Title: The Wild West at Stoke

Periodical: Staffordshire Sentinel

Date: August 20, 1891

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"We laid low on the grass on the prairies out West,
The bright land, the good land, the land God has blessed,
Where nothing's confined but everything's free,
And the rivers of Nebraska run down to the sea;
Where the buffaloes went in herds and covered the plains,
With eyes glaring like fire and great shaggy manes;
Where the mountain tops reach almost up to the sky,
And one man for another is willing to die."

These lines have not been struck off by a local poet to celebrate Buffalo Bill's visit to the Potteries; they are part of a poem, entitled "My Ride for Life," written by Jouquin Miller, [1] a poet of the Sierra Nevadas, in illustration of a thrilling episode in the life of General Cody. They are quoted here because in them the poet sings of the sociability and hospitality of the Western people, a distinguishable feature in General Cody and his staff, and they have about them the freshness and the breezy freedom (both in metre and sentiment) of the prairie itself, a marked characteristic of everything attached to the Wild West. One of our representatives had a stroll through the camp yesterday and picked up several interesting items about some of the performers. Of Buffalo Bill himself we shall attempt to say nothing here. He is so well known as to make it quite unnecessary, and has been interviewed so often that the process must have by this become monotonous even to an American, although it was his own country which gave birth to the system.

Mr. Nate Salsbury, the director, claims first notice by reason of his indefatigable and successful exertions in running—to use an American phrase—the Wild West, for it is to his business capabilities that the wonderful success of the exhibition is chiefly due. Mr. Salsbury is well known throughout the United States, on this side the water, and through Australia. His history can be given shortly thus: Born in 1856, he went out with the first Illinois troops; served through the entire rebellion; was the youngest enlisted soldier in the army of the Cumberland; wounded three times; went on the stage in 1868; has acted before every English-speaking public in the world. Mr. Salsbury is now part owner of one of the largest and most valuable cattle ranches in the North-West.

George C. Crager, the Sioux interpreter, is one of the most intelligent and courteous officials connected with the show, and under his guidance our representative saw and heard much that was extremely interesting. Mr. Crager was exceedingly modest when speaking of his own experiences in the Far West, although they must have been at times of a very exciting and dangerous nature. He let fall, however, that at the age of thirteen he ran away from home, and got as far as Cheyenne, in Wyoming Territory. Here he met one Major Frank North, who was then chief of the Pawnee Indians, and lived with him some three years. Thence he drifted on to the Indian reservations about sixty miles farther out, and from that time until 1876 he was employed by the Government in several capacities. such as clerk, courier, and mail-carrier. In 1876 Mr. Crager enlisted to go on the well-known Crazy Horse expedition, the rising among the Indians in which the ill-fated Custer met his death. Four times he was wounded, either with gun or arrow. One bullet went right through the elbow, and it was only by the narrowest chance that amputation of the arm was avoided. Subsequently Mr. Crager helped in the removal of the Spotted Tail Indians from their reservation at Spotted Tail Agency to a point on the Missouri river known as Ponca, where an agency had been provided for them. Afterwards Mr. Crager went to Yankton, Dakota, where he was employed as private interpreter for the Governor until 1880, when he re-enlisted for another campaign. Subsequently, on a surgeon's certificate for wounds received, he was again discharged from the army, and he now holds two honourable discharges. Both enlistments were in the 3rd United States Cavalry. Mr. Crager has been present at all the principal councils and treaties held between the Sioux nation and the United States Government. He has seen the whole of the Sioux nation with all its phases, and in December, 1890, entered into a contract with the New York World to secure for that newspaper the latest reports of the Indian rising. His experiences on that expedition he graphically narrated in his letters to the paper named, and they form a chapter of thrilling interest, which we have no space to refer to at any length. On one occasion he was disguised as an Indian by some of the friendly chiefs—No Neck, Rocking Bear, and others—and sent into the hostile camp, with the result that six hours before the actual surrender of the rebels, he was enabled to telegraph the news to the New York World. All through this expedition, Mr. Crager says, he was materially assisted by the friendly Indians, who had just returned from Europe with the Wild West. In March of this year, Mr. Crager agreed to accompany Colonel Cody across the water, and he speaks warmly of the consideration and kindness extended to the Indians who accompany the exhibition.

