For many of our friends one of the numerous personalities that embodies the spirit of “The Wild West” may be in the person of “Buffalo Bill” AKA William F. Cody (1846-1917). This recognition is most likely based on ones knowledge of studying America’s westward expansion through reading or hearing about the cultures and inter-actions with the native population, the great migration of people for economic and religious purposes and the growth of business enterprises that followed the population shift. This “Great Story” and Cody’s frontier exploits sparked an interest with writers. In Cody’s case his “fame” was enhanced through the writings of Ned Buntline (pen name of E (Edward) .Z (Zane).C.(Carroll) Judson), stage acting, and the evolution of his large traveling exhibitions, both here in the states and Europe, that entertained millions.
Cody grew up on the prairie and started a working life first with a freight company, prospecting during Pikes Peak gold rush and at the age of 14 became a Pony Express rider. Later during the Civil War he first was hired to be a Union scout and in 1863 enlisted in the cavalry. He continue working for the Army after war’s end staying with scouting and being a dispatch carrier. In 1867 he hunted down and killed buffalo – this is where he acquired his nickname – “Buffalo Bill” – to help in the feeding of the railroad construction crews building their lines to the west coast. The following year he returned working for the Army as a Chief of Scouts and took part in a number of battles against Indian tribes.
In 1883 he organized his “Wild West Show,” an expansive outdoor theatre presentation, that intertwined the fact and myth of activities on the western frontier.
On and off for some time I have been researching the variety of entertainment venues that were part of this region’s history during the later part of the 1800s and early 1900s. A few months back I had the opportunity to purchase a show publication of Col. W.F. Cody “Buffalo Bill” – Rough Riders. It was issued for the 1908 season with stops in the Northeast that included a stop in Rutland, VT. I republish illustrations and edited texts from this publication with additional photographs taken on 2014 travel venture relating to Cody and western themes of his times.
“This exhibition is peculiarly American. It is the only one that has succeed in carrying primitive and modern Western American to the East and the old world. It has preserved the personality of the aboriginal American from extinction and it has enlightened Europe as to what the North American Indian is, what he was, what he will be, and how the white man became his master and his friend. The Indian has not been presented in the false colors of fanciful and heroic fiction, nor in the square and degradation that is seen of him, exceptionally, by the transient traveler at stations along the line of western railroads, where he has been reduced to the conditions suggested by the circumscribed surroundings of civilization’s first steps of progress. It has shown him and his environment truthfully.
It may be said that subjects of education have become so numerous that the addition of another science will too much increase the burden of the hard-pressed students, but the real effect of anthropology, especially when taught by such object lessons as those given by the Wild West exhibition, and in such a pleasant and interesting manner, will rather lighten than increase the strain of learning.”
“It has been the greatest and most valuable boast of the Wild West exhibition that it is a powerful educator. Should it lose that character it simply becomes an ephemeral “show” with no other mission than that of transient inste4ad of permanent results and thus it loses its peculiarly quality and proportionately its claim on the public, a claim that is far more valuable, even in a pecuniary sense, than any other entertainment that has ever been produced in the world.”
“Among the various tribes of Indians in North and South America, there are over two hundred distinct and separate languages. Necessity, the mother of invention, made essential a means of communication other than the spoken word, and so the ancient sign language came into use. It is presumed that primitive man first communicated by signs, for evidence are at hand that in all ages, nations and races without a common tongue have ever been able to communicate in time of necessity.
The elements are indicated in just the manner one would expect. A circle, formed by the fore-finger and thumb of one hand in some tribes, and of both in others, mean “the sun.” A semicircle, formed by the forefinger and thumb of one hand means, “the moon.” The hands raised with the fingers hanging downward and then dropped several times as if shaking water off means “rain.” For “nothing, ” “none,” “I have none.” etc., the Sioux pass the palm of the left hand from the wrist to the tips of the fingers; silence, naturally, is indicated by holding the finger to the lips. In place of shaking hands, as does his white brother, the Indian places his left hand over his heart as a greeting. If friendly the palm is immediately turned outward, with a slight outward move, of the forearm, if the Indian is in good spirits, the hand is given an upward lift, and if he is downcast, the hand is moved downward.”
The Broncho Buster’s busy business — Cowboy Fun
Over the years Cody engage several “sharp-shooters.” For this tour it was Johnny Baker – “The Wizard Wing-Shot Marksman.” Probably the most notable to many was Annie Oakley.
The Great Train Hold-Up
Cody’s “Wild West” productions continually added different tableaus to keep the public’s interest. One of the more elaborate productions was the great “Train Hold-Up.”
The setting — A mountain pass, a faint sound of a train whistle, ties piled high on the tracks, a gang concealed behind a rock ledge. Action — One of the gang, dressed as a track walker, waves a flag as a danger signal and the sound of the train’s whistle announcing “down brakes.” A motor truck, disguised as a locomotive, provides the power, to pull a baggage car and coach. The engineer and fireman with hands high, de-couple the engine from the other cars and that moves out of the scene. A shout “Hold up your hands! All passengers are thrown into helpless panic and one lady faints. The bandits shoot the express agent, throw the safe from the car and being unable to force it open with their tools blow it up with dynamite. The loud sound stampedes the tether horses. The loud explosive sound announces to a following strong posse of sheriffs and secret service men, the “real bandit hunters” are brought to action and advances unknown to the bandits. The bandits have been engaged in dividing up their plunder, the posse arrives and a hand-to-hand fight ensues. A few of the bandits escape, closely followed by the posse.
“The Far-Flung Wild West”
From an exhibit sign: “The distance from the Earth to the Moon is roughly 250,000 miles. Over the course of its thirty-year history (1883-1913), Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show traveled at least that far. It traveled the equivalent of nearly ten trips around the world. Buffalo Bill’s Wild West did not spend all of its seasons on the road. It stayed two complete seasons in one location (Chicago in 1893 and Brooklyn, New York, in 1894. The Wild West also performed nearly full season in New York city (1886), London (1887 and 1892), and Paris (1889 and 1905). The show visited all but one of the 48 continental United States. It also made several trips through southern Canada. Buffalo Bill also brought his performances to 12 European countries during three tours (1887-1888), 1889_1892, and 1903-1906).”
In our general area – The Wild West Show visited these map sites.
Loading one of large railroad trains used in transporting the Wild West Show
Trip photo gallery
Soldiers Barrack – Gun Rack
1887 – London Presentation before Queen Victoria
Pony Express saddle with Wells Fargo Saddle Bag
Deadwood Stage with six mule team