On the trail of Buffalo Bill and his 1903 visit to Wellingborough

The legendary frontiersman and later showman put on a show - but where?

Friday, 22nd October 2021, 9:43 am
Updated Friday, 22nd October 2021, 10:47 am
Buffalo Bill himself in characteristic pose
Buffalo Bill himself in characteristic pose

A man who has been researching the life of legendary solider and showman Buffalo Bill for more than two decades is seeking help with his quest.

Tom Cunningham, from the Scottish National Buffalo Bill Archive, is trying to compile a complete list of the British venues where the famous frontiersman appeared.

One of the most famous and well-known figures of the American Old West, Buffalo Bill Cody performed in cowboy-themed shows across the United States and, from 1887, in Great Britain and continental Europe.

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A procession through Portland Street, Manchester, believed to be from the 1903 tour.

Tom said: "I have most of the details but only a few from the later tours - 1903 and 1904 - continue to elude me. One of those is Wellingborough.

"Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World came to Wellingborough on Friday, September 18, 1903.

"The show boasted 500 horses and 800 people, among whom were my own personal favourites, around 50 genuine Sioux Indians from Pine Ridge, who pitched their tipis on the show ground.

"Those earlier seasons had consisted of long stands in a few favoured major cities but over the course of the later tours, 1903 and 1904, practically every town and city of any size and significance in England, Wales and Scotland received a visit, for the most part for one day only, with performances in the afternoon and evening.

An image depicting the visit of King Edward VII to the Olympia, London, in 1903

"Colonel Cody’s entourage moved from town to town in three special trains; a partnership with James Bailey, of Barnum and Bailey’s Greatest Show on Earth, had provided the expertise which was key to the logistics of such an enterprise.

"On Thursday, September 17, 1903, Buffalo Bill’s venue was Northampton’s Racecourse; on Saturday,September 19, Bayes’ Field, Rothwell Road, Kettering.

"Sandwiched between the two on the Friday was the turn of Wellingborough but, unusually, this particular venue was poorly publicised and I have been unable to locate a newspaper advert from the time which would disclose this information.

"I am very close to attaining my objective of compiling a full list of Buffalo Bill’s British venues but Wellingborough is one of six which still elude me.

Luther Standing Bear was the Lakota interpreter on the 1902-03 tour. Some of the older participants in the Indian camp at this time were still unable to communicate in English

"I do have one important clue – the Evening Telegraph ran an article a few days after the event, in which it referred to ‘the show ground on the…’

"Case closed? Not quite! The hard copies are no longer available and have not scanned very well. Being located on the column to the immediate left of the centre of the bound volume, about half of the digitalised text is so distorted as to be illegible. The first letter is clearly ‘N’ and the second is (probably) ‘e’. It has been suggested to me (I am not a local resident) that this might refer to Nene Park. Note however the preposition ‘on’ as opposed to ‘in’, so this would indicate ‘the Nene riverside’, or similar.

"Wherever it lay, Buffalo Bill’s Wellingborough stand must have consisted of a minimum of 10 acres of level ground.

"Hence this appeal - I am hoping that some local resident will remember a grandparent talking about it. Someone must know! Would you care to share your secret with me?"

If you remember hearing about the time Buffalo Bill came to Wellingborough, you can contact Tom F. Cunningham at the Scottish (soon to be British) National Buffalo Bill Archive via email at [email protected], or write to 16 Parkthorn View, Dundonald, South Ayrshire KA2 9EZ.