The Buffalo Bill Show / Cody Tours Europe

Buffalo Bills Wild West Goes To Europe

Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West was probably the greatest show on earth. During the latter part of the 1800’s the majority of the population was east of the Mississippi River. Newspaper accounts of course supplied the eastern populace with news stories of the Indian Wars and the ongoing westward migration. Mostly because of the news accounts, people in the East were eager to learn more about the American West. What was it really like? Who were these mountain men and Native American warriors we heard so much about? What was it like to be under attack by hostiles? These questions and more were answered by William Cody and his performers. When you look at old pictures of the Wild West you can see how William Cody was a promotional genius in his era.

annie oakley photo

Sharpshooter Annie Oakley

The Wild West shows played to packed audiences in the United States before venturing overseas to Europe. The Europeans, some might say, even more than some Americans were absolutely captivated by stories of the American West. Books and dime novels were quite popular in Europe. One of the most popular acts in the Wild West was the sharpshooter Annie Oakley. Annie and her husband and business manager, sharpshooter Frank Butler, toured all the venues in Europe and thrilled the crowds.

England in 1887

In 1887 the Wild West toured England to sell out crowds. Queen Victoria, the Prince of Wales and many other society figures came out to see the Wild West. The show played in London, Birmingham and Manchester England. The story of the wild west was just as the English anticipated and they loved the show. Among the features were real Indians attacking a stagecoach and driven off. A reenactment of the Battle of the Little Bighorn was performed with a bit of a different outcome. Most historians seem to agree that Wild Bill Cody embellished some of the scenes for entertainment value. Nevertheless, it was enthusiastically accepted by the audience. When Europeans wanted to see the wild west Buffalo Bill Cody brought it to their doorstep.

cody's wild west in 1890

Cody's Wild West, 1890

Wild West in Italy

In 1889 Cody’s show returned to Europe including a tour in Italy. While in Rome where they were invited to the Vatican to attend the celebration of the tenth anniversary of the coronation of Pope Leo XIII. A very publicized event while the Wild West was in Italy was a bronco-busting challenge between Buffalo Bill’s cowboys and true working cowhands from the Maremma region in central Italy. These men spent much of their time working with the Cajetan breed of horse, the wildest most untamed in Italy. The Prince of Teano challenged Cody’s men to break the Cajetans. Twenty thousand spectators saw the contest. There were mixed reports on the contest’s outcome. Most reports however were that the Maremma cowboys were only marginally to moderately successful at trying to duplicate that feat on Cody’s horses.

Many people assume that the Wild West was performed in Rome’s historic Coliseum. The fact was that there were too many stones and debris in the arena and the Wild West simply posed at the Coliseum for pictures. Tents were erected there but because of the debris and lack of sufficient space the performances couldn’t be staged at the very historic site.

william cody and sitting bull

Studio photo of William Cody and Chief Sitting Bull

The Wild West performed for eight days in Bologna. In Bologna there were congested streets and oversold arenas. It was in Bologna that American popcorn was introduced to audiences giving them a good sample of American culture. It’s interesting to observe that during 1890 the Indian Wars had subsided but had not disappeared entirely. The Wounded Knee Massacre of Sioux in 1890 is an example. In 1890 the Census Bureau officially declared the end of the frontier. That was somewhat true and the Indian Wars died down but there were still many Native American issues unresolved.

Nobody in Italy considered the Wild West show to be merely a circus. It was more of a display of current events in a way. At least that was the feelings of both William Cody and his Italian audiences. A good example of the realness of the Wild West were the Indians themselves. These were not professional actors.They were real Native Americans and some of them were believed to have participated in the Battle of the Little Big Horn against Custer.  

Some of Cody’s warriors had actually been in custody because of earlier uprisings and only released to Buffalo Bill to tour with his troupe. For the people of today who became acquainted with the 1800’s wild west via movies and television, they would have a hard time understanding what it was like for Europeans, including the Italians, to see a live display of this kind.There has been nothing like it since and probably never will be. Bear in mind that in the late 1800’s, media was nothing like it was now. People attained their knowledge of current events through printed means such as newspapers, books and magazines. Live plays typically didn’t involve current or somewhat recent events. Buffalo Bill brought the live action to the audiences with authentic performers and it was hugely successful. Many people believe that the 20th century movie makers drew their interpretation of the wild west from William Cody’s productions.

wilhelm II of germany

The Wild West played in Germany with Wilhelm II in attendance

When the Wild West show went to Florence for a three day engagement, the reception was the same. The whole town turned out. An estimated 10,000 people daily attended the performances. Newspapers at the time reported that the act the Florentines enjoyed the best was the Indian attack on the Deadwood stagecoach. The Indians looked like they had the upper hand but at the last minute the cavalry appeared to rescue the stage and it’s passengers. Ironically, it wasn’t that many years since these events actually happened in real life. This is just another reason why the show was regarded as much as a news event rather than only entertainment.

