Title: A Day with the Wild West | Buffalo Bill's Men in Camp

Periodical: New-York Tribune

Date: July 22, 1894

Author: E. W.

More metadata





When General Sherman, that grim old warrior whose name will always recall "from Atlanta to the sea," first saw Buffalo Bill's Wild West, he turned to his old scout with tears in his eyes.

"Billy," he said, with that affection which the old soldier displayed toward "my boys," "for my children and grandchildren who can never see these things as we saw them, I thank you."

The Wild West then was only a handful of men.

A little army is encamped on the shores of New-York's Bay. It lives under canvas, like soldiers in the field. The white tents stretch out in perfect alignment over a green plain, as if in the rolling West. Soldiers in uniform stalk along the little lanes between the canvas walls. A guard stands to challenge a man who goes the wrong way, and troopers stretched at full length in their tents look around with a lazy indifference to what does not concern them. There is a military air everywhere in the camp. The notes of a bugle float over the plain in the morning, and at evening they sound again. For all that appearances count, here is an armed body of men resting for a day, to take up their march perhaps to-morrow.

That is the Wild West of to-day, encamped on the many acres of Ambrose Park, at South Brooklyn. There are 700 men within its lines—and such a mingling of men! The German soldier dreaming of the Rhine sleeps in a tent that is neighbor to one whose occupants sing the "Marseillaise." Cossacks, the daring riders of the Russian steppes, are here, and soldiers from the Royal Irish Lancers sweep along with men of Custer's own 7th Cavalry. There are Mexicans, South Americans, cowboys, Arabs, and mingling with all there is the red man from the West.

It is safe to say that not many people who go to see a performance of the Wild West recognize how much they are seeing or appreciate how dramatic and tragic a part some of these cowboys, Ind- [illustration] A CORNER OF COLONEL CODY'S TENT. ians and soldiers have taken in Western History. If you look to your left as the crowd is pouring through the gates just before the performance begins, you will see a soldier in the uniform of the 7th Cavalry of the United States. He stands before a tent in a military attitude, his right hand holding a shining bugle, his yellow plume waving gently in the breeze. He is waiting for a signal from another tent opposite him, where Colonel Cody has his headquarters. The scout of a dozen famous generals comes forth from his tent across the road, and the soldier, erect and straight, of handsome face, with bronzed complexion, blue eyes and fair mustache, makes a military salute. Colonel Cody lifts his hand, the bugler places the mouthpiece of his glittering instrument to his lips, and a ringing call sounds through the camp that makes your blood tingle, and brings forth from a score of tepees Indians in their war paint and feathers, and from [illustration] MR. SALSBURY AT HIS DESK. the long rows of tents soldiers wearing the colors and tokens of the greatest Powers of the world, to hurry away to the rear of the big arena, there to mount and ride out at a gallop before the spectators.


On a cold day of December four years ago this same bugler's horse stood on a slope with troops massed behind him. The cavalryman was erect and attentive in his saddle, his bugle in his hand. At a signal he raised it to his lips, calmly as you just saw him raise it, and sounded the charge of the 7th Cavalry at the Battle of Wounded Knee Creek.

Some of those Indians who just trooped forth from their dingy tepees were in that same campaign, and the "boys in blue" whom you just saw going to the stables with their clanking swords were there, too. So was Colonel Cody, with the State troops of Nebraska, of which he is a Brigadier-General. And to-day as you see them swarming at the lower end of the camp, they are dressed and equipped just as they were in the Bad Lands.

