Title: Buffalo Bill at Portsmouth

Periodical: The Evening Mail

Date: October 5, 1891

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The fact that when Colonel W. F. Cody was exhibiting his Wild West show in London the Queen witnessed the performance greatly stimulated the national desire to see the gigantic exhibition. This desire was manifested in an equal degree on the Continent, after which the singular camp had to be struck, the services of the Colonel having been called in aid last winter by the United States Government in order to suppress an Indian rising in the North. The Colonel is again on tour, visiting most of the large towns in England, and this week the camp is pitched at Portsmouth, the site selected being a sixteen-acre meadow at North End, which was a few months since occupied by the Royal Counties Agricultural Show. Colonel Cody is in the fullest sense of the word an actor-manager. Brought up in his infancy on the prairies, few men are so well acquainted with the habits of the Red Indians. Years ago, when Sitting Bull tried to kick his Yankee ruler downstairs, Buffalo Bill came prominently before the American Government as a most expert scout, which is quite a different thing from the scout of a European Army. As we understand the term men employed on such service have to feel for the enemy, and, if possible, estimate numbers and ascertain dispositions; and they generally move in bodies. But in tribal warfare a scout goes alone. He has not only to discover the disposition and strength of the enemy, but he must be a smart and ready-witted topographist, and bring back details as to where wood, water, and other necessaries of warfare are to be found. He must also be a match for the ambuscades, which, in prairie struggles, can be so successfully laid. Colonel Cody's success in this direction not only recommended him to the United States Government, but he filled the Indians with admiration, as a white man who could outwit them at their own game, could speak their vernacular, and could at all times exercise a commanding influence. In shooting, pony riding, bucking, and all other risky enterprises Colonel Cody is as accomplished as the practised Indian, but beyond these arts he knows how to command and to persuade, so that both by precept and example he has the goodwill and affection of his very motley army of entertainers.

Sunday is invariably a busy day with the company, and yesterday proved no exception to the rule. After the evening performance at Bristol on Saturday night the camp was broken up, 76 railway trucks, making up three special trains, were laden, and the journey for Portsmouth was made. The trains should have arrived between five and six o'clock yesterday morning, but several hours were lost on the road; nevertheless by two p.m. the camp had been pitched again, and a few hours later all was peace and quietness within the enclosed meadow. Colonel Cody brings into the work of transmigration the valuable experience that he has gained among the Indians. Each department has its chief, who is responsible for his stores, though wherever the show goes he draws upon the town visited for his commissariat supplies. The Indians who accompany the troupe do no menial work beyond pitching their own wigwams, and this is effected in about seven minutes. Then they lounge about the camp, with nothing to think of but eating and sleeping until the entertainment commences. Yesterday our representative accompanied Major Burke, the general manager, over the field at just the busiest part of the day. There was no hurry or needless driving. Mr. Ned Salsbury, the director, who acts for the proprietor in the latter's absence, was giving his directions with the utmost nonchalance, while directing his eye to every part of the yard. At that time the formation of the camp could very well be made out. Of course, the centre is the arena, which measures 200 by 80 yards, and as Major Burke walked across it he remarked that it was rougher and contained more ruts than he had anticipated. "Never mind," he added, "it will make the bucking all the more exciting." Here we met Mr. G. C. Crager, the Sioux interpreter, who accompanied Buffalo Bill in his little war last winter, and fought, and interpreted, and reported the occurrences for the New York World. Mr. Shieble, the business manager, was also encountered. He was very much engrossed. The previous day's takings had not yet been counted. Mr. Langan, the supply agent, was congratulating himself that he could now get a shave and a lunch, as his work for the day was finished. With the assistance of Messrs. A. W. White and Co., who did the transport from the railway-station, he was able to report that everything, even to a darning needle, was on the ground, and the dinner preparations were well advanced. Then we encountered cowboys and all sorts of people, some talking Dutch, some gabbering in their Indian patois, some delivering themselves in French. The show would not be complete without the Scotchman and the cockney, and their dulcet tones were soon heard.

