THE "WILD WEST" AT THE WORLD’S FAIR
EUROPEAN army officers of all nationalities regarded my brother with admiring interest. To German, French, Italian, or British eyes he was a commanding personality, and also the representative of a peculiar and interesting phase of New World life. Recalling their interest in his scenes from his native land, so unlike anything to be found in Europe to-day, Will invited a number of these officers to accompany him on an extended hunting-trip through Western America.
All that could possibly do so accepted the invitation. A date was set for them to reach Chicago, and from there arrangements were made for a special train to convey them to Nebraska.
When the party gathered, several prominent Americans were of the number. By General Miles’s order a military escort attended them from Chicago, and the native soldiery remained with them until North Platte was reached.
Then the party proceeded to "Scout’s Rest Ranch," where they were hospitably entertained for a couple of days before starting out on their long trail
At Denver ammunition and supplies were taken on board the train. A French chef was also engaged, as Will feared his distinguished guests might not enjoy camp-fare. But a hen in water is no more out of place than a French cook on a "roughing-it" trip. Frontier cooks, who understand primitive methods, make no attempts at a fashionable cuisine, and the appetites developed by open-air life are equal to the rudest, most substantial fare.
Colorado Springs, the Garden of the Gods, and other places in Colorado were visited. The foreign visitors had heard stories of this wonderland of America, but, like all of nature’s masterpieces, the rugged beauties of this magnificent region defy an adequate description. Only one who has seen a sunrise on the Alps can appreciate it. The storied Rhine is naught but a story to him who has never looked upon it. Niagara is only a waterfall until seen from various viewpoints, and its tremendous force and transcendent beauty are strikingly revealed. The same is true of the glorious wildness of our Western scenery; it must be seen to be appreciated.
The most beautiful thing about the Garden of the Gods is the entrance known as the Gateway. Color here runs riot. The mass of rock in the foreground is white, and stands out in sharp contrast to the rich red of the sandstone of the portals, which rise on either side to a height of three hundred feet. Through these giant portals, which in the sunlight glow with ruddy fire, is seen mass upon mass of gorgeous color, rendered more strikng by the dazzling whiteness of Pike’s Peak, which soars upward in the distance, a hoary sentinel of the skies. The whole picture is limned against the brilliant blue of the Colorado sky, and stands out sharp and clear, one vivid block of color distinctly defined against the other.
The name "Garden of the Gods" was doubtless applied because of the peculiar shape of the spires, needles, and basilicas of rock that rise in every direction. These have been corroded by storms and worn smooth by time, until they present the appearance of half-baked images of clay molded by human hands, instead of sandstone rocks fashioned by wind and weather. Each grotesque and fantastic shape has received a name. One is here introduced to the "Washerwoman," the "Lady of the Garden," the "Siamese Twins," and the "Ute God," and besides these may be seen the "Wreck," the "Baggage Room," the "Eagle," and the "Mushroom." The predominating tone is everywhere red, but black, brown, drab, white, yellow, buff, and pink rocks add their quota to make up a harmonious and striking color scheme, to which the gray and green of clinging mosses add a final touch of picturesqueness.
At Flagstaff, Arizona, the train was discarded for the saddle and the buckboard. And now Will felt himself quite in his element; it was a never-failing pleasure to him to guide a large party of guests over plain and mountain. From long experience he knew how to make ample provision for their comfort. There were a number of wagons filled with supplies, three buckboards, three ambulances, and a drove of ponies. Those who wished to ride horseback could do so; if they grew tired of a bucking broncho, opportunity for rest awaited them in ambulance or buckboard. The French chef found his occupation gone when it was a question of cooking over a camp-fire; so he spent his time picking himself up when dislodged by his broncho. The daintiness of his menu was not a correct gauge for the daintiness of his language on these numerous occasions.
Through the Grand Cañon of the Colorado Will led the party, and the dwellers of the Old World beheld some of the rugged magnificence of the New. Across rushing rivers, through quiet valleys, and over lofty mountains they proceeded, pausing on the borders of peaceful lakes, or looking over dizzy precipices into yawning chasms.
There was no lack of game to furnish variety to their table; mountain sheep, mountain lions, wildcats, deer, elk, antelope, and even coyotes and porcupines, were shot, while the rivers furnished an abundance of fish.
It seemed likely at one time that there might be a hunt of bigger game than any here mentioned, for in crossing the country of the Navajos the party was watched and followed by mounted Indians. An attack was feared, and had the red men opened fire, there would have been a very animated defense; but the suspicious Indians were merely on the alert to see that no trespass was committed, and when the orderly company passed out of their territory the warriors disappeared.
The visitors were much impressed with the vastness and the undeveloped resources of our country. They were also impressed with the climate, as the thermometer went down to forty degrees below zero while they were on Buckskin Mountain. Nature seemed to wish to aid Will in the effort to exhibit novelties to his foreign guests, for she tried her hand at some spectacular effects, and succeeded beyond mortal expectation. She treated them to a few blizzards; and shut in by the mass of whirling, blinding snowflakes, it is possible their thoughts reverted with a homesick longing to the sunny slopes of France, the placid vales of Germany, or the foggy mildness of Great Britain.