If you go to the Wild West, walk directly down the broad way, enter the grandstand and wait for the show to begin, you will applaud the Indians as they come racing out, band after band, on their ponies. For the Irish lancers, bold and dashing, handkerchiefs wave and hands clap. The heavier-looking German cuirassiers, with their cream-white uniform, brilliant breastplates and shining helmets and crests, move you to a deeper feeling than can be expressed with bits of lace and linen, and you stamp your feet. The Cossacks, riding like mad, whipping wildly, leaning far over, swinging and swaying, make you cry out with enthusiasm. You clap for the Mexicans, laugh at the squaws, greet the South Americans generously, and begin to yell when those reckless, devil-may-care cowboys come dashing like mad down the plain, circling at the end, as all the others have done, as swiftly the curved flight of a bird, sweeping around and back of the others now formed in long ranks across the arena, and coming to a halt in perfect alignment. When the 7th enters the arena, away back there, with yellow plumes streaming out behind them and sword blades glittering aloft, and comes rushing down toward you—well, that is the old 7th—Custer's 7th—the cavalry that has always had the brunt of the fighting when there has been fighting to do, and that is the same old flag, the Stars and Stripes, whipping splendidly in the air as the color-bearer's galloping horse dashes along, and the spectators clap their hands, stamp their feet, wave handkerchiefs frantically, cry out loudly, and even cheer, for the troopers and the colors are their own.


You enjoy the dash, the fire and the glitter of it all. You are immensely pleased with yourself because your patriotism has thrilled you so and your blood has leaped in your veins. The splendor of the show, the skill of the riders, the swiftness and [illustration] SERGEANT, COLOR BEARER AND BUGLER OF THE 7TH CAVALRY. power of the horses, the streaming colors and flashing steel—swordblade, helmet and breastplate, the clanking scabbard and jingling, ringing spur—these all intoxicate your brain and inflame in you the martial fire; but there is a great deal more than this. If you go out and see all these people "off the stage," watch them in their tents, at their mess, in the stables, look at them when they mount their horses, see them leap from the saddles and stroke a gleaming, dripping neck—for cavalry charges, whether made in play or in deadly earnest, are an exciting, wearing business—if you see all this, too, and know how it is done, how much effort is expended and how much material needed for the work, you will find a new interest in this little army and will feel a new exhilaration when you see it displaying its power to charm your senses.

If you have the good fortune to know Major J. M. Burke, general manager of the show, and if that busy man has time to stop talking Sioux to a painted chief, Cheyenne to the ancient enemy of the warlike Sioux, German to a cuirassier, French to a bearer of the tricolor, Mexican to a vaquero, and to leave the thousand and one details that belong to a show in which 700 men are employed, and if you are, despite all this, presuming enough to withdraw his attention from so many and so varied affairs, you can spend a whole day at Ambrose Park and then wonder where the time has gone. But you will learn in that time a great deal that you will be glad to know.

While you are at luncheon in the tent back of Colonel Cody's you will get your first lesson—and a particularly delightful one. It is that Colonel Cody's table with the Wild West isn't Buffalo Bill's camp fire on the plains or in the mountains, when scouting among hostile Indians. With Colonel Cody, Mr. Salsbury, his partner; Major Burke and other "pale-face" chiefs, you find you are in a jolly company at a lavish feast. Major Burke, who would probably laugh and joke, because he can't help laughing and joking, while a redskin was scalping him, will tell you a dozen stories in as many minutes. Colonel Cody's manner is grave and dignified, but he relates many incidents of great interest with an easy manner. Mr. Salsbury chats in a low, musical voice and knows everything about the big show from the immense grandstands to a tent stop. You can pick up a lot of information by asking a few questions and then you begin to get an idea of the immensity of the show. There are over 700 people in camp, as has been said; 400 horses are used by them. Over in the tepees—you can see them from the tent, tight-closed and "exclusive" looking, are 100 Indians—Siouxs, Cheyennes, Blackfeet, Pawnees, everything that will fight and scalp when "running wild." The grounds are big enough for a Western metropolis, and if you annex a few pastures, corrals and fields, in the Chicago way, you will have something like the Windy City. For the arena alone, with its grandstands, there are eight and one-half acres. To cover the stands 135,000 feet of corrugated iron were used. In the grandstand there are 1,265,000 feet of Georgia pine. That low fence that runs along the roads in the ground contains over 55,000 square feet of 24-gauge steel. It is considerably over a mile long.


It takes a good deal of electric light to illuminate the grounds and the plain at night. In the arena there are forty-eight 4,000-candle power reflecting lights, two 30,000-candle power reflecting lights, one 40,000-candle power reflecting light, 380 incandescent lights and in the grounds and other structures beside the stands, eighty-one arc-lights and 450 incandescent lights. The plant which furnishes this light is one of the largest in the world devoted to a single enterprise.

