The day Buffalo Bill came to Coventry
For a few short hours that sunny June day, a field in a sleepy Coventry became the rip-roaring Wild West of every schoolboy's dreams.
Real Indians attacked a wagon train, cowboy marksmen downed targets at the gallop, cavalrymen wheeled and charged. And at the centre, astride a prancing stallion and dressed in buckskins, sat a real life living legend, Buffalo Bill.
Indian killer, buffalo hunter and self-proclaimed Grand Ruler of the amusement Realm, William Cody was still a commanding figure at the age of 57. And his traveling Wild West show mesmerized thousands as it rolled into Coventry on June 20, 1903.
It arrived as dawn was breaking - four special trains puffing into the city's goods yard with 800 people and 560 horses aboard.
Watched by hundreds of curious onlookers, it was unloaded with military precision and moved to a field off the Birmingham new road, where the Alvis retail park now stands. And by 2pm it was rootin' tootin' ready for the first of two performances.
There was space for 14,000 spectators in the oblong arena, lit by arc lamps and cleverly created from tiered seating and canvas screens. And almost every seat was taken as Cody's Cowboy Band launched into the opening bars of the
The great man himself introduced his celebrated Congress of Rough Riders of the World, a breathtaking display of horsemanship that featured Mexican vaqueros, Russian Cossacks, English cavalrymen, even Arab Bedouin.
But it was the rough riders of the old West, Indian and otherwise, that most had come to see.
In an exclusive interview with a Telegraph reporter earlier in the week, Cody had promised Coventry a spectacle to remember.
He was anxious to learn about the city and was highly complimentary about England, apart from its 'heavy' climate and the cavalry tactics employed by its military.
He was less forthcoming about himself confirming only that he had been 31 years in show business and had acquired his Buffalo Bill nickname after slaughtering nearly 5,000 buffalo to feed the men building the Kansas Pacific Railway.
His reticence was understandable, for in truth Buffalo Bill was a bit of an old fraud. But there was nothing fraudulent about his show.
For two hours the good, the bad and the ugly of Coventry sat entranced by their attack on the Deadwood Stage, scenes from Indian life, the battle of San Juan Hill and a demonstration of rodeo skills from Mexican cowboys.
It all went like clockwork and reports spoke of special applause for Cody himself, who showed off his marksmanship by riding round the arena shooting chunks of balls thrown into the air by an assistant.
The famous cowboy marksman Johnny Baker got a big hand too, for performing a similar trick while standing on his head.
But in terms of excitement the true stars of the show were undoubtedly the Indians.
Their leader, Chief Sand Rock of the Oglalla Sioux, had fought against Custer and among the band were many with a mysterious and exotic past.
They were growing in number too. A daughter had been born to the wife of another chief during the previous engagement at Perry Barr. And on that fine June day in Coventry, the infant Miss Birmingham Standing Bear was making her professional debut.
You can click on most images to see larger images or more information.
We wish to buy Stevengraphs. One at a time or collections. We also seek photos, brochures or any
item of related history.
- Malcolm J Roebuck,
- Copyright © 1999-2019 Stevengraphs Bookmarks & Postcards Etc.