On the summit of San Francisco Mountain, the horse of Major St. John Mildmay lost its footing, and began to slip on the ice toward a precipice which looked down a couple of thousand feet. Will saw the danger, brought out his ever-ready lasso, and dexterously caught the animal in time to save it and its rider—a feat considered remarkable by the onlookers.
Accidents happened occasionally, many adventures were met with, Indian alarms were given, and narrow were some of the escapes. On the whole, it was a remarkable trail, and was written about under the heading, "A Thousand Miles in the Saddle with Buffalo Bill."
At Salt Lake City the party broke up, each going his separate way. All expressed great pleasure in the trip, and united in the opinion that Buffalo Bill’s reputation as guide and scout was a well-deserved one.
Will’s knowledge of Indian nature stands him in good stead when he desires to select the quota of Indians for the summer season of the "Wild West." He sends word ahead to the tribe or reservation which he intends to visit. The red men have all heard of the wonders of the great show; they are more than ready to share in the delights of travels and they gather at the appointed place in great numbers.
Will stands on a temporary platform in the center of the group. He looks around upon the swarthy faces, glowing with all the eagerness which the stolid Indian nature will permit them to display. It is not always the tallest nor the most comely men who are selected. The unerring judgment of the scout, trained in Indian warfare, tells him who may be relied upon and who are untrustworthy. A face arrests his attention—with a motion of his hand he indicates the brave whom he has selected; another wave of the hand and the fate of a second warrior is settled. Hardly a word is spoken, and it is only a matter of a few moments’ time before he is ready to step down from his exalted position and walk off with his full contingent of warriors following happily in his wake.
The "Wild West" had already engaged space just outside the World’s Fair grounds for an exhibit in 1893, and Will was desirous of introducing some new and striking feature. He had succeeded in presenting to the people of Europe some new ideas, and, in return, the European trip had furnished to him the much-desired novelty. He had performed the work of an educator in showing to Old World residents the conditions of a new civilization, and the idea was now conceived of showing to the world gathered at the arena in Chicago a representation of the cosmopolitan military force. He called it "A Congress of the Rough Riders of the World." It is a combination at once ethnological and military.
To the Indians and cowboys were added Mexicans, Cossacks, and South Americans, with regular trained cavalry from Germany, France, England, and the United States. This aggregation showed for the first time in 1893, and was an instantaneous success. Of it Opie Read gives a fine description:
"Morse made the two worlds touch the tips of their fingers together. Cody has made the warriors of all nations join hands.
In 1893 the horizon of my brother’s interests enlarged. In July of that year I was married to Mr. Hugh A. Wetmore, editor of the Duluth Press. My steps now turned to the North, and the enterprising young city on the shore of Lake Superior became my home. During the long years of my widowhood my brother always bore toward me the attitude of guardian and protector; I could rely upon his support in any venture I deemed a promising one, and his considerate thoughtfulness did not fail when I remarried. He wished to see me well established in my new home; he desired to insure my happiness and prosperity, and with this end in view he purchased the Duluth Press plant, erected a fine brick building to serve as headquarters for the newspaper venture, and we became business partners in the untried field of press work.
My brother had not yet seen the Zenith City. So in January of 1894 he arranged to make a short visit to Duluth. We issued invitations for a general reception, and the response was of the genuine Western kind—eighteen hundred guests assembling in the new Duluth Press Building to bid welcome and do honor to the world-famed Buffalo Bill.
His name is a household word, and there is a growing demand for anecdotes concerning him. As he does not like to talk about himself, chroniclers have been compelled to interview his associates, or are left to their own resources. Like many of the stories told about Abraham Lincoln, some of the current yarns about Buffalo Bill are of doubtful authority. Nevertheless, a collection of those that are authentic would fill a volume. Almost every plainsman or soldier who met my brother during the Indian campaigns can tell some interesting tale about him that has never been printed. During the youthful season of redundant hope and happiness many of his ebullitions of wit were lost, but he was always beloved for his good humor, which no amount of carnage could suppress. He was not averse to church-going, though he was liable even in church to be carried away by the rollicking spirit that was in him. Instance his visit to the little temple which he had helped to build at North Platte.
His wife and sister were in the congregation, and this ought not only to have kept him awake, but it should have insured perfect decorum on his part. The opening hymn commenced with the words, "Oh, for a thousand tongues to sing," etc. The organist, who played "by ear," started the tune in too high a key to be followed by the choir and congregation, and had to try again. A second attempt ended, like the first, in failure. "Oh, for a thousand tougues to sing, my blest—" came the opening words for the third time, followed by a squeak from the organ, and a relapse into painful silence. Will could contain himself no longer, and blurted out: "Start it at five hundred, and mebbe some of the rest of us can get in."
