Pawnee Bill Ranch
[00:05] Thank you for downloading the Pawnee Bill Ranch podcast, brought to you by the staff of the Pawnee Bill Ranch.
[00:15] Hello, I am Anna Davis, Pawnee Bill Ranch historical interpreter, and I am Erin Brown, curator at the Pawnee Bill Ranch. Welcome to the Pawnee Bill Ranch podcast.
[00:23] Erin Brown:
The American West is probably one of the most popular and romanticized periods in American history. Wild West Shows, like Pawnee Bill’s, became popular because they acted out the drama of the events and people associated with the west that was quickly changing. People hungered for a depiction of an unspoiled land before barbed wire and railroads and the removal of American Indians to reservations.
Wild West Shows painted a glamorous portrait of the west that the paying public bought into. Firearms of this era, likewise, have a special fascination, and guns are inextricably tied to the historical drama of the United States of America.
[01:01] Anna Davis:
That’s right. You really can’t have a Wild West Show without guns, either then or now. You can’t really imagine an America without guns for that matter. Guns have supplied Americans with the ability to participate in the sport of hunting and have provided pioneers and modern citizens with weapons for personal protection. For varying reasons, there are a lot of people in this country that are fascinated by firearms, and today, specifically, we are going to be talking about historic guns associated with the Wild West Show.
[01:28] Erin Brown:
So because Anna and I aren’t gun experts, we have brought in a “big gun,” so to speak. We have with us today Dave Kennedy from the Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center. He has previously worked at the Cody Firearms Museum at the Buffalo Bill Regional Heritage Center. Welcome to the podcast, Dave!
[01:45] Dave Kennedy:
Thanks for having me. Very glad to be here.
[01:47] Anna Davis:
Well, we know May Lillie once famously said that Pawnee Bill’s wedding gift to her was a pony and a Marlin .22. Obviously guns were central to the Lillie’s way of life. We assume that during a Wild West show a trick shooter would have had something different than a stagecoach driver. I can imagine that there would have been a variety of different guns being used during a show, so can you tell us what kind of guns would have been used in a Wild West show like Pawnee Bill’s?
[02:11] Dave Kennedy:
Any gun and every gun. The people in the Wild West shows would have used any guns they would have liked to use. Anything from the .22 that May Lillie received from Pawnee Bill to .45-caliber Colts and .44-caliber Smith & Wessons to a wide variety of different carbines and rifles made by Winchester, Marlin, and any other manufacturer that they wanted.
[02:37] Erin Brown:
So is there any particular reason why they would have been chosen, or was it just mostly personal preference?
[02:42] Dave Kennedy:
A lot of it was personal preference. A lot of these guns they had the same capabilities as the others. The big thing is which gun fit best to that shooter, what guns the person might like to use. A lot of the guns would have been modified maybe to fit either the physical stature of someone - if he were shooting a shotgun, especially if you were someone like Annie Oakley who was known for your prowess shooting trap, you would quite often have a shotgun built to your specific body size that would fit you best. If you were using something in the way of a handgun, you might have a special set of grips built for that particular pistol.
[03:22] Anna Davis:
Okay, so if you went to a Wild West show, and you were seeing people like Annie Oakley, Buffalo Bill, Pawnee Bill using a particular pistol or a rifle, how likely was it that a member of the public would go out and buy that same type of rifle?
[03:37] Dave Kennedy:
The shooters for the shows they were used quite often in the advertisements. Annie Oakley was a regular face in advertisements for Marlin firearms, for example. A lot of times the people would end up using, though, whichever gun their name ended up getting associated with. People over time began associating Colts - Colt handguns - with particular shooters or Smith & Wesson handguns with particular shooters, but quite often the shooters themselves, they just used whatever. They would change with their particular opinions, also, on guns.
[04:10] Erin Brown:
Okay, so I’m looking at a 1909 program, and it has an advertisement in it that says, “For over twenty years, the far-famed hunter and peerless scout Colonel W.F. Cody, “Buffalo Bill,” has used Winchester rifles and Winchester ammunition,” and there’s an extract here from a letter of Cody’s. “As you know I always use Winchester rifles and Winchester ammunition. I have used both exclusively for over twenty years for hunting and in my entertainments.” And then I’ve got another excerpt from a 1905 program where it says “Iver Johnson revolvers used exclusively by this show.” So how common was it for there to be like celebrity endorsements for firearms during this time?
[04:54] Dave Kennedy:
It would happen all the time.
[04:55] Erin Brown:
All the time?
[04:56] Dave Kennedy:
[04:58] Erin Brown:
It was kind of the pre-Michael Jordan Nike type situation?
[05:00] Dave Kennedy:
Right. Anytime that somebody of any amount of fame would order a gun from a company, they would always - they would contact the company either on their own letterhead or have their show manager contact the company, and they would order these guns from the companies directly, knowing that they would be treated very, very well and the quality would be second to none. And any correspondence that would extol the virtues of that particular product would be kept aside by the company so they could use those in their advertisements. Today if you tried to do the same thing, you would have to have a contract someplace or people would be very careful what to say, except for tweeting about it sometimes.
[05:41] Anna Davis:
So when you start talking about rifles during this time period, there’s obviously different - I don’t know if you want to call it classes or makes or models - I know especially during, with the 1892 Winchesters, you have a sporting rifle, a carbine, a half-magazine carbine, and a musket. What are the differences between these and would any specific one of these have been actually used in the show above the others?
[06:04] Dave Kennedy:
There are a few different differences. Essentially they’re all the same gun. What it comes down to in a lot of cases is the furniture and the barrel length in most of those cases. The carbine is essentially a shorter version of the rifle. The rifle in a lot of cases would have a 24-inch barrel and a full stock; the carbine would have a 20-inch barrel and accordingly a shorter stock. The musket was designed to look, in a lot of cases, as if it were a military rifle, so you would have a 24- or 26-inch barrel just like on the regular rifle, but the stock would be completely to the end of the barrel as you would see with military rifles from the time. The half-magazine carbine that you mentioned - some people refer to that as a button magazine - that would just be a standard carbine that just has a shorter-than-usual magazine, and the main purpose, why a lot of people would go with a shorter magazine, is it would actually move the center of gravity for the gun to the rear and would allow the gun to move around a little bit easier as they were trying to acquire their target or trying to turn to the point to a shot.
[07:06] Anna Davis:
So you could have actually seen all these different varieties being used in a show, theoretically?
[07:11] Dave Kennedy:
Yes, you could. Typically, though, you would only be seeing either just a standard carbine or a standard rifle.
[07:15] Erin Brown:
I can imagine that there would be particular guns that would have been desirable on horseback versus being like a ground-shot trick shooter. Is that true?
[07:25] Dave Kennedy:
In some cases, yes. For a lot of the shooters for these shows, if they were shooting from horseback, the only choice for most of them would have to be a revolver of some sort. Some of them would like to shoot from horseback using a carbine just simply because it was smaller; it was easier to handle. Most of the carbines would have a what’s called a “saddle ring” on the side that a lanyard of some sort would go through that to attach it to a sling that the rider would have so they wouldn’t have to worry about dropping the gun in mid-performance, and so they would typically end up using a handgun though if they were mounted. If you were standing, you would use pistol, rifle, shotgun depending on what you were trying to show off.
[08:06] Erin Brown:
Did your ammunition vary between acts?
[08:08] Dave Kennedy:
Yes, it would. Quite often in a lot of the shows shotguns, the shot that would be used would just be your standard shot as if you were doing anything normally. With the rifles and with the handguns, especially the large caliber rifles and handguns - .32, .38, .44, .45 caliber - the performers would quite often use shot cartridges. So essentially you are looking at a pistol cartridge and invariably they would be using firearms, whether a handgun or a rifle or carbine, that would be firing a pistol-type cartridge. They wouldn’t be shooting a full, like a .45-70 which you would associate with shooting bison or a .30-30 cartridge which you associate with shooting deer; they would be using .44 or .45-caliber revolver-type cartridges, or they would be using .32s and .38s, but they would have a small amount of shot that would be in the cartridges and that was solely for the safety of the audience. They did not want anyone to be hurt. There were a number of different cases of different Western performers, up to and including Buffalo Bill, who actually shot members of their audience in mid-performance when they were using regular cartridges, because the regular cartridge from a handgun, it could travel thousands of feet if not farther. So if you’re in a small arena or an amphitheater, and you’re shooting and your cartridge misses the target, remember that that cartridge bullet itself is going to continue to travel and many of these performances were in largish towns up to full-on cities. Buffalo Bill had one of his, one of the best shows of his career was in Chicago during the 1893 World’s Fair. He was right next door to the World’s Fair in the middle of Chicago, and they were not going to be sending bullets into town, so they would have shot cartridges that the whole purpose of that was for the safety of the audience and with also at some points it would also help affect the accuracy. If you were shooting at small glass bottles with a handgun at a range of 40-50 yards, if you’re just the slightest bit off, if you’re firing a shot that’ll actually kind of help improve your chances of hitting the target.
[10:17] Anna Davis:
So talk about sharpshooters in these shows. It must have been extremely important to have a reliable weapon, number one, one that would also operate smoothly but also allow you the speed to shoot at aerial targets. I’ve read some examples of performers favoring a smooth bore, and I’ve also seen examples of them filing down or making modifications to the hammer spurs, the triggers, in order to make these weapons fire faster. How often was a modified gun used in these shows?
[10:46] Dave Kennedy:
It depends on who the performer was. Many of the performers used the standard guns; the only modification that would be made would be to affect the fit of the gun to the shooter. If you have a poorly fitting gun, it’s not going to help. If you have a gun that fits your hand, fits your shoulder, just fits your body better, you have a much better chance of more ease of using the tool, and to a lot of these performers it really was a tool. When you are looking at any of the other modifications - mechanical modifications - some of those, you mentioned the smooth bore, that would work very well if you’re using shot cartridges, you would want the smooth bore. If you have a rifled bore, and you’re shooting shot cartridges, it will actually produce a different pattern with a shot. In some cases providing a halo effect which will end up, would end up meaning that your shot will travel everywhere except the center of the shot where you want it to hit. It depends on the distance; it depends on what kinds of cartridges you are using. For the ease of ability to shoot the guns faster, a lot of that was just simply practice. I’ve heard different stories, people made claims that there was no way Annie Oakley or Pawnee Bill or Buffalo Bill or any of the other major performers could shoot the way that they did, but it was just simply that they would shoot hundreds of thousands of rounds a year at targets doing that exact same thing, whether it was in practice or on the shows. If you watch the Olympic shooting competitions that take place, there were just some amazing performances by people like the American Kim Rhode, who took the gold in Women’s Skeet. She went out and she just nailed almost every single clay; I think she missed one clay out of 500, maybe 2 or 3 clays out of 500. This is a girl who fires 50/100,000 rounds a year out of her shotgun at clay targets. It’s just these people are always getting trigger time, and they always go out and so they’re just - their muscle memory is such that it’s not a hard thing for them to do.
[12:50] Erin Brown:
We have May’s pistol on exhibit, and it’s a Smith & Wesson that was modified from a .22 to - from a .32 to a .22 Rimfire, professionally modified. Why would that have been advantageous for May?
[13:04] Dave Kennedy:
That might have been advantageous because she may have just liked a .22, and she liked that particular handgun. The particular model of Smith & Wesson you’re looking at was produced in .32 caliber. It was not produced in .22, and so she may have just liked .22 specifically for her target shooting. It was a well-made pistol but, that - I should say revolver - it was a well-made revolver, but it was just one of those things that was not available at the time in a .22 Rimfire. If she really like the gun, if it fit her hands well, it’s kind of hard to increase the size on the .22s that were being made at the time because each particular cartridge had a particular-sized style of gun that was made for it when that particular gun came out, and it wasn’t until later that people really started to appreciate the use of something like a .22 cartridge in a larger handgun.
[13:54] Erin Brown:
Since guns were such a large part of Wild West Show culture at this time, it wasn’t uncommon for performers to give rifles and pistols as gifts. How common would it have been for a gun to have been engraved with a personal message or have a plaque attached to it?
[14:10] Dave Kennedy:
The appearance of personalized firearms with different engravings or plaques or things like that would have been pretty common amongst the well-to-do, amongst the people with money. Granted, you’re only talking a few dollars at that time to get some of those different modifications made, but it’s that few dollars would have been something that’s a little bit too much when you think about that most of the people who were going to be carrying those guns - if they’re spending $25 on a Winchester rifle, that’s most of their salary for a couple of months, and they’re going to be putting that hard-earned money into a tool that they’re going to be using to feed their family or defend their family. If it’s something that’s going to be engraved, that’s going to be something that’s a demonstration piece; that’ll be something that’ll be special and very well taken care of, and so we’re looking at two different, two different styles of use, two different styles of appreciation.
[15:05] Erin Brown:
As you know, Dave, there are many gun collectors today, and I’m sure as it is with anything of a historical nature that a person collects, if you can have a gun associated with a historically significant event or a person, the more special that artifact is. We see a lot of firearms out there in auction houses and in private collections that are billed as being used, as having been used, by Pawnee Bill or May, and some of them we can tell right away aren’t the real thing because, for instance, there are about eight identical Flobert .22s floating around the US in the last few years. They all had a plaque attached, and all the information was inaccurate. So it was easy for us to figure out that these guns could have never been used by a legitimate showman.