Two additional articles with photos you’ll be interested in are Annie Oakley and Frank Butler and the story of the Wild West Touring Paris.

The Wild West Remains Popular

Stories of Buffalo Bill were popular many European countries in the early 20th century, The Nerbini publishing company in Florence started publishing in an illustrated format the adventures of “Buffalo Bill, The Hero of the Wild West“. Historians have long debated and discussed the meaning of the Wild West performances, especially the enormous drawing power they enjoyed. As an example, a newspaper in Florence while the show was performing there, pointed out that the Wild West really was a story of a dying race. The paper further pointed out to history students in the area to make certain to meet the Indian performers since they represented a people who would vanish from the earth. The paper was pointing out that the story of the disappearing Native American was actually a side theme of most of the acts.

Historians can and have debated this issue and I feel they are partly right. Right or wrong wasn’t part of the performance. That wasn’t the intent of Cody’s show. The show did an excellent job chronicling the old wild west and it accomplished that with flair. There’s no question that some acts were embellished but such is the norm in show business. News accounts at the time stated that many Florentines wandered the show grounds particularly interested in seeing the Indians close up. The audiences loved the show despite what some single critic might have had to say. The Florentines were awed by the sight of the warriors, especially when they had their war paint and headdresses on and shouted a war cry.

buffalo bill cody in 1903

William "Buffalo Bill" Cody, 1903

Buffalo Bill Cody made a fortune with his Wild West. He didn’t use or like the word “show’, possibly because he thought it had the connotation of being phony or fake. That is the reason the performances were called the “Wild West” without using the word “show” although you do see the word “show” used in some research pieces. Every indication from the research I have seen is that William Cody believed he was presenting a piece of very unique history. William Buffalo Bill Cody died in January 1917 in Denver Colorado. When word of Cody’s passing reached overseas, tributes came in from European leaders all over the continent. That was testament to the lasting mark he made to people from all over the world.

(Photos from the public domain)


Annie Oakley and Frank Butler / The Sharpshooting Duo

In the late 1800’s and at the turn of the century there may not have been a more famous couple than Annie Oakley and the skilled sharpshooter Frank Butler. They were partners in marriage as well as partners in show business. They traveled together, performed together and had a marriage that lasted some fifty years. Today, a fifty year marriage between such famous performers is a rarity for sure.

Annie and Frank in Cincinnati

young annie oakleyFrank Butler was born in Ireland and came to the United States at the age of thirteen. During his early years in the U.S. Butler developed excellent skills in sharpshooting and put together an act. Who would have believed that his future partner for life would have also been a very skilled sharpshooter? As fate would have it, Frank Butler met a 15 year old Annie Oakley at a shooting competition held in Cincinnati Ohio.

In a way it was love at first shot. Actually, Butler met Annie when he placed a $100 bet with a Cincinnati hotel owner that he could beat any sharpshooter he could produce. The person he produced was Annie Oakley. After missing on his 25th shot, Butler lost the match and the bet. After that he began courting Annie, and they married on June 20, 1882.

The Origins of the Annie Oakley Name

Annie and Frank Butler lived in Cincinnati at first and the story of her stage name, Oakley, which she only adopted when she and Butler began performing together has a few different versions. One is that she is believed to have taken it from the city’s neighborhood of Oakley, where they resided. Some other people believe she took on the name because that was the name of the man who had paid her train fare when she was a child. Regardless of the fact that her birth name was Phoebe Ann Moses, the name the American public came to know her as was Annie Oakley

A Touring Duo

Annie and Frank began touring together as an act and joined the Sells Circus which had it’s winter home in Ohio. In 1885 they joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West where Annie picked up the nickname of “Little Sure Shot”, given to her by Chief Sitting Bull while he was with the Wild West for about four months. When Annie first joined the Wild West there was a big rivalry with another skilled sharpshooter, Lillian Smith, and eventually this rivalry and ill feelings caused both Annie and Frank to quit the Wild West. They resigned from the show at the end of their first trip to England during Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee.

