Buffalo Bill on Stage
Publication Year: 2008
Published by: University of New Mexico Press
Television producer Roy Huggins loved history and created Old West characters just a tad left of normal. One of his television pilots— This Is the West That Was—tells the story of Wild Bill Hickok, Buffalo Bill Cody, and Calamity Jane in Deadwood. In Huggins’s version, Hickok is a peaceable man who never fired his gun. Calamity Jane, however, brags ...
In an early scene in This Is the West That Was, Buffalo Bill Cody and Wild Bill Hickok clamber onto a wagon driven by Calamity Jane. Cody has been out for months killing buffalo to supply the army with meat, but Hickok expresses surprise when Cody describes what he was doing as hunting buffalo. In reality, given the enormous herds roaming the plains, a man ...
1: Setting the Stage
In 1893, Frederick Jackson Turner delivered his now-famous paper, “The Significance of the Frontier in American History,” at the American Historical Association in Chicago. He defined the frontier as “the meeting point between savagery and civilization.” Imagine a scene in which, ironically, twenty years previously, Buffalo Bill’s publicist John M. Burke pondered ...
2: Treading the Boards
During the time Cody scouted for the Fifth Cavalry, Cheyenne chief Tall Bull and his mixed band of incensed Cheyenne, Sioux, and Arapaho terrorized emigrants along the route from Leavenworth to Denver. Graves of those the Indians had murdered mottled the trail. One outrage occurred in summer 1869 when Tall Bull abducted two women from Solomon, Kansas. Lieutenant General Philip H. Sheridan called on ...
3: Wild Times with Wild Bill
Following the first season’s triumphs, newfound fame, and break from Buntline, Cody and Texas Jack planned their next season. Cody returned to New York City to a warm welcome from William B. Freligh, manager of the Bowery Theatre. Commencing August 28, he would play the lead in Buffalo Bill, King of the Border Men, the play he attended only eighteen months previously when he had stood tongue-tied on the same stage ...
4: Border Life Onstage
Wild Bill Hickok’s unexpected departure had no effect on the popularity of Cody’s combination. Publicity prepared in advance continued to advertise his presence, but most reviewers failed to notice he was not onstage. Did it matter that only two scouts saved the damsels in distress? Some critics mention Hickok in their reviews as though he were still with the troupe; one of the supporting actors may have assumed his role and made himself up to look like him.
5: First Scalp for Custer
Texas Jack Omohundro and his wife Giuseppina Morlacchi rejoined Cody at the end of summer 1875 when Kit Carson Jr. left to form his own combination. The newly organized troupe opened in Albany, New York, on September 2 and toured around New York State. At the end of the month in Rochester, they once again were performing in combination the two plays of the previous seasons with which Jack was familiar—Scouts of the Plains and Life on the Border.
6: Incidents and Accidents
In the early fall of 1877, Cody headed to the Red Cloud Agency in Nebraska to recruit Indians for his combination. Most Americans had regarded the Indian policy of Ulysses S. Grant as a failure, primarily because of the bloody battles it produced. With the succession of Rutherford B. Hayes as president and the appointment of Carl Schurz as secretary of the interior came a change in policy allowing Indians eager to leave reservation confinement to take jobs in traveling shows.
7: Sir Cody, Knight of the Plains
May Cody drew excellent business at the California Theatre in San Francisco. At first, the proprietor was angry when manager Barton Hill signed Cody, thinking he would be a poor draw, but first-night receipts totaled $2,300, and the week’s run brought in over $9,000.1 Typically, the overwhelming majority of any audiences were the “gallery gods.” Hill remarked to two newspapermen during intermission at one first-night performance, “I don’t care much what you chaps say about the new show ...
8: Rescuer of the Prairie Waif
Depicting his conquest of Yellow Hair and John D. Lee’s recent execution for the Mountain Meadows Massacre respectively, Cody’s dramas Red Right Hand and May Cody were deliberately timely. John A. Stevens, author of the successful play Unknown, managed New York City’s Windsor Theatre when Cody played there in March 1880. Impressed with Stevens’s reputation as actor and playwright, Cody asked him to write a play for his
9: Exit Stage Right
Cody’s biographer Don Russell contends that “his closing years on the stage were the most obscure and unadvertised in Buffalo Bill’s lifetime.”1 From spring 1882 to spring 1886, Cody shepherded his combination through the eastern states, hardly venturing farther west than Indiana. He stuck to tried and true bookings, often performing in cities only nine ...
Cody was forty years old when he retired from the theatrical stage. He had only a moment to play Janus and look back on his accomplishments and forward to his biggest challenge. Experience had been a commanding force in his education as an entertainer, and he was eager to apply the lessons learned during the combination years.
Appendix 1: Character Lists and Program Notes for Buffalo Bill’s Dramas
Appendix 2: Buffalo Bill Combination’s Cities and Dates
Appendix 3: Newspaper Sources
Page Count: 319
Illustrations: 26 halftones
Publication Year: 2008
OCLC Number: 609249056
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