Does Anyone Know Where the Missing Photographs of Buffalo Bill's Wild West in Scotland Are?

A curious story appeared in the Glasgow Evening News, 13th February 1892, concerning a party of Sioux warriors from Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, which was then approaching the end of a lengthy season in Glasgow. The Indians presented themselves, ‘in all the glory of paint, feathers, and blankets’, at a city photographic studio, led by an unnamed sallow-faced man armed with an outsized calling card, who was most probably Lakota interpreter John Shangrau. The proprietor of the shop had temporarily absented himself, with the result that a number of group photographs were taken by a somewhat bemused and no doubt intimidated young lady assistant who had been left in charge.

Had this story not been chronicled by the Glasgow Evening News’s Lorgnette column, it would almost certainly have been lost in the mists of time. To this extent, the journalist responsible has done us all a great service and I for one am duly grateful. However, as recounted it is hopelessly vague, and one grasps in vain after details such as names, addresses and the occasion. Most infuriating of all, the question necessarily arises - whatever became of the photographs???

This highlights a regrettable facet of Buffalo Bill’s two visits to Scotland. Although a very clear and detailed picture can be reconstructed from the saturation press coverage which the Wild West show solicited and enjoyed, as well as from numerous other sources, the surviving photographic record is sparser than might be imagined.

One of Cody’s agents in 1891-92 was a man named Lew Parker, who later wrote a book of reminiscences entitled Odd People I Have Met. He devoted a couple of pages to his experiences in Glasgow, recalling his personal involvement in enlisting a group of African tribespeople as well as a herd of six performing Burmese elephants. These were added to the entourage, being billed as ‘Stupendous Additional Attractions’, during January 1892. As Parker recalled:

The day after our arrival we gave a morning exhibit to the newspaper men. We placed the entire company, cowboys, Mexicans, soldiers, Indians, elephants, buffalo, elk, horses and the Africans, on an incline, the elephants at the top of the pyramid, and took a flashlight picture. After that we placed the American Indians across the arena, facing the stage, and placed the Africans in front of the stage, facing the Indians.
The second sentence does not make it entirely clear whether a photograph was actually taken of the Indians facing the Africans. It is however unambiguously stated that at least one photograph was taken, of the whole company. It is regretted that extensive enquiries on both sides of the Atlantic have thus far failed to bring any copies of this photograph to light. Since the final six weeks of the 1891-92 Glasgow season were the only occasion on which Cody worked with Africans and elephants, these unique photographs, if uncovered, could immediately and unequivocally be identified as the ones taken in Glasgow.

On Saturday, 7th November 1891, Colonel Cody and members of his staff attended a football match at Ibrox, the occasion being a Glasgow Cup tie between Rangers and Queen’s Park.

Queen’s Park, incidentally, won by three goals to nil, but for present purposes the pertinent point is that the Scottish Referee of the following Monday, 9th November, reported that:

He (Buffalo Bill) was the most picturesque personality on the ground, and as he made the acquaintance in front of the pavilion with Artist Donnelly, of the “Graphic,” the two offered a fine picture to the enterprising photographer.

The reference is to William A. Donnelly of Bowling and this certainly implies that photographs of Buffalo Bill were taken at Ibrox Park. However, once again, whatever became of them remains a mystery.

Annie Oakley, the legendary markswoman, was one of the leading attractions of the Wild West show during the Glasgow season. By Christmas Eve, she had discarded her more accustomed buckskins and broad-brimmed hat in favour of a chic tartan ensemble. A photograph of Annie thus attired, taken by Messrs Watson & Wilson, whose studios were at 83, Jamaica Street, still survives, and is fully accounted for. There is another photograph of Annie in the same outfit, but whether it was taken on the same or another occasion is not known. A further image of Annie, clad in a more characteristic costume and also taken by Watson & Wilson is available via the SCRAN site.

John Shangrau, a mixed-blood Lakota who served as one of the Indian interpreters, married Miss Lillie Orr, the daughter of a Liverpool ship’s captain, in Glasgow on 4th January 1892. A photograph of the couple has been located in a U.S. archive. It was taken at the International Horticultural Exhibition at Earl’s Court, London, later in that year.

