Buffalo Bill has a tie to Monticello

Posted September 26, 2012 at 11:14 am

BABBLING BROOKS column–Express Editor Kim Brooks

I received a call last week from local residents who were visiting Cody, Wyo., recently. Cody, Wyo., is named after Colonel William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody. While there, they toured a museum and found out that Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show toured the State of Iowa in 1899 and stopped in Monticello.

Wanting to prove whether this was in fact the truth, I used a handy tool found on the Monticello library website, in which you can search for anything in the Monticello Express digital archives.

I searched for any mention of Buffalo Bill Cody within the 1899 Express issues and… he was in fact in town. There were two shows that took place on Sept. 27, 1899 at a park in town. That was practically 113 years to the day!

Now I should probably say right off the bat that I have heard of Buffalo Bill Cody, but I do not know much at all about the historic figure.

I found out he was in fact a military man, born in Iowa in what is now the town of LeClaire, also famous for the TV show “American Pickers.”

In his adult years, he was more known as the host and organizer of his Wild West-themed shows. He took his shows on the road and toured not only in the U.S., but also in Great Britain and Europe.

His shows included performers from around the world, acting in authentic cultural attire: Turks, Gauchos, Arabs, Mongols and Georgians.

The Monticello Express featured information on Buffalo Bill’s Wild West tour in three issues: Sept. 7, 14 and 28, 1899.

“Mr. Frank J. O’Donnell, the general press agent of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders was a caller yesterday.” (Monticello Express, Sept. 7, 1899)

Clearly it was newsworthy when a press agent called the newspaper to discuss publicity for a star like Buffalo Bill Cody! Heck even today, when organizers for the O’Reilly Auto Parts Rod & Custom Car Show call and want to set up an interview with the guest of honor like Henry Winkler or John Schneider, it’s pretty exciting!

Also within that same issue: “Monticello has a good reputation among the big shows. Ringling Brothers seldom neglect it on a tour and it is one of the only nine Iowa points where Buffalo Bill will pitch his tents this fall. The Iowa itinerary of the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show is as follows: Jefferson, Sept. 19; Webster City, Sept. 20; Algona, Sept. 21; Marshalltown, Sept. 22; Mason City, Sept. 23; Cresco, Sept. 26; Monticello, Sept. 27; Cedar Rapids, Sept. 28; and Centerville, Sept. 29.”

A feature on the show to hit Monticello was seen in the Sept. 14, 1899 Express: “Never before in the history of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders has its success been so pronounced as during the present season. This can be accredited in a measure to the unique general characteristic of the entire entertainment, which is, in every respect, different from any other show presented to the public. One strong feature, which has been added materially to the drawing qualities of the exhibition, is the timely production of the Battle of San Juan Hill. The details of the original being so recently and firmly impressed upon the mind and hearts of the American people that they welcome the enterprise of the management of the Wild West in affording them an opportunity to see this wonderfully realistic representation of that famous battle, and at the same time allow them to give expression of their patriotism almost directly to the many score of heroes of the Spanish-American War. The audience attending the Wild West have been of an exceptional character and have included among their numbers nearly every prominent soldier and civilian in and about New York, and the enthusiasm of sedate old men has been as great as that of the small boy perched in the topmost chair in the gallery. Other feature that have added new interest to the entertainment is the putting on exhibition of representatives of our new island possessions, both from the West Indies and the Pacific Ocean.

Colonel Cody (Buffalo Bill) is as active in his part of the exhibition as ever before, and his every appearance in the arena is a signal for large expression of approval from all parts of the house.”

Those to appear in the show included sharpshooter Johnnie Baker and Annie Oakley.

Buffalo Bill had to shows scheduled in Monticello for Sept. 27 at a city park.

In several articles that ran in the Express following the shows on Sept. 28, the town basically shut down for the festivities. “The school board had to meet the demands of childish curiosity and declare a vacation the day of the Buffalo Bill Show.”

“The ladies of the Methodist Church who served meals yesterday on the occasion of the Buffalo Bill Show took in $55.”

In describing the amount of people who came for the event, “Aside from the people who came by team and from long distances, the excursion trains were loaded down.” It was estimated that 12,000 to 14,000 people packed the town for the shows.

While you’d expect an outstanding show, the article said, “Opinions differ as the merit of the performance. Those who had never seen the attraction before were well-satisfied, while others who had witnessed it felt that little had been added since the world’s fair.” (Buffalo Bill performed at the world’s fair in Chicago in 1893.)