Title: Buffalo Bill in Fairyland

Periodical: Era

Date: April 30, 1892

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For a time London seemed in imminent danger of being without an open-air pleasure resort at the West-end during the summer of this year of grace one thousand eight hundred and ninety-two. The death of the Duke of Clarence, that induced so dire an extremity of depression in the business of pleasure, applied with especial force in preventing any such semi-official enterprise as the Naval and Military Exhibitions and their predecessors. With the German Exhibition the series of international shows at Earl's-court was completed, and the circumstances of the time did not greatly encourage any new adventure. Earl's-court remained desolate and tenantless, its vast empty halls the abiding place of the owl and the bittern. "Why should this a desert be?" was written over its portals, a touching appeal to the laggard entrepreneur. Why, indeed, echoed the directors of the District Railway, fearful of the poor figure that their traffic returns would make in comparison with the swelling totals of previous years. There was a laying of heads together, a sending forth of diplomatic emissaries, and, lo! Earl's-court suddenly resounded with the hammer of the workman and became redolent of new paint. The lingering legends of the German Exhibition have been removed from pillar and post. A hasty but thorough process of rearrangement and redecoration set in. A week hence, and the International Horticultural Exhibition will be in full bloom and fragrance, while in the spacious annexe London will be able to renew its acquaintance with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. It is a quaint mixture this, of the pampered orchid, the delicately nurtured exotic, and the wild human and animal growth of the Rocky Mountains—a veritable meeting of extremes, that may prove in the event to have been the consummation of clever catering. To a layman it seems as though either show alone would have drawn the town.

It may safely be said that nothing on earth is more like chaos—"without form and void"—than an exhibition on the eve of completion. So a representative of The Era who found his way into the Exhibition grounds the other day came upon a hive of busy creatures buzzing about heaps of débris. A week hence this will have settled itself, like the atoms of a kaleidoscope, into a perfect panorama of horticulture. "Flora and the Country Green" have been rifled to turn the arid desert of the Exhibition grounds into a perfect bower of bliss. Nature and art will be combined to perfection, and commerce will be rigorously excluded—that is to say, the particular form of commerce that obtrudes itself on the pleasure seeker in the way of glove stalls and patent medicine kiosks. Any passionate æsthete who wishes to end his life as the gentleman in the Ibsen drama did not—beautifully, to "die of a rose in aromatic pain," will find the roses in plenty at Earl's-court, and he need not fear being wakened into life again by the importunities of somebody selling anybody's washing machines. For this relief we tender the promoters of the Horticultural Exhibition much thanks, and only hope their balance-sheet may not suffer. Ladies of beauty and fashion are solemnly warned that they will have to be very beautiful and very fashionable if they're "anxious for to shine" at Earl's-court. Nothing but the most delicious toilets will have a chance in this fairyland of flowers. There is not room for another violet, so exuberantly has the Exhibition ground burst into bloom.


As the visitor emerges from the entrance hall, his eye will rest on a beautiful scene. A large fountain occupies the central position, in a setting of palms and ferns. Figures and groups of statuary stand out here and there in pleasant relief to the glowing flowers and green foliage. One part of the hall is ablaze with roses and cut flowers, of which a constant succession is promised throughout the season. The side halls to the right and left are set apart as picture galleries, the contents of which will be chiefly illustrative of horticulture. The main building has been totally transformed. A central avenue, 20ft. wide, extends through its length, interrupted only at the half distance, at the foot of the Earl's-court entrance steps by an open space, where another fountain, grouped round with masses of tropical greenery, forms a striking object. Branching off from the main avenue on either side are exhibits in every department of horticulture against a background of trees, bays and palms alternating; and away to the left, in an arbour-like setting, are the refreshment rooms, over which Mr Bertram will preside. In a large space at the northern end of the building is an undulating stretch of English landscape gardening under cover, with grass plots and gravel walks that lose themselves in a distance ingeniously supplied by the scenic art of Mr Halley. This is an exquisite verdant nook, in which a cool stream of water constantly flows from a bed of solid-looking rock.

The grounds have been treated with much ingenuity and skill. They are all aglow with brilliant rhododendrons, delicate azaleas, and golden yew. A modern picture cleverly worked into its surroundings represents the Long Walk in Windsor Park, and forms the background for an enclosed flower market. At the other end of the picture is a Japanese garden with its temples and tea-houses, and close by an Indian tea garden, wherein the visitor can see the tea leaf in various stages of manipulation. In an insectivorous house are some curious specimens of plants that prey upon insects. Not to dwell upon the violent delights of the switchback railway or the hospitalities of the Welcome Club, but to proceed, by way of the bridge at the north end, the visitor comes upon a massive presentment of a Tudor mansion, with its prim garden and courts, wherein mediæval games are in progress; then upon a Roman villa, with its terraces and grounds; then upon a bit of Ancient Egypt, with the Nile, and overhanging palms and lotus trees. There is a modern Italian garden with its statuary and fountains, a Jacobean garden, wherein redundant nature is trimmed by geometric scale, a Georgian garden, and, finally, a garden of these days—altogether a remarkable panorama of plants and posies such as has never been seen before even at the great Horticultural Exhibition of 1866. Mr Henry Ernest Milner is the director-in-chief of this charming show.

