THE SHOW OF THE CENTURY
One hundred and six years exactly ago to this year and on the 4th of May 1904, something of importance occurred in Caernarfon < and surprisingly enough it had nothing to do with the Religious Revival of that year in Wales. A large contingent of the Wild West came to town and the man responsible for this unique visit was no-one less than William Frederick Cody, commonly referred to as Buffalo Bill. He commenced on his journey through North West Wales with 800 performers from various countries
and 500 horses and gave performances at Llandudno (May 2); Holyhead (May 3); Caernarfon (May 4); Porthmadog (May 5), before moving on to Dolgellau and from there to Aberystwyth.
W.F. Cody was born on February 26. 1846 near Le Claire, Iowa, and was one of the most colourful characters of the Wild West. He was an American soldier in the Civil War from 1863 to 1865. Then from 1868 to 1872 he served as Chief Scout for the 3rd Cavalry during the Plains Wars. He was promoted Colonel and received the Medal of Honor in 1872. He had many other jobs and amongst them that of a hunter of bison and was contracted to the Kansas Pacific Railroad to supply their workmen with fresh meat. In a period of eight months it was said that he killed 4,860 of these animals and he was given the name of Buffalo Bill. However, he was not the first to be known by that name, but a man called Comstock. He won the right to use the name following a contest between him and Comstock to see who could kill the most bison in a stipulated time and Cody was declared the winner.
In December 1872, Cody went to Chicago with a friend, Jack Omohundro, from Texas to commence on a new career as a performer in a show called The Scouts of the Prairie,
one of the original Wild West shows that was produced by Ned Buntline. During the year 1873/74 both men invited a friend to join them in a new drama Scouts of the Plains.
His name was James Butler Hickok, or Wild Bill Hickok
as he was known. This was to be the focus of his life from then on and he became extremely successful as a businessman, running his own business and going from strength to strength, until 1887 when he was invited to come to Britain to take part in Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee Celebrations. He put on shows in London and Birmingham before moving on to Salford, near Manchester, where he performed regularly for 5 months.
In 1889 he went on tour through Europe and the following year he met Pope Leo XIII. Then in 1893 he put on an exhibition during the renowned World Fair at Chicago
and became extremely popular and even world famous.
But, let us return to the year 1904 and his visit to the counties of Gwynedd and Môn and especially so to the town of Caernarfon. It is understood that the schools of the town were closed for the day, so as to give an opportunity to the children to visit this unique exhibition that portrayed the exciting history of part of the world that was familiar to all children. Space does not allow a full report of the show, but performances were held twice daily, one at 2 pm in the afternoon and another at 8 o clock in the evening and they were held in a large field on the Bethel Road.
Here are recorded some of the main attractions that faced those who were present. The show was presented from a train, which included sixty carriages and arrived at Caernarfon Railway Station, drawn by six steam engines. It was a red letter day for those who paid an entrance fee of between one shilling and seven shillings and six pence to be able to boast I was there.
At precisely 2pm the Cowboy Band
struck up the stirring notes of the Star Spangled Banner
which was a cue for the various Red Indian Tribes, led by their Chiefs to gallop forward in full war paint and dress. The last of these chieftains was no less a person than the son and heir of the arch enemy of the Wild West Pioneers, Sitting Bull
aptly called Young Sitting Bull
and he received a warm reception.
The audience was entertained to several exhibitions on horse riding by natives of such countries as Mexico, The Caucauses and America. There were also 16 members of the English Lancers
who had seen action in the Boer War as well as soldiers from the American Cavalry
and other items far too numerous to name.
The main attraction, however, was a scene from that which was called Custer's Last Stand
or Battle of the Little Big Horn.
That bloody battle that was fought between hundreds, if not thousands of Red Indians under the leadership of Sitting Bull
and a small contingent of soldiers under the command of General Custer. It was revealed that the Chief Scout, Buffalo Bill, did not arrive at the scene until the following day, and was an eye witness to the aftermath of that unforgettable massacre. He took the part of Custer in the scene.
The above is a brief description of the Show of the Century and no-one can deny that it was indeed an unique one and that Caernarfon had not seen its like before or ever likely to see afterwards. W.F. Cody lived until the year 1917 and even though it was said that he lost much of the wealth he had earned during his career as a successful businessman, he left over $100,000 in his will. On his death on the 10th of January 1917 and within 6 weeks of his 71st birthday, tributes were received from King George V of Britain, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany and President Woodrow Wilson of the U.S.A. He was buried in Elks Lodge Hall, Denver, and his friend Governor John B. Kendrick, Wyoming led the funeral procession.
© T. M. Hughes 2010