Sunday, September 23, 2012

Buffalo Bill in Scotland?

Editors Note: The following guest post to Legends Blog is submitted by Fiona J. Johnston

Buffalo Bill In Scotland?

On the evening of 16th November 1891 in the city of Glasgow, Scotland, around 6,000 people gathered to watch the most exciting show of the age. Rumours had been circulating for weeks before the show's arrival and now the audience’s anticipation and excitement had reached a frenzied peak.

But finally the wait was over, and the first notes from the cowboy band carried across the cold sharp air as they started their rendition of the Stars and Stripes, and Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show began.

A hundred years ago Buffalo Bill was a world class celebrity in the order of someone like Madonna or The Beatles today. Everyone would have known about Buffalo Bill and his Wild West Show, and everyone would be talking about his visit.

Ask today’s Glaswegians about Buffalo Bill and a few may know that in the Glaswegian suburb of Dennistoun there stands a commemorative bronze statue of Bill on horseback, fewer still are aware of the Scottish tour.

But one person will not let Buffalo Bill’s visit to Scotland fall into the shadows of history, Scottish writer and director Alan Knight. Alan is currently developing a documentary ‘Buffalo Bill In Scotland - An Evocation’ adapted from Scottish author Tom F. Cunningham’s book ‘Your Fathers The Ghosts – Buffalo Bill’s Wild West In Scotland.’

Knight was completely inspired by the book and has spent a lifetime in love with the Wild West and the great age of the American frontier. He set about further researching the Wild West tour thinking of ways he could adapt the book to the screen.

He soon discovered that there is little in the way of archive material surrounding the show’s visit to Scotland, although Buffalo Bill visited the country twice, once in 1891 and again in 1904 with his ‘Rough Riders Of The World.’ So Knight thought the best way around the problem would be to incorporate animations where archive material is missing.

Material on such characters as one George C. Davis otherwise known as Carter The Cowboy Cyclist who performed death defying acts of the most daring and sensational kind. Carter was the Evel Knievel of his day but instead of a motorcycle he used a push bike.

If that sounds a little tame to you, consider that this was at a time in history when bicycles were a luxury item only the very rich could afford. Most of the audience had probably never even ridden a bike, let alone thought about flying through the air on one.

Knight had a test animation of Carter created, quirky and fun but also totally reflective of the mood and time of the Wild West Shows, this was definitely the way forward. So he set his mind to developing a documentary adding multi-media into the usual documentary mix, creating an exciting modern take on this fascinating moment in history.

The Wild West Show played at only one Scottish city during the 1891 tour, Glasgow. During this great Victorian age the city was second only to London in the British Empire and was a huge powerhouse of industry and commerce.

When Bill visited Scotland the second time in 1904 with his Rough Riders Of The World Show he toured all over Scotland visiting towns such as Perth and Dundee and even went as far North as Inverness, the capital of the Highlands.

While in Inverness, two of the Indian company Iron Tail and Blue Shield took a trip even further North to John O’ Groats the most northerly settlement on the British mainland. They were accompanied by Mr. Small who had taken to dressing in a kilt while touring Scotland and was the show’s photographer.

Iron Tail in Glasgow, 1904
(photo courtesy of
Invisible Emperors Ltd)
An article in the Northern Ensign, a local newspaper, comments that both Indians were dressed in their ‘Native garb,’ and were ‘decorated with feathers.’ Local onlookers had a totally different view of the Indians. They were convinced the warriors were women!

After all, the Indians had long, dark hair and smooth skin on their faces, it was an easy mistake to make… However, the photograph sold well as a postcard, and the incident is a great example of Buffalo Bill’s showmanship and marketing skills.

No one knows if Iron Tail and Blue Shield found out what those John O’ Groats onlookers thought. And it is ironic that many of the Native Americans who travelled with the Wild West Show were warriors who had fought during the Wounded Knee massacre. Their lands lost to immigrants, and their culture suppressed by white Europeans, much like the ones they were now entertaining.

In fact, the Wild West Show was one of the few ways that the Native Americans were able to preserve their culture, through the display of traditional skills in horsemanship and archery.

The documentary will explore the response of the Scottish people to the show and will look at fantastic characters in the Buffalo Bill company, such as Charging Thunder, one of the Lakota contingent, who attacked George C. Crager, an interpreter with the show. Charging Thunder ended up in Barlinnie, a Glasgow prison, for 30 days after Colonel Cody called the police.

And Annie Oakley, who could famously split a playing card on its edge several times before it hit the ground, she was apparently so enamoured with tartan that she had some wonderful photographic portraits taken dressed in a tartan outfit.

If you'd like to see the photographs of Annie and find out about the progress of the documentary, then please click on the Facebook link below.

Please 'Like' the page to be kept up-to-date with other little known archive images as they're unearthed, as well as Buffalo Bill in Scotland historical information and video updates from the team of filmmakers.

Also keep October 2nd 2012 in your diary as that's the official launch of the Buffalo Bill in Scotland IndieGoGo campaign. The team are raising development funds for the documentary and will be asking for contributions so they can tell this wonderful story!

Fiona J. Johnston.


tonya steele said...

Love history and anything to do with Buffalo Bill. Great article!

Al said...

Very and interesting and well written, Fiona!