The newspapers were enthralled with the arrivals who made up a part of "Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show," describing them as "the selected representatives of several nations, including the Sioux, the Cheyennes, and the Pawnees." The chiefs were "reserved and dignified," while the men were "of the highest type of physical humanity, and apparently possess[ed]all the traditional calm associated with the Indian character." Indeed, the "Noble Savage" had come to London which was about to be taken by storm. But the most popular person in the show was Colonel William F Cody, Buffalo Bill, himself (Seen on the left).
Many of the animals which were a part of the show were also new to Europe, and there were more than 160 horses which were to take part under the direction of Cody or "Buffalo Bill" as he was better known. The animals and cast members of the disembarked at Albert Dock from where they went by train to the American Exhibition at West Brompton which was scheduled to open at Earl's Court in May. The American Exhibition had been in preparation for three years and was a privately funded project with one-third of the capital coming from English sources and the remainder from American investors. The "Wild West" show was to be the centrepiece of the exhibition, having "attained unexampled popularity" in the United States. As The Times pointed out on 27 April,
Its great object is to illustrate the wild life of the Western frontier--its Indians and cowboys, its buffalo-huntings and cattle-ranches, its pioneering and its horsemanship, its dangers and its joys.The next day, on the 28th of April, William Ewart Gladstone and his wife came to the American Exhibition grounds to see the progress being made and especially to visit the Indian campsite. Although it was supposed to be an informal visit, word had been circulated and the workmen on the site received them warmly, while the band of the Wild West Show played, Yankee Doodle. Gladstone was introduced to one of the Indians, Red Shirt, whom he asked "if he liked the English climate." Red Shirt apparently replied with considerable forbearance considering the short time he had been in the country, that "he had hardly had sufficient experience to be able to say." Gladstone then went on to ask Red Shirt if he "thought there was that cordial relationship between the two great sections of the English-speaking race--the people of England and of the United States--that there ought to be between two nations that were so much akin." One can only imagine Red Shirt's thoughts when he replied that he "did not know much about that." It is not difficult to see why Queen Victoria complained that Gladstone always addressed her "as if ... [she] were a public meeting."
But the Wild West Show was only one part of the Exhibition. In addition to Buffalo Bill and his show there were displays of American products and American ingenuity. It was to be an "attractive and instructive exhibition," but despite the reports in the paper it was clear the the central attraction was going to be Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show scheduled to officially open on 9 May. On the 5th of that month, the Prince and Princess of Wales with a party which included members of the Royal Household and a number of other members of the nobility including the Crown Prince of Denmark were treated to a private showing which included the first complete performance of the show on English soil. The guests watched from the Royal Box, duly draped with the English and the American flags.
According to The Times of 6 May, the performance lasted for more than ninety minutes and included
Cody, who had been nervous about the special performance was more than satisfied with the result. He recorded that
Colonel Cody's throwing of the lasso and shooting at glass balls thrown in the air by an attendant riding by his side, both horses going at full gallop. ... Buck Taylor, king of the cow boys[sic], picked his handkerchief from the ground while riding at full gallop, and also in the same way picked up a rope attached to a runaway horse.
The Prince of Wales was particularly impressed by the shooting of the two young women, Annie Oakley and Lilian Smith congratulating them on their skills. But the high point of the performance was the series of attacks by Indians on a wagon train, a stage coach and a settler's hut and the "gallant rescue in each case by a company of scouts under the command of Buffalo Bill." At the end of the performance, the Royal Party was given a conducted tour of the campsite.
the Indians, yelling like fiends, galloped out from their ambuscades and swept around the enclosure like a whirlwind.
The effect was instantaneous and otherwise electric. The Prince rose from his seat and leaned eagerly over the front of the box and the entire party seemed thrilled effectually by the spectacle.
The afternoon of 9 May saw the opening of the American Exhibition and even with the admission set at one guinea, The Times estimated the number of spectators attending at around 28,000. In addition to the Wild West show, the exhibition itself was an attraction. As The Times noted,
Two days after its opening, on 11 May, the Queen herself visited the American Exhibition for a private showing of the Wild West Show. This was all the more remarkable since Her Majesty did not go to events, rather she had them come to her at Windsor. But, as Cody noted, the show
The grounds of the exhibition were also an attraction to thousands, the toboggan-slide and the switch railway being extremely popular as long as light lasted. At nightfall the grounds were illuminated in every part with innumerable coloured lamps and Chinese lanterns, while Mr. Dan Godfrey's band provided the necessary music.
The show went according to plan although there was one remarkable event. As the American flag went past the Royal Box, carried by one of the horsemen from the show, "her Majesty arose, bowed deeply and impressively to the banner, and the entire court party came up standing, the noblemen uncovered, the ladies bowed and the soldiers, generals and all, saluted." Needless to say, the Americans were overjoyed. The continuing large numbers at the show were indicative of the good press it received and probably the fact of the Queen's attendance. After the performance, Buffalo Bill was presented to the Queen who, according to The Times of 12 May "expressed herself as greatly pleased" and went on to tell him that "she only regretted that her time was so limited and she would like to come again."
was altogether too big a thing to take to Windsor Castle, and as in the case of Mahomet and the mountain, as the Wild West could not go to the Queen it became absolutely necessary for the Queen to go to the Wild West, if she desired to see it, and it was evident that she did.
Not everyone was as enthusiastic about the Wild West Show as Queen Victoria. While the behaviour of most of the troupe was exemplary, there were, of course, exceptions. Late in July, Jack Ross, a member of the show, was charged at the Thames Police Court with being drunk and wilfully breaking a plate glass window at the Old House Revived public house. A few days later, in early August, Richard Johnson, billed as "The Giant Cowboy" at the Wild West Show, was charged with assault, including that of two police constables, one of whom had to be hospitalized.
A more serious complaint was laid about the same time by an artist living near Earls Court. He sought an injunction restraining the defendants (the Wild West Show) "from causing a nuisance of noise and smell." He argued that the shouting of the performers and the roars of the crowd, including the sound of the brass band was excessive and the smell, particularly in the hot weather, of the horses and buffaloes was overwhelming. Affidavits and counter-affidavits were offered, and it was argued that the noise could not possibly be any worse than that caused by "the no less than 476 trains [that] daily passed within 50 yards of the plaintiff's house."
In August and September, the millionaire and Circus Entrepreneur, George Sanger, found himself in Court as a result of using "Buffalo Bill" and "Wild West." His defence was, to say the least, disingenuous. His lawyers argued that there was no intent to refer to either Cody or his show, but Cody's solicitor quickly pointed out that
Sanger was warned that to publish the pictures would put him at serious risk, although "His Lordship considered the programme, standing alone, as unobjectionable, and discharged the order and directed Mr. Sanger to pay the costs of the application." In October, Sanger agreed to a perpetual injunction keeping him from using the words "Buffalo Bill" and "Wild West," but that was in the same month that Cody's great show was closing. It had played to a total audience of over 1,000,000 people and its popularity was so great that it was to return in 1892 and in 1903/04 to once again thrill British spectators.
the defendant proposed to publish with the words pictures, being exact copies of the plaintiff's pictures, the same expression of horror on the driver's face, and the real Buffalo Bill, in a blue shirt, riding up to the rescue of the mail.
To download and read Buffalo Bill's autobiography, click here.