THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES
OF BUFFALO BILL
During the summer and fall of 1872, I received numerous letters
from Ned Buntline, urging me to come East and go upon the stage to
represent my own character. "There's money in it," he wrote, " and
you will prove a big card, as your character is a novelty on the
At times I almost determined to make the venture; but the
recollection of that night when I stood on the stage of the Bowery
Theater and was unable to utter a word above a whisper, would cause
me to stop and think and become irresolute. I feared that I would be
a total failure, and wrote Buntline to that effect. But he insisted
that I would soon get over all that embarrassment, and become
accustomed to the stage, so that I would think no more of appearing
before five thousand people than I would before half a dozen. He
proposed to organize a good company, and wished me to meet him in
Chicago, where the opening performance would be given.
I remained undecided as to what I ought to do. The officers at the
fort, as well as my family and friends to whom I had mentioned the
matter, laughed at the idea of my ever becoming an actor. That I, an
old scout who had never seen more than twenty or thirty theatrical
performances in my life, should think of going upon the stage, was
ridiculous in the extreme &emdash;so they all said.
A few days after my election to the Legislature a happy event
occurred in my family circle, in the birth of a daughter whom we
named Ora; about the same time I received another letter from
Buntline, in which he requested me to appear on the stage for a few
months as an experiment; and he said that if I made a failure or did
not like the business, I could easily return to my old life.
My two sisters who had been living with us had married
&emdash;Nellie, to A. C. Jester, a cattle man, and May, to Ed.
Bradford, a railroad engineer &emdash;and consequently left us; and
my wife had been wishing for a long time to visit her parents in St.
Louis. Taking these and other things into consideration I finally
resolved to resign my seat in the Legislature and try my luck behind
the foot-lights. I informed General Reynolds of my determination,
telling him at the same time that at the end of the month, November,
I would resign my position under him. The General regretted to hear
this, and advised me not to take the step, for I was leaving a
comfortable little home, where I was sure of making a good living for
my family; while, on the other hand, I was embarking upon a sea of
uncertainty. Having once made up my mind, however, nothing could
ARRANGING THE PRELIMINARIES
While I was selling my horses and other effects, preparatory to
leaving the fort, one of my brother scouts, Texas Jack, said he would
like to accompany me. Now as Jack had also appeared as the hero in
one of Ned Buntline's stories, I thought that he would make as good a
"star" as myself, and it was accordingly arranged that Jack should go
with me. On our way east we stopped in Omaha a day or two to visit
General Augur and other officers, and also the gentlemen who were out
on the Judge Dundy Hunt. Judge Dundy and his friends gave a dinner
party in my honor at the leading restaurant and entertained me very
handsomely during my stay in the city.
At Omaha I parted with my family, who went to St. Louis, while
Jack and myself proceeded to Chicago. Ned Buntline and Mr. Milligan,
having been apprised of our coming by a telegram, met us at the
depot. Mr. Milligan accompanied us to the Sherman house, where he had
made arrangements for us to be his guests while we remained in the
city. I didn't see much of Buntline that evening, as he hurried off
to deliver a temperance lecture in one of the public halls. The next
day we met him by appointment, and the first thing he said,
"Boys, are you ready for business?"
"I can't answer that," replied I, "for we don't know what we are
going to do."
"It's all arranged," said he, "and you'll have no trouble
whatever. Come with me. We'll go and see Nixon, manager of the
Amphitheater. That's the place where we are to play. We'll open there
next Monday night." Jack and myself accordingly accompanied him to
Manager Nixon's office without saying a word, as we didn't know what
"Here we are, Mr. Nixon," said Buntline; "here are the stars for
you. Here are the boys; and they are a fine pair to draw to. Now,
Nixon, I am prepared for business."
