Title: The Wild West in Sheffield

Periodical: Independent

Date: August 10, 1891

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In the early hours of a soaking wet Sunday morning, when the vast majority of 320,000 hard working Sheffielders were still in the enjoyment of what a great writer called "the horizontal," Buffalo Bill and his train made their entry into Sheffield. To speak more correctly, we should say trains, for with the limitations which nature imposes on us in little England, neither the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire nor any other railway is equal to the task of transporting the Wild West show in a single train load. The first train, conveying the stock, which includes the valuable herd of buffaloes, and somewhere near 200 horses, reached Wadsley Bridge Station, about four o'clock yesterday morning. Two hours later came the human freight—officials, cowboys, and Indians, and finally, at nine, a third train, with a vast cargo of stores, the stock and stores being conveyed in large vans, which are wheeled on to flat railway trucks, and thus conveyed from station to station. We are afraid to say how many tons Mr. Barry Comrie, Buffalo Bill's transport manager, has thus to deal with in a night and a day, but in a visit to the camp at Owlerton, paid yesterday, in the genial companionship of Major John M. Burke, the accomplished general manager of the Wild West, we saw sufficient to testify that he must have been chosen for his post with as much judgment and sagacity as Buffalo Bill ever displayed in his extraordinary and eventful western frontier life. To transport a column of 250 well-drilled men, with the minimum of impedimenta, is no easy matter, as many a quartermaster of Volunteers learns by experience during these summer months. How much heavier the task when of those 250, 80 or more are Indians, with habits, customs, and language differing entirely from our own, and there is attached a couple of hundred horses, intentionally kept in as wild a state as possible, a score of buffaloes, and besides the tents for men and animals, materials for accommodating with comfortable seats 15,000 sightseers. Mr. Comrie achieves this task with ease, and yesterday morning, in spite of a deluge of rain, the camp sprung up as if by magic. For days the large enclosure—10 acres—has been bare, except of its timber boundaries and the double barricaded arena, but in a few hours it was transformed into a busy village. Very soon, from the peaks of the quaint Indian tents, arose light wreaths of smoke, which showed that the "braves" were seeking comfort from the chill moist atmosphere without, while the camp kitchen was even sooner got into working order, and yielding yet more appetising odours. Nearly 900 meals a day is the demand made upon the commissariat department — a demand which is generously met, the bill of fare including prime joints of beef and mutton, in quantities the sight of which created a respect for cowboys as well as Indian appetites. Then, round the arena, sprang up with equal celerity the stands for the accommodation of the public. Where one half-hour was seen a bare space, the next revealed tiers upon tiers of seats, squads of workmen advancing with military precision up the [missing] canvas roof was stretched over long lines of them, and fast spreading forward like an advancing wave. The greater part of the 15,000 seats, it may be here mentioned, are roofed and screened so as to be thoroughly weather-proof, and every arrangement will be made to secure the comfort of the crowds of patrons who are confidently expected. Every one, too, will have a clear and uninterrupted view of all the spectacle.

A singular interest attaches to the Indian village. Unlike the trim circular tents of a military encampment, but far more picturesque, they are not supported by a single pole and stays, but clusters of poles united at the top and spread out upon the earth, a method of construction which obviously ensures great stability. A hole at the top serves as a chimney for the fire, which is kindled on the tent floor, for the Indian tents are veritable "smoking compartments," and yesterday afternoon nearly all the doors of the tents were closely shut, with blankets stretched across with a pole in a very singular but most effectual fashion. Most of the Indians were sleeping after the fatigue of their night journey. "No Neck" and "Kicking Bear," with other less distinguished chiefs—friendly and hostile—were enjoying undisturbed repose, for Buffalo Bill's sway imposes no indignity upon these red-skinned nobility, and they are not called upon to share the labours of a showman's Sunday. Fifty or sixty workmen are permanently engaged, and travel with the camp, besides which upwards of 100 local workmen are called in. A few of the Indian braves were, however, in evidence, clad in the blanket costume of their nation. They are mostly men of powerful physique, with faces full of character and force. The long black hair and the absence of any beard or whiskers gives the men a somewhat feminine look, but there is nothing feminine in the determined set of the lips that divide high and prominent cheekbones from the massive lower jaws, and their aspect as a whole fully confirms the published statements as to the dogged and unconquerable courage with which they have met their foes. We learn from Mr. G. C. Crager, the chief interpreter, through whom we obtain one or two introductions, that the Indians in the camp speak no fewer than seven different dialects, for the Sioux may almost be said to represent a race rather than a nation, and differing tribes have strayed into peculiarities of speech that constitute their language a very Babel of tongues. They are, of course, picking up a knowledge of simple English words, but it must be remembered that the present Indian detachment is not that which has travelled with Buffalo Bill during his long American and European tour. Those travelled Indians returned with Colonel Cody to America when he went back to the States last autumn, and on the staff of General Miles' expedition rendered valuable services in the quelling of the Indian insur[missing] The men who are now living peaceably with Buffalo Bill in [the] outskirts of great English towns were a few short months ago participants and leaders in a sanguinary conflict which had within it the [poss]ibilities of horror that would have outreached our own terrible Indian mutiny. Their personal contributions to the history of the American Continent within last year constitute a chapter of thrilling interest. Mr. Crager assures us, however, that with tact and kindliness they have shown themselves easily controlled, and that their confidence once gained it is yielded to the full.