It has also been established that this souvenir postcard, produced more than a decade later, was based upon a full-length studio portrait of Kicking Bear taken by the Dennistoun Photo Co of 40, Bellgrove Street, Glasgow. Another exists, of Charging Thunder and an unidentified male Indian companion, taken by the same studio.

Photo courtesy of Mr Alan Scott

Another photograph which holds very definite significance for the Glasgow sojourn involves the other interpreter with the show, George C. Crager. This image shows Crager with his wife and two children, in their tent in Manchester, during late July / early August 1891, a few months prior to the Glasgow visit. The photograph was taken by R. Banks & Co. of Market Street, the same company which photographed a group of Wild West personnel with Charge of the Light Brigade veterans, also in the course of the same visit to Manchester. Also displayed in the Crager photograph are various items from Crager’s collection of Indian artefacts, including the waistcoat (left) which is said to have belonged to Chief Rain in the Face, and which now forms part of the collection of the Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum, Glasgow.

The ‘Glasgow’ ghost shirt

Courtesy of Glasgow Museums

Colonel Cody’s show returned to Great Britain in 1904, as Buffalo Bill’s Wild West & Congress of Rough Riders of the World, and undertook a lengthy tour of twenty-nine Scottish towns and cities between 26th July and 14th September.

This time around, the photographic record is somewhat more satisfactory but some serious gaps do remain. For the clear majority of these twenty-nine venues, no photographic record whatsoever has been identified.

The problem is exacerbated by the regrettable fact that some photographs which have been catalogued by museums as pertaining to the Wild West show turn out on closer analysis to have nothing to do with Buffalo Bill’s entourage at all.

A pair of photographs depicting publicity posters in a shop window at the first Scottish venue on the 1904 tour, Hawick, have been identified and recovered.

A set of stunning photographs of the show were taken in Glasgow by local man Thomas Lindsay and include images of Indians on Dixon Street, at Crosshill on the South Side. These belong to a private collection, and were published for the first time in ‘Your Fathers the Ghosts’ - Buffalo Bill’s Wild West in Scotland. The series includes a full-length portrait of one of the Imperial Japanese Cavalrymen, who toured with Buffalo Bill during that season.

There is also a magnificent image of Chief Iron Tail on horseback, wearing a warbonnet with a trailer. The tenements mingling surreally with tipis in the background tend to suggest that this photograph was also taken at the same venue but this remains subject to confirmation.

A studio photograph of three of the ‘Cossacks’ with the show was taken in Princes Street, Edinburgh.

The Wild West show at Dundee

A set of at least three postcards, two of which are displayed here, published by Valentine’s of Dundee depict photographic scenes of the show in that city.

A number of group photographs, one of Colonel Cody outside his tent and one of Iron Tail and Samuel Lone Bear on horseback, were also taken in Dundee. At least two of the group photographs, as highlighted on the Newsflash page, were used for colour postcards issued in connection with the 1905 season.

A set of photographs was taken by a local professional photographer, William Norrie, in Fraserburgh on 30th August. The first of these displays a substantial group of Lakota warriors and Buffalo Bill himself on horseback on the south pier. A contemporary report in the Fraserburgh Herald (on 6th September 1904) refers to the presence of ‘a number of typical local fishermen sitting about’, but these figures are conspicuously absent from the known print. The most likely explanation is that at least one other photograph was taken at this location, but if so, what has become of it is not known.

At least three photographs were then taken of a group of nine Indian men in war bonnets on the rocks at Kinnaird Head. In the first, the men are posed gazing intently out to sea, while the other two are more informal and relaxed. The progress of a small boat in the background makes it possible to determine the order in which these photographs were taken.

Prints of the Fraserburgh photographs were offered for sale during the ensuing weeks by advertisement in the local paper, and three of them are now carefully and diligently preserved by Aberdeenshire Heritage. Two of these are available via SCRAN.