[15:49] Anna Davis:
Yeah, other times it’s not so easy for us to tell. Everybody wants to own a tangible connection to the past, but really nobody wants to get cheated; so how can the normal person, a layman, tell whether or not a gun that is being marketed as a historically significant gun is the real deal?
[16:08] Dave Kennedy:
The buyer has to educate themselves. One of the constant themes I’ve seen in any story I’ve heard of a gun buyer getting swindled or just getting a bad gun is the failure to educate themselves. Whether that’s educating themselves about the gun; the gun company; the history; the manufacturer of the gun; how different modifications were made by the factory versus some gun guy fixing things up the way he likes them in his garage; education about the different shooters; the different events that took place. I had a woman try to convince me that this, that the gun that she owned was given to her late husband’s uncle by Buffalo Bill. When I found out what it was, I realized it couldn’t have been because the gun was made in 1925 and Bill Cody died in 1917. And that led to a whole other conversation, but what it comes down to is a lot of these people are buying the story, they’re not buying the gun, and if the person wants to go along with the story, by all means they’re buying the story, and they’ll pay whatever they want to. But if you’re buying the gun as an investment, if you are buying it to be a serious collector, there is nothing more expensive than buying your first bad gun. That’s the most expensive part of that education that makes you realize that going out and spending $5- or $10,000 on the bad gun is a whole lot more expensive than buying about $3- or $400 worth of books and going around the gun shows and talking to the collectors and looking at all the different variations. The number of gun shows, especially antique firearm shows, across this country, there is a great resource; there’s a lot of professional, well semi-professional, collecting organizations that are based around each of these different manufacturers - Cole, Winchester, Marlin, Smith & Wesson. Many other gun companies, they all have their collector’s organizations, and these people would love to talk to collectors, especially starting collectors, to let them know what they need to do to educate themselves. In the case of things along the lines of the Flobert .22s you’re talking about, that’s not uncommon, also. Anything that can be given value, people will do something to give it value, and with guns it’s a real easy way if you can just put some sort of little attribution onto a gun, you might run the value from $100 to $500. You might run it from $500 to $2,000. You might run it from $2,000 to $10,000, just by the application of a few judicious stamps, maybe some fake engraving, some aging of a new gun to make it look old, and you can really convince people they have something special, and that’s really what a lot of people are paying for is that something special.
[19:00] Anna Davis:
So say you go to one of these many gun shows that are hosted around this area, and you find a gentleman who has a Theodore Roosevelt gun or a Buffalo Bill Cody gun, and you’re very interested in it. What are some of the questions that you can ask this dealer about these rifles?
[19:16] Dave Kennedy:
I would ask him or her if it has a factory letter. Most of the different major gun companies have the factory records still accessible in different areas. Colt Firearms Company has their records. Smith & Wesson has their records. The Winchester and Marlin records are at the Cody Firearms Museum in Cody, Wyoming. You can find out information on a lot of these different guns just by what’s in the information. Whether that ranges from “Does the gun still match the configuration in which it left the factory?” to “Is there some sort - do you have an idea where the gun was shipped when it left the factory?” Not all that information will always be there but that’s the first step. The second step is if it is something that is tied to a specific personality, I would talk to the person to find out “Where did you verify this or do you have any letters from any authorities on the subject of Buffalo Bill, Pawnee Bill or Theodore Roosevelt to say where this gun is or where the gun came from? What’s your proof that this person owned the gun?” Find out what the provenance on the gun is. Who owned it before you? Who did you buy it from? Who did they buy it from and backtrack that because, especially when you start talking about the names Cody or Roosevelt or some of the other different names, Jesse James - there’s been more Jesse James guns sold around this region than almost anything else. Jesse James’ mom, after he died, had a barrel full of old guns sitting in the back of their house. She would tell visitors a sob story about how she was broke and all she still had was Jesse’s old guns sittin’ in back, and well, if that person might have $20, she can part with the gun. So, there are a whole bunch of people who left Missouri thinking that they owned Jesse James’ gun, and so you just have to try to follow the stories and a lot of these stories are known really well by a lot of people within the gun collecting community, and they can even help you figure out who to trust, who not to trust, which way to go. And then you can also talk to some third-party people who are not collectors; some of the people in the museum field who are not collectors. Some of the people who are in the gun press who are not collectors but know who you may or may not want to go to, and just try to find out who’s got the financial interest in whether or not that gun gets sold; that may be one of your best bets. Even once you get past that on, that’s the boring side doing all the research, the fun side’s when you actually get to look at the gun and you can start looking for different marks. If you see modern tool marks, if you see things on the gun that just don’t quite add up - for example, if it is a silver finish or a nickel-plate or a gold-plate or something like that, that just looks like it was brand new and done, that’s a mark that maybe something is wrong. If you see all the stampings from the factory are kind of dull and shallow, that’s a mark that something may have been done after it left the factory. If you are looking at the gun and they’re trying to talk to you and sell it as an original gun that hasn’t been modified or messed with or changed, yet there’s no crud stuck down in between the wood and the metal, that’s something to watch out for because if they’ve had to clean the daylights out of it, who knows what else has happened. And so there’s a lot of different things you want to watch out for, and a lot of it just comes back to education and is part of that experience.
[22:35] Anna Davis:
Now we don’t really want to, you know, scare the listeners away from maybe starting a collection of historic guns, the fear that you might have that it is a fake. What percentage, do you think, of guns out there are the market today are the real deal versus these that have been faked by people who are trying to make a quick buck?
[22:52] Dave Kennedy:
I would say the real deal is probably upwards of 75%. The ones that are remaining I would think a small number of those have been faked or modified for financial gain, a lot of them, the guns would show up, like somebody would buy a gun through mail order, the gun would go out to wherever that person was, and if they didn’t like something about it - say, I’d mentioned earlier about people wanting to have a shorter magazine because they wanted the balance on the gun to be a little bit different - they could write back to, say they have a Winchester 1892, they write back to Winchester saying I would like a new magazine, a shorter magazine, for my Winchester 1892, and they would find out it’s say $2.00 and so they would send that piece back out and the person would switch the piece out. And so all of a sudden they have a brand new button mag rifle - which is another name for the half magazine. Just it’s a little bit more complicated than that but if somebody made those changes in the 1890s, it’s going to look period. It’s going to look as if it left the factory that way even though the factory record may show it as a full-length magazine, so there’s different things like that where people in the field, whether it was a gunsmith or blacksmith in whatever area they were in would change the gun to make a slightly different configuration or just different things would take place in the usage of that gun over time. So, a lot of the guns that are different nowadays, a lot of them were just because people used them, and there was no bad intent on any of that.
[24:26] Erin Brown:
So is there a specific place that is better than others to purchase a historic gun; for instance, are gun shows better than auction houses or is it - or does it not matter?
[24:35] Dave Kennedy:
It doesn’t really matter. You’re going to be finding a little bit different selection of guns. You’re going to be able to find a different selection of buyers and sellers in all of those different places. It has kind of gone mainstream, almost Walmartish to a certain extent, because of companies like Cabela’s and Bass Pro. You can go to Bass Pro Shops or Cabela’s, and they’ve got these big high-end gun rooms but a lot of the guns there, they’re going to be pretty good. They usually get the factory letters on all their guns, but they’re also going to have a pretty good-sized markup because they know that there will be people through there who don’t know any better and realize that they can spend a whole lot of money on a gun, and they won’t think anything of it; whereas if you go to a gun show, you’re going to find some really special guns but there might be a little bit different price range there, there might be a little bit more of an ability to deal, there might be a little bit more of an ability to be sure you’ve got some good stuff. That’s a good place to go, probably, if you want to start getting some starter guns, like on the bottom end - the $500, $1000, $2000 guns just to start out your collection. If you start to get to the point where you’re really looking at serious serious guns, by that point (I’m talking in the range of $10,000 or more) you’re going to be knowing a few people who are really good suppliers or collectors of those that you can talk to and you can maybe buy directly from those people, or you’re going to be going to the major auction companies. There are some major auction companies that deal specifically in this type of thing, whether you’re talking James D. Julia on the east coast, Little John’s Auctions on the west coast, Rock Island Auction Company up in Illinois and Iowa. There’s a few others - Cowan’s Auctions - there’s a bunch of different companies that deal with a lot of Western Americana or other things like that, and they’ll have large auctions pretty regularly, and they’ll have just some amazing stuff there and the truth rule out in those cases. If something shows up in a catalog, and it’s a bad gun, they’ll find out about it real fast because somebody may have seen that gun and they may know something, and quite often those auctions get talked about. I think one of the worst places you can buy a really, really special gun from is gunbroker. If you’re going to go out and buy a gun for personal protection or for shooting ducks or deer, gun broker is a great place to go because you can find some really decent deals. If you start looking at specialty firearms like Winchesters, Colts, especially when you start to tie them into personalities, that’s a really bad place to go because there’s a lot of really bad guns that show up on there. If somebody - if a gun’s a legitimate famous-name gun, and somebody’s really serious about selling it to the right crowd for the right amount of money, it’ll be at a major auction company or going through a reputable dealer. It’s not going to be on gunbroker.
[27:22] Erin Brown:
So the moral of the story is just educate yourself.
[27:25] Dave Kennedy:
[27:25] Erin Brown:
Do your research. Do your homework.
[27:27] Dave Kennedy:
[27:27] Erin Brown:
So you don’t get taken.
[27:29] Dave Kennedy:
[27:30] Erin Brown:
That’s a good lesson for many areas in life. Well, thank you, Dave. We appreciate your knowledge. I know I’ve learned a lot in this podcast because I certainly don’t know anything about guns.
[27:42] Dave Kennedy:
And if you guys want to know any more about guns, just let me know. I’ll be more than happy to come back to Pawnee.
[27:47] Anna Davis:
Thank you very much.
[27:53] Anna Davis:
The Pawnee Bill Ranch is owned and operated by the Oklahoma Historical Society. For more information, go to www.pawneebillranch.com or find us on Facebook under Pawnee Bill Ranch and Museum.
Pawnee Bill Ranch
[00:06] Thank you for downloading the Pawnee Bill Ranch podcast, brought to you by the staff of the Pawnee Bill Ranch.
[00:17] Welcome to the Pawnee Bill Ranch Podcast. My name is Anna Davis, Pawnee Bill Ranch historical interpreter, and I am Kandace Trujillo, the Pawnee Bill Ranch intern.
[00:24] Anna Davis:
So Kandace, I think we can both agree that one of the best parts of working at the Pawnee Bill Ranch is the interaction that we have with artifacts on a regular basis, whether it’s assessing items, going through mountains of old documents, or even simply giving a tour through the mansion. Pawnee Bill’s things hold a special spot in our hearts.
[00:42] Kandace Trujillo:
That’s right, and some of those items are just a little bit more special than others. As historians, our job is to interpret history in a way that both educates and entertains. This can be done through many different ways, whether it’s seeing the object, holding the object, or smelling the object, it all serves to create a bond with history. Perhaps more rare is being able to hear the object.
[1:02] <Sound of music being played on Victrola>
[01:34] Anna Davis:
What you are hearing now is one of Pawnee Bill’s most unique furnishings, and the sounds recorded over 100 years ago. The mansion’s 1910 Victrola stays silent for many guests, but for the children that visit the Ranch, when it’s played it provides an important glimpse into the past.
[01:49] Kandace Trujillo:
Pawnee Bill’s 1910 Victrola sits today in his dining room. The top is open revealing a simple working mechanism. A pressed record sits on the turntable, and a metal arm is lowered so that a needle can be placed in the grooves on the record that provide the sound. An interpreter cranks the handle, and once the machine is turned on, the melody begins to play. No electricity is required.
[02:10] <Sound of music being played on Victrola>
[02:30] Anna Davis:
The cabinet itself is elegant in shape with curved legs that support the structure and small doors that open to reveal hidden speakers. Underneath the lid, a simple logo is shown, announcing that this machine was produced by the Victor Talking Machine Company. For $200 in 1910, any household could have owned this state-of-the-art machine.
[02:49] Kandace Trujillo:
In 1901, Eldridge R. Johnson founded the Victor Talking Machine Company in Camden, New Jersey. The record machine market at the turn of the century was competitive, and many believed the name Victor came from Johnson’s court victory over his closest rivals, Zonophone and Berliner. Victor was revolutionary in his manufacturing process. The company would become one of the first of their kind to employ artists for their music recordings. At the turn of the century, many record companies were having trouble with the quality of their recordings and the limited quantity that they could produce at a time.
[03:23] Anna Davis:
Full orchestral recordings proved difficult during this time as it was nearly impossible to record the full range of an orchestra. The performers were forced to gather around a recording device and many instruments, especially percussion, were left out because of the issues. Victor addressed the issue without concern, hiring some of the most well-known composers of the day to record for their company.
