Title: Buffalo Bill and the Wild West

Periodical: Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science and Art

Date: April 23, 1887

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WITHIN the memory of not a few who are still young we had to travel for weeks and months in order to reach the "Wild West," and revel in the fresh breezes which blow over that ocean of flowers and grasses—the Prairie. To-day all is changed. Three weeks takes us to the portals of the Golden Gate; and now a reflex wave of American borderland has flowed to our very feet, and the "Wild West" has actually come to London. On a recent visit to the Indian encampment at West Brompton, it needed very little stretch of imagination to believe one's self four thousand miles from England. A long range of Indian tents, bedecked with bright patches of colour, stretched on either side, whilst seated or standing in picturesque groups around were no less than 150 Red Indians, bivouacking within a stone's throw of our great, and, to them, curious civilization, the counterpart of which in their own country is gradually sweeping them off the face of the soil, which has been theirs for countless generations. In a huge tent hard by a number of Mexicans—tall, lithe, athletic fellows, wearing broad-brimmed sombrero hats, and striped scarves hanging from shoulder to shoulder—sat cheerfully eating their midday meal; a little further on a score or so of Vaqueros and Cowboys were preparing theirs, and at the door of his tent Buffalo Bill himself was chatting to a party of ladies and gentlemen. It was indeed easy to imagine oneself away in the Far West. The very Indian babies, with their faces oddly painted lemon colour, toddling about with their tattooed mothers, in their long crimson blankets, with their hair bedecked with beads and even with scalps, added to the illusion. But it is by night, when the campfires are lighted, and their glow alone illuminates this uncouth extemporized comfort, and the Pawnee and Ogalalla chiefs stride along from tent to tent, wrapped up in their sweeping blankets, looking like the "ghosts of a departed glory," that the scene assumes its weirdest aspect, and quite justifies the intense curiosity which has taken possession of the inhabitants of the neighbourhood, who spend hours at their windows and even on the roofs of their houses watching intently.

A little further to the left of the encampment is a menagerie with buffaloes, Mexican horses, donkeys, ponies, stags, and antelopes, all living happy-family like together, not a very happy family either, as occasionally there is disorder even here; for only last Monday one of the buffaloes grew ugly and "ripped" a horse, but such accidents are fortunately very rare.

It will be worth going to Brompton to see this encampment in all its aspects, and it will always be accessible, let alone the remarkable display of horsemanship and of "wild sports," which have proved such an attraction throughout America during the last two years. The Hon. W. F. Cody, alias "Buffalo Bill," and one or two other men of his company played a prominent part in the history of his country during the Civil War. He was a Government scout and guide, and in the terrible conflicts which endured from 1863 to 1867 he participated in many great battles, and was at the close of the war honourably discharged. Then it was that he began his hunting expedition, and in a period of less than eighteen months killed 4,280 buffaloes, hence his popular nickname. In 1872 he was elected a member of the Nebraska Legislature, and thus acquired the title of "Honourable." Some time afterwards he proceeded to Chicago, and began his dramatic career; for he is an actor, and the "Wild Sports of the West" is nothing more nor less than an immense dramatic performance, illustrating life as it is witnessed on the plains—the Indian encampments, the Cowboys and Vaqueros, the herds of buffaloes and elk, the lassoing of animals, the manner of robbing mail-coaches, feats of agility, horsemanship, marksmanship, archery, and the kindred scenes and events characteristic of the American borderland. Mr. Cody's troupe of actors and actresses have lived the hard life of the plains, and some of them have taken a prominent part in the history of that portion of their country.

The American Exhibition itself, of which this entertainment will doubtless be an exceptional attraction, consists of a building 1,282 feet long, by about 250 feet broad, which will be devoted to the ordinary purposes for which exhibitions are created. It is at present not sufficiently advanced for us to be able to judge fairly of its future merits and demerits. The Fine Art Gallery will prove remarkably interesting, as affording us an idea of the vast progress made by the arts of sculpture and painting in America since the days of West [1] and Sully. [2]

Note 1: Benjamin West (1738-1820), an American-born artist, was the official historical painter to the Court of King George III and a founding member and later president of the Royal Academy of Arts (London). [back]

Note 2: Thomas Sully (1783-1872), an English-born portrait artist and student of Benjamin West. [back]