The summer of 1913 will be remembered as the year the Wild West came to Baltimore in an action-packed tent show featuring the famed frontiersman William Frederick Cody, better known as "Buffalo Bill."
The Great Combined Buffalo Bill Wild West & Pawnee Bill Far Eastern Show had a staff of 780 and traveled in 60 of its own railroad cars -- one of which was home to "Caesar, the world's most ferocious and untameable lioness," and Mimi, a 4-ton elephant.
The train was sidetracked on a Pennsylvania Railroad line near the circus grounds at 15th Street and Eastern Avenue in East Baltimore. Cody's private car, painted bright yellow, brought up the rear of the train. He often abandoned it for the comforts of the Rennert Hotel and the barbershop of the Carrollton Hotel, whose tonsorial capacity he valued for cutting his flowing white hair and beard.
Even in 1913, Buffalo Bill was somewhat of a rugged specimen. He had been a Pony Express rider and a Pikes Peak prospector. During the Civil War, he was a Union scout during the 9th Kansas Cavalry's battles against the Kiowa and Comanche Indians and the Missouri and Tennessee campaigns.
He earned his nickname while working as a buffalo hunter after the war for construction crews building the Kansas Pacific Railroad. He killed 4,280 buffaloes in 17 months with his famed .50-caliber breech-loading Springfield rifle.
From 1868 to 1872, and again in 1876, Cody resumed his scouting career for the Army, and while serving with George A. Custer in his campaign against the Sioux and Cheyenne, he killed and scalped Yellow Hand, a Cheyenne chief.
Cody's lasting, worldwide fame came from the dime novels of Ned Buntline, the pen name of E. Z. C. Judson, which popularized, in both fact and fiction, Cody's frontier experiences.
A superb and colorful showman, Cody organized his Wild West Show in 1883 and toured not only throughout the United States but also on the Continent and in England, where he performed for Queen Victoria.
He featured such personalities as Chief Sitting Bull, crack shot Annie Oakley and May Lillie, trick-shooting "Queen of the West."
"Don't you know," he told The Sun in 1913, "I have been in show business for nearly 40 years, and in that time have missed being present at only nine performances."
Cody's partner was Pawnee Bill, better known as Maj. Gordon W. Lillie, a plainsman, friend to the Indian and an honorary Pawnee chief. The two eventually merged their shows into a spectacle that provided enough excitement and thrills to satisfy any child or adult infatuated with the Old West.
"The thought of these two giants under one spread of canvas was enough to set the blood atingle," wrote Holly V. Smith in The Sun Magazine in 1960.
"Buffalo Bill had his famous Congress of Rough Riders -- cowboys, cavalry, Indians, rangers. He had stagecoaches and prairie schooners careening around the main arena, pursued by real Indians," recalled Smith, who saw the 1913 Baltimore show.
"Five of those were real chiefs [he said so himself] who had never before been brought east of the Mississippi River. Their names were Iron Cloud, Ghost Dog, Sitting Eagle, Bushy Top Pines and Black Horn.
"Pawnee Bill's principal attractions were rough riders, too, but from other corners of the world -- a band of dashing Arabs, a troop of Russian Cossacks, French Legionnaires. There were also fakirs and dancers and freaks, including a Japanese giant."
Cody was described by Smith as "cutting a fine figure."
"His hair, mustache and goatee were snow-white. He wore a big cream-colored hat, beautifully worked buckskins and, if I remember correctly, a bright red shirt."
"If real, downright determination to present a thrilling performance regardless of risk to life and limb is what the public demands, then the opening matinee of the Buffalo Bill Wild West & Pawnee Bill Far Eastern Show yesterday, on the circus grounds, was a whirlwind success," said The Sun in 1913.
Pawnee Bill admitted that the show was thrilling, so thrilling that he told The Sun, "It is rather hard on our performers. We have seven laid up now from injuries."
"After the formal filing into the arena of the performance at the matinee," reported The Sun, "Buffalo Bill [Col. William F. Cody] drove in behind a pair of cream-colored mustangs and was greeted with a thunder of applause. He made a brief speech of welcome, then introduced Pawnee Bill, who galloped in on a black charger. Then the show began in earnest."
A reporter from The Sun said, "As an orator Cody excels, his voice penetrating the farthest limits of the big arena."
While in Baltimore, Cody boasted in a lengthy interview that should the tensions then building in Europe lead to war, the "United States Army and Navy can whip any nation on earth."
He also said, feeling the energy of days long gone, "And if war should be declared as the outcome of this squabble, why, then I should ask President Wilson to make me chief of scouts of the United States Army. I might not be able to get around as briskly as I once did, but I could direct my scouts."
It was to be the last appearance in Baltimore of the combined shows. In July, two months after closing its Baltimore stand, the show was seized by the sheriff in Denver for overdue debts and forced to close.
Pawnee Bill retired from show business, and in 1917, Cody died and was buried in a tomb blasted from solid rock on Lookout Mountain, near Denver.
Pub Date: 8/24/97