RETURN OF THE "WILD WEST" TO AMERICA
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:
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 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 hs 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 Rose Bonheur to visit her at her superb chatêau, and in return for the honor he extended to her the freedom of the 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 attaché 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, 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.
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. 290. 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.