27: Return of the "Wild West" to America
<< 26: Tour of Great Britain || 28: A Tribute to General Miles >>
WHEN the "Wild West" returned to America from its first venture
across seas, the sail up the harbor was described by the New York _World_
in the following words:
"The harbor probably has never witnessed a more picturesque scene than
that of yesterday, when the `Persian Monarch' steamed up from quarantine.
Buffalo Bill stood on the captain's bridge, his tall and striking
figure clearly outlined, and his long hair waving in the wind;
the gayly painted and blanketed Indians leaned over the ship's rail;
the flags of all nations fluttered from the masts and connecting cables.
The cowboy band played `Yankee Doodle' with a vim and enthusiasm which
faintly indicated the joy felt by everybody connected with the `Wild West'
over the sight of home."
Will had been cordially welcomed by our English cousins, and had been
the recipient of many social favors, but no amount of foreign flattery could
change him one hair from an "American of the Americans," and he experienced
a thrill of delight as he again stepped foot upon his native land.
Shortly afterward he was much pleased by a letter from William T. Sherman—
so greatly prized that it was framed, and now hangs on the wall of his
Nebraska home. Following is a copy:
"FIFTH AVENUE HOTEL, NEW YORK. "COLONEL WM. F. CODY:
"_Dear Sir_: In common with all your countrymen, I want to let you know
that I am not only gratified but proud of your management and success.
So far as I can make out, you have been modest, graceful, and dignified
in all you have done to illustrate the history of civilization on this
continent during the past century. I am especially pleased with the
compliment paid you by the Prince of Wales, who rode with you in the
Deadwood coach while it was attacked by Indians and rescued by cowboys.
Such things did occur in our days, but they never will again.
"As nearly as I can estimate, there were in 1865 about nine
and one-half million of buffaloes on the plains between
the Missouri River and the Rocky Mountains; all are now gone,
killed for their meat, their skins, and their bones.
This seems like desecration, cruelty, and murder, yet they
have been replaced by twice as many cattle. At that date there
were about 165,000 Pawnees, Sioux, Cheyennes, and Arapahoes,
who depended upon these buffaloes for their yearly food.
They, too, have gone, but they have been replaced by twice
or thrice as many white men and women, who have made
the earth to blossom as the rose, and who can be counted,
taxed, and governed by the laws of nature and civilization.
This change has been salutary, and will go on to the end.
You have caught one epoch of this country's history,
and have illustrated it in the very heart of the modern world—
London, and I want you to feel that on this side of the water
we appreciate it.
"This drama must end; days, years, and centuries follow fast;
even the drama of civilization must have an end. All I aim to accomplish
on this sheet of paper is to assure you that I fully recognize your work.
The presence of the Queen, the beautiful Princess of Wales, the Prince,
and the British public are marks of favor which reflect back on America sparks
of light which illuminate many a house and cabin in the land where once you
guided me honestly and faithfully, in 1865-66, from Fort Riley to Kearny,
in Kansas and Nebraska.
Sincerely your friend,
W. T. SHERMAN."
Having demonstrated to his satisfaction that the largest
measure of success lay in a stationary exhibition of his show,
where the population was large enough to warrant it,
Will purchased a tract of land on Staten Island, and here
he landed on his return from England. Teamsters for miles
around had been engaged to transport the outfit across
the island to Erastina, the site chosen for the exhibition.
And you may be certain that Cut Meat, American Bear, Flat Iron,
and the other Indians furnished unlimited joy to the ubiquitous
small boy, who was present by the hundreds to watch
the unloading scenes.
The summer season at this point was a great success.
One incident connected with it may be worth the relating.
Teachers everywhere have recognized the value of the "Wild West"
exhibition as an educator, and in a number of instances public schools
have been dismissed to afford the children an opportunity of attending
the entertainment. It has not, however, been generally recognized
as a spur to religious progress, yet, while at Staten Island, Will was
invited to exhibit a band of his Indians at a missionary meeting given
under the auspices of a large mission Sunday-school. He appeared
with his warriors, who were expected to give one of their religious
dances as an object-lesson in devotional ceremonials.