Surrounding the arena are seats for fifteen thousand people, and at night the whole area is so brilliantly illuminated with Wells lamps that the most difficult shots can be successfully made. Then outside the enclosure for the public is the camp itself. At the North End boundary of the field is a long street, one side of which is occupied by the Indians' wigwams, and the other by the white men's tents. Abutting on the Hilsea road are the head-quarters, with Colonel Cody's tent in the centre. It is divided into two apartments, one being the sleeping-room and the other the office, drawing-room, reception-room, and council-room. A curiously furnished apartment surely. The floor is boarded and covered with skins, each of which could, if gifted with the power of speech, tell a curious tale of some hair-breadth adventure. There is a trunk full of albums, and each book is full of Press cuttings in various languages and many of them illustrated. One picture, from a London illustrated paper, is greatly valued by the Colonel. It is entitled,   "Past, Present, and Future," and represents the performance given some six weeks ago at Liverpool, when half a clear benefit, amounting to £302, was set aside for the heroes of Balaclava, entitling each to 15s. a week till next May. On the occasion of the performance the entertainment was opened by the 12th Lancers (Prince of Wales's) giving an exhibition of tent-pegging; the Corps of Cadets was strongly represented, and the Balaclava veterans mustered seventeen in number. Next to the Colonel's tent is that of the housekeeper who is in attendance on the staff, and she also congratulated herself on having finished her day's work, "for," she said, "the beds are made, and that is a sure sign that all the work is done."

At the farther end of the field a large pen is occupied by the buffaloes, who seem to never tire of eating, but who yet defy even Buffalo Bill to bring them to a state of tame subjection. Then come the paddocks, one large tent being reserved for the broken horses, and another for the unbroken, all short and wiry, a concentration of strength and hardihood. Major Burke drawing a comparison between the animals here leisurely feeding and the winners of Derbies and St. Legers, our representative inquired why, if these animals were so superior to English racehorses Colonel Cody did not win a Blue Ribbon or two. "What!" the Major replied, "over five furlongs or a mile with an 80-pound boy for rider? No, no, our horses would be beaten in such a race as that. But let us have a race which is not playing at sport." And an unshod Spanish-American, the descendant of one of the horses that Fernandez Cortes took to America, kicked up his heels as if to show that a halter was an unutterable nuisance. One of the cowboys had just made up a new bed for himself, the ingenuity of which struck the Major amazingly. It was close to the heels of a shod horse and consisted of a supported canvas covering over a thick heap of straw. A crude arrangement certainly, and not the kind of hospitality that a marquis would offer a duke, but Major Burke greatly admired it, and wished the same idea had occurred to him last winter when he was on the plains.

In this camp there are 250 people to be fed every day, and as it is desirable to keep the company intact great importance is attached to their being adequately provided for. After leaving the buffaloes and ponies we came upon the kitchen, which is fitted up in two travelling waggons, and the chef was eager for the men to come to dinner, as everything was ready. In one oven were sirloins and ribs of beef, in another loins, legs, and shoulders of mutton; in a cauldron were huge pieces of corned beef; in a stew pan were a few hundreds of tomatoes; outside, over a coke fire, were some hundred weights of potatoes, and the chef was extremely anxious for the dinner bell to be sounded. In the store waggon was the ice house with a chest full of fresh joints, and alongside the chest were hams, boxes of eggs, and every variety of tinned meats, pickles, and sauces. "We have no such thing as rations here," said Major Burke, "if anybody wants ten eggs for breakfast and a whole sirloin of beef for dinner, they can be had. We don't mind how much they eat, and though there is plenty of beer, whiskey, and brandy in the store, we discourage excessive drinking, because if the men drink too much you cannot rely upon them to do their work." Next to the cookhouse comes the dining hall, and here the tribes and races are separated, as an Indian does not care to eat with a cowboy, and a Mexican would rather dine with one of his own country than with an Englishman. And as to an Englishman, it is needless to say what his scruples are in this respect.