Western Trips

Western Trips

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A Little Known Wild West Show / Buckskin Bill's

Eventually after the 1800's were over and a new century dawned, wild west shows started to lose their allure. This was for several reasons but America's fascination with westward expansion may have been the largest factor. Another was the emergence of the cinema. Even though some of the fascination dried up there were many other wild west shows that did sprout up during the first few decades of the 1900's.

cody and sitting bull
William F. Cody and Sitting Bull
These included the Miller Brothers 101 Wild West Show, Booger Red's Wild West Show, Buckskin Ben's Wild West and Dog and Pony Show, Allen Brothers Wild West, Irwin Brothers Cheyenne Frontier Days Wild West Show and several others.

Three Excellent Venues on the History of the Wild West Shows 

Buffalo Bill Center of the West

When you're planning your western road trip, the best venue to include on your itinerary is the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody Wyoming. Included at this site is the Buffalo Bill Museum and the Cody Forearms Museum. A stop here is well worth your time. The Buffalo Bill Museum first opened in 1927 in a log cabin in Cody Wyoming. In 1959 the museum was moved to a new wing of the Historical Center.

Part of this museum is dedicated to telling the story of Buffalo Bill's Wild West and how it took the world by strom during an era without the instant electronic communications we have today. Lots of information here about the American cowboy, western ranching and the frontier in general. The Buffalo Bill Center of the West is a perfect trip stop for the entire family. Cody Wyoming is just a few miles east of Yellowstone National Park and about 147 miles west of Sheridan.

sharpshooter annie oakley
Annie Oakley
Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave Site

Located in Golden Colorado, the Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave Site has attracted thousands of visitors from around the world. Exhibits cover all of Buffalo Bill's life, his exploits and his world famous Wild West. On display is a large collection of frontier artifacts including firearms and Sitting Bull's bow and arrows.

William F. Cody died in January 1917 at his sister's house in Denver Colorado. he was buried on Lookout Mountain in Golden just west of Denver. Cody had made it known to his family that he preferred to be buried at this site.

The Pawnee Bill Ranch

If your western road trip takes you through Oklahoma, be sure to stop in at the Pawnee Bill Museum at the Pawnee Bill Ranch. The Pawnee Bill Ranch was once the showplace of the world famous Wild West Show entertainer, Gordon W. "Pawnee Bill" Lillie. Tour Pawnee Bill's fourteen room mansion built in 1910 with all it's original furnishings. On the ranch is the Pawnee Bill Museum with a large collection of artifacts from his Wild West Show. The Pawnee Bill Ranch is located in Pawnee Oklahoma, about 50 miles west/northwest of Tulsa.

chief geronimo
Chief Geronimo in a 1905 Locomobile
The Top Three Old Wild West Shows

Buffalo Bill's Wild West was by far the most popular western show on tour. Buffalo Bill's Wild West toured all over Europe and attracted thousands of spectators including most of the monarchs ruling the continent. One of Buffalo Bill's more popular performer was the sharpshooter Annie Oakley.

Another popular touring group was Pawnee Bill's Wild West Show. At one time Sitting Bull joined Buffalo Bill's troupe for a few months and the Apache chief Geronimo joined Pawnee Bill. These wild west shows celebrated the cowboy alongside the Native American.

While Buffalo Bill and Pawnee Bill were away a good part of the time another wild west show emerged in Paducah Kentucky. Not that Paducah was ever thought as being a part of the wild west we usually think of, but Buckskin Bill's Wild West Show was unique in many ways and it was billed as being the largest such show after Buffalo Bill's and Pawnee Bill's.

Cowboy sculpture,American Quarter Horse Museum
The Trials and Tribulations of Buckskin Bill's Wild West Show

With the success of both Buffalo Bill Cody and Pawnee Bill (G.W. Lillie) on the entertainment circuit it's no surprise that others floated the same idea.A very interesting story concerns the little known Buckskin Bill's Wild West Show.

A man named Fletcher Terrell created the Buckskin Bill's Wild West Show in 1900. Who was Buckskin Bill? He was a fictional western character created by Terrell in place of a real wild west frontiersman. Both Bill Cody and Pawnee Bill served as authentic draws for their shows so Buckskin Bill would do the same for Fletcher Terrell. In fact the character that Terrell created as Buckskin Bill was similar to Buffalo Bill Cody in most ways except a younger version.

Fletcher Terrell sold his share the show in 1902 to W.E. Allott and J.C. O'Brien. The new investors greatly expanded the show and it's employee base. By that time the only show larger than it was Cody's Wild West.

cowgirl lucille mulhall
Lucille Mulhall of the Miller Brothers Show
Trouble in Marion Kentucky and Elsewhere

It seems that some of Buckskin Bill's rough riders were in an altercation in Marion Kentucky that resulted in the clubbing and shooting death of a citizen. The killers were later acquitted of the charges by claiming self defense. In Vincennes Indiana an eighteen year old trick pony rider was killed when her horse threw her, catching her foot in the stirrup and dragging her to death.

In addition to the above, some members of Buckskin Bill's were accused of other murders, arson and kidnapping. One spectator was shot and killed accidentally during one performance. There was also an instance of several employees filed suit on Fletcher Terrell when he didn't pay them.

See the Western Trips articles on the links below...

Buffalo Bill's Wild West in Italy

Annie Oakley Meets Lillian Smith in the Wild West

Buffalo Bill's Wild West Tours Europe

A West Texas Adventure at San Angelo

Some good reading on the subject of the old Wild West Show includes Wild West Shows by author Paul Reddin... Life in the Wild West Show by Stephen Currie...Buckskins Bullets and Business, A History of Buffalo Bill's Wild West by author Sarah J. Blackstone.

cole younger photo
Early photo, Cole Younger
Enter Frank James and Cole Younger

One of the most interesting side notes about Buckskin Bill's Wild West Show were two of it's latter entertainers, Frank James and Cole Younger. Many may know that after turning himself in and being tried for murder Frank James was acquitted of all charges in 1883. Cole Younger served a long stretch in the Minnesota Penitentiary for his part in the Northfield Minnesota bank robbery. For Buckskin Bill's show, have Frank James and Cole Younger as part of the troupe would be their answer to Buffalo Bill's Sitting Bull and Pawnee Bil's Geronimo.

The old infamous James-Younger Gang decades later became the James-Younger Wild West Show thanks to a collaboration between Frank James and Cole Younger. Both James and Younger were dissatisfied with Buckskin Bill's Show. The show had trouble from the start and seemed to be cursed as the violent episode in Marion Kentucky is just one example. The tale is that Cole Younger actually had to pull a gun on one of Buckskin Bill's current owners just to quit the show.

In 1903 James and Younger decided to tour and give lectures with their own company. The show toured all over the south in 1903. In 1904 both returned to their families in Missouri. During 1908 and 1909 Cole Younger returned briefly to the carnival and lecture circuit.

(Article copyright 2014 Western Trips. Photos and images in the public domain)

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