Smith left the Wild West a few years later and Annie patched up her relationship with Cody and she and Frank rejoined the troupe.

You’ll also enjoy our Trips Into History article on Samuel Colt, His Repeating Firearms and a Murder Trial

The Trials and Successes of Samuel Colt

annie oakley 1899Frank Butler and Annie Oakley remained very close. Frank was part of the act at various times. Annie had the limelight and that was okay with Frank. he understood that they were a team and her success was good for both of them.

Often Frank would stand in as a target so to speak for Annie when she was performing.

One well known episode of this occurred in 1899 when the Wild West was touring Germany. Annie had a particular shooting act where she would shoot the ash off the tip of a volunteers cigar. Annie Oakley would ask for volunteers from the audience and typically there wasn’t anyone volunteering to hold the cigar in their mouth while Annie shot the ash off. Frank Butler would then stand up and act as the prop.

In 1899, while performing in Berlin, Annie asked for a volunteer and none other than Kaiser Wilhelm II stood up  and volunteered. Obviously this caused some anxiety among his entourage. Annie, who was known sometimes to take one shot of whiskey before her act, probably wished someone other than the Kaiser himself had stood up. She took aim and fired her trusty Colt 45 and shot the ash clean off the Kaiser’s cigar. You couldn’t invent this kind of story.

During her and Frank’s time performing with the Wild West they traveled all throughout Europe from Spain to the Netherlands  and just about everywhere in between.  Oakley and Butler left the Wild West for good in 1902. Annie then did some acting in a play written specially for her named “The Western Girl“.

The Hearst Trouble

Oakley and Butler met their next challenge as a result of William Randolph Hearst and his newspaper chain. Hearst had a reputation for sensationalism. In fact, many people had claimed that Hearst’s sensationalizing of the battle ship Maine explosion in the Havana Cuba harbor actually started the Spanish American War. Such was the influence of print media at the turn of the century.

The most popular new stories in the year 1904 seemed to be about cocaine prohibition. Hearst’s newspaper published a false story that Oakley had been arrested for stealing to support a cocaine habit. A devastating accusation made on such a popular American as Oakley. As it turned out, the woman who was actually arrested was a Chicago burlesque performer who decided to tell the police her name was “Annie Oakley”. The real Annie Oakley spent about six years suing Hearst and other newspapers. Oakley filed some 55 lawsuits and won 54 of them. The story of the time was that although she won and cleared her name, the amount of money she collected from the suits was less than her legal costs.

Other papers that had printed the story written by Hearst quickly reprinted a retraction story when the truth was discovered. Not Hearst. When Annie was finally awarded $20,000 from Hearst (today that would equal about $300,000) he tried everything he could not to pay. Hearst went as far as sending his own private detectives to Oakley’s home town in Ohio to try to dig up gossip and dirt. Hearst tried to unearth anything he could smear her with. The detectives  were unable to find anything for Hearst.

The Latter Years

annie oakley 1922The photo at right is of Annie Oakley in 1922. Annie and Frank spent their later years working for charitable causes and in general helping women.

Womens suffrage would not occur to after World War One. During the war they helped raise a lot of money for the Red Cross. Butler really became the family supporter after Oakley left Buffalo Bill.

While Oakley spent her time suing William Randolph Hearst, Butler became a representative for the Union Metallic Cartridge Company. After Oakley’s absolute final Wild West show in 1913, they settled into a comfortable retirement. They spent the winter in North Carolina, taking automobile trips, and hunting.

This couple, Frank and Annie, who remained married for close to fifty years and traveled the world together, meeting heads of state and royalty, both passed away at close to the same time. Annie Oakley died on November 3, 1926 in Greenville Ohio of pernicious anemia. She was 66 years old. Frank Butler, her husband, died eighteen days later. The story was that Frank was so upset over Annie’s death that he simply stopped eating.

Garst Museum

Those wanting to learn more about the amazing life on Annie Oakley and Frank Butler need only visit the Garst Museum. The museum is located at 205 North Broadway in Greenville Ohio. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places and is operated by the Darke County Historical Society. The Garst Museum is home to the Annie Oakley Center and would make an interesting side trip when you’re traveling through the area.