[03:46] <Sound of music being played on Victrola>
[04:15] Kandace Trujillo:
In 1906, to capitalize on their popularity, Victor released a new line of phonographs with turntables and hidden speakers. The idea was to produce a new phonograph that was more like furniture than the earlier versions had been. Trademarked under the name Victrola, these cabinets became widely popular. The top table version of the Victrola sold for a little more than fifteen dollars. Cabinets, such as the one in Pawnee Bill’s mansion, sold for about $100 to $250. More expensive designs with fine wood and gold guilding were available for $600. Victrola would be the most popular name brand home phonograph.
[04:50] Anna Davis:
In 1926, Johnson sold his interest in the company. Victor sat in the holding of Seligman & Spyer for nearly three years before it was sold to the Radio Corporation of America, which is more widely known today by its initials, RCA. RCA would continue to use the name until 1987 when the last Victrola, now a line of televisions, was produced.
[05:13] Kandace Trujillo:
Today, historians are compiling an online catalog of all the recordings done by both RCA and Victor. Nearly 15,000 logged pages were kept, giving valuable information as to the artists that recorded with the company. As of 2011, the archive goes to the year 1935, but historians working on the project hope to document up until 1958.
[05:36] Anna Davis:
One of the most unique things about the Victrola is something that tourists see on every tour. We probably don’t think about it very much. It has to do with the painted logo just under the Victrola’s cover. What you see is perhaps one of the most well-known corporate logos in the world.
[05:52] Kandace Trujillo:
Surrounded by gold letters, a little white dog is featured listening intently to a gramophone. Painted in 1893, “His Master’s Voice” was done as a tribute to the artist’s brother, who had passed away and left his entire estate to his dog. The painting would go unsold for several years until it was used alongside the Victor machines in an advertising campaign in Great Britain.
[06:17] Anna Davis:
The little white dog with the black ears was named Nipper. The artist, Francis Barraud, said, “It is difficult to say how the idea came to me beyond the fact that it suddenly occurred to me that to have the little dog listening to the phonograph with an intelligent and rather puzzled expression, and call it “His Master’s Voice,” would make an excellent subject. We had a phonograph, and I often noticed how puzzled he was to make out where the voice came from. It certainly was the happiest thought I ever had.”
[06:48] Kandace Trujillo:
Nipper was used as the logo for RCA until 1986 when the company was purchased by GM and disbanded. The brand RCA is still used today by Sony Entertainment, one of the largest multimedia companies in the world today, and Nipper still makes regular appearances in advertisements all over the world.
[07:03] <Sound of music being played on Victrola>
[07:32] Anna Davis:
So, Kandace, you’ve only been here for a couple of weeks now, right?
[07:35] Kandace Trujillo:
[07:36] Anna Davis:
And you’ve never heard the Victrola play, correct?
[07:38] Kandace Trujillo:
No, I haven’t.
[07:39] Anna Davis:
It’s a very rare treat that we actually play it for many guests, mostly for school groups, but the record that is currently in it is one of Pawnee Bill’s records, and it’s called “God Bless the Prince of Wales,” and next time you come to the mansion for a tour, you might ask the tour guide to point out the Victrola in the dining room, and if you’re very very lucky, the interpreter might actually play it for you, and you can hear the sounds that were also broadcasted in this podcast. Well, that’s about it for this time. My name is Anna Davis...
[08:08] Kandace Trujillo:
...and I’m Kandace Trujillo...
[08:10] Anna Davis:
...and we will see you next time.
[08:16] Anna Davis:
The Pawnee Bill Ranch is owned and operated by the Oklahoma Historical Society. For more information, go to www.pawneebillranch.com or find us on Facebook under Pawnee Bill Ranch and Museum.
Pawnee Bill Ranch
Anna: Thank you for downloading the Pawnee Bill Ranch Podcast brought to you by the staff of the Pawnee Bill Ranch.
Erin: Welcome to the Pawnee Bill Ranch Podcast. I’m Erin Brown, Pawnee Bill Ranch Curator.
Anna: And I’m Anna Davis, Pawnee Bill Ranch Historical Interpreter.
Erin: So, Anna, do you know what special event took place on March 12, 1869?
Anna: I certainly do. Miss Mary Emma Manning was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Erin: You’re so right! And since March is May’s birthday month and March is also women’s history month, we thought it would be the perfect podcast to devote to May. She was our favorite cowgirl and she had a truly amazing life. She went from the big city of Philadelphia to the small town of Pawnee here on prairie; she met the man of her dreams, she dazzled crowds all over the world with her shooting abilities, and championed the preservation of the American Bison. It’s quite a lot from such a small lady.
Anna: I know she’s your hero and mine as well. Though to talk about this amazing woman it’s probably best if we talk a little bit about the world in which she grew up.
Erin: The Philadelphia that May knew was one of extreme industrial growth. Since the early 1700s, Philadelphia has been an important trading center and major American port. Back then it had a very diverse population of people from England, Ireland, Germany, Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands, and people of African descent. The city’s founding pledge of religious tolerance attracted many different religions in its early days. Quakers, Mennonites, Anglicans, Catholics, and Jews moved to the city but the Quakers far outnumbered any other religion in the city.
Anna: Acting as the United States’ first capital, the city was modernized in the 1750s with the addition of paved streets and gas lights but like many of the nation’s largest cities, Philadelphia dealt with constant overcrowding. Perhaps one of the largest hurdles it had to contend with was the constant threat of war.
Erin: Staring with Queen Anne’s War, the city would be the center points of battles and diplomatic actions. Philadelphia would become a place for refuge for those displaced by Pontiac’s Rebellion during the French and Indian War. The Revolutionary War would see the Continental Congress using Liberty Hall to write and sign the Declaration of Independence. The American Civil War would see the city used as a major receiving place of wounded soldiers with more than 157,000 people treated within the city.
Anna: That is a lot of history taking place in just one city. By the late 1860s, a period of relative calm had finally come to the city. A population boom by 1870 had placed the citizens of Philadelphia numbering about 674,000 people. It is estimated that by 1870, 27% of the population of Philadelphia had been born outside of the United States. All of this growth had forced the population to settle north of the city and also along the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers. There was also an exodus of the upper class to the suburbs which lead to a large growth of the city’s industrial center as well as the Pennsylvania Railroad.
Erin: The largest industry that Philadelphia boasted was the creation of textiles. Cotton was a large commodity that came through its ports and the industry employed nearly 35% of the city’s population. Industries like iron and steel manufacturing, cigars, sugar and oil were also strong. With all of the growth, Philadelphia would host the first World’s Fair on American soil in 1876. It is estimated that nearly 9 million people visited the city to see inventions like Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone and the Corliss Steam Engine.
Anna: Now can you imagine being an 8 year old girl and going to a World’s Fair to see the first telephone? Or even the exhibits being powered by steam engines? It must have been an incredibly exciting experience and time.
Erin: If May attended this World’s Fair it would become one of many that she saw through her life. She would perform at the 1894 World’s Fair in Antwerp, Belgium and attend the 1933 World Exhibition in Chicago. But back to our story...
Anna: In the middle of all this development, a family was also growing. May’s mother, Mary Elizabeth Peak, was born in Philadelphia on August 12, 1835, one of 13 children born to Samuel and Elizabeth Peak. Not much is known about Mary’s early life in Philadelphia but from all sources it seems that she enjoyed a very comfortable middle class life. By 1853, Mary had married Theodore Eager, a saw maker and ship builder from Philadelphia. This marriage would produce four sons: Samuel, Elbert, Edward, and Albert. Sadly, by October of 1860 Mary was a widow having lost two sons, Elbert and Albert, as well as her husband to pneumonia.
Erin: While that would be a very sad ending to our story, a mysterious man stepped into the young widow’s life. There’s really nothing known for certain about William Richard Manning except that he was born in New York City on April 24, 1825. The U.S. Census places him as a blacksmith by trade living in the Fishguard section of Philadelphia at the time he met Mary Peak and by 1865 the two were married. Their first child was a girl named Elmira born in 1865. She was followed by a little sister, Mary Emma, our May, born March 12, 1869. Elizabeth would follow in 1872 and little brother William would be the last born in 1876.
Anna: The amazing thing is, is that after all this time, we actually know where the Manning family lived in Philadelphia. The family lived in a row house at 2507 E. York Street, a few blocks from the Delaware River and a stone’s throw from Camden, New Jersey. A working class neighborhood, Fishguard was notable for having a large German population of ship builders and blacksmiths. William apprenticed both of his step-sons in his blacksmith’s shop and this would later lead to both Samuel and Edward being employed by the large shipping steamers in Philadelphia.
Erin: Early in May’s childhood, her father made the transition from blacksmithing to medicine. How William Manning became a physician isn’t entirely clear, but from 1870 until his death in 1903, he was referred to as a magnetic physician and carried the title of M.D. This use of magnetics in medicine was extremely popular during this time period. Now is the time for our pseudo-science part of the podcast. Take it away, Anna!
Anna: As crazy as it sounds, the use of magnets and electricity was commonly used in the treatment of hysteria and internal illness. The idea was popularized by the German physician Franz Mesmer in the 1700s. Now, if that last name sounds familiar, we get the modern word mesmerize from his work.
Erin: Now this sounds kind of crazy, but what they would do is a magnetic physician would use magnets and electricity to better the flow of energy and fluids in a patient’s body. It was believed that any animate being was filled with an ethereal fluid that could become blocked and required the help of a doctor to promote wellness.
Anna: And as odd as all of this sounds to us today, the practice was extremely popular at the time. Practitioners of mesmerism would branch out into hypnotism, spiritualism, and parapsychology and it’s actually still being practiced in areas of the world today, especially in Eastern Europe. There’s really no way to know how May’s father’s profession affected her childhood. It seems that she had a normal life and a very loving home.
Erin: Right! She did later say that she inherited her father’s wild, adventurous streak and I’m sure seeing her father doing this kind of weird and unconventional work influenced her, and probably paved the way for her to feel that she could live an unconventional life too. But May’s life changed in a monumental way in 1884 when Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show came through Philadelphia for the second time. You can imagine being 15 years old and seeing this impressive parade come through town. She is quoted as saying that she loved everything about that first experience of seeing the show: the colors of the flags, the stars of the shows like Johnny Baker, the noise of the calliope, the band, the beautiful elephant with, in her words, “equally beautiful men” on their backs, horses, and Indians, but she says, “The cowgirls were my favorite, sitting side saddle with their colorful bandanas and their bright sashes.” I read this great interview here lately where she says that she silently implored each one of those women, “Who are you, how did you manage this.” And I think that she meant in her eyes and imagination this life of adventure and romance – a life lived out of the ordinary. She says even that she even loved the grittiness of the show too and the Wild West show was not only pageantry but there was kind of gritty, seedy element to it and she loved that too, crew folks, the animals, the train, everything...
Anna: And it was in this world that she first saw our Pawnee Bill. She is recorded as saying that when he rode by in the parade, he looked at her. Not just a glance, but a stare. She said, in typical May fashion, that she saw him staring at her and purposefully threw a smile at him – but not exactly at him, but at the Indian behind him. Pawnee Bill pulled his bay horse over to her and she said right then, she knew, that “she could change the course of her life with a well-directed smile.” Pawnee Bill said for the rest of his life, that the first time he saw May, he was instantly in love.
Erin: That’s right. I love that story and I think that’s such a great beginning to a great romance. And it’s so true to May’s personality. She could always say “you know I wasn’t smiling at you; I was smiling at that Indian guy behind you.” She was funny and from all evidence that we have, May was an effusive personality and an exuberant person. We’ve got these great early home movies of Pawnee Bill and May out in the back yard of the mansion and Pawnee Bill is standing there staring at the camera – just standing there – and May, I don’t know if it was the first time she was given chewing gum or what, but she was smacking gum and doing a jig and acting crazy for the camera, but I think that really captures her personality in a nut shell. She was joyous and kind of a corker.
Anna: And surprisingly enough it was a story that worked for them. They courted for two years and were married on August 31, 1886 in the Old Siloam Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia. May famously said that Pawnee bill’s wedding gift to her was a Marlin .22 target rifle and a pony...neither of which she could actually use.
Erin: But one of the things that I love about May was her indomitable spirit. She was one of a kind and she did have that wild, adventurous side that said, you know what, I don’t care what’s socially acceptable for a woman, I don’t care what’s lady-like, I’m going to live my life and nothing’s going to get me down.
Anna: Now while all of this kind of sounds like a fairy tale, she did experience several tragedies in her life, beginning with the death of an infant son while she and Pawnee Bill were living in Kansas. He lived to about 6 weeks of age and he passed away shortly after. Unfortunately we don’t know much about this child. We don’t know his name and we don’t know when he was born, but this did take place when May was about 18 years old. After this, she was unable to have any more biological children. But shortly after the devastating loss of her child, May threw herself into learning the ways of the horse and how to handle a rifle, skills which she actually honed to perfection.
Erin: Right. By all accounts, she was a natural shot and a natural horsewoman. Having grown up in the city of Philadelphia it would have been a foreign lifestyle, but she adapted, inspired by her desire to be a part of the Wild West Show. She encouraged Pawnee Bill to start his own show and she starred in it as the “Champion Girl Shot of the West.” She thrilled crowds with exhibitions of her medal winning skill with a rifle combined with marvelous feats as a horsewoman. She was, seemingly, fearless!
