Buffalo Bill Came to Town in 1900

Buffalo Bill rides in Manitowoc, August 1900

Buffalo Bill rides in Manitowoc, August 1900

It time travel was possible; I certainly wouldn’t miss the chance to see the excitement and fanfare of The Buffalo Bill Wild West Show when it strolled into Manitowoc!  Holding shows across the United States and throughout the globe since 1883, the Wild West Show was seen by millions of people, including thousands from our area.

In the weeks leading up to the Honorable William F. Cody’s trip to Manitowoc, the Manitowoc Daily Herald described some tension involving his show. "Buffalo Bill rode into Manitowoc on the plush red cushions of the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad night limited. He registered at the Williams House and turned in. Next morning he went to Mayor Henry Stolze to arrange for dates for this gigantic tent show in this area..."

"Mayor Stolze informed [Buffalo Bill] that the license fee for a one-day stand at Manitowoc would cost the show a sum of $500. Buffalo Bill whooped as though struck in the back by an arrow out of the bow of Pawnee Pete."

"'Five hundred dollars?' Bill's face turned as white as if he had just witnessed ... ghosts... .'We ever before were assessed such rates."

"Bill threatened to pitch his big tent city just on the outskirts of Manitowoc and turn his wild horses ... loose anyway. Mayor Stolze, standing eye to eye with the grand old westerner, reminded Buffalo Bill that if any of his horses set foot on the city of Manitowoc soil they would be impounded until such time the license fee of $500 was paid."

"Bill made pronto haste back to Chicago and fetched his head lawyer back with him. David Jarret, who also acted as Buffalo Bill's advance agent, glanced at the quickly-drawn city ordinance and guessed it was legal enough."

"The stirring City of Two Rivers stepped into the breach by offering a free site for the Buffalo Bill tent show. What's more the good city fathers there offered to toss in free water for the horses, ponies, and [men]."

Further details were not released in the newspaper but “Buffalo Bill is here” was proudly proclaimed across the front page of the Manitowoc Daily Herald on August 7, 1900.  The show was held on Tuesday, August 7 with two exhibitions, “held rain or shine” at 2 and 8 pm at the Fair Grounds.  The cost to attend was $.50 and $.25 for children under the age of 10.  The show was sponsored in part by Grottman’s Drug Store, 925 S. 8th Street.

Billboards and posters filled the city in the months prior to the show.  The Daily Herald on July 21, 1900 explained that “The Buffalo Bill posters are works of art and are attracting the attention of all passers-by. That on north Eighth Street is said to be the largest ever printed.”

But with all the excitement surrounding the great show, not everyone in town was pleased.  A late July show at Manitowoc’s Opera House did not receive the advertising space it needed because of the increased attention to the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show.  The initial performance of the La Pearl combination had a very small crowd, one that the manager explained “Buffalo Bill had preempted the billboards of the town and consequently the aggregation was not advertised as it should have been, people thinking that a show without "paper" was not of the brightest order.”

The Daily Herald went on to describe the great event: “Buffalo Bill's Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the world arrived in the city early this morning.  The hundreds of horses, acres of canvass and all of the equipments incident to the greatest show of the kind on earth unloaded at Franklin street and in a very short space of time had the tents pitched on the Fair Grounds….”

“Five thousand people visited the grounds during the morning and gazed at the horses … and everybody was anxious to get a look at the famous Buffalo Bill or William J. Cody.”

“It was indeed a wonderful sight and never before did the citizens of Manitowoc have an opportunity to witness such an aggregation. The evening show will be of as high character as that of the afternoon. The electrical features are said to enhance the affects greatly, and particularly is this true of the representation of the historic fight on San Juan Hill. That the tent will be taxed to its limit tonight, goes without saying.”

Luckily, for those of us that missed the great spectacle in the year 1900, the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show will again ride into town at Pinecrest Historical Village on August 12 and 13.   Complete with Buffalo Bill, Annie Oakley, and many more, this show is a great homage to the event that took place here over a century ago.