(Photos and images are in public domain)


Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Goes to Paris

One of the highlights of Buffalo Bills Wild West was when the troupe performed in Paris France. After their fascinating success touring the United States, the group sailed to Europe and played a number of cities on the continent.Their original performances in England during 1887 paved the way for a much larger tour which included a six month engagement in France. The world was ready and eager to see these old west shows.

wild west show indiansThe tour in England had coincided with Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee celebration and the Buffalo Bill Cody planned his French tour to take place during the Exposition Universelle in Paris during 1889. The Paris Exposition commemorated the one hundred year anniversary of the Storming of the Bastille, a somewhat similar event to the one hundred year anniversary of the United States. William Cody Buffalo Bill gained the reputation of being an excellent showman. This was not only for his performances in the arena but equally so for his skill in building publicity. Cody’s worldwide reputation along with an advertising blitz created an overwhelming response from the French. The opening performance alone drew some 10,000 spectators including Sadi Carnot, the French President. The French newspapers were filled every day with accounts of the Wild West and its performers. The Indians, just as in England, had attracted huge attention. As if their presence in France wasn’t enough, the French press put out large stories of Cody’s Indians climbing the famed Eiffel Tower.The public domain photo below shows the Eiffel Tower under construction in July 1888.

eiffel tower constructionThe French engineer Gustave Eiffel won a contest to build a gigantic tower as the spectacular centerpiece of the 1889 Exposition Universelle and Cody’s Indians surely would have been the first Native Americans to ascend this symbolic tower. The very act of touching the Indians became a popular pastime for young French couple in particular who thought such contact would assure fertility. French children were so thrilled by the Wild West and it’s authentic American Indians that they set up their own wild west encampment in the Bois de Boulogne. Everything in the Wild West show was intriguing to the Parisians of the time including the wild west buffalo itself.

All throughout the summer of 1889, as Buffalo Bill performed during the Exposition Universelle, it almost appeared that the Wild West was the main event in Paris rather than the Exposition itself. One side note to the Wild West’s tour of France involved Buffalo Cody trying to present a special gift to the French president. The gift was a nine foot tall lamp with a preserved bison head at the top. The lamp shade was scarlet red. While the gesture was surely meant as a compliment, the French president declined the offer. It’s not clear what happened to the intended gift after that.

annie oakley posterBuffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, featuring among others, the famous sharpshooter Annie Oakley and a full contingent of Native Americans, thrilled Parisians at the same time that Thomas Edison, come to promote his new talking phonograph in Europe. Clearly the excitement of the American frontier coupled with advances in science and engineering, such as Eiffels Tower and Edison’s inventions made the Exposition Universelle a showcase of the old and new.

Another historical side note regarding the Wild West’s performances in Paris involved that of Annie Oakley.Two years prior in 1887, Oakley had quit the show amid poor relations with the show’s other female sharpshooter, Lillian Smith, almost ten years younger than Oakley. By 1889 Smith had also quit the Wild West and Buffalo Bill was successful in persuading Annie Oakley to rejoin his group for their upcoming tour of Europe.

After the Wild West performed in Paris they moved through southern France and then onto Spain for sold out performances there. The Buffalo Bill show and all it’s advance publicity headed south.

buffalo bill wild west posterThe story of American old west frontier history has proved to be a lasting attraction. Today, in the 21st century, visitors to the Disneyland Paris show can see a sort of reenactment of what Buffalo Bill Cody brought to France over one hundred years ago. Now, twice daily, a man by the name of Trent Vance (Vance plays Buffalo Bill Cody) heads up a cast of up to 70 cowboys, Indians, bison, longhorn cattle, horses and a donkey in a 90-minute dinner performance portrayed just like Buffalo Bill’s Wild West shows. The show includes chuckwagon scenes, a buffalo chase, rodeo games and a stagecoach attack along with other frontier acts. Named appropriately, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, there are two performances nightly and includes dinner. Disney’s knowledge of Buffalo Bill Cody goes all the way back to Walt Disney himself, who saw Buffalo Bill in a parade that came through Disney’s boyhood hometown of Marceline, Missouri.

Aside from attending the new Wild West at Disneyland in Paris, many artifacts and records can be seen at two Buffalo Bill Cody museums in the United States. One is the Buffal Bill Historical Center in Cody Wyoming just east of Yellowstone National Park. The other is at the Buffalo Bill Museum in Golden Colorado. The Buffalo Bill Museum’s Golden Colorado exhibits include memorabilia from Buffalo Bill’s life and Wild West shows, Native American artifacts, a large collection of antique firearms and other Old West artifacts. Golden Colorado is also the grave site of William Cody.