One of the chiefs to whom we are introduced, we   are interested to learn, is a happy bridegroom He was married on Saturday at a church in Old Trafford, Manchester. This is Black Heart—a fine young fellow, the only one of the Indian contingent who was in Buffalo Bill's former troupe. He went up with General Miles' column to the Pine Ridge Reservation in the recent campaign, and rendered considerable service at much personal risk in the interests of peace. His bride's maiden cognomen was "Calls the Name." What, however, she calls the name under the altered circumstances we neglected to inquire. The happy event created a good deal of interest in the camp, and Colonel Cody, we learn, made the bride and bridegroom a present which they much appreciated. Another introduction is to the little Indian boy, whose story is so closely connected with the recent struggles. After one of the most severe skirmishes in the campaign, that at Wounded Knee, the burying parties sent out by General Miles' force found among the dead several Indian women, who appear to have gone to do their share of the fighting with their papooses or children carried in the Indian fashion in bags upon their backs. Two of these children were picked up alive still in these singular receptacles. One of them died in a short time, but the other survived, and he was the little fellow before us. He has been named Johnny Burke No Neck—Johnny Burke after the genial major of that name, and No Neck after one of the chiefs of the camp. He appears to be a bright intelligent little fellow, he clings round the interpreter with a childish confidence that was very interesting, and we are glad to learn that he is becoming acquainted at six years of age with the mysteries of the English A B C. He wears a quaint Indian necklace, and seems to understand the value of an English sixpence. A propos of the necklace, it may be remarked that the personal adornments of the Indians, numerous interesting examples of which are shown to us, indicate on the part of the squaws who fabricate them, the possession of much artistic taste, as well as boundless patience and great skill in manipulation. A noticeable feature is also the extraordinary brilliance of the colours which are used, and it is interesting to learn that the dyes by which they are produced are entirely of native manufacture. One relic which is shown us, though of more recent date, recalls the interest which has arisen concerning the Holy Coat of Treves, for the recent Indian rising, like many national movements, had a religious basis. The most prominent chief in Buffalo Bill's company—Short Bull—was in fact a sort of high priest, and the "ghost dances" which he led were preparations for the coming of an Indian Messiah. Some of those who took part in the rising were favoured with the possession of "ghost shirts," which were credited with the power of turning aside the knife or bullet; and one of these ghost shirts we were permitted to inspect.

All this and much more we learn as we stroll through this unique encampment, till we almost forget that it is part of a great public entertainment with a programme of spectacles such as have never yet been witnessed in Sheffield. We also see moving about around us the cowboys, whose feats will thrill the crowds on the morrow; we look with interest on the Deadwood mail coach—the battered equipage, which is the survivor of the border period between savagery and civilisation in the West, and we make the acquaintance of one after another of Buffalo Bill's coadjutors and staff, who all strike us as specially knowing the way about in their several departments; and we leave the ground confirmed in the impression with which we entered, that in Buffalo Bill and his Wild West we find one of the most remarkable organisations of its kind which has ever visited Sheffield.

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