Iron Tail and Philip Blue Shield at John O’Groats

Less satisfactory is the fate of a photograph of Iron Tail and Philip Blue Shield, which was taken by Colonel Cody’s press agent, Mr Frank Small, at John O’Groats on Saturday, 3rd September. A group of eleven Indians had had their picture taken at Land’s End on 29th May previous, so Colonel Cody deemed it appropriate that a photograph should also be taken at the northern extremity of the British mainland. The show was appearing at Inverness on the 2nd and 3rd, so the two Indians, in company with Mr Small, took the train to Wick for this specific purpose. Copies of the Land’s End photograph were offered for sale as souvenir items and that image is now held in the archives of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming.

However, a considerable degree of mystery attaches to its John O’Groats counterpart. It surfaced within an article in the Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald thirteen days later (16th September), reporting on the show’s visit to Saltcoats. This was something of an event in itself, as the use of photographs by newspapers was unusual in 1904. Sadly though, the photograph is not otherwise known, and once again extensive enquiries have failed to pin down either prints or negatives. However, another photograph of the same subjects on the same occasion has now been identified.

The full text of the caption in the Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald article reads:

CHIEF IRON TAIL (Head Chief of the Sioux Indians of North America), and SUB-CHIEF PHILIP BLUE SHIELD of the Sioux.
An associated footnote continues the theme:

Photographed at John O’Groats by Frank A. Small, Col. Cody’s Press Agent, Sept. 3, 1904. Iron Tail and Blue Shield are the only Red Indians who have ever visited John O’Groats, and in their travels from Land’s End to John O’Groats these warriors have appeared in 279 towns in Great Britain.

Enigma similarly surrounds the show’s visit to Elgin on 1st September. Indians were known to be wary of cameras and this occasion proved to be no exception. In the evening, groups of Indians made an appearance on Ladyhill and were witnessed admiring the panoramic view and the ruins of Elgin’s old 9th century castle but shied away from cameras, frustrating attempts to preserve a visual record of their visit. Some Mexicans were also seen examining the Sebastopol cannon. These men were more co-operative and presented no objections to the cameramen. It is therefore entirely likely that photographs still exist of the Mexican contingent and maybe even of the backs of Sioux in full retreat. As to where these images might be now, however, is sadly something that can now only be guessed at.

There is better news concerning a trio of photographs of a group taken at Robert Burns’s Mausoleum on 14th September 1904, on the occasion of Buffalo Bill’s last ever Scottish venue. These were unearthed in a United States museum archive during the summer of 2002. One of the pictures shows Spotted Weasel, a Lakota Indian in a traditional costume including warbonnet, laying a wreath on the poet’s tomb. An associated caption erroneously identifies the location as ‘Ayre’. A small Indian boy, and Johnnie Baker, also appear in the photographs, along with various other people, whose identities are not at present clear. It seems fairly certain that at least some of them were local dignitaries. Research is continuing and it is hoped that further light can be cast on these remarkable and poignant images.

A group photograph of Buffalo Bill’s advance men, unquestionably taken in Ayr and with local landmarks in the background, has also now been identified.

Add to these images an old picture postcard of George Street, Stranraer, in which a poster for the show coincidentally appears on a wall; as well as a photographic portrait of Buffalo Bill, taken in London, autographed ‘W. F. Cody - “Buffalo Bill” - 29th August Peterhead’, and you have pretty much the full picture.

There is also a surviving colour photocopy of a lost print of a view of a group of horsemen in procession on Port Street, Stirling, which has been advanced as depicting Buffalo Bill’s entourage but research indicates that it was almost certainly of the street pageant of Barnum & Bailey’s Greatest Show on Earth, which visited Stirling on 21st September 1899.

The moral of the story is certainly clear - historical research is an inherently frustrating business and there are always going to be gaps in the record which can never be bridged. Photographs and documents, once lost, are gone forever and can never be replaced. Reading that a photograph was taken is the easy part and in itself offers no guarantee that the image can be located.

Just the same, it may be that there is someone reading this who possesses information that has been missed. If so, please do get in touch. After all, photographs and other souvenirs do tend to surface from time to time in people’s attics.

So if there is anyone out there whose forebears left behind old photograph albums or even personal journals which make reference to Buffalo Bill’s Scottish visits, e-mail me, it would really make my day to hear from you!


Buffalo Bill’s Wild West in Scotland