Nixon and Buntline had evidently had a talk about the terms of our
engagement. Buntline, it seems, was to furnish the company, the
drama, and the pictorial printing, and was to receive sixty per cent
of the gross receipts for his share; while Nixon was to furnish the
theater, the attaches, the orchestra, and the local printing, and
receive forty per cent of the gross receipts.
NOW, HERE'S A HOW D'DO
"I am ready for you, Buntline. Have you got your company yet?" asked
"No, sir; but there are plenty of idle theatrical people in town,
and I can raise a company in two hours," was his reply.
"You haven't much time to spare, if you open on Monday night,"
said Nixon. "If you will allow me to look at your dramas to see what
kind of people you want, I'll assist you in organising your company."
"I have not yet written the drama," said Buntline.
"What the deuce do you mean? This is Wednesday, and you propose to
open on next Monday night. The idea is ridiculous. Here you are at
this late hour without a company and without a drama. This will never
do, Buntline. I shall have to break my contract with you, for you
can't possibly write a drama, cast it, and rehearse it properly for
Monday night. Furthermore, you have no pictorial printing as yet.
These two gentlemen, whom you have with you, have never been on the
stage, and they certainly must have time to study their parts. It is
preposterous to think of opening on Monday night, and I'll cancel the
This little speech was delivered in rather an excited manner by
Mr. Nixon. Buntline said that he would write the drama that day and
also select his company and have them at the theater for rehearsal
next morning. Nixon laughed at him, and said there was no use of
trying to undertake anything of the kind in so short a time
&emdash;it was utterly impossible to do it. Buntline, whose ire was
rising, said to Nixon: "What rent will you ask for your theater for
"Six hundred dollars," was the reply.
"Well, sir, I'll take your theater for next week at that price,
and here is half the amount in advance," said Buntline, as he threw
down three hundred dollars on the stand. Nixon took the money, gave a
receipt for it, and had nothing more to say.
"Now, come with me boys," said Buntline, and away we went to the
hotel. Buntline immediately obtained a supply of pens, ink and paper,
and then engaged all the hotel clerks as penmen. In less than an hour
after he had rented the theater, he was dashing off page after page
of his proposed drama &emdash;the work being done in his room at the
hotel. He then set his clerks at copying for him, and at the end of
four hours he jumped up from the table, and enthusiastically shouted;
"Hurrah for 'The Scouts of the Plains!' That's the name of the play.
The work is done. Hurrah!"
The parts were then copied off separately by the clerks, and
handing us our respective portions Buntline said: "Now, boys, go to
work, and do your level best to have this dead-letter perfect for the
rehearsal, which takes place tomorrow morning at ten o' clock,
prompt. I want to show Nixon that we'll be ready on time."
I looked at my part and then at Jack; and Jack looked at his part
and then at me. Then we looked at each other, and then at Buntline.
We did not know what to make of the man.
"How long will it take to commit your part to memory, Bill?" asked
"About six months, as near as I can calculate. How long will it
take you? " answered I.
"It will take me about that length of time to learn the first
line," said Jack. Nevertheless we went to our room and commenced
studying. I thought it was the hardest work I had ever done.
"This is dry business," finally remarked Jack.
"That's just what it is," I answered; "jerk the bell, Jack." The
bell-boy soon appeared. We ordered refreshments; after partaking
thereof we resumed our task. We studied hard for an hour or two, but
finally gave it up as a bad job, although we had succeeded in
committing a small portion to memory. Buntline now came into the room
and said: "Boys, how are you getting along?"
"I guess we'll have to go back on this studying business as it
isn't our forte," said I.
"Don't weaken nows Bill; you'll come out on the top of the heap
yet. Let me hear you recite your part," said Buntline. I began
"spouting" what I had learned, but was interrupted by Buntline: "Tut!
tut! you're not saying it right. You must stop at the cue."
"Cue! What the mischief do you mean by the cue ? I never saw any
cue except in a billiard room," said I. Buntline thereupon explained
it to me, as well as to Jack, who was ignorant as myself concerning
the "cue" business.