Figures do not mean much to those who are not experts, but if you walk into a grandstand when no one else is there you feel like shouting for some one to come to find you. Unless you have a trained eye, you would not know that the arena proper, the place where the horsemen go through their manoeuvres, is 525 feet in length and nearly as wide. Those figures may not express a definite idea to you, and you may not feel any more enlightened at the information that the course around is one-third of a mile. But if you stand at one end and overlook the plain when the horses are gone, and the grandstand is empty, you will see that a horseman away down there where the cañon breaks into the plain [illustration] CHIEFS IN THEIR EAGLE FEATHERS. seems no bigger than a doll and his pony is a jackrabbit. Behind the scenery down there, showing valleys, wooded hillsides and white-capped peaks, there are stables, barns, yards, corrals, dining-rooms for the army, and acres more of room. If you go back there with Major Burke he will show you the Indians, the soldiers, the cowboys and all the others at dinner. They eat a lot, that army. Soldiers, cowboys and Indians have appetites that are like the Western plains—boundless. For the hundreds of pounds of meat used at three meals a day, there is a cold storage house. There is a "general store," too, with a storekeeper, bookkeeper and clerks. Though the Wild West owns the store and all that is in it, every pound of beef and every ounce of salt that is used in furnishing 2,100 hearty meals a day is charged up on the books of the company. The head stable-keeper charges up the hay and oats. The equipment man enters his expense of repairing and renewing trappings. It must all go down on the books, for each department must be ready at a moment's notice to show the careful managers what it is costing them to give living pictures of Western and international history.

You can't have 700 men in a camp doing rough riding, making daring leaps on horseback, bold cavalry charges and lightning-like manoeuvres, without having bad falls, twisted joints, strained tendons and now and then a broken limb. You want to examine the hospital tent, the matron's tent, the repair shops, the barber shop, the postoffice and Major Burke's odd-looking Pine Ridge log cabin, but the signal out in the grounds among the white-sided tents has been given, the cavalryman has raised his bugle to his lips, and it notes float away back to you, wavering on the air. The show is about to begin.


You have seen them all getting ready by this time. The Indian warriors have oiled their bodies until they glisten in the sunlight. The paint has been daubed on, in streaks, on legs, arms and upper body, and in a solid mass on cheek and forehead. Their hair, free and flowing, has been rubbed to a glossy shimmer. Eagle feathers are in the raven locks, and glittering baubles on brown wrists.



Only a pony is wanting, and the red man is in his glory.

The soldiers are in their cavalry boots and crested or plumed helmets. Their chests fill their braided jackets, and their hands are gloved with gauntlets. Their swords rattle in their scabbards, and spurs jingle, as they troop back from their quarters, all mixed together, red man and white man, European and American, Arab and Mexican, Cossack and Gaucho—and every one of them, like Richard, looking for a horse.

Back of the scenery, where no one in the grandstand can see it, is a little tower. It has a narrow window, and from it one can see every inch of the plain. Up here sits Buffalo Bill. He glances over the plain and then at the army beneath his tower.



They are all horsemen now: Indians, commanded each band by a chief; cowboys, headed by their leader, a strapping, dark-faced, handsome fellow, and each troop of cavalrymen by a sergeant. Colors are waving, swords are drawn, and sharp commands are ringing out in French where the tricolor waves, in German where the Emperor's flag show, over gleaming helmets and shining breastplates. The Indians' cries are high-pitched and shrill, but where the Irish lancers sit under Great Britain's standard and where the Stars and Strips float the English commands are clear and sharp.