Mr. Crager's cosy little tent contains relics of surpassing interest. Prominently displayed, for instance, is a pipe of peace, with which Fennimore Cooper's novels have made most of us familiar. The bowls of these pipes are made of red stone, which is only found in one quarry in America. It is situate near Sioux Falls, Dakota, and to this spot the Indians migrate to obtain the substance. The quarry is now, however, almost worked out, and the pipes are becoming things of the   past. Mr. Crager exhibits also the identical pistol with which the noted outlaw Jesse James was killed three years ago, and the story connected with this weapon throws an interesting light upon the summary way in which justice is sometimes administered in the States. A reward was offered by the Government for James's capture, and he was killed by another outlaw, Bob Ford. Mr. Crager points with pardonable pride to an eagle feather worn by the great chief, Sitting Bull, on the day of his death. It will be remembered, perhaps, that Sitting Bull was assassinated by the Indian Police on Tongue River. Mr. Crager has also the departed chief's mocassins, and hanging round his tent are several pretty pouches, made of beads and porcupine quills, in which the Indians carry their tobacco. What inveterate smokers they are will be gathered from the fact that each pouch is made to hold as much as twenty ounces. They manufacture their tobacco from red willow bark, but they do not entirely restrict themselves to this brand, and No Neck, to whom our reporter was kindly introduced by the interpreter, accepted with great glee a packet of English manufactured weed. Mr. Crager has in his possession several "ghost shirts" worn by the followers of Short Bull in the recent rising. The Indians supposed that these shirts would ward off bullets, but soon found to their sorrow that such was not the case. They are made of ordinary calico, but gorgeously trimmed with feathers and painted. Several arrows which are in evidence were picked up from the battlefield of Wounded Knee, where although some of the Indians were armed with repeating rifles, there were not a few who used the more primitive weapon. Mr. Crager also offered for inspection the leggings worn by the chief Spotted Tail when he was assassinated at Ponco Agency by Crow Dog, another chief who was jealous of him.

Questioned as to the language and character of the Indians, Mr. Crager said that none of them were able to speak English, and there were used in the camp seven different dialects, with all of which he was pretty well familiar. It had taken him six years, he said, to acquire the language. They have no written characters, and it is only by constant intercourse with the Indians themselves that their language can be acquired. Mr. Crager was kind enough to allow an inspection of two of the Indian tents or tepees, one presided over by the celebrated Kicking Bear, and the other by Short Bull, two very prominent chiefs. The outside decorations, and the simple though stable construction of the tents we have alluded to in a former article. By widening or closing an apurture at the top of the tents, the occupant can regulate the heat of the interior to any degree he pleases, and a cosy wood fire is generally ablaze on the floor in the middle of the structure, be the day hot or cold. The Indians recline upon mattresses placed upon boards, and sleep in a circle, with their feet towards the fire. A few of the braves were busily engaged in a game of cards, and a display of coppers forced even a casual observer to think that it was not of an entirely innocent nature. Seated comfortably in Short Bull's tepee, Mr. Crager pointed to the newly-made bride, Calls the Name, or as she might perhaps now be styled, Mrs. Black Heart. She recently married, at a Manchester church, a brave thus yclept, and is without doubt the only Indian bride who has had a marriage ceremony performed in England. The war-bonnets worn by the principal chiefs deserve a word or two of reference. There are four of them in the camp, and their value can scarcely be over-estimated, as they are practically unobtainable now. They are made only of eagle tip feathers. There are only four of the requisite kind of feathers obtainable from the tail of each eagle, and the chief who wears the bonnet is supposed to kill each of the birds himself. It will be easily understood, therefore, that it was not without some considerable trouble that Kicking Bear collected the long rows of feathers with which he at each performance decorates his head, and his bonnet is now valued at about £100. Others who own bonnets are No Neck, Yankton Charlie, and Short Bull. In conclusion, Mr. Crager said he had received nothing but civility and kindness from all the Indians he had ever come in contact with.

One has been tempted to linger so long over the romantic surroundings of the noble red men that space permits scarcely anything more than a brief mention of some of the other members of the troupe. Attention has already been drawn to the miraculous shooting of Miss Annie Oakley, Johnnie Baker also performs some remarkable feats with the gun. His best record was gained in August, 1888, in Philadelphia. He had then been only ten months before the public, and he killed fifty birds straight, double rise, against one of the local shots. At each performance he succeeds in hitting a flying object whilst standing on his head. This feat, he says, he attempted first in Munich. The Prince Regent visited the exhibition, and seeing him shoot from almost any position asked the marksman whether he had ever attempted to shoot in such a manner. Baker tried, and succeeded, and since that time the feat has always appeared in his programme. Mr. C. L. Daly, the pistol expert, is undoubtedly one of the cleverest pistol shots to be found in the world. Miss Della Ferrell, the chief lady rider, is a most accomplished horsewoman, and the Misses Georgie Williams, and Nellie Pugh are also most capable equestriennes. As for the Mexicans and cowboys, they must really be seen to be appreciated.

The American Consul visited the Wild West with a party of friends yesterday.

The attendance is increasing at every performance, and yesterday at least twenty thousand people were delighted with the curious antics of the buck-jumpers, the marvellous shooting of General Cody, and the realistic pictures of Western Prairie life. To-day commences the last three days, and the last two performances are on Saturday at 3 and 8 p.m.

Note 1: Joaquin Miller (1837-1913) was the pen name of American poet Cincinnatus Heine (or Hiner) Miller who was nicknamed the "Poet of the Sierras." [back]