Anna: And one of our favorite quotes by May Lillie really sums up her attitude. In 1907 on a show tour, May Lillie told Chicago women “Let any normally healthy women who is ordinarily strong screw up her courage and tackle a bucking bronco, and she will find the most fascinating pastime in the field of feminine athletic endeavor. There is nothing to compare, to increase the joy of living, and once accomplished, she’ll have more real fun than any pink tea or theater party or ballroom ever yielded.”
Erin: Yea, I love that quote. It’s pretty widely repeated as an iconic cowgirl quotation. It really typifies who she was. As a female performer, May Lillie challenged stereotypes of women around the turn of the century. She thrilled and amazed audiences with her portrayal of a Western woman – independent, tough, daring, and thoroughly talented.
Anna: And it’s our belief that there was nothing more important than the Wild West Show in creating our modern image of the West. As a star in one of the largest Wild West Shows in the world, it can be safely assumed that May directly influenced the way audiences around the world perceived the American West. That perception is still paramount in the minds of multitudes of people.
Erin: She was definitely a gifted Western entertainer, paving the way for cowgirl entertainers in both rodeo and motion pictures. In fact, she starred in her very own movie produced by Buffalo Ranch Motion Pictures, “May Lillie, Queen of the Buffalo Ranch.”
Anna: Yeah, and May was also extremely smart and had incredible business sense. She advised her husband on important financial matters and made decisions regarding the Buffalo Ranch on her own. She knew animals and became the first female bison ranch manager. While Pawnee Bill traveled the country with Buffalo Bill from 1908-1913, May took over Ranch operations and employed ranch hands who reported directly to her. Both Pawnee Bill and May believed in the bison’s importance to American West and to Plains Indian culture. She dedicated herself to conservation and promoting bison in the United States.
Erin: She really was Queen of the Buffalo Ranch here. But her life was defiantly not without tragedy or sadness. After the death of their first child, the Lillie’s waited a really long time to adopt. They did so in 1917 when they adopted a little boy from Kansas City. He was adopted from a maternity home. The infant would be named Gordon, Jr., but they always called him Billy. They loved being parents and they suffered a profound loss when Billy died in 1925. He accidentally hung himself while playing on the wind mill tower when he was 8 years old. May was, understandably, devastated.
Anna: And there is an extremely poignant quote from the end of May Lillie’s life where she said that she wondered “Why it is so easy to win the applause of multitudes and so hard just to be a mother.”
Erin: She stoically put on a smile for the public though and continued to be a prominent figure in local affairs long after her career as a professional entertainer was over.
Anna: And sadly, May’s own life ended in a pretty tragic way. On September 17, 1936, May Lillie passed away as a result of injuries sustained in an automobile accident. The accident had occurred three weeks after celebrating her 50th wedding anniversary with Pawnee Bill.
Erin: Right and it’s just such a sad ending to her otherwise wonderful life, but Pawnee Bill was quoted as saying “She was everything to me. There wouldn’t have been any Pawnee Bill if it had not been for her. I did everything for May, now I know that it was her approval which kept me going. We had 50 years of married life and that is much more my share. I’ll just try to keep busy now.”
Anna: Aww, so sad and sweet at the same time!
Erin: And they had such a great love story.
Anna: We interpret her life to thousands of tourists annually and we stress the profound importance of May’s legacy of grace, spirit, adventure, independence, and cowgirl tenacity to Pawnee, to Oklahoma, to the West, and to the hearts and minds of anyone who appreciates groundbreaking entertainers.
Erin: That’s so true, Anna. In 2011 we were thrilled to have May inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame – where she’s getting the recognition she deserves. And we thank all of you for listening, for caring about history, and for letting us share the unique and important story of May Manning Lillie with you.
Anna: And that’s about it for this month’s podcast. My name is Anna Davis, Historical Interpreter for the Pawnee Bill Ranch.
Erin: And I’m Erin Brown, Pawnee Bill Ranch curator. We’ll see you next time!
Anna: The Pawnee Bill Ranch is owned and operated by the Oklahoma Historical Society. For more information, go to www.pawneebillranch.com. Or find us on Facebook under Pawnee Bill Ranch and Museum.
Pawnee Bill Ranch
The Case of the Two Tents
Anna: Thank you for downloading the Pawnee Bill Ranch podcast brought to you by the staff of the Pawnee Bill Ranch.
Erin: Welcome to the Pawnee Bill Ranch Podcast! My name is Erin Brown, Pawnee Bill Ranch Curator.
Anna: And I’m Anna Davis, Pawnee Bill Ranch Historical Interpreter.
Erin: It’s that time of year, Anna. When spring rolls around here at the Ranch we know that it’s time for...
Anna: Wild West Show season!
Erin: That’s right, Anna. Since 1988 the Pawnee Bill Ranch has hosted a reproduction of Pawnee Bill’s Original Wild West Show every summer. So to honor the upcoming Wild West Show season, we thought it would be fun to do a podcast series about some of the strange happenings of Pawnee Bill’s Wild West Show.
Anna: Most of the stories from the road might not be known to the average member of the public, but in doing research on Pawnee Bill and his show we have come across some really interesting...if not odd...little facts.
Erin: Right. And the story that we have today comes all the way from a New York City newspaper clipping.
Anna: The New York Times to be exact! Now, one of the greatest things about being a researcher in the 21st Century is the massive amount of access that we have to newspapers and documents all across the world. The digitization of newspaper collections gives us instant insight into a wide variety of topics with a few strokes of your fingers. A search of Pawnee Bill events in a database brought to my attention an event which took place in New Jersey in 1906 that the press dubbed...“The Case of the Two Tents.”
Erin: That sounds pretty mysterious! But before we actually delve into the topic, it’s probably best if we get a little context and talk about how dangerous Wild West Shows were in Pawnee Bill’s time. Today we have hose little things called safety regulations in place to ensure that animals, performers, and audience members are all kept safe. But back then...well, it was a different story. Route books for Pawnee Bill’s Wild West Show are filled with incidents of people breakings bones, suffering severe injury, and even dying.
Anna: There’s an old quote that theater people like to throw around and that is it’s always best not to work with animals and children in live theater, because they’re so unpredictable. I think that quote is especially true for animals. Wild West Show history is filled with stories of horses going on rampages through audiences or breaking free from their corrals and tearing through cities streets. Take one frightened horse and multiply it by one hundred and you’ve got a true recipe for disaster.
Erin: No kidding! But perhaps all of that pales in comparison to Mother Nature though. Performing outdoors in the sometimes volatile spring and summer weather would leave you at the mercy of the weather. The heat was sometimes oppressive, an early or late winter storm could ruin your season, floods could stop trains and destroy arena grounds, and thunderstorms could rip tents to shreds, costing money to repair and replace, not to mention the danger posed to anyone stuck inside of a collapsing pile of canvas. It’s still something we worry about today with our modern Wild West Show. One day of bad weather can truly ruin everything.
Anna: And that is the perfect set up for our story today. On July 17, 1906 a severe weather system was brewing over New York State. The storm would bring high winds, thunder, lightning and rain across the state and into New Jersey and right in the path of this thunderstorm was Pawnee Bill’s Wild West Show which was performing a show at 28th Street and Avenue C in Bayonne, New Jersey.
Erin: And from what we can tell the show was going normally that afternoon. The crew had successfully erected the canvas tents that would house both the main show and the cast members. A typical Wild West Show would build dozens of tents in the performance area and the main tent would cover a really large area. These tents were made of strong, thick white canvas and were shaped and secured using wooden poles and rope.
Anna: Right, and during the middle of the performance, the wind picked up as the heavy thunderstorm hit the area. As soon as the wind hit the Wild West Show tent, the ropes supporting the main poles started to snap. Hearing the commotion, the large audience started to panic and run from their seats.
Erin: Now a tent collapse was nothing new to Pawnee Bill. It had happened a few other times in his early career, but it was a potentially deadly event that needed to be avoided at all costs. So, Pawnee Bill got everyone’s attention and he sent out an order to have everyone gather in the center of the arena, directly under the main support. So, just as the order was being carried out, the West end of the tent started to collapse, and it actually threw audience members out of their seats.
Anna: Now from the newspaper clipping, it states that the audience members that were thrown into the arena were not severely injured. But as the tent started to sag, Pawnee Bill knew that he needed to act quickly. Running to the falling tent pole, he used his own body to brace against it, keeping it upright until the audience could escape to safety. Before help could arrive though the tent shifted and the pole fell on Pawnee Bill, dislocating his shoulder.
Erin: Well, luckily that was the most severe injury anyone suffered in the tent collapse, but outside the main arena, another ten tents collapsed in the high winds, sending 100 frightened horses racing through the streets of Bayonne. Still in costume, the cowboys that had been performing in the arena as the storm hit gave chase through the streets. It took nearly an hour to gather all the horses and return back to the show grounds. The newspaper is quoted as saying that the residents of Bayonne were treated to a real Wild West exhibition!
Anna: And that would be a really good ending to this strange little story...but it was about to get really bizarre. About a block away from where the Wild West Show was being performed, Rev. Frank J. Potter and the People’s Baptist Church of Bayonne were hosting a tent revival. Their tent survived the high winds and rain without a problem and the Reverend was quoted as saying... “It is the Lord’s tent, and I trusted to Him. I knew He would take care of the Tent.” It sounds like a fairly normal statement from a religious man, but that statement would cause a huge outcry...not from Pawnee Bill and his Wild West Show...but from the people of New York City.
Erin: Yeah, it’s kind of funny! For nearly a week after the event, the New York Times would publish all these editorials and opinion pieces from people who had read the original article and were offended by what the Reverend had said. So the newspaper dubbed it the “Case of the Two Tents.” You know, people really rallied around Pawnee Bill’s act calling it heroic and saying that the Lord was just as much with him in ensuring the safety of his audience as he’d been with the Reverend’s tent and that the preacher’s comments were both selfish and foolish. So, it ended up being really bad publicity for the Reverend and an odd source of good will for Pawnee Bill after such a disaster.
Anna: Now, as heated as the debate got between readers of the New York Times, the entire incident ended just as quickly as it had begun. Within a week there was no more mention of the incident and life returned normal again for the people of Bayonne, New Jersey. And there ended the “Case of the Two Tents”, but believe it or not...this isn’t the strangest story we have from the history of Pawnee Bill’s Wild West Show.
Erin: No, not by far. Because in 1899 students from Princeton University tried to actually wage war on Pawnee Bill’s Wild West Show.
Anna: That is probably one of my favorite stories involving Pawnee Bill’s cast. Any time you have Ivy League students trying to make trouble with cowboys, it’s never going to end well!
Erin: That’s so true! Hold on to your hats, ladies and gentlemen, the 1899 Princeton Riot will be our next topic. Until then, I’m Erin Brown.
Anna: And I’m Anna Davis. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next time!
Anna: The Pawnee Bill Ranch is owned and operated by the Oklahoma Historical Society. For more information go to www.pawneebillranch.com or find us on Facebook under Pawnee Bill Ranch and Museum.
Pawnee Bill Ranch
Anna: Thank you for downloading the Pawnee Bill Ranch Podcast brought to you by the staff of the Pawnee Bill Ranch.
Erin : Welcome to the Pawnee Bill Ranch podcast. I’m Erin Brown, Pawnee Bill Ranch Curator.
Anna: And I’m Anna Davis, Pawnee Bill Ranch Historical Interpreter
Erin: So Anna, we discussed in our last podcast how we were going to do a series of unusual Wild West Show related topics through June in honor of the Ranch’s Wild West Show re-enactment and last month we talked about the “Case of the Two Tents” which took place in Bayonne, New Jersey in 1906. Today we are going to discuss the Princeton Riot. It is an example of uncalled-for craziness at its finest and, in my opinion it’s definitely an instant classic.
Anna: I know. I’m really excited about this topic. The Princeton Riot story is just another example of what we can uncover through reading Route Books, those wonderful juicy journals chronicling life on the road with the Wild West Show. Now, if you’re unfamiliar with what a route book is, typically one or two cast members were employed during a Wild West Show season to write down the happenings on each stop of the Wild West Show. They are part historical record, part gossip magazine, and full of all sorts of inside jokes, strange happenings, and heartwarming stories. Of course the place that we’re talking about today is Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey. And I don’t know if it’s just me, but it seems like a lot of these strange stories are taking place in New Jersey!
Erin: No offence, New Jersey! Princeton University was founded in 1746 as a religious school by the Presbyterian Church in Elizabeth, New Jersey. It was known then as the College of New Jersey and would remain under that name until 1896 when its name was changed to Princeton. This was almost 150 years after the university had moved from Elizabeth to Nassau Hall in Princeton. By the time of the name change, the university no longer had ties to the Presbyterian Church but its name had made it into the same league as other major Ivy League Schools such as Yale, Harvard, and Brown.
