Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Parade

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Blantyre, Lanarkshire, Scotland

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 Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Parade 1902

“None but the Brave Deserve the Fair.”

(Scene – Room in a public-house, near Bridgeton Cross. Time – Saturday night. Dramatis personae – Two working men.)

First – Hae ye been tae the Wild West Show yet, Tam?

Tam – Na, man, a’ve nae great thocht of gaun ether. The wife’s feared I wid com’ hame scalpit.

First – Auch; thur’s nae fear o’ that. The injuns are as tame as rabbits. D’ye ken a saw yin o’ thum in his full war pent, blanket an’ a’, airm an’ airm, in Duke Street, the ither nicht, efter the performance, wi’ as bonnie a white lassie as ever ye clappit e’en on. Ay, she wis a regular beauty; dressed up tae the nines tae, wi’ her yellow hair hingin’ frae below a nate wee hat. Man a’ just fare envied the redskin.

From: The Bailie for Wednesday, December 9th, 1891

On the occasion of the first Scottish visit of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, Glasgow was the sole venue. The show secured a residency of more than three months, which ran until 27th February 1892, at the recently vacated East End Exhibition Buildings in Dennistoun, secured by lease and specially converted into a 7,000 seater amphitheatre. The entourage had completed an engagement in Croydon, near London, on Saturday the 24th of October, and proceeded to Glasgow by train immediately thereafter. The opening night finally took place on the 16th of November 1891, after a succession of ‘vexatious delays’ had forced repeated postponements, while an army of workmen battled round the clock with the extensive preparations.

The show which caused such a sensation in the city that winter was entitled The Drama of Civilization. By means of a series of tableaux grouped into six dramatic episodes, it presented a highly culturally biased view of the manner in which ‘civility’ had supposedly triumphed over the primordial chaos of paganism and anarchy during the course of several centuries of American history.

It goes without saying that the Indians were vilified as the villains of the piece, and that the near destruction of Native American culture was represented not merely as an unfortunate side-effect but as the crowning glory in the triumphant and inexorable outcome of the process of cultural evolution.

The front cover of the programme for Season 1891-92 The front cover of the programme for Season 1891-92

Included in the programme were Indian attacks on a wagon train, a ranch, and the Deadwood stage. On each occasion, Buffalo Bill and his scouts and cowboys would ride to the rescue, scattering the ‘Redskins’ in confusion. The essential themes of subsequent Hollywood myth were already in place.
Cowboys demonstrated feats of horsemanship – already well established as enduring elements in the Wild West show’s brand of entertainment – picking up objects from the ground while riding at a gallop, the throwing of the lasso, and the riding of bucking broncos.

Exhibitions of marksmanship were given by Buffalo Bill himself, C.L. Daly the pistol and revolver expert, Johnny Baker, and best of all, the Wild West show’s ever-popular star attraction, Miss Annie Oakley, seen here in a line drawing from the Evening Times dated 9th November 1891.
Highly innovative special effects were used to great effect, to simulate a prairie fire and a cyclone. This time around, there was even a small herd of buffalo.
 Miss Annie Oakley

An unpardonable piece of historical revisionism provided the undoubted high point of the entertainment. This came with a re-enactment of the Battle of the Little Bighorn, billed in the programme as The fall of brave General Custer and his entire command. The famous Indian victory was almost inexplicably presented as an ‘ambush’ by the Indians, without any indication in the context of the show that the Indians themselves were in their fight to save the sacred Black Hills the victims of an aggressive and unprovoked war of conquest.

One essential respect in which the Wild West show was definitely better than anything that Hollywood could offer was that the Indians were authentic. They were genuine Lakota (more popularly known as Sioux), recruited from the various reservations of South Dakota. Providing particular immediacy and interest was the participation of such noteables as Kicking Bear and Short Bull. Both had been formidable warriors in their time, and were veterans of the Custer battle of 1876. A third prominent member of the Indian contingent was No Neck, who had been a leader of the ‘friendlies’ assisting the federal government during the Ghost Dance outbreak.

Kicking Bear The key figure of Kicking Bear in particular is worthy of closer attention as a historical figure. A first cousin of the great Crazy Horse, he was the medicine man who, along with Short Bull and several others, had travelled into the distant west, to Nevada. There they met with the Paiute mystic Wovoka, and brought back the Ghost Dance cult to the Lakota. On the 15th January 1891, Kicking Bear became the last Lakota warrior to surrender to the Federal government, at the end of the hostilities which had sporadically ensued in the wake of the massacre at Wounded Knee. Almost incredibly, by the close of the same year, Kicking Bear had become a familiar figure on the streets of Glasgow.

Kicking Bear and Short Bull then had been the main instigators of the ‘Ghost Dance’ uprising of just one year prior to the their enforced Glasgow sojourn, and travelled with the show among a number of prisoners of war who had been presented with the option of joining Cody’s entourage as an alternative to continued imprisonment at Fort Sheridan.

After the disturbances ended, it served the white authorities only too well to have the leading figures in the recent ‘rebellion’ out the way. It was too good an opportunity to be missed. The prospects of a further outbreak were very much diminished, with the additional benefit that a period of exile into the heartland of the world of the white man served to impress upon the minds of the Indians the futility of continued resistance.

Kicking Bear and Short Bull

Enduring local myths continue to insist that Sitting Bull (died 1890), Wild Bill Hickok (died 1876), and even the Apache leader Geronimo came to Glasgow with Buffalo Bill, but these are without proper foundation. The first two had certainly been closely involved with Cody in earlier phases of his show business career, but both of these associations had long since been terminated by 1891.

In fact, during December 1890, Buffalo Bill, back in South Dakota for what proved to be the final Indian war, had made a peace mission of his own to avert the looming catastrophe, but his efforts to talk with his old friend Sitting Bull were thwarted by the military. The legendary Lakota chief was killed shortly afterwards, on the 15th of December, when an attempt by reservation police to take him into custody went badly wrong. By the time that this confused period of Western history came around, it was not always immediately apparent just what was theatre, and what was actually real.

Predictably, the 1891-92 sojourn proved to be highly eventful.


Blantyre, Lanarkshire, Scotland

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