Column: Worthington's link to a wild west traditionWe can scarcely walk through downtown Worthington without having fleeting thought of Buffalo Bill.
By: Ray Crippen, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — We can scarcely walk through downtown Worthington without having fleeting thought of Buffalo Bill. I mean: There, on the corner of 10th Street and Fourth Avenue, is Buffalo Billfold Co, owned by Bill and Lauri Keitel. Leather creations of many descriptions, all made from buffalo hide.
The Keitels are building on an American legend. I was reading that at the turn of the 20th century the two best-known and most-admired men in the United States were Theodore Roosevelt and William F. (Buffalo Bill) Cody. Both are admired still, although Cody is attacked now and again by 20th century and 21st century historians for his 19th-century mindset.
Bill Cody had one idea. Walt Disney had another. I like Bill Cody’s idea better. Disney proposed to build awesome, wondrous theme parks and let people travel to see them. Buffalo Bill proposed to put together an awesome, wondrous entertainment spectacle and take it directly to the people. This he did, taking his Wild West show across all the United States, across Canada and on to Europe. Every record attests the Cody show was awesome indeed. Queen Victoria saw it several times.
People from Worthington, from southwest Minnesota and northwest Iowa, traveled to see the Wild West show in 1898 (especially), when it was a part of the Omaha World’s Fair. It was a sensation to make people bulge-eyed.
There were 97 Sioux Indians in the show; some of them had participated in the Custer battle at the Little Bighorn. Well — Sitting Bull was one of the stars. (Queen Victoria felt honored to meet him.) In England, the Native Americans raced their 180 broncos against English thoroughbreds as part of the show. The Indians won every time.
The Wild West show re-created the battle at the Little Bighorn, but there was very much more. There were cowboys, also by the score. Some credit the Wild West show with “inventing” rodeos. There was a stage coach robbery that alone starred 40 cowboys. Marksmanship: Annie Oakley (“Annie Get Your Gun”) was another star of the production. There was nothing like the Cody show before or since. Action, lights and music. Oh yes, and a herd of buffalo.
There are many people from our area we wish we could talk with still. One is Jim McCann (James A. McCann), who lived on a farm west of Luverne in Rock County’s Beaver Creek Township.
McCann was a genuine cowboy through a part of his life. He worked with the Bar T outfit in Montana, Wyoming and Colorado. People who went to the Omaha fair (Trans Mississippi Exposition) saw Jim McCann in a stirring performance as an expert horseback rider. McCann was a prize member of the Buffalo Bill Wild West cast and traveled with Bill and Sitting Bull and Annie through six years, across America and Europe. He stayed with the show until it closed the 1899 season on Oct. 14 in Ohio.
There has come to be renewed interest in the Wild West show from a focus on the American Indian community that emerged in England. Some of the Indian performers left the show in England and made their homes there. Jill Callison, who many recall from her years at the Daily Globe, is one who has developed features on the South Dakota natives who traveled with Buffalo Bill.
One feature was of the handsome and imposing (six-feet, seven-inch) man, Surrounded By The Enemy, who lived with a colony of cast members in tepees on the Salford Quays, where the show was staged in a massive, indoor arena. Surrounded By The Enemy contracted a chest infection and died. Lately, it is thought his grave has been found. There is an effort to bring the body back to South Dakota for reburial on the Rosebud Reservation.
The Sioux connection at Salford, England, is confirmed with streets named Buffalo Court and Dakota Avenue. At least one Dakota baby, a girl, was baptized at St. Clement’s church, Salford.
Charging Thunder, who married an English woman and changed his name to George Edward Williams, has a granddaughter and a grandson living in the Salford area. Williams held a special position with England’s Belle Vue Circus. He was elephant tender.
(He needed a Buffalo Billfold.)
Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.