What happened when Buffalo Bill brought the Wild West to Yorkshire 130 years ago unearthed

A newspaper digital archiving project has brought back memories of Buffalo Bill’s celebrated visit to Yorkshire 130 years ago this month. Chris Burn reports.

William 'Buffalo Bill' Cody (1846 - 1917) American entertainer, sitting on horseback and holding a rifle, looks off into the distance as British and American flags fly around him. Tents for his Wild West show are in the background.  (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
William 'Buffalo Bill' Cody (1846 - 1917) American entertainer, sitting on horseback and holding a rifle, looks off into the distance as British and American flags fly around him. Tents for his Wild West show are in the background. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Buffalo Bill Cody remains one of the most famous figures associated with the Wild West even to this day and back in the 19th century the soldier-turned-showman’s fame had spread from the States to Europe.

He embarked on eight European tours which drew massive crowds – and now details of one of his local visits in 1891 have been restored thanks to the work of the British Newspaper Archive.

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The archive is a partnership between the British Library and Findmypast to digitise the British Library’s vast collection of newspapers, with millions of pages being scanned and made available online for the first time.

The aim of the project is to make millions of historical stories more accessible to members of the public rather than hours of searching through hard copies or microfilm.

Earlier this month, the Archive passed the milestone of making 43 million pages available to search – including details of Buffalo Bill’s show in Leeds in the summer of 1891.

Details of his visit have just been unearthed in the pages of the Dewsbury Chronicle and West Riding Advertiser.

An article on the BNA website explains that the paper reported on June 20, 1891, that “Buffalo Bill (the Hon. W.F. Cody) is coming to Leeds; indeed, as a matter of fact, those who assist in making up his famous Wild West combination are in the

West Riding metropolis already, for to-day (Saturday), a ‘short season’ is inaugurated at the Cardigan Fields, Leeds.”

The paper goes on to give its readers a flavour of what they could expect from the ‘exhibition,’ for “People in this peaceful little island of ours have few ideas as to what life in the wild west means:

“The exhibition illustrates life as it is witnessed on the plains: the Indian encampment, the cowboys and vaqueros, the herds of buffalo and elk, the lassoing of animals, the manner of robbing mail coaches, feats of agility, horsemanship, marksmanship, archery.”

The ground had a capacity of 8,000 people, with tickets available for between one and four shillings – between £4 and £16 in today’s money.

The paper explained that when the shows did take place, the attractions included “wonderfully clever shooting by pretty Miss Annie Oakley” and a race between American frontier girls, as well as a “representation of an Indian attack on the famous old Deadwood Coach, which used to carry the mails, at such a cost of life, between Deadwood and Cheyennes.

The Dewsbury Chronicle and West Riding Advertiser added that Buffalo Bill himself was the person to put on the most impressive display.

“But they are about to be eclipsed by Buffalo Bill himself riding at full speed round the arena, he successfully spots with his repeating rifle any number of glass balls thrown into the air, and when the applause which greets this has died away, he takes a ponderous whip, and proves his handling of it, and the loud report he gets from it, that he is still a strong man.”

Among the other items of interest at the show was the chance to try “Boston ice cream and popcorn”, which the paper said was sure to please those with a sweet tooth.

By July 4, 1891, Buffalo Bill’s time in Leeds was at an end and the show moved into Liverpool.

He famously returned to Yorkshire in 1904 when Buffalo Bill and his entourage of Native American braves and an exotic menagerie including over 500 horses galloped through cheering crowds to set up camp in Castleford on what would be his last tour of Europe.

The land they alighted upon was known as the ‘Sandy Desert’ and, less than two decades later, after the trick cyclists and camel riders had cleared, it would serve as the temporary first home of Castleford Rugby League Club prior to their switch to Wheldon Road.

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