"Jack, I think we had better back out and go to hunting again,"
THE TIDE TAKEN AT THE FLOOD.
"See here, boys; it won't do to go back on me at this stage of the
game. Stick to it, and it may be the turning point in your lives and
lead you on to fortune and to fame."
"A fortune is what we are after, and we'll at least give the wheel
a turn or two to see what luck we have," said I. This satisfied
Buntline, but we didn't study any more after he left us. The next
morning we appeared at rehearsal and was introduced to the company.
The first rehearsal was hardly a success; and the succeeding ones
were not much better. The stage manager did his best to teach Jack
and myself what to do, but when Monday night come we didn't know much
more about it than when we began.
The clock struck seven, and then we put on our buckskin suits,
which were the costumes we were to appear in. The theater was being
rapidly filled, and it was evident that we were going to make our
debut before a packed house. As the minutes passed by, Jack and I
became more and more nervous. We occasionally looked through the
holes in the curtain, and saw that the people were continuing to
crowd into the theatre; our nervousness increased to an uncomfortable
When at length the curtain arose, our courage had returned, so
that we thought we could face the immense crowd; yet when the time
came for us to go on, we were rather slow in making our appearance.
As we stepped forth we were received with a storm of applause, which
we acknowledged with a bow.
Buntline, who was taking the part of "Cale Durg," appeared, and
gave me the "cue" to speak "my little piece," but for the life of me
I could not remember a single word. Buntline saw I was "stuck," and a
happy thought occurred to him. He said, as if it were in the play:
A LITTLE FUNNY BUSINESS
"Where have you been, Bill? What has kept you so long?"
Just then my eye happened to fall on Mr. Milligan, who was
surrounded by his friends, the newspaper reporters, and several
military officers, all of whom had heard of his hunt and "Indian
fight" &emdash;he being a very popular man, and widely known in
Chicago. So I said:&emdash;
"I have been out on a hunt with Milligan."
This proved to be a big hit. The audience cheered and applauded,
which gave me greater confidence in my ability to get through the
performance all right. Buntline, who was a very versatile man, saw
that it would be a good plan to follow this up and said: "Well, Bill,
tell us all about the hunt." I thereupon proceeded to relate in
detail the particulars of the affair. I succeeded in making it rather
funny, and I was frequently interrupted by rounds of applause.
Whenever I began to "weaken," Buntline would give me a fresh start,
by asking some question. In this way I took up fifteen minutes,
without once speaking a word of my part; nor did I speak a word of it
during the whole evening. The prompter, who was standing between the
wings, attempted to prompt me, but it did no good; for while I was on
the stage I "chipped in" anything I thought of.
The "Scouts of the Plains" was an Indian drama, of course; and
there were between forty and fifty "supers" dressed as Indians. In
the fight with them, Jack and I were at home. We blazed away at each
other with blank cartridges; and when the scene ended in a
hand-to-hand encounter &emdash;a general knockdown and drag-out
&emdash;the way Jack and I killed Indians was "a caution." We would
kill them all off in one act, but they would come up again ready for
business in the next. Finally the curtain dropped, the play was
ended, and I congratulated Jack and myself on having made such a
brilliant and successful debut. There was no backing out after that.
CRITICISMS OF THE PRESS
The next morning there appeared in the Chicago papers some funny
criticisms on our first performance. The papersgave us a better
send-off than I expected, for they did not criticise us as actors.