See the Deadwood Stagecoach in Cody Wyoming

Many people familiar with the old west would say that the most famous stagecoach to have plied the trails of the frontier west was the Deadwood Stagecoach. This is Deadwood as in Deadwood South Dakota and the Black Hills. Deadwood South Dakota could easily have been called the capitol of the Black Hills.The photo below is of Deadwood circa 1877.

deadwood south dakota

This is where people from all walks of life hastened to as soon as gold was discovered in the nearby hills. The fact is that Deadwood was, in a way, founded by none other than George Armstrong Custer. It was Custer who led an expedition into the Black Hills which was at the time a very sacred area of the country to the Sioux Indians. The Sioux in fact had ownership of the Black Hills per a treaty with the federal government. When Custer filed a report of his expedition to the Black Hills, whose purpose was to ascertain if gold was truly there,  he emphasized that gold was there in abundance. Somehow, at about the same time Custer filed his report, the startling information also found it’s way to the eastern newspapers.

concord stagecoachThe national economy was in a slump at the time and this only added fuel to the fire and what appeared to be another California Gold Rush, this time in the Black Hills, was in the making. Beginning in April of 1877 the first stagecoaches started rolling between Bismark South Dakota and Deadwood. The Northern Pacific Railroad had a terminal in Bismark and this offered the fastest way to Deadwood from the east. Three time a week service began in May and it didn’t take long for the stages to make the trip daily. Deadwood South Dakota was booming and people were trying to get there fast. The coach of choice was none other than the Concord coaches which were built well for the rough western trails.The first Concord stagecoach was built in 1827 by the Abbot Downing Company. The innovation that made these coaches so popular lay in the construction of their suspension. Traditional stagecoaches employed metal springs which gave the coach a very bouncy ride when the trail got rough. Concord coaches instead used leather braces which gave the coach a gentle swinging motion, prompting Mark Twain to refer to the Concord as the “cradle on wheels.” Freight and passenger revenue was doing very well and in addition to that the stage company received the coveted U.S. Mail contract. During the stage lines heyday it was reported that they employed about 175 men. This was quite a large operation in 1877.

sam bassAnytime there was a flourishing stagecoach route, and the route to the Black Hills was one of them, there were stagecoach robbers. In that era they were often referred to as “highwaymen”. People handy with firearms such as Wyatt Earp were hired to sit beside the driver with a shotgun to protect passengers and gold from the highwaymen. There was a lot of criminal activity in the area. The infamous Sam Bass, pictured above, and his gang reportedly robbed the stage four times in two months. In fact, the Sam bass gang was credited with the largest Union Pacific train robbery that took place in Nebraska. The amount and value of gold dust being shipped via stagecoach was such that precautions were taken that included a special coach to protect the gold. The treasure box was bolted securely to the floor, the coach was even lined in lead, and there were two portholes guards could use to fire back at the robbers.

The transportation boom ended suddenly when the railroad reached Pierre, South Dakota. In 1880 the company moved the majority of its coaches and livestock to Pierre and opened an alternate line. After that the service on the Bismarck line was cut to tri-weekly trips and was soon after abandoned.

To illustrate how popular Buffalo Bill’s Deadwood Stagecoach was in his Wild West performances, while performing in England the highlight of one of the shows came when several monarchs, including the Prince of Wales and the kings of Denmark, Greece, Belgium, and Saxony, climbed aboard the Deadwood Stage with Buffalo Bill in the driver’s seat and rode around the arena while the Indians engaged in a mock attack. It doesn’t get much more real than that for the visiting monarchs. Obviously this was a show business first and gained wide publicity for the Wild West.

Today, you can see the original Deadwood Stagecoach which played a big part in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West performances. The stagecoach is on display at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody Wyoming. The Cody Historical Center began as a log cabin tribute to William  F. Cody, founder and namesake of Cody Wyoming, and has materialized into  a seven-acre building which houses five museums and a research center. The museum is located at 720 Sheridan Ave. and features everything about Buffalo Bill Cody, his Wild West and the old west in general. They have done an excellent job with this museum and I would recommend anyone traveling on a Wyoming vacation to make a visit there. It is the largest repository of William Cody artifacts in the west.