Anna: Now, Princeton has always had a reputation of liberal education and some of the brightest minds in American history have studied and taught there. Aaron Burr, James Madison, Woodrow Wilson, and Grover Cleveland are among the list of alumni and great thinkers like Albert Einstein were faculty members who taught students. Now, Erin, when I was researching this topic the list of alumni or professors at the university were just a who’s who of Poet Laureates, Nobel Prize winners, Pulitzer Prize winners, or just world leaders in general. It was almost mind-numbing.
Erin: Right and like any university, Princeton has a long list of traditions that students and alumni hold near and dear to their hearts. And it was one tradition in particular that would ignite a war between students at the university and the cast members of Pawnee Bill’s show
Anna: Everything was going pretty normally for the Wild West Show during the start of the 1899 season. The show had just opened on May 6 in Chester, PA and they worked their way through New Jersey before landing in Princeton on May 15. Now little did they know that the largest event of the season was waiting for them at the university. Show posters had started to appear on Princeton’s campus a few days before the Wild West Show was scheduled to be performed but many of the students just thought that they were a joke.
Erin: What happened when Pawnee Bill’s Wild West Show tried to parade through the streets of Princeton that day was covered in newspapers from Maine to California. It was tradition that the Wild West Show would parade to the Show grounds – in every town they toured. It was part of the town’s overall Wild West Show experience and usually, the parade was met with applause and it generated excitement for the event to come.
Anna; Except that this parade didn’t quite go as expected. The show quietly entered the city of Princeton and geared up for their journey through the University. It generated some excitement all right, but not the kind that anyone from Pawnee Bill’s team was hoping for. In fact, the opening lines of that day’s route book reads, “Long before this item is written you will have forgotten the Princeton – Pawnee Bill battle, and to say it resembled a battle is not exaggerating it any way.”
Erin: It was an unwritten rule in Princeton that no parade that passed the University would return. Well, to parade Princeton it was impossible to avoid passing the university and impossible to return without passing the university. Apparently the students had succeeded in stopping circuses, but the Route book says they “reckoned with their host” when they decided to tackle a Wild West Show, meaning that they didn’t know who they were picking a fight with, so when the parade reached the University – they met with some serious problems.
Anna: Some newspaper accounts even sort of thought Pawnee Bill brought the whole thing on himself by violating tradition and attempting to parade in the first place. It was common knowledge that the students would try to prevent a parade; so many people questioned why Pawnee Bill would do it in the first place. We don’t really have an answer for that, other than it was Pawnee Bill’s tradition to parade. He wasn’t going to be stopped or be told what to do. Pawnee Bill was a stubborn man and his Wild West Show cast was comprised of tough, wily, characters who probably felt like they could handle the situation. A group of college kids wasn’t going to scare them.
Erin : And handle it they did. Newspapers report that the students gathered in force and met the parade at Nassau Street and decided to start their fun by throwing fireworks under the feet of horses, one of them Pawnee Bill’s. They also threw firecrackers under the bandwagon. They exploded under the feet of the horses leading the bandwagon and made them understandably frantic. The lead horse stumbled and fell and then all the others horses went down too. But somehow the cast recovered and the parade went through – but unfortunately, it had to return though.
Anna: Now the time lapse between the first pass through and the return allowed the students to organize an attack. This is all done by word of mouth at this time. They bought and stole eggs. They bought and stole a variety of vegetables to throw at the cast. Now this is really crazy, but some newspaper accounts relay that the students tore up the lawns of local houses to use the clods of turf as missiles. And this isn’t a small group of people we’re talking about either! The newspapers are quoted as saying that hundreds of students joined in on the attack.
Erin: And they say we live in a violent time now. Anna, you and I both know that you do not want to see a fired up cast member – then or now- because what the reports say is that the cowboys and Indians just rode their horses into the crowds, knocking over the students and running over them. You would have thought the students would have given up, but it got even uglier.
Anna: Yeah, Princeton rioters turned from clods of dirt and eggs to stones and more fireworks. The reports say the Mexican and South American cowboys roped and drug some of the students behind their horses, other cowboys shot blanks directly into some of the crowd’s faces – and then some hit students over their heads with six-shooters. Reports say they stampeded the crowd back onto campus. They didn’t stop the fighting until the wagons were safely away from the University and the cowboys retreated shortly thereafter.
Erin: Yikes! That is too wild for me! Needless to say, there were numerous injuries. One reported a skull fracture and there were many just general wounds that go with being battered and beat up. But the newspapers and route books estimate that 120 mounted cowboys and Indians licked somewhere between 800-1400 students.
Anna: That is a lot of people involved in this incident!
Anna: Francis Landey Patton, who was the president of the university at the time, was so upset by the day’s events that he called a meeting of the entire student body and forbade any of them from attending the Wild West Show that evening. Apparently, he was afraid of more trouble and didn’t trust the students to keep level heads.
Erin: Yes, I think he was sick of the drama and ready for some calm to come to campus. But you know kids; some of them went ahead and went to the show. What could have been another explosive incident was solved though when Pawnee Bill addressed the students directly and soothed everyone’s emotions. Luckily, there was not more trouble in Princeton.
Anna: And they say that college kids with spring fever do wild things. These kids were out of control and Pawnee Bill’s cast responded in kind. Pawnee Bill kept strict control over his cast and expected them to act in a genteel and peaceful way, but this is one example in which the cowboys did whatever they had to do to protect themselves and each other.
Erin: Yeah, it was a very tight brotherhood indeed. I recently pulled one of our documentary artifacts to help when researching this story. The National Police Gazette dedicated a full 11x15 inch page to a depiction of the riot. It’s really interesting. It’s an artist’s black and white rendering and it shows a mounted cowboy, Indian, and Mexican riding into the crowd on these wild eyed horses, lassoing students and using bolas, which was kind of a throwing weapon with weights on the ends to fend off the attack. The students are depicted as the epitome of sophistication wearing these fancy suits and bowler hats and defending themselves from the brutish cast members with their fancy walking sticks. It’s kind of a humorous little finding that demonstrates how the media spun the story at the time for mass audiences.
Now another interesting side note, Anna, is that our alma mater was initially referred to as the Princeton of the Plains. Oklahoma State University even adopted the Princeton mascot, the tiger, and their colors, orange and black. The orange and black colors stayed but fittingly, and thank goodness, the nickname changed to the Cowboys.
Anna: Yes, and I think Pawnee Bill and all of his original cast members would be very proud to know that OSU went from honoring Princeton with their nickname to being called the Cowboys. Another interesting note when we were researching this is that looking back through the Princeton University newspaper archives, I started to find out that this was the stuff that Princeton legends were made of. The Princeton newspaper twenty-five and even fifty years on would refer back to this riot as one of the greatest events that ever took place for their student body.
Erin: They just could not get over it!
Anna: Well, there is one more story to go with our Wild West Show series! And I think we’ve saved one of the very best for last. Pawnee Bill was a man that loved exploring new and exciting ways to get people to come and see his Wild West Show, but there was one stunt that he tried that would “send tremors up and down his spinal column” for the rest of his life.
Erin: Yeah, this is going to be a fun one because when you were initially telling me about it, you were laughing about it so hard you couldn’t even talk, so I think this is going to be a really fun time! Next time we will be discussing Pawnee Bill’s ill-fated hot air balloon ride during the 1894 Antwerp World’s fair. But before we go, we would like to take a moment to tell our listeners about a very special event taking place. This year the Oklahoma Cultural Heritage Trust released a list identifying the Top Ten Endangered Artifacts in the state. We are happy to announce that Pawnee Bill’s Calliope has been selected into the program and has been selected as one of the top 25. Thought to be the only Wild West Show calliope in working condition, we believe it is extremely important to preserve and protect this amazing piece of history.
Anna: And we need your help to make that happen! Right now voting is ongoing to choose the top artifacts on the list. Voters can vote as often as they like until June 1st, 2013. To vote for Pawnee Bill’s Calliope, listeners can go to www.culturalheritagetrust.org. Listeners can also find more information and links to voting on our Facebook page. Again, voting continues until June 1st, 2013 and the winners will be announced in August.
Erin: Well, that’s about it for this time. I’m Erin Brown.
Anna: And I’m Anna Davis. Thank you for listening and we’ll see you next time.
Anna: The Pawnee Bill Ranch is owned and operated by the Oklahoma Historical Society. For more information go to www.pawneebillranch.com or find us on Facebook under Pawnee Bill Ranch and Museum.
Pawnee Bill Ranch
Pawnee Bill's Hot Air Balloon Ride
Anna: Thank you for downloading the Pawnee Bill Ranch Podcast brought to you by the staff of the Pawnee Bill Ranch.
Erin: Welcome to the Pawnee Bill Ranch Podcast! I’m Erin Brown, Pawnee Bill Ranch Curator.
Anna: And I’m Anna Davis, Pawnee Bill Ranch Historical Interpreter.
Erin: So, Anna, today we will be finishing out our three part series on some of the strange stories that took place on the road for Pawnee Bill’s Wild West Show. Now we’ve taken a little bit of a break this summer. We didn’t record in June and July but now we’re back at it and we’re excited to continue on with our podcast. Last time in May we talked about The Princeton Riot and the crazy insanity that fell upon cast members and students from that university. Today, we will be discussing one of the most disastrous promotions that Pawnee Bill ever undertook. And it all started with a seemingly innocent ride in a hot air balloon.
Anna: That’s correct and I love this story. Before this podcast we were discussing our experiences with hot air balloons. Now I know that you have never been in one nor do you ever want to be in one.
Erin: Nope. Nope, I like the ground.
Anna: And I almost went on a balloon ride when I was in Australia, but mine was cancelled about 15 minutes before takeoff because of high winds. After hearing about Pawnee Bill’s experience, I bet he wished someone had cancelled his hot air balloon ride too!
Erin: This journey that he took in his balloon left such an impression on Pawnee Bill that he would talk about it to many newspapers years later when he was giving interviews. It really stuck with him as one of the major funny/disastrous events in his life. The incident took place at the 1894 World’s Fair in Antwerp, Belgium. It was officially known as the Exposition Internationale d’Anvers. The fair opened on May 5th, 1894 and would attract 3 million visitors, which is roughly the size of the population of Oklahoma, until it closed its gates on November 5 of that same year.
Anna: Pawnee Bill’s Wild West Show would begin performing at the World’s Fair in Fall of 1894. A daily parade would occur before each performance, just as it did here in America to attract the crowds to where they were performing, and it was during one of these parades that Pawnee Bill first noticed something strange. The posters for his show lined the streets of Antwerp, all of which had been converted to French for his international audience. In the middle of all these familiar images from his show, there was one poster that caught his eye that he couldn’t quite understand. It had his name on it, but it certainly wasn’t a show poster. When the parade was finished, Pawnee Bill sent his French interpreter back to the mysterious poster to figure out just what it said.
Erin: It was then that he got the surprise of his life. The poster was advertising an event in which Pawnee Bill, himself, would enter a hot air balloon and ride in the aircraft above the streets of Antwerp with a noted French balloonist. Surprise! Pawnee Bill was quoted as saying, “I had never been up in a balloon, nor did I have any particular desire to do so, but in that I was supposed to be the brave Pawnee Bill, an Indian scout who had been in service and who had fought outlaws. I could not possibly refuse to go.” It seems that Pawnee Bill had unintentionally agreed to go on the flight when the balloonist had approached him at the fair and explained what he had wanted to do with the stunt. Because the guy was speaking only in French, Pawnee Bill didn’t realize what he was agreeing to.
Anna: Now, ballooning in Europe was nothing new. Balloons sent into flight using hot air first appeared in China during the Three Kingdoms era which was 220-280 AD. They were known as Kongming lanterns and were mostly used for sending military commands across great distances. The French were the ones that would really perfect hot air balloons as we know them today. The first manned flight of a tethered balloon would be in October 1783 at Versailles and the first untethered free flight would be in November of that year also at Versailles. Ballooning tourism would pick up in 1878 when Henri Giffard developed a tethered system that allowed passengers to view the Tuileries Garden in Paris from the air.
Erin: So, despite his nerves, Pawnee Bill decided that he would go through with the agreement. He really had to save face here. He climbed aboard the balloon on an autumn Sunday morning in 1894. The plan was for the balloon to rise, untether, and the two would float towards Holland before descending that afternoon and make their way back to Antwerp by night fall.
Anna: Now because it was Pawnee Bill and this noted French balloonist, who unfortunately his name has been lost to history, a very large crowd had shown up to watch the stunt unfold. Pawnee Bill remembered, “It was a great advertising stunt for the balloonist, just as great a one for me, and it would have ruined me and my show had I refused. My greatest difficulty was in getting Mrs. Lillie reconciled to my making the trip through the air.”
Erin: From what we can tell from newspaper reports, the get-away was perfect and the balloon sailed into the wind and towards Holland just as planned. During the flight, Pawnee Bill estimated that they traveled 5 miles into the air. Now, I don’t know if that’s possible because a normal airplane today travels at 26,000 feet which is just shy of that mark.
Anna: You know, maybe Pawnee Bill was just a really bad judge of distance because I think we saw that the highest a balloon could travel was 3000 feet, which is just over a half a mile.