The Chicago Times said that if Buntline had actually spent four hours
in writing that play, it was difficult for any one to see what he had
been doing all the time. Buntline, as "Cale Durg," was killed in the
second act, after a long temperance speech; and the Inter-Ocean said
that it was to be regretted that he bad not been killed in the first
act. The company, however, was very good, and M'dlle. Morlacchi, as
"Pale Dove," particularly fine; while Miss Cafarno "spouted" a poem
of some seven hundred and three verses, more or less, of which the
reader will be glad to know that I only recall the words "I was born
Our engagement proved a decided success financially, if not
artistically. Nixon was greatly surprised at the result, and at the
end of the week he induced Buntline to take him in as a partner in
The next week we played at DeBar's Opera House, in St. Louis,
doing an immense business. The following week we were at Cincinnati,
where the theater was so crowded every night that hundreds were
unable to obtain admission. We met with equal success all over the
country. Theatrical managers, upon hearing of this new and novel
combination, which was drawing such tremendous houses, were all
anxious to secure us; and we received offers of engagements at all
the leading theaters. We played one week at the Boston Theater, and
the gross receipts amounted to $16,200. We also appeared at Niblo's
Garden, New York, the theater being crowded to its utmost capacity
every night of the engagement. At the Arch Street Theater,
Philadelphia, it was the same way. There was not a single city where
we did not have crowded houses.
We closed our tour on the 16th of June, 1873, at Port Jervis, New
York, and when I counted up my share of the profits I found that I
was only about $6,000 ahead. I was somewhat disappointed, for,
judging from our large business, I certainly had expected a greater
Texas Jack and myself longed for a hunt on the Western prairies
once more; and on meeting in New York a party of gentlemen who were
desirous of going with us, we all started westward, and after a
pleasant trip arrived at Fort McPherson.
LIVELY EXPERIENCES OF WILD BILL
Texas Jack and I spent several weeks hunting in the western part
of Nebraska, and after this pleasant recreation we went to New York
and organised a theatrical company for the season of 1873-74. Among
the people we engaged for our next tour was Wild Bill, whose name, we
knew, would be a drawing card. Bill did not think well of our
enterprise on account of our unfamiliarity with the stage, but a
large salary forced him to forego his diffidence before the public,
and he accordingly made his debut as an actor. He remained with us
during a greater part of the season, much to our advantage, and would
have continued but for a demoralising habit that compelled us to part
with him. The habit to which I refer was that of firing blank
cartridges at the legs of the supers, often burning them severely and
at times almost bringing our performance to a ridiculous close. I
remonstrated with him time and again, but all to no purpose, and at
last, worn out with expostulations, I reluctantly told him he must
either quit shooting the supers or leave the company. Without making
any reply he retired to the dressing room and there changing his
clothes he elbowed his way out through the audience, leaving word
with the stage-carpenter that I could go to thunder with my show. I
met him later in the evening and tried to persuade him to remain with
me, but to no avail, and finding him determined Jack and I paid him
his wages and gave him an extra purse of $1,000, with which he bade
The next I heard of Wild Bill was as a star at the head of a
would-be rival organization that soon went to pieces. Bill left the
troupe under the belief that it had disbanded, but he directly after
learned that the company had reorganized and were presenting the same
play with an actor personating him. When Bill ascertained this fact
he sent a letter to the manager demanding that the name of Wild Bill
be stricken from the advertisements, but no attention was paid to his
objections. Determined to stop the bogus exhibition Bill went to a
town where the company was announced to appear and, purchasing a
ticket, took a seat near the orchestra, ready for business. When the
bogus character at length appeared Bill jumped over the foot lights
and seizing his personator, threw him through one of the scenes, and
then knocked down the manager, who was dressed in the disguise of an
Indian, and kicked him over the lights and onto the fellow who was
blowing a big horn in the orchestra. The excitement broke up the
performance and Bill was arrested, but was let off with a fine of
three dollars, which he cheerfully paid for so happy a privilege,
after which he went West and participated in several adventures of a
thrilling character, a description of which, however, does not
properly belong here.
A HUNT WITH MR. MEDLEY
Jack and I played a very successful season, closing at Boston on the
13th of May, 1874. Business called me to New York, and while
attending to several matters preparatory to returning to the West, I
met an English gentleman, Thomas P. Medley, of London, who had come
to America for a hunt on the plains. He had often heard of me and was
anxious to engage me as his guide and companion, and he offered to
pay the liberal salary of one thousand dollars a month while I was
with him. He was a very wealthy man, as I learned upon inquiry, and
was a relative of Mr. Lord, of the firm of Lord & Taylor, of New
York. Of course I accepted his offer.
