The Ashbourne Agricultural Show, held each year in the village of Osmaston, is one of those features of English semi-rural life, full of sheep and shire horses and dancing JCBs. But a hundred years ago, Osmaston was host to an altogether different affair. Because on October 22 1903, Buffalo Bill came to town.
Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show was a sensation, featuring sharp shooting, horse riding and cowboys vs Indians and iconic names such as Annie Oakley and Sitting Bull. Its success made a European tour feasible, and so in the late 1800s, the show found itself performing to the likes of Queen Victoria and Kaiser Wilhelm. The myth of the Wild West in the European imagination started to form around the show, and in 1902, follow-up tours began.
In June of 1903, Bill and company made their way around the area I grew up, with shows in Dudley and Wolverhampton. At some point, Bill was the victim of a robbery, but fortunately for the reputation of my old haunts it turned out to be an inside job.
Then, in October, the Wild West Show made its way into the East Midlands. The tale is recounted in this article by Peter Seddon, but my favourite part of the whole thing is the misadventure of Charlie Little Soldier, a Native American member of the show who managed to get drunk while in full costume. Imagine the police having to deal with that.
But this is the sort of historical randomness I love; not just the idea that an icon of the past once walked around my town, but that it was such an unexpected icon: who’d’ve thought that American legend Buffalo Bill once visited places like Dudley and Derby? It’s so unexpected that it almost enchants our communities. History makes the world a bigger place.