Another church episode occurred during the visit of the "Wild West" to the Atlantic Exposition. A locally celebrated colored preacher had announced that he would deliver a sermon on the subject of Abraham Lincoln. A party of white people, including my brother, was made up, and repaired to the church to listen to the eloquent address. Not wishing to make themselves conspicuous, the white visitors took a pew in the extreme rear, but one of the ushers, wishing to honor them, insisted on conducting them to a front seat. When the contribution platter came around, our hero scooped a lot of silver dollars from his pocket and deposited them upon the plate with such force that the receptacle was tilted and its contents poured in a jingling shower upon the floor. The preacher left his pulpit to assist in gathering up the scattered treasure, requesting the congregation to sing a hymn of thanksgiving while the task was being performed. At the conclusion of the hymn the sable divine returned to the pulpit and supplemented his sermon with the following remarks:
"Brudderen an’ sisters: I obsahve dat Co’nel and Gen’l Buflo Bill am present. [A roar of "Amens" and "Bless God’s" arose from the audience.] You will wifhold yuh Amens till I git froo. You all owes yuh freedom to Abraham’s bosom, but he couldn’t hab went an’ gone an’ done it widout Buflo Bill, who he’ped him wid de sinnoose ob wah! Abraham Lincum was de brack man’s fren’—Buflo Bill am de fren’ ob us all. ["Amen!" screamed a sister.] Yes, sistah, he am yo’ fren’, moreova, an’ de fren’ ob every daughtah ob Jakup likewise. De chu’ch debt am a cross to us, an’ to dat cross he bends his back as was prefigu’d in de scriptu’s ob ol’. De sun may move, aw de sun mought stan’ still, but Buflo Bill nebba stan’s still—he’s ma’ching froo Geo’gia wid his Christian cowboys to sto’m de Lookout Mountain ob Zion. Deacon Green Henry Turner will lead us in prayah fo’ Buflo Bill."
The following is one of Will’s own stories: During the first years of his career as an actor Will had in one of his theatrical companies a Westerner named Broncho Bill. There were Indians in the troupe, and a certain missionary had joined the aggregation to look after the morals of the Indians. Thinking that Broncho Bill would bear a little looking after also, the good man secured a seat by his side at the dinner-table, and remarked pleasantly:
While on his European tour Will was entertained by a great many potentates. At a certain dinner given in his honor by a wealthy English lord, Will met for the first time socially a number of blustering British officers, fresh from India. One of them addressed himself to the scout as follows: "I understand you are a colonel. You Americans are blawsted fond of military titles, don’t cherneow. By gad, sir, we’ll have to come over and give you fellows a good licking!"
"What, again?" said the scout, so meekly that for an instant his assailant did not know how hard he was hit, but he realized it when the retort was wildly applauded by the company.
Before closing these pages I will give an account of an episode which occurred during the Black Hills gold excitement, and which illustrates the faculty my hero possesses of adapting himself to all emergencies. Mr. Mahan, of West Superior, Wisconsin, and a party of adventurous gold-seekers were being chased by a band of Indians, which they had succeeded in temporarily eluding. They met Buffalo Bill at the head of a squad of soldiers who were looking for redskins. The situation was explained to the scout, whereupon he said:
"I am looking for that identical crowd. Now, you draw up in line, and I will look you over and pick out the men that I want to go back with me."
Without any questioning he was able to select the men who really wanted to return and fight the Indians. He left but two behind, but they were the ones who would have been of no assistance had they been allowed to go to the front. Will rode some distance in advance of his party, and when the Indians sighted him, they thought he was alone, and made a dash for him. Will whirled about and made his horse go as if fleeing for his life. His men had been carefully ambushed. The Indians kept up a constant firing, and when he reached a certain point Will pretended to be hit, and fell from his horse.
On came the Indians, howling like a choir of maniacs. The next moment they were in a trap, and Will and his men opened fire on them, literally annihilating the entire squad. It was the Indian style of warfare, and the ten "good Indians" left upon the field, had they been able to complain, would have had no right to do so.
Will continued the march, and as the day was well advanced, began looking for a good place to camp. Arriving at the top of a ridge overlooking a little river, Will saw a spot where he had camped on a previous expedition; but, to his great disappointment, the place was in possession of a large village of hostiles, who were putting up their tepees, building camp fires, and making themselves comfortable for the coming night.
Quick as a flash Will decided what to do. "There are too many of them for us to whip in the tired condition of ourselves and horses," said our hero. Then he posted his men along the top of the ridge, with instructions to show themselves at a signal from him, and descended at once, solitary and alone, to the encampment of the hostiles. Gliding rapidly up to the chief, Will addressed him in his own dialect as follows:
"I want you to leave here right away, quick! I don’t want to kill your women and children. A big lot of soldiers are following me, and they will destroy your whole village if you are here when they come."
As he waved his hand in the direction of the hilltop, brass buttons and polished gun-barrels began to glitter in the rays of the setting sun, and the chief ordered his braves to fold their tents and move on.