I refer to your headline on 18th July, “Wild West Comes to Town,” highlighting themed events to be held at “Eureka” during August. I wonder how many Calderdale residents know that 108 years ago, “the real” Wild West Show came to Halifax?
Of all the outdoor shows that came to town in the first decade of the 20th Century, the most famous was surely Buffalo Bill’s “Wild West Show.” For, in the autumn of 1903, Buffalo Bill himself rode through Halifax from an almost-forgotten railway station, to set up camp on Skircoat Moor. His real name was William Cody, and his exploits as a buffalo hunter, United States Army scout and Indian fighter had transformed him into a folk hero; in later years, he toured worldwide with his show, which was also styled the “Congress of Rough Riders of the World.”
Very early on the morning 8th October 1903, three special trains arrived at Pellon Station on the Halifax High Level Railway, bringing Cody and an entourage of about 800 men, plus 500 horses. A long column, made up of about 60 native Americans (mostly Oglala and Bois Brulees), Mexican rough-riders, Cossacks, and Arabs, then wended its way along via King Cross to Savile Park.
Advance advertisements in the local press had encouraged residents to flock along and see “the red-skinned warriors who have been the terror of the western frontier states of America ride side by side with real scouts and trappers who have won high honours and undying fame in Indian warfare.”
Unfortunately the weather was very bad; in fact, it poured with rain as the performers pitched camp on “the Moor.” But the rain did not dampen the admiration of thousands of soaked Halifax spectators, and the attraction triumphed over the elements. There were two performances, which took place on ground which was threatening to turn imminently into a quagmire.
Mist rising from the drenched grass affected the powerful searchlights supplied for the evening event, and the Halifax ‘Guardian’ reported “the effect at the night performance was very weird, we are told, in the steely glitter of the electric lights.
But the continual downpour did not rid the galloping steeds of their mettle nor the courageous riders of their pluck, and the full planned programme from the opening to the final review was carried through. As the rough-riders dashed about the enclosure they yelled their pulse-stirring cries and lightened the gloom with bright flashes of colour. The lassoing of the cowboys was “like a fine art.”
They created manoeuvres to represent emigrant trains crossing the plains; an attack by “Indians” on a settlers’ camp, followed by the dramatic repulse of the attackers by a company of soldiers.
We are also told “The bivouacs and the camp fires gave a fascinating realism to the events, and the war dance of the Indians was pronounced the most exciting in its novelty.”
Quite how the camp fires were kept alight in such wet conditions, is not explained!
A local reporter who interviewed Buffalo Bill in his private tent said “He was a typical Yankee in appearance, and easily approachable.”
David C Glover