The riders keep their restless horses reined up, each nationality in rank or groups. Before them is an ascent, then a descent, and then a wall of scenery where the gate is. From the tower the signal is given and the gate swings back. A dark-skinned, almost naked, group moves swiftly out from the heterogeneous mass, horses at a trot. With a shrill cry a band of Indian horsemen appear over the ascent. Straight and swift, like a feathered arrow, the group shoots into the open, taking its flight down the plain to where the applause is swelling. With a swoop it curves at the end, spreads like an opening fan, circles and is stretched across the plain, motionless. Another band follows, this followed by another and still another, crying shrilly, singing in thin vices or chanting mournfully. Behind them, with a splendid sweep, ride the Irish Lancers by fours, leaning far over in their saddles as they turn at the end, and still with galloping horses they fall in behind the Indians. With that swift rush there come on wild Cossacks, the whooping cowboys, the Arabs, with their streaming draperies; the Mexicans, with wide sombrero and flapping trousers; the heavier Germans, the gallant Frenchmen, and then the horsemen of the 7th, with their yellow braid and plumes, the Stars and Stripes with them. By fours and sixes they have made that rapid flight along the plain, coming around in wheeling alignment at the turn, and circling like a moving wave of color until the ranks rest, one behind the other. Behind them all rides Buffalo Bill, bowing as his horse gallops with long and even stride, his long curls waving in the breeze, his hat held above his head.

It is a splendid picture then—rank after rank of horsemen from all the nations stretching across the plain, shining with steel and aflame with color; tossing manes, running along the lines like wheat moving under a breeze; above them the plumes and the bright crests, and still higher, held in upstretched arms, the white flashing sabres, until at a signal the ranks melt into moving streams of color and light, the horsemen threading their way in and out past one another, circling, halting, advancing, receding, reforming by fours and sixes, trailing out in single file, moving ribbons of men and horses spangled with gleaming metal, until two long lines gallop away evenly and steadily, and disappear whence they came.

After the dashing horsemen and their bewildering movements a woman trips out. In the arena she seems a little bit of a thing, slender and with flowing hair, wearing a broad-brimmed hat. She gives an exhibition of skill and dexterity with firearms, aiming so swiftly and accurately and breaking glass balls with such ease and apparent carelessness that you wonder if she uses her eyes at all. She is wonderfully quick, this little woman, with a finger touch on the trigger which must be finer than the pressure of a hairspring in a watch, for its work is always swift and true. Miss Oakley turns and shoots, picks up her rifle and fires over a barrier, lifts her weapon and it—all after a glass ball has been tossed into the air, and never misses. In a dozen ways she shows the keenness of her eye and the steadiness of her nerve, and then breaking one after the other several balls thrown up together, she bows and runs away smiling. A cowboy, a Cossack, a Mexican, an Arab, a Gaucho and an Indian have a horse race; a post rider gives an illustration of the old pony express, dashing up on horseback, leaping from his horse to the ground and into another saddle, transferring at the same time his mailbag, all with one motion apparently, and he is off at a driving gallop. A prairie emigrant train crossing the plains comes into view; it is attacked by Indians, but scouts and cowboys, Buffalo Bill leading them, dash over the plain and repulse the marauders. Riffian horsemen give illustrations of bold Arabian riding, and then, slipping to the ground, tumble, leap and give acrobatic sports until one's head whirls.

It is not possible in a limited space to describe in detail more that a few of the features. The Cossacks' riding takes your breath away. In spurred boots and long coats they stand on their horses' backs, lashing them furiously and inciting them to a madder speed with piercing cries, riding without check or rain. They sway far over and back, lean out, and bending low with a swift motion catch up an object and wave it wildly as they swing their bodies up again to the saddle. It looks like a delirium of riding.

Cowboys perform feats not less wonderful. When they want something that is on the ground they do not dismount to get it. They do not even check their galloping bronchos. Stooping over, they snatch it up and ride on with ringing spur. They lasso wild horses as easily as you might capture a sleepy puppy, and sit calm and secure in the saddle of a bucking, plunging, whirling broncho. They ride like a cyclone, but they ride undaunted and undisturbed—only they yell, with ear-splitting yells.

Indian boys on bareback have a race. There is a buffalo chase, showing how the hunter rode after his magnificent game, shooting right and left into the shaggy herd. "Johnnie" Baker, a young American marksman, hits anything that comes before him in the air with unfailing accuracy and an astonishing agility. Mexicans use the lasso, and South American Gauchos throw their bolas as they ride; the Deadwood coach, the same one which ran from Cheyenne to the Black Hills, is attacked by Indians; settlers' cabins are besieged; Colonel Cody, riding at a full gallop, breaks glass balls with his rifle—it is useless to try to explain all that is done.