Erin: The balloon continued on its set course until early afternoon before they tried to make their descent. That’s when the real trouble began…
Anna: The first descent of the balloon was aborted by the French balloonist. Pawnee Bill said that this first attempt almost ended with them landing in water, which he says would have been disastrous. The second attempt that was made would have landed them in the middle of an apple orchard that was thick with trees.
Anna: The balloon continued to dip lower towards the ground until Pawnee Bill was sure that they were going to crash land. The Frenchman eventually got enough ballast that they were able to float skyward again and save themselves from crash landing. The whole trip was a comedy of errors because it was discovered during the flight that the Frenchman did not speak any English and, of course we already know that, Pawnee Bill didn’t speak any French. So they were completely unable to communicate during this entire ordeal.
Erin: You think he would have known better because that’s what got him into this mess in the first place.
Anna: Please take your French interpreter with you, Pawnee Bill.
Erin: Everywhere you go take that French interpreter! When the balloon did finally land later that night, it was in the middle of a peat bog. The soft, spongy ground made it an easy landing and saved the men from injury, but trying to walk out of the bog proved really difficult. There were times when their legs sank completely into the soft soil and they had trouble getting out and in the darkness the two men had no idea what direction they were heading. It was at 2 o’clock in the morning that the two finally found a small town in Holland and were able to rest. It was estimated that they hiked over 14 miles from the peat bog to this final destination.
Anna: Somehow the next day, Pawnee Bill and the Frenchman finally made their way back to Antwerp by about noon on Monday. They were about 15 hours overdue and they found a very frantic crowd waiting for them. It turns out when they did not return that evening, search parties had been sent out to look for the downed balloon all around Antwerp. May Lillie was, understandably, in hysterics and it was said that the entire city of Antwerp was extremely concerned over what had happened to the two famous air travelers.
Erin: Pawnee Bill took two things away from his ill-fated balloon trip: a fear of hot air balloons and the memory of a dog barking, which is really kinds of strange to me. He said that he distinctly remembered that the only sound to reach the two while they were up in the balloon was the sound a dog barking. The memory was one that he always thought that he had imagined in his kind of hysterical state until he was reading a newspaper report about another balloonist who reported the same thing. That balloonist was on a different flight in roughly the same area, and he reported that the only sound that he could hear was the sound of a dog barking far below them on the ground.
Anna: Maybe it’s like stress induced trauma. Like that’s what he thought he heard was a dog barking when he was five miles in the air.
Erin: He was hallucinating and the only thing he could hear was a dog.
Anna: You would think that this experience would make Pawnee Bill shy away from anything to do with aircrafts. He became a very seasoned flier on airplanes during the later years of his life, often traveling all around the country using airplanes. He claimed though that his travels had made him hardened towards the idea of air travel, but it was always when he was thinking about his balloon trip would always “shivers would go up and down his spinal column.”
Erin: Well, Anna, we do have some news that we are excited to share with our listeners. The Pawnee Bill Ranch Podcast was recently named the outstanding educational program in our budget category by the Oklahoma Museums Association. Yay! So we will be presented an award at the OMA annual conference on September 27th at the awards banquet.
Anna: And we are also extremely excited to announce that our calliope was chosen as one of the top ten endangered artifacts in Oklahoma. You might remember back in May we had asked people to go and vote. We were originally in the top 25 but since then a panel of curators, preservation experts and archivists deliberated for about 6 weeks before the final list was chosen and we were just informed that our calliope was on that list. And we will also be recognized for our work in preservation at that same September 27th banquet.
Erin: We really appreciate your support and we thank you for listening. That will wrap up our podcast for this time. I am Erin Brown, Pawnee Bill Ranch curator.
Anna: And I am Anna Davis, Pawnee Bill Ranch Historical Interpreter. Thank you for listening and we will see you next time.
Anna: The Pawnee Bill Ranch is owned and operated by the Oklahoma Historical Society. For more information, go to www.pawneebillranch.com or find us on Facebook under Pawnee Bill Ranch and Museum.
Pawnee Bill Ranch
Anna: Welcome to the Pawnee Bill Ranch podcast! I’m Anna Davis, Pawnee Bill Ranch historical interpreter,
Erin: and I’m Erin Brown, Pawnee Bill Ranch curator.
Anna: Well, Erin, today we are going to focus on the life of one of the most wild and crazy Wild West Show performers that ever lived. He was one of the most important personalities associated with Pawnee Bill’s Wild West Show and with the Pawnee Bill Ranch itself...Mr. Jose Barrera or as he’s more widely known – Mexican Joe.
Erin: I’m so excited about today’s podcast because Mexican Joe is really a fascinating person and his story, you know, is sometimes an afterthought in discussions about Wild West Shows and the often larger-than-life characters associated with them. But he is important for several reasons and today we are going to discuss his biography in detail.
Anna: Now, before we talk specifically about Mexican Joe, We want to provide some context for Mexican Joe’s story, so we are going to talk a little bit about how the Wild West Show was one of the biggest cultural threads binding Oklahoma to Mexico from the 1890s-1920s.
Erin: That’s right, Jose Barrera “Mexican Joe’s” story is one really great example of a vaquero who facilitated the transnational process of cultural exchange between central Mexico, the border, Oklahoma, and the rest of the country. Along with cotton pickers, railway workers, coal miners, and vaqueros, Wild West Show performers comprise an important part of Mexican migration to Oklahoma.
Anna: Yes, and it can be safely said that Mexican migrants to Oklahoma made a significant cultural impact through their employment in the tent-show business. Pawnee Bill’s show featured a Mexican Hippodrome and had acts such as Riding Senoritas, Fancy Roping, the Mexican Contra Dance on Horseback, and a Mexican Band among others.
Erin: For example, the 1905 program state, “Our sister republic of Mexico is well represented in our world-including exposition. An excerpt from the 1895 program reads, “In Pawnee Bill’s Historical Wild West, one of the most interesting , not to say picturesque, features will be that devoted to Mexico and the Mexicans. It is safe to say that no more attractive colony has ever travelled or been seen by the American public before. The Mexicans dexterity with the lasso is truly wonderful. Their tricks with a lasso are so marvelous as to seem the work of a conjurer. “ That’s some pretty high praise in Pawnee Bill’s program.
Anna: Now, Mexicans were employed initially by Buffalo Bill when he started his Wild West Show. They mesmerized the audience with the warm-up acts of Mexican bullfighting – which were roping, riding, and catching with bolas. The most famous performer was Vincente Oropeza and he introduced the trick and fancy roping techniques from his native Mexico. Everyone who came after Oropeza is said to essentially re-fashion the acts he introduced. Will Rogers even credited Oropeza with inspiring his own routine. In 1900, Oropeza was billed as the Greatest Roper in the World.
Erin: So Jose Barrera followed in Oropeza’s footsteps and eventually became the most famous Mexican Wild West Show performer in the world. Unfortunately, we do not have any of Mexican Joe’s story in his own words. Sadly, there are very few interviews with him and so the information that we have to draw from is from second-hand information. Even the details of his birth are a little fuzzy. We have several different birthdays reported for him, but his headstone says that he was born in 1876, so we are going to go with that date. There are also different reports as to where he was born. Mexican Joe, when he was older, claimed to have been born on the U.S. side of the border, sometimes listing San Antonio as his hometown. However, during the off-season with the show, he spent considerable time in Monterrey. This, coupled with the fact that he spoke very little English suggests that he in fact, might have been born and reared on the Mexican side of the border. Some sources also suggest that he grew up on a ranch in Mexico.
Anna: There’s not a whole lot known from his early life. One of the things that makes Mexican Joe so hard to research are the numerous spellings and pronunciations of his name. Either Barrera or Barrero, and everything from Jose, Joe or Joseph...even John a few times. It’s very hard to find actual records on his life. As well as questions regarding where he was born, we’re not entirely sure who his parents were. On his 1905 marriage certificate, Jose called himself Joseph and listed his parents as Peter and Lucy Barrera. We do know that Lucy’s maiden name was Leoso and there is evidence that a branch of the Leoso family emigrated from Mexico to Bexar County, Texas (the area of San Antonio)and that was sometime in the late 1800s. Regardless of his citizenship, Pawnee Bill hired an 18 year old Joe in 1894. Legend is that Jose was delivering some show stock to Pawnee Bill in San Antonio and Pawnee Bill was struck by his skill in handling the livestock and his accuracy with a lariat. He also impressed just by his appearance as well.
Erin: Yes, apparently, Joe Barrera wore an elaborate leather outfit trimmed in brass. He was charismatic and striking looking – very tall, dark and handsome. Pawnee Bill saw something special in him. So before Pawnee Bill left San Antonio, he signed him on as a member of his Mexican Troupe. And just like that Jose Barrera became Mexican Joe.
Anna: Mexican Joe wasn’t as intricate a ropeworker as Oropeza had been, but what he excelled at as was unparalleled by anyone. He had a special skill at catching all kinds of animals and riding wild broncs. His acts included roping six (and some articles say maybe more) horses running abreast with one throw. He was also known for his ability to catch bison, and at one time, he even caught a runaway elephant. He seemed to have been the performer that would do absolutely anything that was asked of him as long as it was entertaining.
Erin: Right. We have so many records of him saving the day many times by catching and stopping out of control horses, run –away buggies and lassoing the many animals that escaped from the show menagerie. Now, he also participated in acts like the stagecoach robbery, and wagon train. As leader of the Mexicans, he probably acted as an intermediary between show administration and the other Mexicans in the show. He was an all-around performer, and soon became indispensable to Pawnee Bill. Their business relationship evolved into a very meaningful, life-long friendship between the two men.
Anna: Okay, so we know how Mexican Joe met Pawnee Bill but what about when Mexican Joe met the one great love of his life? Beverly, Ohio was a favorite place to winter the show between 1900 and 1911. It was there that Mexican Joe met Effie May Cole, an Ohio girl born and raised, and they were married in February of 1905. Supposedly, Joe told Effie’s parents that he would quit show business when he married their daughter, but the call of the road proved to be too much to resist. When spring came around and the horses and buffalo were loaded on the railroad cars, Effie and Joe went with them. Mexican Joe taught his new wife how to ride and she became a performer specializing in skills on horseback. Some of the acts she participated in were hurdle jumping, piloting four horses in the chariot race, the high-school horse act, and the “western ballet.”
Erin: Effie and Joe had one daughter, Mary Louise, about ten years after they were married. She was born in her mother’s hometown of Beverly, Ohio in 1915. Mary became really close to Pawnee and May and even lived with Pawnee Bill helping him in a secretarial type roll after May’s died. But, from all accounts and especially from route book entries that focus on Mexican Joe and Effie, it seems like they were this fearless couple. Mexican Joe is all the time getting hurt and then getting right back in the saddle. He was like a Wild West Show superhero- almost indestructible.
Anna: Wild West Shows were very dangerous and Mexican Joe experienced his fair share of calamites. Some of the entries describe him being bucked off horses, being thrown into the audience, being atop a run-away horse, having horses fall on top of him, and breaking bones. In September of 1898 alone, there are four mentions of him being dragged, bucked, and run over. Broken bones, bumps, bruises...he suffered through them all for the sake of the show that he absolutely loved.
Erin: Now, we always talk about how much we love the route books and they truly never disappoint and that is the case with the Mexican Joe stories. And one of my favorite little antidotes was in August 28, of 1900 the route book authors thought it was important to mention that a little baby donkey ate four of Mexican Joe’s shirts that were hanging outside on a line.
Anna: But he loved the show, he loved performing. Route books also once call him, “the most important man with the company.” He was a star and certainly someone that other cast members looked up to and tried to emulate.
Erin: Yes, he most certainly was a star and he also taught Will Rogers, the famous Oklahoma humorist, some tricks with the rope. The story is that when Rogers was with Ziegfeld Follies, Pawnee Bill’s show was in Madison Square Garden in New York City. Mexican Joe said that Rogers would come over to the Wild West Show to sort of pal with the cowboys between performances. Mexican Joe said that he taught Rogers to throw a large loop used in roping running horses.
Anna: When Pawnee Bill’s Show ended, Mexican Joe decided to keep traveling on the show circuit, joining the Miller Brothers in 1913 touring till about 1920. But then in 1921, Pawnee Bill made his friend an offer he couldn’t refuse: to settle on his buffalo ranch and work beside him as his foreman. He also offered Pawnee Bill companionship after his wife May died, he was Pawnee Bill’s assistance, and a genuine friendship. They regularly set together on the porch of the mansion smoking cigars, no doubt talking about the “good old days” with the show.
Erin: When Pawnee Bill died, Mexican Joe was the second designee on his will. He lived in a house on the eastern edge of the ranch, gifted to him by Pawnee Bill before he died. Mexican Joe continued to tend the Ranch until his health prevented it. His last performance was when he was 73 at the annual Pawnee Bill Memorial Rodeo on July 4, 1949. He hadn’t been on a horse in two years but he still managed to put on his charro costume and rope four horses running abreast while he was on foot. He was experiencing declining health and later that same year, he developed a really nasty case of pneumonia. The story is he really wanted to watch a western on television and so he got the doctor to delay treatment that day and he died later on November 16, 1949.
