This master impresario, who had first encouraged Cody to shift his attention from the stage to outdoor entertainment, was as interested in lining up a European tour for Buffalo Bill’s show as a way of giving it greater legitimacy in the eyes of the American public as the promoters of the American Exhibition were interested in reclaiming credibility in the eyes of the British public for their shaky enterprise. Over dinner and drinks, they struck a deal that gave the Wild West star billing in the American Exhibition. The results were simply incredible. Not since P. T. Barnum had paraded General Tom Thumb around the sitting rooms of British aristocracy had there been a comparable American production in England.
The scale of Cody’s undertaking amazed the press on both shores of the Atlantic. When the show’s company boarded the State of Nebraska steamship for London, its entourage included “83 saloon passengers, 38 steerage passengers, 97 Indians, 180 horses, 18 buffalo, 10 elk, 5 Texan steers, 4 donkeys, and 2 deer.” As the ship steamed across the ocean, Major John Burke (one of the show’s managers) and an advance party plastered London with posters and drummed up anticipation in the press. As one London newspaper described the scene:
I may walk it, or bus it, or hansom it: still
I am faced by the features of Buffalo Bill.
Every hoarding is plastered, from East-end to West,
With his hat, coat, and countenance,
lovelocks and vest.
Despite a recent hoof-and-mouth outbreak, British officials turned a blind eye to the government’s quarantine regulations and, after the ship docked at Gravesend, allowed the troupe to board three trains and head immediately to the arena that was part of the twenty-three-acre American Exhibition site that would serve as the staging ground for the show.
Several weeks prior to the show’s opening, Buffalo Bill’s encampment became a veritable Mecca for England’s upper crust. Among the many notables to visit the site was the former ...