The meeting was largely attended, and every one, children especially,
waited for the exercises in excited curiosity and interest.
Will sat on the platform with the superintendent, pastor, and others
in authority, and close by sat the band of stolid-faced Indians.
The service began with a hymn and the reading of the Scriptures;
then, to Will's horror, the superintendent requested him to lead
the meeting in prayer. Perhaps the good man fancied that Will
for a score of years had fought Indians with a rifle in one hand and
a prayer-book in the other, and was as prepared to pray as to shoot.
At least he surely did not make his request with the thought
of embarrassing Will, though that was the natural result.
However, Will held holy things in deepest reverence; he had the spirit
of Gospel if not the letter; so, rising, he quietly and simply,
with bowed head, repeated the Lord's Prayer.
A winter exhibition under roof was given in New York, after which the show
made a tour of the principal cities of the United States. Thus passed
several years, and then arrangements were made for a grand Continental trip.
A plan had been maturing in Will's mind ever since the British season,
and in the spring of 1889 it was carried into effect.
The steamer "Persian Monarch" was again chartered, and this time
its prow was turned toward the shores of France. Paris was
the destination, and seven months were passed in the gay capital.
The Parisians received the show with as much enthusiasm
as did the Londoners, and in Paris as well as in the English
metropolis everything American became a fad during the stay
of the "Wild West." Even American books were read—a crucial test
of faddism; and American curios were displayed in all the shops.
Relics from American plain and mountain—buffalo-robes, bearskins,
buckskin suits embroidered with porcupine quills, Indian blankets,
woven mats, bows and arrows, bead-mats, Mexican bridles and saddles—
sold like the proverbial hot cakes.
In Paris, also, Will became a social favorite, and had he accepted a tenth
of the invitations to receptions, dinners, and balls showered upon him,
he would have been obliged to close his show.
While in this city Will accepted an invitation from Rosa Bonheur
to visit her at her superb chateau, and in return for the honor
he extended to her the freedom of his stables, which contained
magnificent horses used for transportation purposes, and which
never appeared in the public performance—Percherons, of the breed
depicted by the famous artist in her well-known painting
of "The Horse Fair." Day upon day she visited the camp and
made studies, and as a token of her appreciation of the courtesy,
painted a picture of Will mounted on his favorite horse,
both horse and rider bedecked with frontier paraphernalia.
This souvenir, which holds the place of honor in his collection,
he immediately shipped home.
The wife of a London embassy attache relates the following story:
"During the time that Colonel Cody was making his triumphant
tour of Europe, I was one night seated at a banquet next to the
Belgian Consul. Early in the course of the conversation he asked:
" `Madame, you haf undoubted been to see ze gr-rand Bouf-falo Beel?'
"Puzzled by the apparently unfamiliar name, I asked:
" `Pardon me, but whom did you say?'
" `Vy, Bouf-falo Beel, ze famous Bouf-falo Beel, zat gr-reat countryman
of yours. You must know him.'
"After a moment's thought, I recognized the well-known showman's
name in its disguise. I comprehended that the good Belgian thought
his to be one of America's most eminent names, to be mentioned
in the same breath with Washington and Lincoln."
After leaving Paris, a short tour of Southern France was made,
and at Marseilles a vessel was chartered to transport the company
to Spain. The Spanish grandees eschewed their favorite amusement—
the bull-fight—long enough to give a hearty welcome to the
"Wild West." Next followed a tour of Italy; and the visit to Rome
was the most interesting of the experiences in this country.
The Americans reached the Eternal City at the time of Pope Leo's
anniversary celebration, and, on the Pope's invitation,
Will visited the Vatican. Its historic walls have rarely,
if ever, looked upon a more curious sight than was presented
when Will walked in, followed by the cowboys in their buckskins
and sombreros and the Indians in war paint and feathers.
Around them crowded a motley throng of Italians, clad in
the brilliant colors so loved by these children of the South,
and nearly every nationality was represented in the assemblage.
Some of the cowboys and Indians had been reared in the Catholic faith,
and when the Pope appeared they knelt for his blessing.