Anna: Pawnee Bill and Mexican Joe had a legendary friendship, one that really exemplifies the power of cooperation between Mexicans and Anglo-Americans in Oklahoma.
Erin: Mexican Joe’s story is just one of many that prove that Mexican migrants have enriched Oklahoma’s culture. Overcoming the anti-Mexican sentiment of his day, Mexican Joe created a home here for his family and he created a happy, successful life really on his own terms. He attained a worldwide reputation in his profession. He was a true master of his craft and he really can be credited with helping to elevate roping to an art form.
Anna: Now even today when we get visitors that remember the Ranch back in the 1930s and 40s, and when they talk to us it’s usually Mexican Joe that they remember the most. Most stories involve how he taught them how to ride their first horse here on the Ranch or how he would perform his rope tricks for the Pawnee School buses as they took students home after school. There are also stories about how he would abduct Pawnee Bill’s important visitors off the train in Pawnee and give them a true Wild West experience by being the bandito that held them hostage.
Erin: I love that!
Anna: There’s even the story of Joe selling, this is really bizarre, but selling tamale’s out of a cart in downtown Pawnee and at Old Town for a nickel a piece.
Erin: Yeah, I hear that all of the time from some of the people that remember Mexican Joe. What they remember was basically his horses and his tamales. He was truly one of the most unique characters that ever appeared in Pawnee Bill’s Wild West Show.
Anna: Well, that’s about it for this time. Next month we will be doing a spooky Halloween episode that involves one of our more famous artifacts: Pawnee Bill’s ghost painting. We will also have another extra special treat next month in honor of Halloween, but you’ll have to tune in next time for that. As always, I’m Anna Davis, Pawnee Bill Ranch Historical Interpreter
Erin: And I’m Erin Brown, Pawnee Bill Ranch Curator. Thank you for listening and we’ll see you next time!
Pawnee Bill Ranch
(Music: The Frogleg Rag)
Anna: Thank you for downloading the Pawnee Bill Ranch Podcast, brought to you by the staff of the Pawnee Bill Ranch.
(Music: Night on Bald Mountain by Modest Mussorgsky)
Erin: Welcome to the Pawnee Bill Ranch Podcast. I’m Erin Brown, Pawnee Bill Ranch Curator.
Anna: And I’m Anna Davis, Pawnee Bill Ranch Historical Interpreter. Do you hear that spooky music playing, Erin? The air is turning a little crisper each day, the leaves are changing color, and the Ranch Staff’s favorite time of year is here: Halloween!
Erin: Yes, we love Halloween around here! It’s always one of the big events here at the Ranch and also in the town of Pawnee. So, we thought it would be fun to talk a little bit about some of the spooky things here at the Ranch. Our topic today is one that is a little eerie, but is one of the fan favorites for anybody that visits the Ranch. No tour through the mansion is complete without a visit from our resident ghost. And he’s not just any old ghost either. He’s been in Pawnee Bill’s mansion for over 80 years and he comes out to greet every tourist, whether you get a chance to see him or not. It’s been said he’s the most reliable ghost in Oklahoma. Of course, no big old house is complete without a good ghost story.
Anna: Legend has it that shortly after 1936 a maid was coming up the main staircase of Pawnee Bill’s mansion and noticed something rather odd in the painting at the head of the stairs. What had been a woodland scene of two men hunting in a canoe was suddenly covered with the silhouette of a man. As the viewer moved from one side of the upper level to the other the silhouette of the man simply...disappeared.
Erin: Pawnee Bill was a showman and he understood the importance of a good story. From the time that he became aware that there was an image that had appeared in this painting, he would say that it a certain individual, in fact a very good friend of his...but I think we’ll save that until a little later in our podcast.
Anna: Yeah, we don’t want to give away too much too soon; but what about the painting itself? It’s long been rumored that the silhouette was done on purpose. Some have called it a trick painting while others have claimed that the ghostly image simply appeared one day. While there is no concrete explanation, we do know the history behind the artist himself. His name was Hal Morrison and his life is nearly as unusual as the painting itself.
Erin: Hal Alexander Courtney Morrison was born on Prince Edward Island, Canada on March 12, 1848. While there is no definitive biography of his life, we do know that he attended Harvard Medical School as a young man and studied to be a surgeon. After his time at Harvard he worked as a member of the medical staff of the Intercontinental Railroad.
Anna: When asked of his time at the Railroad, Morrison would remark “I did nothing but paint and fish, and finally abandoned my profession entirely to rove over the world and paint what pleased me.” It would be these woodland scenes, like fish and ducks and scenes of country life that would mark much of his career. After becoming dissatisfied with his career at the railroad, he quit working for them and decided to take himself on a little adventure.
Erin: It sounds so exciting! For the next seven years after he had left the railroad, Morrison traveled Europe and studied fine art in Paris. During this time, he became an avid hunter and fisherman and even took up the hobby of taxidermy to preserve the specimens of fish and wild game he caught and he used these as models for his later work. He studied oil painting and water colors at the European School of Art and found himself enjoying the life of an artist far more than he ever enjoyed being a surgeon.
Anna: And I can tell you through my art history class you learn that sometimes these surgeons make way better artists than other people.
Anna: Because they understand how anatomy works and how animals work and things like that. Morrison’s budding style was referred to as trompe l’oeil which means “deceive the eye” in French. The art technique involves using a realistic image to create an optical illusion. The artist uses forced perspective to trick the viewer into seeing a three dimensional image. Now, that’s complicated but the best way to explain this art form is to think about the old Road Runner cartoons where Wile E. Coyote would paint a tunnel on a rock wall to trick the Road Runner into smashing into the wall.
Erin: By 1882 Morrison had moved to the Atlanta, Georgia because of an undisclosed medical illness. Some sources state that the he was suffering from tuberculosis and the weather of Georgia was better for his condition than the cooler climates of Europe. While in the city of Atlanta, Morrison set up a studio that would become well respected throughout the city. He would teach students in both oil and water color and he became one of the city’s most respected artists. In 1884, Morrison married his wife Henrietta and they had two sons, Hal and Montford.
Anna: Now, Morrison was well known for his wild life portraits, which were usually of game birds and various fish. His paintings heavily featured various states of nature as well, such as trees, rivers, and flowers. I think we even have a jungle type scene in our collection.
Erin: Yeah, we do.
Anna: This love of nature was also fed by his other love: hunting. Many of the animals featured in his paintings were animals that he had personally caught and prepared. He was also an extensive traveler. Morrison spent much of his year traveling from place to place in search of tepid climates. His illness made it difficult for him to live in a place that had too hot of a summer and too cold of a winter.
Erin: He spent many of his later years in Florida until he was forced to move back to Atlanta in the 1920s to live permanently because of his declining health. He sought care at the Davis-Fisher Sanatorium and sadly he succumbed to his illness on September 30, 1927. We have multiple paintings throughout Pawnee Bill’s mansion by Hal Morrison and it is obvious that the Lillie family really appreciated his particular artistic style. From the Magnolia still life in May’s bedroom to the portraits of Pawnee Bill and May that grace the front entrance, Morrison’s paintings are an important part of our collection.
Anna: Right and none are more important than our ghost painting. It’s probably the most famous painting we have in our mansion.
Erin: That’s true.
Anna: Now, the ghost itself was not intentionally added to the painting as far as we know. From all accounts the painting of the two men in the canoe was perfectly normal when it was hung in the mansion in the 1920s. There’s no reason why Morrison would have added the image to it at that time.
Erin: It wasn’t something that he was known for.
Anna: Yeah. It wasn’t until the death of a famous cowboy entertainer that the silhouette got its now famous story.
Erin: Right. Remember back to the beginning of our podcast when we said that Pawnee Bill would always swear that the image that appeared in the painting was none other than Will Rogers. Will Rogers passed away on August 15, 1935 in a plane crash in Point Barrow, Alaska. Pawnee Bill would swear until the day that he died that the image that appeared in his painting was none other than his good friend Will.
Anna: And the image really looks like Will Rogers.
Erin: It really does!
Anna: The silhouette is wearing a long duster coat, he’s got a cowboy hat, and he kind of has this slouched stance, which if you’ve seen many photographs of Will Rogers during his lifetime he kind of took that stance while he was having his picture taken. And it’s right across the way from the Will Rogers Room in the upper level of the mansion and I think we’ve even had some Will Rogers relatives come through the house saying that yeah, it does definitely look like him.
Erin: Yes, but the painting was painted far before he died, so it wasn’t intentionally, you know, Will Rogers ghost put in the painting. The truth is we really don’t know how the ghost appeared or who it’s supposed to be but there is probably a really logical explanation. The most likely being that Morrison simply reused an old canvas and the subject underneath, a mystery subject, is kind of shining through in a certain angle. That’s not as exciting as Will Rogers personally greeting our mansion visitors though!
Anna: No and most mansion visitors want to believe that it is our ghost.
Erin: It’s true. It’s one of the things that everybody remembers when they leave the house.
Anna: It’s the one ghost story that we get to talk about.
Erin: That’s right!
(Music: Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach)
Anna: Now, one of the most common questions that we get asked when taking people on tours through the mansion is whether the house is haunted. I think I get asked that more than where’s the bathroom. They read things on the internet or even in books about our mansion and it kind of peaks their curiosity. So, what better time to address the issue of ghosts at the Pawnee Bill Ranch than during our Halloween podcast?
Erin: Yes, we’re going to kind of switch gears here and talk a little bit about how we personally feel about ghosts and spirits in general and the stories we have heard from people who have worked here in the past. Obviously we can’t prove or disprove the presence of ghosts, so we are veering away from our usual perspective of historical accuracy to personal experiences.
Anna: Now, I guess I’m a person who believes in ghosts. I like to watch ghost shows on television, and there are a lot of them out there. I mean, there are probably a dozen shows on television right now and since it’s coming up on Halloween there’s even more. I guess it’s because of the plethora of television shows about hauntings or these ghost clubs that are popping up everywhere that people are just really interested in the idea of spirits still hanging around the Ranch and they really want to know how we as a staff feel. We field questions about ghosts from paranormal investigators about doing investigations here at the Ranch probably about once a month.
Erin: It’s true. They call all the time. I can say that we have had a couple of paranormal investigative groups do investigations in the mansion with all of their technical equipment and I, honestly, have not been a fan of the process. I did not like it. I was present for each of them and each group detected, of course they find things, they detected some kind of spirit activity and both groups sensed a very negative force in the same room of the mansion on two different occasions. In fact one of the groups refused to get their equipment back out of this room because they said the energy in that room was adamant that they not return. So, my husband, Ronny, had to go in and retrieve their belongings. We have never had a group back and probably won’t in the future after that.
Anna: Now, what those people didn’t know that we did at the time was that someone, a relative of Pawnee Bill, had died in that particular room. You know, it’s a house that’s over 100 years old and it has had deaths that have occurred there. The death in that particular room was an elderly woman who was crushed when the ceiling fell on her. Because we knew this, and because we knew about the other deaths in the mansion, we were left feeling very uneasy and we never wanted to put ourselves in that position again.
Erin: Yeah, like I said before, I did not feel good about those groups, and I feel really silly saying this, but I felt like the Ranch was mad at me after that. I felt sort of embarrassed like I had let the place down by opening it up to that kind of exposure. Otherwise, I’ve never had a negative experience with the house or the Ranch. Everyone knows that I live here and my family lives here so I couldn’t function if I thought that the place was haunted. Another thing that happens is that we have psychics that come here or psychic groups. I have also accompanied several of those different groups and, you know, they almost always say the same things about the house and the feelings that they get and to be honest, it just makes me feel weird, like I am betraying Pawnee Bill and May and their family. And on another note every single psychic that has come through the house have told me that the spirits respect me and won’t do anything to disturb or scare me because they like me and they know my intentions are good. I’ve had another person tell me that my spirit is closed so I’m not open to receive messages from the dead. Make of that what you will.
Anna: I think it’s one of the oddest parts of our job. About every couple of weeks you get someone who senses something in the house and they want to tell you about it on your tour and it’s just very odd to be put in that kind of position. But I think what is important is that we do respect the house and the lives that Pawnee Bill and May and Billy lived and we don’t want to cheapen them in any way by saying that they haunt us. If they are still here we want them to be happy with the job we are doing and we don’t want to upset them by bringing in ghost busters. That being said, almost every person that has ever worked here has had an experience that can’t be explained. People and not crazy people either...
Erin: Regular, normal people.
Anna: Normal people just doing their jobs have seen people in mirrors, have felt someone brush by them, have seen movement out of the corner of their eyes, lights coming on and off, artifacts being moved, hair mysteriously appearing in combs, cold spots in the house, and general uneasiness kind of like someone is watching you. One of the most common things that I know I’ve experienced is the sound of footsteps coming from inside the mansion when you know you’re the only one in there or voices when you know you’re the only one on the park. I’m sure all of that can easily be explained because, again, it’s a very old house but when you hear it at the time it can be a very unsettling feeling. We have actually had several employees who refused to be alone in the house.
