November 17, 2014
It was Buffalo Bill's Day
On June 18, 1896, the C.B.&Q. Railroad brought Buffalo Bill's Wild West show to Galesburg from Rock Island in two trains of twenty cars each. They arrived at 2:45 am and were unloaded by 7 o'clock. Everything was transferred to the ball grounds on East Main Street and at 11 o'clock, a parade was held. Large crowds assembled along the street to see it.
The Galesburg Evening Mail observed that all was peaceful among the scores of Indians and United State Cavalry men. Both groups were essentially actors who would later pretend to have fierce hostility to one another. Along with them were men dressed in regulation military uniforms of England, France and Germany, as well as Russian Cossacks, Asiatic Tartars, Bedouin Arabs and American cowboys. “Colonel” William F. Cody led the procession.
Performances were given in the afternoon and evening. It was estimated thirty thousand people had been in attendance for the world-renowned presentation. The Cowboy Band gave a concert while people were taking their seats in the grandstands. It provided music throughout the performance.
The grand review showcased all the riders in the program. There were 350 men in the American Cavalry unit which drilled and performed various maneuvers before the grandstand. The units from other countries also demonstrated their military specialties.
Miss Annie Oakley gave a wonderful exhibition of her firearms skill. There was an attack by Indians on the Deadwood stagecoach. Buffalo Bill and several dozen cowboys chased the Indians through painted scenery of mountains and shot blanks from their guns. The newspaper reported the audience stood up and cheered.
The newspaper continued “the crowd cheered everything from Buffalo Bill down to the buffalo calf that was shot at 95 distinct times with no apparent injury.” The show moved on to Burlington, Iowa, after the evening performance.
It is unclear whether Carl Sandburg attended the show. The year 1896 was a restless one for him. He was eighteen years old and had only vague ideas of what kind of work he would do the rest of his life. His father allowed him to use an employee railroad pass to go to Chicago. After spending three days and all of his money, he came back to Galesburg. Perhaps a show of cowboys and Indians had no appeal to a fellow trying to find his way in the world. Or, perhaps, he lacked the price of admission after his sojourn in Chicago.
William Frederick “Buffalo Bill” Cody was born February 26, 1846, in LeClaire, Iowa Territory. He started working at the age of eleven after the death of his father. At the age of fourteen he became a Pony Express rider. In 1863 he enlisted as a private in Company H, 7th Kansas Cavalry and served until the end of the Civil War.
He received his nickname, “Buffalo Bill,” after fulfilling a contract with the Kansas Pacific Railroad to provide buffalo meat for its dining cars. In 1883 he founded “Buffalo Bill's Wild West”--a circus-like attraction that toured the United States and Europe until 1906.
Cody respected the Native Americans in his company. He encouraged them to bring their families and set up camp as they would at home. He thought the public should see the human side of those warriors and their wives and children. Cody also respected the rights of women. He thought they should be given more liberty than they were at the time and they should be paid the same as men if they could do the same work.
William F. Cody died January 10, 1917, at Denver, Colorado. His final resting place, as he wished, is on Lookout Mountain near Golden, Colorado.