He seemed touched by this action on the part of those whom
he might be disposed to regard as savages, and bending forward,
extended his hands and pronounced a benediction; then he passed on,
and it was with the greatest difficulty that the Indians were
restrained from expressing their emotions in a wild whoop.
This, no doubt, would have relieved them, but it would,
in all probability, have stampeded the crowd.
When the Pope reached Will he looked admiringly upon the frontiersman.
The world-known scout bent his head before the aged "Medicine Man,"
as the Indians call his reverence, the Papal blessing was again bestowed,
and the procession passed on. The Thanksgiving Mass, with its fine
choral accompaniment, was given, and the vast concourse of people poured
out of the building.
This visit attracted much attention.
"I'll take my stalwart Indian braves
Down to the Coliseum
And the old Romans from their graves
Will all arise to see 'em.
Praetors and censors will return
And hasten through the Forum
The ghostly Senate will adjourn
Because it lacks a quorum.
"And up the ancient Appian Way
Will flock the ghostly legions
From Gaul unto Calabria,
And from remoter regions;
From British bay and wild lagoon,
And Libyan desert sandy,
They'll all come marching to the tune
Of `Yankee Doodle Dandy.'
"Prepare triumphal cars for me,
And purple thrones to sit on,
For I've done more than Julius C.—
He could not down the Briton!
Caesar and Cicero shall bow
And ancient warriors famous,
Before the myrtle-wreathed brow
Of Buffalo Williamus.
"We march, unwhipped, through history—
No bulwark can detain us—
And link the age of Grover C.
And Scipio Africanus.
I'll take my stalwart Indian braves
Down to the Coliseum,
And the old Romans from their graves
Will all arise to see 'em."
It may be mentioned in passing that Will had visited the Coliseum
with an eye to securing it as an amphitheater for the "Wild West"
exhibition, but the historic ruin was too dilapidated to be a safe
arena for such a purpose, and the idea was abandoned.
The sojourn in Rome was enlivened by an incident that created
much interest among the natives. The Italians were somewhat
skeptical as to the abilities of the cowboys to tame wild horses,
believing the bronchos in the show were specially trained for
their work, and that the horse-breaking was a mock exhibition.
The Prince of Sermonetta declared that he had some wild
horses in his stud which no cowboys in the world could ride.
The challenge was promptly taken up by the daring riders
of the plains, and the Prince sent for his wild steeds.
That they might not run amuck and injure the spectators,
specially prepared booths of great strength were erected.
The greatest interest and enthusiasm were manifested by the populace,
and the death of two or three members of the company was as confidently
looked for as was the demise of sundry gladiators in the "brave
days of old."
But the cowboys laughed at so great a fuss over so small a matter,
and when the horses were driven into the arena, and the spectators
held their breath, the cowboys, lassos in hand, awaited the work
with the utmost nonchalance.
The wild equines sprang into the air, darted hither and thither,
and fought hard against their certain fate, but in less time
than would be required to give the details, the cowboys had flung
their lassos, caught the horses, and saddled and mounted them.
The spirited beasts still resisted, and sought in every way
to throw their riders, but the experienced plainsmen had them
under control in a very short time; and as they rode them
around the arena, the spectators rose and howled with delight.
The display of horsemanship effectually silenced the skeptics;
it captured the Roman heart, and the remainder of the stay
in the city was attended by unusual enthusiasm.
Beautiful Florence, practical Bologna, and stately Milan, with its
many-spired cathedral, were next on the list for the triumphal march.
For the Venetian public the exhibition had to be given at Verona,
in the historic amphitheater built by Diocletian, A. D. '90.
This is the largest building in the world, and within the walls
of this representative of Old World civilization the difficulties
over which New World civilization had triumphed were portrayed.
Here met the old and new; hoary antiquity and bounding youth kissed
each other under the sunny Italian skies.
The "Wild West" now moved northward, through the Tyrol, to Munich,
and from here the Americans digressed for an excursion on the "beautiful
blue Danube." Then followed a successful tour of Germany.
During this Continental circuit Will's elder daughter, Arta,
who had accompanied him on his British expedition, was married.
It was impossible for the father to be present, but by cablegram
he sent his congratulations and check.
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