sort of Mexican hunter's costume, riding recklessly among prairies, shooting everything and everybody—and of other gallant sportsmen, riding wild buffaloes or bisons, which were represented by the artist as uncommonly spirited animals, all of them like "Old Jo" in the nigger song, "kicking up ahind and afore."

Besides these, I had been haunted by the portrait of the leader of the troupe, BUFFALO BILL himself, who is represented as a sort of wild TENNYSON, of thirty or forty years ago, with a moustache, and a fixed stony stare, suggestive of wool-gathering, which, by the way, may account for the length of his flowing locks. I had heard that BUFFALO BILL, in private, was the Hon. Something CODY, American Senator, who preferred this style of sporting Showman's life to attending in his place in Congress,—just as if MR. GLADSTONE, led away by his enthusiastic passion for tree-chopping, should chuck up his Parliamentary career, let his hair grow long, assume a picturesque dress, and make a tour of the world, on his own axes, with a company illustrating English life at Hawarden, and calling himself "Woodchopping WILL," or "Crimes BILL"—this having been the distasteful measure which had driven him to go about with a Show.

I was told that BUFFALO BILL'S show at Earl's Court gave a vivid and truthful representation of Life in the Far West—that is a West much farther than Kensington. And so, ever anxious to complete a neglected education, and, from my youth upward, devotedly attached to the novels of FENIMORE COOPER, it occurred to me that the Derby Day offered a chance of seeing BUFFALO BILL'S Show in comparative quiet. I don't know to what temperature the Noble Savages and the Cowboys and Cowgirls are accustomed, but on this occasion, the unfortunate spectators in the two-shilling seats, who could not career about, sat in the most piercing draughts that the Wild North-East could provide, a few protecting themselves with huddling together underneath their umbrellas (I personally huddled) while others were turning up their coat-collars, and regretting the absence of wraps. If the weather continues like this, a good trade might be done by the programme-sellers at BUFFALO BILL'S in hot-water bottles and foot warmers.

From what I saw there, I gather that Life in the Wild West is a theatrical, circus-like sort of existence; that everyone dresses in a fancifully embroidered costume, somewhat complicated by its arrangement of leather straps and loose tags; that there is a good deal of tan about, and that there are highly-coloured canvas mountains, trees, and blue sky all round up to a certain height, above which can be seen the attic-windows of the neighbouring houses; that Noble Savages ride in at full gallop to the accompaniment of airs from La Grande Duchesse, and other popular tunes, that they swoop and whoop, and squeak and shriek, in all the bravery of their paint and feathers; and that this, as far as I could understand it, is the only "bravery" they display, as there is nothing particularly daring in coming out, some forty or fifty of them, to attack four harmless travellers riding in a tumble-down old ramshackle vehicle—well named the "Dead-wood Coach"—and, on the appearance of BUFFALO BILL and the Cowboys, to gallop away again in abject terror. Nor is it remarkably courageous for the same number of savages, representing the entire tribe, to come out to steal a solitary horse which is quietly grazing on the sawdust plain in front of a log-hut where a man and his wife and a chance traveller, the owner of the aforesaid horse, are taking a little refreshment, with the blinds down. Two Indian scouts stealthily approach the horse, one appropriates it, and the other, in burglarious fashion, climbs on to the roof of the log-hut in order to shoot anyone coming out at the door, which he could have done just as well if he had remained, like a sort of Indian Chevy Slyme,"round the corner," without taking this extra trouble. In the meantime "the Braves" are in ambush behind some property trees and rocks. Suddenly, bang go rifles, the Cowboys, headed by BUFFALO BILL, appear; more wild banging; the Indians ride round and round, and, with screams and shouts and more war-whooping, scuttle off as hard as they can in the direction of the painted trees and rocks, behind which is their encampment. In fact, whenever the Noble Savages come into collision with the Cowboys, they get the worst of it.

But is this the true story of Wild West life? Why should the Noble Savages be always beaten by the Cowboys? It is a fight between Cowboys and Cow-ards. One day the Indians will turn sulky, and refuse to play any more, unless the Cowboys agree to be alternately the defeated party.

Then there was a scene showing how one Indian tribe, out for a pleasant pic-nic party, are just settling down comfortably, when up come a hostile tribe. There was a sort of Donnybrook fair of whooping and sham-fighting, and when the pic-nickers had been evicted the new occupiers of the sawdust indulged in a most unimpressive, ungraceful, and generally idiotic terpsichorean performance, which the programme tells us is a War-dance.

Taken altogether, I should say that these Noble Savages are born circus-riders, and have a fine natural aptitude for equestrian performances, but are somewhat deficient in humour. I saw one of the younger warriors attempting some comic business, but he was immediately suppressed. Yet what a feature a tribe of wild Clowns might be, in all their paint, with, of course, their Pantaloons, and a few extra cockscombs and feathers! The Honble. CODY, who, as BUFFALO BILL, doesn't do much except career about, take off his hat gracefully, and shoot at glass balls, which, though clever, is not quite a novelty, might discover a Pantomime Tribe in time for Christmas.

The buck-jumping is the only thing that doesn't seem to me to smell of the footlights and sawdust. It is a decidedly exciting, and really dangerous, performance. It struck me that the "Wild West" on the cold, North-easterly Derby Day, seemed to be rather a Tame West, the depression being, perhaps attributable to a natural feeling of resentment on the part of the Cowboys and Indians at being kept at work instead of being taken for a holiday to see the Derby. But B. B. knows best; and if the Noble Savages had once got a sniff of freedom and the fresh air of the Downs, they might have gone for a lark all over Surrey, have attacked the Dorking Coach, driven the donkey-boys off the sand of Margate, won all the nuts at shooting, scalped the Nigger Minstrels, frightened the Nurserymaids, seized the bathing-machines, and used them as an encampment on the plains of Thanet, set the local police at defiance, and at last, after refusing to return to the Honble. CODY, they might have come to terms with the other BILL—Albert Palace BILL, the People's Caterer—or arranged for a Show with GUS-SI-HA-RIS, the great White Chief of the Pan-to-mi-mis. Only one word in the Honble. CODY'S ear,—I [drawing] "Our Turn Next." should let the Indians win now and then, just for a treat. Also, what's the use of the gallant sportsman who ascends a pulpit and makes continual harangues, presumably descriptive of the Show, but scarcely one word of which could I, or those about me, catch on that lamentably cold Derby Day? I hope somebody hears him, as otherwise, if he is doing this twice every day, he is rather wasting his sweetness on the desert air of Tame West Kensington.