On the 9th May 1887, Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show opened in London at the American Exhibition in West Brompton.  This was the first time Buffalo Bill had travelled to Britain, and marked the first time that many Europeans had seen the fabled ‘Cowboys and Indians’.

Over 100 performers had travelled from New York aboard the steamship State of Nebraska, including members of a range of indigenous tribes who staged a very scripted and stage-friendly version of life on the Great Plains.  Alongside the performers were a further 200 animals including horses, buffalo, elk, donkeys and deer and an original Deadwood stagecoach that was used in a scene depicting an attack by hostile tribes.

Alongside such choreographed scenes, the show also included demonstrations of so-called ‘cowboy skills’ such as lassoing galloping animals and sharp-shooting.  The famous exhibition shooter Annie Oakley and her husband, Frank E. Butler, featured heavily in the show with Annie famously shooting a cigar from her husband’s mouth.

One of the reasons for the show’s success was the early support of Queen Victoria.  The Queen, who was celebrating her Golden Jubilee the same year, was present at a command performance two days after the show opened and also went to visit the show again 6 weeks later.  The royal seal of approval was a publicity coup for the show, which went on to play to over two and a half million people before it closed 6 months later.

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© Scott Allsop