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Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show Visits Leicester

Leicester Theatres

In 1891 there was great excitement in the town of Leicester as Buffalo Bill's Wild West show was about to hit town. Don't forget that in 1891 there was no cinema, TV nor radio, so to be able to see real Cowboys and Indians in the flesh was extremely exciting.

The Show rolled into town in late August 1891 and opened at the Belgrave Road Leicester Cricket and Bicycle grounds for a whole week, commencing on August 31st, having played Nottingham the previous week.

The Show travelled by three trains specially chartered to move the whole operation. Before dawn on Sunday 30th August 1891 the company, consisting of 250 artists (80 of which were Indians), Mexicans, Cowboys, Scouts, Buck riders and Riffle-men, 200 horses, mules, and 22 Buffalo, all boarded the trains for the 30 mile journey south to Leicester.

The Show's general manager Major Burke was responsible for co-ordinating the whole operation, together with the erection of the enormous arena to house 15,000 people.

The Show was billed as a 'Representation of Indian and Frontier Life, as complete in every detail as when presented in London in Queen Victoria's Jubilee Year.'

Besides two performances per day 'come rain or shine', at 3.0pm and 8.0pm the public could visit the Indian Village and Frontier camp to see how the Indians and Cowboy's lived. The Gates were opened to the public at 1.30pm and 6.30pm. Prices were one shilling (5 pence) of which there were 5,000 seats open to the elements, 2 shillings (10 pence), 3 shillings (15 pence) and 4 shillings (20 pence). These seats under canvas cover.

The Show had played New York for Washington's Centenary, Paris at the Universal Exposition year, Rome for Pope Leo the X111's Jubilee year, and toured throughout Europe.

There had been an accident at Nottingham the previous week at the Saturday matinee, when a stand holding 800 people had collapsed. Luckily only one person was injured with a broken ankle.

Upon arrival in Leicester the Indian Village of Wigwams and Teepee's were quickly erected and cooking stoves quickly got to work providing breakfast. The logistics of catering for so many people were vast, 500 pounds of meat had to be provided per day to feed everyone. The Indians lived almost entirely on animal food.

The Indians were Sioux from the Ogallalla, Brule, Cheyenne, Minneconjou and Uncapapa tribes. They consisted of both friendly and hostile's, who were held as hostage or prisoners of war, who travelled with the permission of the Interior Department of the Nebraska State Government. 'Kicking Bear' and 'Short Bull' were hostile's, whereas 'Black Heart' and chief 'No Neck' (Ogallalla) were friendly and government scouts. The Indians did not remain long with the show, returning home, to be replaced with others, all of which accompanied Colonel Cody voluntarily and were paid for there services.

The Horses in the show were Mustangs, Mules, Broncho's and Cuguse.

On the morning of Monday 31st August a grand Parade was held through the streets of Leicester and the Clock Tower (central Leicester) was thronged by the public trying to get a look at the Cowboys and Indians riding past.

At 3.0pm sharp at the arena, the performance commenced with the Cowboy band playing the overture of 'The Star Spangled Stripes' and a grand procession introduced the show cast, with the last person to enter the arena being Colonel W. F. Cody – Buffalo Bill, who took the salute.

The arena then cleared to be followed by a race between a Cowboy, a Mexican, and an Indian racing on Spanish Mexican horses. There speed and skill amazing the audience present.

Next the grand entrance of Annie Oakley the famous female sharpshooter, who shot clay pigeons holding her rifle in various positions. She shot with extreme rapidity and accuracy.

She was followed by Johnny Baker, who stood on his head whilst shooting two clay pigeons simultaneously. Claude L. Daly shot 12 clay pigeons in fast rapidity with a pistol, and the last marksman was Buffalo Bill himself, who shot down balls, thrown up in the air for him whilst riding around the arena.

There was then a re-enactment of the fight at Bonnet Creek Dakota on 7th July 1876, staged between Indians and Cowboys. This was followed by a representation of the attack on an emigrant train by Indians, repulsed again by the Cowboys.

This was followed by a dance by Cowboys and Prairie girls on horseback of the 'Virginian Reel'.

Then, one of the highlights of the show, as the actual 'Deadwood Mail Coach entered the ring, with Indians in hot pursuit, and rescued by Buffalo Bill and the cowboys.

Next a Pony Express rider entered the ring showing how letters and telegrams of the republic were distributed before the introduction of the railways and telegraph. He rode at great speed mounting and dismounting as his horse was galloping.

Then there was an exhibition of rodeo horse 'buckers'.

There then followed a re-enactment of Indians striking and moving camp only to be ambushed by hostile Indians and a fight ensuing. This was followed by an Indian Feather Dance which was found to be both fantastic and weird to the Leicester public.

So to the grand finale. A Buffalo hunt, when 20 Buffalo were let into the arena, an Indian attack on a settlers cabin to be rescued by Buffalo Bill and the Cowboys, a general salute and a loud cheer for Buffalo Bill as the company dispersed.

The Show was described as very interesting, instructive, thrilling, exciting and amusing, and a taste of frontier life in the Wild West. A good night out, to be long remembered and retold to me by my grandfather Ted Harley.

The above article was written for this site by David Garratt and kindly sent in for inclusion in 2011. The article is © David Garratt 2011.

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