When we reached the hunting ground in Nebraska, he informed me,
somewhat to my surprise, that he did not want to go out as Alexis
did, with carriages, servants, and other luxuries, but that he wished
to rough it just as I would do &emdash;to sleep on the ground in the
open air, and kill and cook his own meat. We started out from North
Platte, and spent several weeks in hunting all over the country.
Mr. Medley proved to be a very agreeable gentleman and an
excellent hunter. While in camp he busied himself carrying wood and
water, attending to the fire, and preparing and cooking the meals,
never asking me to do a thing. He did not perform these menial
services to save expenses, but because he wanted to do as the other
hunters in the party were doing. After spending as much time as he
wished, we returned to the railroad, and he took the train for the
East. Every. thing that was required on this hunt was paid for in a
most liberal manner by Mr. Medley, who also gave the members of the
party several handsome presents.
About this time an expedition consisting of seven companies of
cavalry and two companies of infantry, to be commanded by Colonel
Mills of the Third Cavalry, was being organized to scout the Powder
river and Big Horn country, and I was employed as guide for the
command. Proceeding to Rawlins, Wyoming, we "outfitted," and other
guides were engaged &emdash;among them Tom Sun and Bony Ernest, two
noted Rocky mountain scouts. We there left the railroad, and passing
through the Seminole range of the Rocky mountains we established our
supply camp at the foot of Independence Rock on the Sweet Water. I
was now on my old familiar stamping ground, and it seemed like home
to me. Fifteen years before, I had ridden the pony express and driven
the overland stages through this region, and the command was going
into the same section of country where Wild Bill's expedition of
stage-drivers and express-riders had recaptured from the Indians a
large number of stolen stage-horses, as previously related.
Leaving the infantry to guard the supply camp, Colonel Mills
struck out for the north with the seven companies of cavalry, and in
a few days surprised Little Wolf's band of Arapahoes and drove them
into the agencies. We then scouted the Powder river, Crazy Woman's
fork, and Clear fork, and then pushed westward through the mountains
to the Wind river. After having been out for a month or two we were
ordered to return.
I immediately went East and organized another dramatic company for
the season of 1874-75, Texas Jack being absent in the Yellowstone
country hunting with the Earl of Dunravan. I played my company in all
the principal cities of the country, doing a good business wherever I
went. The summer of 1875 I spent at Rochester with my family.
DEATH OF MY ONLY LITTLE BOY
For the season of 1875-76, Texas Jack and I reorganized our old
combination, and made a very successful tour. While we were playing
at Springfield, Massachusetts, April 20th and 21st, 1876, a telegram
was handed me just as I was going on the stage. I opened it and found
it to be from Colonel C. W. Torrence, of Rochester, an intimate
friend of the family, who stated that my little boy Kit was
dangerously ill with the scarlet fever. This was indeed sad news, for
little Kit had always been my greatest pride. I sent for John Burke,
our business manager, and showing him the telegram, told him that I
would play the first act, and making a proper excuse to the audience,
I would then take the nine o'clock train that same evening for
Rochester, leaving him to play out my part. This I did, and at ten
o'clock the next morning I arrived in Rochester, and was met at the
depot by my intimate friend Moses Kerngood who at once drove me to my
home. I found my little boy unable to speak but he seemed to
recognize me and putting his little arms around my neck he tried to
kiss me. We did everything in our power to save him, but it was of no
avail. The Lord claimed his own, and that evening at six o'clock my
beloved little Kit died in my arms. We laid him away to rest in the
beautiful cemetery of Mount Hope amid sorrow and tears.
Autobiography of Buffalo Bill Continued