Buffalo Bill’s Wild West was the most acclaimed entertainment troupe in the latter 1800’s and at the turn of the century. Old West shows were quite in vogue in the last part of the 1800’s. No other show of it’s kind, and most likely no other show period, had the world acclaim that the Wild West had.
The Buffalo Bill show was in demand. When traveling throughout England and the Continent during the 1880’s and 90’s, the Wild West performed for heads of state, royalty and influential people of all callings. There was never another group of entertainers quite like Buffalo Bill Cody assembled. Some of these entertainers grew famous during their years with the Wild West, most notably Phoebe Ann Moses, the sharpshooter with the stage name Annie Oakley.
A man named Gordon William Lillie, born in 1860, was also a Wild West showman. Lillie was known by the name “Pawnee Bill” and there were several reasons for this. In 1879, Gordon was working on the Pawnee Indian agency in Indian Territory, now Oklahoma.
The photo left is of Pawnee Bill and May Lillie
In 1883, he was given the opportunity to work with the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show as the Pawnee interpreter. This work with the show would ultimately give him his nickname Pawnee Bill. The need for an interpreter accompanying the Wild West was real. As most people recall, the Wild West performers for the most part were the genuine articles. The Indians were genuine Native Americans, some not many years away from the warpath. Sitting Bull himself joined Cody’s Wild West for about four months. Nevertheless, Pawnee Bill’s association with William Cody would lead to opportunities in the future.
Pawnee Bill met May Manning, another western performer, who was known to many as the “Champion Girl Horseback Shot of the West.” May Lillie“, her soon to be new name, was quite a skilled female sharpshooter. The couple (pictured above) were married in 1886 at May’s parents home in Philadelphia. Gordon Lillie’s wedding gift to his bride was a pony and a Marlin 22 target rifle.
After the marriage in 1886 they started their own western show called, “Pawnee Bill’s Historic Wild West“. Unfortunately, the first year didn’t go too well financially and they then created a smaller show called “Pawnee Bill’s Historical Wild West Indian Museum and Encampment Show.” This new smaller operation fared much better and Lillie recruited Jose Barrera (pictured below), known to audiences as “Mexican Joe“. Barrera was only 15 years old when he joined Pawnee Bill. Even at that young age he was an expert equestrian and roper. He was called the greatest trick roper in the world. Mexican Joe along with other performers were also noted for their unique “Bailable a Caballo” in which both riders and horses danced in pairs to the music of a twelve piece band. During his lifetime, Mexican Joe toured throughout the United States and Europe. He performed with Pawnee Bill, Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West and with the successful Miller Brothers 101 Ranch Show. Mexican Joe was a star in many old west shows.
In regards to the talented May Manning, she became very involved in Women’s Relief efforts, buffalo herd preservation as well as Indian culture. May also became involved in films starring in “May Lillie, Queen of the Buffalo Ranch,” a film produced at the ranch. In 1936.
The image right is of Mexican Joe
In 2011, May Manning Lillie was inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame in Fort Worth Texas for her work during her Wild West Show career as well as her role in the preservation of the American bison. The Pawnee Bill Ranch was a refuge site for the buffalo.
The Wild West Shows
To give you a feel for Pawnee Bill’s show, the group included Mexican cowboys, Pawnee Indians, Japanese performers, and Arab jugglers. The show appeared to be part western show and part circus. Pawnee Bill featured boomerang throwers, Turkish musicians and freaks of all sort in his museum annex.
Pawnee Bill and Buffalo Bill Cody joined forces in 1908. This new show was called “The Two Bill’s Show“. Unfortunately, while traveling with their show in Denver Colorado, the Two Bill’s Show was foreclosed on and dissolved. “The Two Bills Show” didn’t enjoy the same fame as the Cody’s Wild West show. The photo below is of a cowboy around 1902.
Visit the Pawnee Bill Ranch Museum
The ranch area containing the buildings is located on Blue Hawk Peak. The Ranch refers to it as “the hill” to differentiate it from the lower pavilion/picnic/arena area and the large pastures that comprise the bulk of the ranch.
These performances in Pawnee Oklahoma are not part of the Pawnee Bill shows that take place in Fort Worth Texas. The tickets for the Pawnee Oklahoma events cannot be purchased online, only at the Ranch Museum itself.
Visitors to the Pawnee Oklahoma ranch can now tour Pawnee Bill and his wife, May’s, 14 room mansion which is fully furnished with their original belongings. Today, Pawnee Bill Ranch consists of 500 of the original 2,000 acres. It also includes original outbuildings.
The ranch is now operated by the Oklahoma Historical Society. The Pawnees Bill Ranch is open as a historic site dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of history as it relates to Pawnee Bill and May Manning Lillie. Many people who visit the Pawnee Bill Ranch combine it with a visit to the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. Both the ranch and the museum in Oklahoma City make good additions to your Oklahoma vacation planner. They fit in well for a low cast family trip.
The city of Pawnee Oklahoma is a very historic and an excellent place to visit when you’re in the area. Also a good place to add to your summer vacation road trip planner.
The splendor of the old west cowboys and Indians are still very much alive and well in Pawnee. The magnificent old buildings stand today as monuments of a time gone by. Pawnee is.located in the northern part of the state, about 50 miles northwest of Tulsa and about 75 miles northeast of Oklahoma City.
(Article copyright Trips Into History. Photos and images in the public domain)