But there are other features which cannot be passed over with a word. The horses and their wonderful riders merit the closest attention and the warmest praise. There is a hurdle race that is amazing for he recklessness of the riders—they are Indian, cowboy, Mexican, South American and "gentleman rider." The horses do not pause in their flight, only rising like swallows at the leap and speeding on. There is never a slackening of speed. Under whip and spur the horses run wildly toward the barrier; they make the leap, run on, urged to their utmost, and go over the next at the same furious gallop. It is like riding for a fall, but the fall does not come.

The martial spirit is aroused again by the military musical drill Cavalry detachments from the 7th United States Cavalry, the Fifth Royal Irish Lancers, the French Dragoons and the German Emperor's Cuirassiers once more come galloping down the arena. There is again a music in the noise of the bit, the spur and the scabbard which delights the ear, and the eye is fascinated with the brilliancy of uniform, plume, braid and trappings, the flash of helmet and breast-steel and the glancing light of waving sword. The colors, standards and pennants of four great nations flutter and stream and whip in and out and around and the plumes extend straight out behind, while the horses, galloping in sweeping lines, are magnificent. These are all real soldiers, taught in the schools of armies. They ride with shortened stirrup strap, close knee, firm seat, and bodies that sway, when they sway, in unison. Gray horses are used by the 7th, famed for its bloody battles. To-day they come down the plain with a long, even stride, ridden by fours, their riders erect and with motionless arms. It was just that way that they rode when Benteen's command, struggling in the morasses lower down, saw for the last time away through the valleys and ravines higher up Custer's column galloping on for the charge in the Little Big Horn—only the cavalrymen on their big grays were waving their hats and cheering.

The riders of the 7th now in the arena, and the other cavalrymen with them, ride down the plain in perfect rank. At the turn they curve and swing, the bodies all parallel, the lines unbroken, gallop on, circle again and go galloping back. Stringing out in single file, the gray carrying the blue, wheel, cross the plain and halt, the rest sweeping on. Platoons fall apart and ranks reform, all the while the horses at a gallop, their stride unchanged. While the foreign soldiers ride on, turning the corners with a sudden whirl and flashing the light of steel around the plain, the horsemen of the 7th, motionless save for their waving arms and glittering bodies, give a sabre drill. Again they fall in with the galloping lancers, dragoons and cuirassiers, and swift manoeuvres follow by platoons and in squares, to fours, sixes and eights and in single file, moving in an endless circle of radiant color and gleaming weapon. Curving again by sixes and swinging around a corner two horses come together. They and their riders go down, two swords flying out and falling in the dust, the horsemen struggling to their feet and darting away from pounding boots, for the lines are dashing on. One horse has leaped up and regained its place, following, though its rider is gone, the evolutions and keeping its place in the ranks. The other, badly lamed, is caught dexterously by the dismounted rider, and led away, but the swift manoeuvring never once stops or wavers.


Then coming around quickly at the lower end of the plain the cavalry strings out across it, coming to a halt. It is stretched from side to side, horses and men waiting for a new command. From the scabbards come all the sabres; they are flashed aloft, and in an even line the charge begins. The horses are at a hard gallop, the uniformed bodies bending over their outstretched necks, and the sabres waving. With a magnificent rush they all go sweeping down the level plain from end to end, halt with swords still uplifted, salute, wheel in two platoons and canter away, each column disappearing in a canyon at the further end.

There is, too, a living picture of Custer's last charge, with the camps, dances and customs of the Indians show. Several of the Indians who take [illustration] KICKING BEAR AND SHORT BULL. part in this play of to-day joined in the massacre of Custer and his column; but there are none of the men here who charged with the gallant soldier, for none came back from the fight.

