Adventures of Buffalo Bill from Boyhood to Manhood

CHAPTER XXIX.
BILL'S STORY OF HIS BECOMING AN ACTOR.

As Buffalo Bill in the past few years has become known as an actor, and appears as such with his Dramatic Combination, during the winter months, when he is not on the plains, it will not be by any means uninteresting to my readers to learn how he came to go upon the stage, and the story I give in his own words, in relating his experience to a reporter who had called upon him for some jottings regarding his life.

He said:

"It was in the fall of '71, that General Sheridan came to the plains with a party of gentlemen for the purpose of engaging in a buffalo-hunt, to extend from Fort McPherson, Nebraska, to Fort Hayes, Kansas, on the Kansas Pacific Railroad, a distance of 228 miles, through the finest hunting country in the world. In the party were James Gordon Bennett of the New York Herald, Lawrence and Leonard Jerome, Carl Livingstone, S. G. Heckshire, General Fitzhugh of Pittsburg, General Anson Stager of the Western Union Telegraph Company, and other noted gentlemen. I guided the party, and when the hunt was finished, I received an invitation from them to go to New York and make them a visit, as they wanted to show me the East, as I had shown them the West. I was then Chief of Scouts in the Department of the Platte. And in January, 1872, just after the Grand Duke Alexis's hunt, which, by the way, I organized, I got a leave of absence, and for the first time in my life found myself east of the Mississippi river.

"Stopping at Chicago two days, where I was the guest of General Sheridan, I proceeded to New York, where I was shown the 'elephant.' During my visit I attended the performance at the Bowery Theater, in company with Colonel E. Z C. Judson (Ned Buntline), and witnessed a dramatization of Judson's story, entitled ' Buffalo Bill, King of Border Men.' The part of 'Buffalo Bill ' was impersonated by J. B. Studley, an excellent actor, and I must say the fellow looked like me, as his make- up was a perfect picture of myself. I had not watched myself very long before the audience discovered that the original Buffalo Bill was in the private box, and they commenced cheering, which stopped the performance, and they would not cease until I had shown myself and spoken a few words.

"At that time I had no idea of going on the stage, such a thought having never entered my head. But some enterprising managers, believing there was money in me, offered me as high as $1,000 per week to go on the stage. I told them I would rather face 1,000 Indians than attempt to open my mouth before all those people. I returned to my duties as a scout, and during the summer of 1872 Ned Buntline was constantly writing to me to come East and go on the stage, offering large inducements. As scouting business was a little dull, I concluded to try it for awhile, and started East in company with Texas Jack. Met Buntline in Chicago with a company ready to support me.

"We were to open in Chicago in Nixon's Amphitheater on December 16th, 1872. 1 arrived in Chicago December 12th, 1872. We were driven to the theater, where I was introduced to Jim Nixon, who said, 'Mr. Buntline, give me your drama, as I am ready to cast your piece, and we have no time to lose, if you are to open Monday, and these men who have never been on the stage will require several rehearsals. Buntline surprised us all by saying that he had not written the drama yet, but would do so at once.' Mr. Nixon said, 'No drama! and this is Thursday. Well, I will cancel your date.' But Buntline was not to be balked in this way, and asked Nixon what he would rent the theater one week for. 'One thousand dollars,' said Nixon. 'It's my theater,' said Buntline, making out a check for the amount. He rushed to the hotel, secured the services of several clerks to copy the parts, and in four hours had written 'The Scouts of the Prairie.' He handed Texas Jack and I our parts, told us to commit them to memory and report next morning for rehearsal. I looked at Jack and then at my part. Jack looked at me and said, 'Bill, how long will it take you to commit your part?' 'About seven years, if I have good luck.' Buntline said, 'Go to work.' I studied hard, and next morning recited the lives, cues and all, to Buntline. Buntline said, 'You must not recite cues; they are for you to speak from-the last words of the persons who speak before you.' I said, 'Cues be d-d; I never heard of anything but a billiard cue.'

"Well, night came. The house was packed. Up went the curtain. Buntline appeared as Cale Durg, an old Trapper, and at a certain time Jack and I were to come on. But we were a little late, and when I made my appearance, facing 3,000 people, among them General Sheridan and a number of army officers, it broke me all up and I could not remember a word. All that saved me was my answer to a question put by Buntline. He asked, 'What detained you?' I told him I had been on a hunt with Milligan. You see Milligan was a prominent Chicago gentleman who had been hunting with me a short time before on the plains, and had been chased by the Indians, and the papers had been full of his hunt for some time; Buntline saw that I was up a stump, for I had forgotten my lines, and he told me to tell him about the hunt. I told the story in a very funny way, and it took like wild-fire with the audience.

"While I was telling the story, Buntline had whispered to the stage manager that when I got through with my story to send on the Indians. Presently Buntline sung out: 'The Indians are upon us.' Now this was 'pie' for Jack and I, and we went at those bogus Indians red hot until we had killed the last one and the curtain went down amid a most tremendous applause, while the audience went wild. The other actors never got a chance to appear in the first act. Buntline said, 'Go ahead with the second act, it's going splendid.' I think that during the entire performance, neither Jack nor myself spoke a line of our original parts. But the next morning the press said it was the best show ever given in Chicago, as it was so bad it was good, and they could not see what Buntline was doing all the time if it took him four hours to write that drama.

"Our business was immense all that Season, and if we had been managed properly we would have each made a small fortune. As it was I came out $10,000 ahead. In June, 1873, I returned to the plains, came East again in the fall, this time my own manager. I got a company, took the noted 'Wild Bill' with me, but could not do much with him as he was not an easy man to handle, and would insist on shooting the supers in the legs with powder, just to see them jump. He left a few months later and returned to the plains. He was killed in August, 1876, in Deadwood.

"In the summer of 1876 I was Chief of Scouts under General Carr, afterward with General Crook and General Terry.

"On the 17th of July I killed Yellow Hand, a noted Cheyenne chief, and took the first scalp for Custer. I returned to the stage in October, 1876, and during the season of 1876 and 1879 I cleared $38,000. I have generally been successful financially on the stage. I am now in the cattle business in Nebraska, to which place I will return as soon as the season is over, providing nothing serious occurs to call me home earlier."

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