BUFFALO Bill became a folk hero, a legend of the American West. He was born William Cody on February 26, 1846 in Iowa, but his family settled in Kansas.

When he was 11, William’s father was killed by pro-slavers, and he had to work to help support his family. Aged 15, he was a rider for the Pony Express then during the American Civil War he served in the Union army from 1863.

After the war ended in 1865 he became a civilian scout for the US Army, awarded the Medal of Honour in 1872.

He was nicknamed ‘Buffalo Bill’ because he was hired to kill buffalo to feed workers building the Kansas Pacific Railway. It is claimed in 18 months, between 1867-1868, he killed 4,282 buffalo. Some believe it was US Government policy to control and wipe out native Americans who relied heavily on buffalo. Friction grew, leading to wars.

Writers dramatised tales of the Wild West in newspapers and dime novels. Cody was persuaded to star in shows about the American West, which became popular. He was a showman and began his own company which for 45 years was received enthusiastically across America, Britain and Europe. His first Wild West Show opened in Nabraska in May, 1883 and by 1885 was playing all over America. It included stars such as Annie Oakley and for a time in 1885 Chief Sitting Bull. It came to England in 1887 as part of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee celebrations then toured England, including Yorkshire.

Between 1887-1904, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West visited major towns and cities throughout the county. The first performance in Yorkshire was in Hull on May 5, 1888, a great success. In 1891 it came to Cardigan Fields in Leeds, with popular sharp-shooter Annie Oakley. A native American encampment drew a lot of interest. The show toured the nation before leaving for America.

When it returned to London in June 25 1892, it performed again in front of Queen Victoria. The tour went to Europe, lasting over three years. But it was 10 years before it returned to England.

Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show began its final European tour at Earl’s Court, London, on December 26, 1902. Edward VII and Queen Alexandra went with their children. The following October it came to Bradford.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Buffalo Bill's show was hugely popular in Britain in the early 20th century Buffalo Bill's show was hugely popular in Britain in the early 20th century (Image: Dave Welbourne)

The site was Leeds Road, Thornbury, tickets went on sale at Wood and Marshall’s music warehouse on Ivegate. Large crowds braved wet weather. The wind was so strong the canvas had to be secured with double pegs. Crowds of curious locals walked up Leeds Road. Chief White Cloud enjoyed the attention and was photographed in front of his teepee.

The first show, on Monday, October 5, attracted a crowd of nearly 14,000, entertained by 800 performers and 500 horses. The press rated it as outstanding: ‘It opened in dramatic fashion by an inrush of Indian braves on horseback in all the glory of war paint and feathers. Even the squaws came in, followed by cowboys, Mexicans, Cossacks, cavalry, Arab horse riders and others, followed by the Colonel on a splendid American charger. The great square is filled with picturesque figures and at a word from the leader, the various detachments manoeuvre until they form a kaleidoscope of colour.’

The Deadwood Stage, purchased and restored by Cody, hurtled around the arena. There were displays of sharp-shooting and horsemanship. Buffalo Bill appeared dressed in buckskins and silver spurs. Scenes from Custer’s Last Stand and waggon trains going West were popular.

The performance took place in driving rain, and tons of straw had to be laid so the audience could sit with dry feet. The Bradford Telegraph acclaimed it “a great variety of novel entertainment.” By Tuesday the torrential rain had turned the 414ft long, 180ft wide arena into a quagmire; horses struggled through the mud. The show went ahead but as the rain subsided, the wind grew and part of the wooden seating collapsed. The evening performance had to be cancelled. Cody thanked the people of Bradford, and apologised for the cancellation.

The show had to be dismantled quickly as it was scheduled to move to Keighley. It took three trains to move it. Waggons rolled into Utley, the sun came out and hundreds of people walked up Skipton Road. There was an audience of 7,000 for the afternoon show, rising to 10,000 in the evening. A huge 24 sheet poster appeared on hoardings in Keighley, showing Buffalo Bill on his white horse and at the head of a column of cavalrymen.

When the tents were dismantled. Buffalo Bill visited the Queen’s Theatre, where Walter Melville’s Company was performing Her Second Time on Earth. The play was paused while Cody received a standing ovation.

The following day, the Wild West Show went to Savile Park in Halifax.A cowboy band played from 11am.

The show played at several Yorkshire towns, including Skipton, Huddersfield, York, Scarborough, Harrogate before returning to America.

The image of the Wild West portrayed by Cody was not completely accurate. It exaggerated what the Wild West was really like and his own role in it. But it attracted massive audiences, and film companies in the early 20th century were inspired by Buffalo Bill’s show..

In 1910 Cody was feeling his age and began to wind down. On January 10, 1917, he died in his wife’s arms. His body lay in state in the Colarado’s State Capitol building.

Buffalo Bill was a great showman who entertained millions worldwide. Those locals who in October, 1903, went to see the Wild West Show, treasured life-long memories.