What an army of amusement and instruction it is that Colonel Cody commands in his peaceful encampment! There are fighting men from many nations gathered under him, some enemies by tradition, but in his tower, watching them mingling on the plain in martial array, he sees only friends. Running down the steps from his elevated platform, he springs into a saddle and rides out among them, coming back again to take up his position in his watch-tower, only to leave it when it is once more his turn to appear on the plain. A little Indian girl not more than four years old, closed from her brown neck to her bare toes in a blanket of flaming red, girdled with a belt of shining brass pieces, climbs slowly up the steps to visit the "big chief." She comes to see him up there every day, begging with gestures to be lifted to the narrow window that she may peep out over the plain, alive with active, quick-moving men. She crows in delight, claps her small, dark hands and climbs down to the ground to join a band of Indians which must soon swarm out on the plain.

At night, when the second performance is given, Colonel Cody is again in his dark tower, following the movements on the brilliantly lighted field with watchful eye. The air behind him and in his tower is black, but there is no guard near him. Years ago Buffalo Bill rode out on a Western plain between two hostile armies, one warlike Indians and the other soldiers of the United States who had come to demand their surrender. On horseback he met a famous chief in a strange duel, and before the two armies he stabbed the red man through the heart. Friends and kinsmen of the chief are in the camp of Colonel Cody now, but at night in his tower his only solicitude is that the manoeuvres under the electric lights may go on without hitch or accident. When the show is ended he walks alone through the grounds to his tent. He sleeps there with only a thin canvas wall [illustration] TWO BASHFUL INDIAN MAIDENS. between him and any man who may approach. In the same inclosure with his tent are the tightly closed tepees of his Indians. One is not twenty yards away.

At night when the strangers are all gone a tall Indian strides solemnly along, his form enveloped in a blanket which hoods his head. A cowboy, going his way carelessly, meets him, and they pass in silence. A Mexican ambles along peacefully, smoking a glowing cigarette. On July 14, the anniversary of the fall of the Bastile, the French dragoons came forth from their tents at night to sing the "Marseillaise" and other of the National hymns, and the German cuirassiers applauded. When "taps" sound at midnight the men of this mixed army sleep with only the thinnest covering between them and the stars, and with neighbors separated only by a sheet of canvas. A strange mingling of strange men and a striking plea for peace!

Title: A Day with the Wild West | Buffalo Bill's Men in Camp

Periodical: New-York Tribune

Date: July 22, 1894

Author: E. W.

Topics: Congress of Rough Riders

Keywords: Accidents American bison hunting American Indians Arabs Bastille Bolas Buglers Caterers and catering Caucasus Cavalry drill and tactics Cheyenne language Color guards Cossacks Cowboys Cultural relations Dragoons Electric lighting Emigrants Ethnic costume Firearms Flags--Germany Flags--Great Britain Flags--United States French Gauchos Germans Great Britain. Army. Royal Irish Lancers, 5th Historical reenactments Horse arenas Horse racing Horsemanship Horsemen Horses Indian children Indian women Indians of North America--Clothing Indians of North America Lakota dialect Lasso Little Bighorn, Battle of the, Mont., 1876 Logistics Mexicans Military campaigns Military ceremonies, honors, and salutes Military men Military uniforms Patriotic music Patriotism Rifs (Berber people) Scouts Shooting Sioux Nation Stagecoaches Targets (Shooting) Tents Theaters--Stage setting and scenery Tipis Traveling exhibitions United States. Army. Cavalry, 7th Wagon trains Weapons Wounded Knee Massacre, S.D., 1890 Wounds and injuries

People: Baker, Lewis H., 1869-1931 Benteen, Frederick William, 1834-1898 Burke, John M., 1842-1917 Kicking Bear, 1853-1904 Oakley, Annie, 1860-1926 Richard III, King of England, 1452-1485 Salsbury, Nathan, 1846-1902 Sherman, William T. (William Tecumseh), 1820-1891 Short Bull, -1915

Places: Badlands (S.D. and Neb.) Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.) France Nebraska New York (N.Y.) Prussia (Germany)

Sponsor: This project is supported in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Geraldine W. & Robert J. Dellenback Foundation.

Editorial Statement | Conditions of Use

TEI encoded XML: View wfc.nsp11653.xml

Back to top