In striking contrast, and yet with a certain affinity for both are nature "cribbed, cabined, and confined," to give a new reading of an old phrase, is the Wild West Show of Buffalo Bill. Not the least troublesome part of the preparations for the opening on Saturday has been the construction of the vast arena wherein the Wild West performance takes place. The great expanse of cinders, surrounded by a counterfeit presentment of backwoods scenery, is in process, as the present visitor approaches, of being rolled and rolled under the anxious supervision of an alert, keen-eyed gentleman, well booted and warmly wrapped up, for the wind and the rain are taking, it is to be hoped, a very demonstrative farewell of the exhibition grounds. The supervisor is Mr Nate Salsbury, once a well-known actor, and now an active partner in Buffalo Bill's enterprise. In close attendance is the redoubtable Major John Burke, who eagerly, at the outset of the conversation here recorded, contradicts the rumour that has got abroad to the effect that this is but an attenuated version of the Wild West Show in which Buffalo Bill takes but a decaying interest.

"No, sir," says Major Burke, "There is but one 'Buffalo Bill,' the famous scout, whose credentials are endorsed by the leading generals of the American army, the darling and terror of the Wild West, the best shot, and the most daring horseman on earth. He has plenty of imitators, but no equals, and he has certainly no notion of inducting any successor into this show. Where is he to find one? It is the same Wild West that drew all England in the Jubilee year, and yet not the same, for the personnel of the Indians and cowboys has undergone almost a complete change. Poor Buck Taylor lies desperately ill in Wyoming, where he has been badly wounded in an encounter with four roughs."

What need is there to detail the history of that extraordinary creature Colonel the Honourable W. F. Cody—his rough and stormy youth, that could not kill the natural instincts and inborn graces of a gentleman, his splendid feat of killing sixty-nine buffaloes in a day, his distinguished services to the American army in the capacity of a scout, his desperate encounter with the   Cheyenne chief Yellow Hand, whom he slew in single combat—all these incidents in the career of Buffalo Bill, are they not well known? Have they not indeed been magnified into the condition of a thrilling novel? The "Honourable," we may recall, was acquired by membership of the Nebraska Legislature. The "Colonel" is duly attested by the commission of Governor Thayer, of Nebraska; it has, in fact, become general since, in 1887, Buffalo Bill was complimented by Queen Victoria, and made his show the resort of princes, prelates, and statesmen—this, by the way, is where nature gets the pull of art. The five years that have intervened since Buffalo Bill was last in London have been an eventful five years. After a summer season in New York, where, with his indoor entertainment, which has never yet been seen in London, Buffalo Bill claims to have originated the "mammoth spectacular entertainment," the "Wild West" show went on a tour of America, extending over two years and seven months, commencing at St. Louis and ending at Richmond, Virginia. Then for a time the organisation dispersed—the cowboy returning to his native Texas, the vaquero to the southern valley of the Rio Grande, the Sioux to the hills of Dakota—to be reassembled for the Paris Exhibition. During a seven months' sojourn in the gay city Buffalo Bill's show was honoured by a visit from President Carnot, not to speak of other celebrities. Then, after a tour of southern France, the troupe travelled to Barcelon, the curious party of Americans, American-Indians, and Mexicans landing where Columbus landed, on his return to Spain from his historic voyage. From Spain to Italy the Red man was taken to gaze upon the ruins of Herculaneum and Pompeii—which will serve till Macaulay's prophecy about the New Zealander is fulfilled. At Rome the Wild Westers shared the blessing of the Pope, and visited the Coliseum, which Major Burke naïely regrets was not big enough for the show.

Through central Europe to Strasburg, whither came the news of the Sioux rising in Dakota. Off sped Colonel Cody, Major Burke, and the Indians, arriving, after a journey of 6,500 miles, at the centre of what proved to be an exciting campaign, an hour and a-half after the commanding officer and his troops. After a brief and bloody war, during which the services rendered by Colonel Cody and Major Burke were duly recognised, peace was restored. A number of the Sioux hostages were accorded permission to attach themselves to the Wild West Show—this action on the part of the authorities being a sufficient answer to representations that had been made to them of the alleged demoralising effect of life with the Wild West Show. Major Burke declares that he is sometimes struck by the incongruity of such situations as this: to find himself wandering through St. Paul's Cathedral with braves, whose very names used to strike terror to all hearts—and well he may be. The tour, interrupted at Strasburg by the news of the war, was resumed there. Carlsruhe, Mannheim, Darmstadt, and the Rhine cities were taken en route for Belgium, and then eleven steamers brought the vast organisation to England once more, on a farewell tour, that now ends at Earls Court. A week hence, and a corner of the savage life of the American frontier will once more be accessible there. For several weeks the Mexicans and the Cowboys, in their broad-brimmed hats, breeches, boots, belts; painted warriors, in their robes, skins, and feathers, will whirl and whoop; Col. Cody will ride like a centaur, and shoot like the quintessence of a century of Queen's prizemen; and the Deadwood coach will be attacked, defended, and saved from the Indian horde. Then, when the exhibition closes, the Wild Westers will turn their faces once more to the Wild West, never to return, believing, however, that "in presenting their rough pictures of 'a history almost passed away,' they have done some moiety of good in simplifying the work of the historian, the romancer, the painter, and the student of the future, and in exemplifying in themselves and their experiences the fact that travel is the best educator, and that association and acquaintanceship dispel prejudice, create breadth of thought, and enhance appreciation of the truism that, "one touch of nature makes the whole world kin.'" This is not from Macaulay, Emerson, or Dr. Parker. It is the peroration of Major John M. Burke. No wonder he talked the sulky Sioux round.