Erin: It’s true. I’m not one of them though. I actually love the mansion; I like to be alone in there. I get a really happy feeling while I’m in there. I think it’s a very lovely place to be. I think that what I can say is that the house does kind of have moods. It’s kind of hard to explain if you haven’t worked here before but we think of it sort of as a living being in a way and we do respect it.
Anna: I know some of the staff will say that people are going to think they’re crazy if they walk in because we talk to the house. We say good morning. We say good evening but we talk to it just like it is a living being. But I fully agree with what you’re saying and after a big group has been through the house, it would not be uncommon for us to say that, “the house is not going to be happy.” It has its little moods. It can be happy, it can be sad; it can be just neutral, where you just don’t feel anything at all. It’s nothing that we can explain really other than a feeling we get. But, Erin, I know that you have said that people have also referred to your house as being haunted...
Erin: Yes, now I live in what was originally Pawnee Bill’s garage or his carriage house. It was a bunkhouse for cowboys on the Ranch. It was remodeled to be a manager’s residence in the late 1960s and I’ve heard all kinds of stories about weird things happening in my house. Like people being pinned to their bed by unseen forces. Other people actually seeing ghost like figures. I can say I’ve seen or experienced nothing like that. I have had people who have stayed with us say that they think the house is haunted though. I just laugh it off. If I have ghosts, I just say they like me. I like them. We get along. We’re friends. We’re on good terms.
Anna: Yeah and I know there’s other buildings on the site that kind of have spooky stories attached to them and there’s also a lot of urban legends here in Pawnee itself. I know my mom always use to tell me stories about the Deer Lady haunting her house which is a Native American Legend. I’ve heard the museum has a resident ghost in it...which I’ve never seen. I’ve heard that one of the cases is supposedly haunted, which I’ve never had experiences with that.
Erin: There is a case that I will not go in. I can say that.
Anna: And there have also been stories about people, or images, being seen walking about the Ranch at night, which again, I’ve never seen before but that’s what I’ve always heard. The bottom line is that we are dedicated to doing the best thing for the Pawnee Bill Ranch. As historians it is our duty to interpret not only the happy things in life but also difficult subjects like dying and death. The best way to do that is with tact and factual information. We feel that it is in the best interest of both the site and the employees not to do paranormal investigations because they don’t really add anything to our ongoing mission. Proving that Pawnee Bill’s ghost is in the house is not going to add anything to your experience here. And I really like to put it this way when tourists ask about ghosts in the house; I say that this is Pawnee Bill and May’s house. These are their things. We’re just taking care of it for them, so even if they are still around, they’re happy with the job we do.
Erin: We hope that answers some of your questions about paranormal activity at the site. Thank you for joining us for our Halloween themed podcast. We are working on a couple of great topics for upcoming podcasts including one on Pawnee Bill and May’s son Billy and also one on the Judy family, and there are some really good stories involved just in that family. The Judy family inherited the Ranch after Pawnee Bill died. These are shaping up to be some really fun and interesting episodes. If you have any suggestions for future podcasts, please feel free to share them with us on our Facebook page under Pawnee Bill Ranch and Museum. We also want to take this time to remind our listeners that on Oct. 26th, one of our favorite events is taking place at the Ranch. Our Ghost Stories tours will be from 6:30 to 9:00. We have really great story tellers in different rooms of the mansion telling ghost stories. It’s a really fun time to see the mansion as you’ve never seen if before because it’s really creepily decorated and lit entirely by jack-o-lanterns. So call us at 918-762-2513. Only children 9 and up only please. As always, I’m Erin Brown, Pawnee Bill Ranch Curator,
Anna: And I’m Anna Davis, Pawnee Bill Ranch historical interpreter. We are going to leave you today with a poem by the great gothic poet Edgar Allan Poe, which is one of the authors featured in Pawnee Bill’s library in the mansion. And as always thank you for listening and we’ll see you next time!
(Music: The Great Crush Collision by Scott Joplin)
Anna: Spirits of the Dead by Edgar Allan Poe.
Thy soul shall find itself alone, ’Mid dark thoughts of the gray tombstone–Not one, of all the crowd, to pry, Into thine hour of secrecy. Be silent in that solitude, Which is not loneliness–for then the spirits of the dead who stood, In life before thee are again, In death around thee–and their will, Shall overshadow thee: be still. The night, tho’ clear, shall frown- And the stars shall look not down from their high thrones in the heaven, With light like Hope to mortals given–But their red orbs, without beam, To thy weariness shall seem as a burning and a fever which would cling to thee for ever. Now are thoughts thou shalt not banish, Now are visions ne’er to vanish; From thy spirit shall they pass, No more–like dew-drop from the grass. The breeze–the breath of God–is still–And the mist upon the hill, Shadowy–shadowy–yet unbroken, Is a symbol and a token–How it hangs upon the trees, A mystery of mysteries!
(Music: The Froglegs Rag)
Anna: The Pawnee Bill Ranch is owned and operated by the Oklahoma Historical Society. For more information go to www.pawneebillranch.com or find us on Facebook under Pawnee Bill Ranch and Museum.
Pawnee Bill Ranch
Anna: Thank you for downloading the Pawnee Bill Ranch Podcast, brought to you by the staff of the Pawnee Bill Ranch.
Erin: Welcome to the Pawnee Bill Ranch Podcast! I’m Erin Brown, Pawnee Bill Ranch curator.
Anna: And I’m Anna Davis, Pawnee Bill Ranch Historical Interpreter.
Erin: Today we are going to tell you a story about a family. Every family has a story. Every family has stories of tragedy and illness and unrequited love. But the Judy family is fascinating and compelling and sad and so central to the Pawnee Bill Ranch that we wanted to dedicate this podcast to them.
Anna: Now I think on the surface it’s a pretty straightforward story that many people know. In fact, many people in Pawnee still remember Effie Judy from the time that she lived at the Ranch. However, it was in doing research on the different branches of the Lillie family that all of these strange, and sometimes heartbreaking, stories started to appear about the Judys. There are stories of a tragic suicide, multiple strange and sudden deaths, with a visit from our old friend tuberculosis mixed in. There’s even an international pandemic that plays a part in this story. All of this combined has had us calling the family The Tragic Judys.
Erin: The Judy family has long fascinated us. Part of our mission at the Pawnee Bill Ranch includes a dedication to interpreting and preserving history as it relates to Pawnee Bill. So we really have an obligation to understand where he came from and both the family he originated from and the family that he created. His sister Effie was an important figure in his life and he no doubt loved her and her children and wanted the very best for them. The fact that Effie cared for the mansion and the entire collection as a kind of museum after Pawnee Bill died and the fact that her son Albert engineered the sale of the estate to the State of Oklahoma makes it necessary that we understand them as people.
Anna: And it’s really hard to look anywhere at the Ranch and not see something of the Judys. In the archive, in the house, it’s just really difficult to do that. And I think it’s possible that I know more about Pawnee Bill’s family than I know my own, simply because it’s our job. The people related to Pawnee Bill are more than characters or historical figures. They’re more than people you read about, or hear stories about. These people were very real and they’re very real to us. They were whole people with rich and complex lives and their stories shed light on what life was like here in Pawnee and all over the country. Their stories teach us about what life was like 100 years ago the struggles and trials and tribulations that people went through in that time.
Erin: Yeah, and more than that, too, their lives have the potential to teach us about ourselves. But before we get too much further, I think it’s beneficial to say that this family named their children after other members of the family so there are a lot of Williams, Marys, Alberts. We are going to do our best to eliminate any confusion between family members during this podcast but the potential for confusion is pretty great here.
Erin: Effie Judy was born Effa May Lillie on April 29, 1868 in Bloomington, Illinois. She was the third of four children that would be born to Newton and Susan Lillie, the other children being Gordon William (who became our Pawnee Bill) in 1860, Albert in 1866 and Paulina Mary (known as Lena) in 1872. The family enjoyed a comfortable life in Bloomington until the flour mill which the family owned burned. After salvaging as much equipment as they could, the entire Lillie family relocated to Wellington, Kansas, which is just outside the city of Wichita, where they had relatives already living.
Anna: It was while the family was living in Wellington that Effie would meet a man named William Judy. William Henry Judy was born on October 8, 1846 in Gilmer, Illinois to William and Mary Lawless Judy. His father died when he was just a toddler and after just two years of marriage and after that tragic event, Mary and her toddler son moved to be nearer to her family. The two lived with the Lawless family on their farm in Quincy, Illinois where William would learn different farming techniques. He also began a teaching career at the age of 16 to help supplement his agricultural income and that love of teaching would continue all throughout his life. Sometime in 1886, William was advised to go to Kansas by his doctors to give his health some time to improve.
Erin: We seem to run into this a lot when we do research. There are these mysterious undisclosed illnesses that send people searching for climates that will help their health and what that is, is usually a sign of tuberculosis. We even have this running joke that when one of us gets sick at work, “it must be the TB.” But, Kansas at that time was gaining a reputation as a climate that was suitable for people suffering from the illness. Of course back then, doctors were just beginning to understand that tuberculosis was caused by bacteria. Most people believed that rest, relaxation, fresh air, and good food would cure you and prolong your life. So, we are going to assume that when Effie and William met that he was already suffering from TB.
Anna: Right and of course now we know today how to treat and cure TB and it’s not something that we here in America come into contact with regularly, but back in the late 1800s, that was a different story. Having TB wasn’t an automatic death sentence. As long as the person that was suffering from the illness stayed relatively healthy, they could live a very long life. A person would normally contract the illness through long term exposure in close quarters. If you have a good immune system and you were rarely sick, then the disease, even if you have it, will remain dormant. At that time in American history, though, nearly 10% of the deaths recorded each year in America were attributed to tuberculosis.
Erin: How Effie and William met in 1886 has not been recorded. From a family history, it states that while in Wichita William made Effie’s acquaintance and they were married on November 23, 1886 in Paloma, Illinois at William’s family residence. There was a 21 year age different between the new bride and groom, but from all sources their marriage was a very happy one. 1886 was a busy year for the Lillie family as Pawnee Bill and May had been married on August 31st and Albert married his wife Gertrude on September 1st.
Anna: The newlyweds settled in Honey Creek Township, Illinois. It was there that they would have four children: Ethyl Mary was born on January 6, 1888, Inez Kate (otherwise known as Ina Kate) was born on August 28, 1889, William Blaine (known as Blaine) was born on October 18, 1892, and lastly was Albert Schley born on July 25, 1899. In 1901 the family moved from their farm in Honey Creek to a home in Coatsburg, Illinois where they lived with William’s mother, Mary Lawless.
Erin: William Judy was very active in politics, helping many of his Republican friends run for office while he never held political office for himself. He owned a hay and grain business which was extremely successful and he was the Coatsburg School Director for many years, which was truly his biggest passion in life. It seemed that he was a very likable man, well respected in the Coatsburg community. Sadly, he passed away on January 16, 1905 at the age of 58. He left behind Effie a young widow and four small children. By the time William would die in 1905, they had been married for 19 years and there is no evidence that any of the Judy children or Effie herself ever contracted tuberculosis. His death would be the first of many tragedies that would fall upon the Judys in the coming years.
Anna: Right and the next tragedy would happen fairly quickly for the family and there’s nothing like the next devastating tragedy in this family’s story that puts the last one in perspective. After the death of her husband, Effie sent her three oldest children to live in Oklahoma. Albert was very young at the time and she felt that it was best if he stayed with her in Illinois while she sorted out her husband’s estate. So, Ethyl, Ina Kate, and Blaine moved to Pawnee in February of 1905 so that they could start school and get settled into what would become their new home. What happened on October 27, 1905 would shock the entire town of Pawnee. In fact, it made front page news that day. In fact, people still tell the story today.
Erin: I don’t think anyone described the incident better than the writer for the Pawnee Courier-Dispatch. The headline read “Inez Judy, a 16 Year Old School Girl, Takes Carbolic Acid and Death Ensues.” How much more dramatic can you get? Ten months after the death of her father, Ina Kate took her own life. The paper stated that the death was “the result of deliberate self-destruction.” She was described in this article as “a child that was bright far beyond her years, high strung, with a strong religious turn and almost perfect courtesy and manners, and tender hearted to the extreme.”
Anna: At the time the children were living with their grandparents, Susan and Newton Lillie, at their home here in Pawnee. Susan and Ina Kate shared an extremely close bond and it was assumed that the children were all adjusting to their new home with little problem. However, on the afternoon of October 27th, Ina Kate came home from school and joined the family for dinner. With them that evening was Lena Lillie Driesbach, the youngest Lillie child, and her husband, Charles, who was a doctor for the Pawnee Tribe.
Erin: Ina Kate finished dinner before the other members of the family and excused herself presumably to do work for school the next day, which was nothing out of the ordinary. The family continued their meal and conversation when Ina Kate entered the room a short time later and stood calmly next to Susan until the adults finished speaking. It was then that she made the announcement “Grandma, I have taken carbolic acid.” Susan apparently asked “Ina, did you make a mistake?” to which Ina Kate replied “No, I want to die, as I can’t get my lessons at school.”
Anna: Now, just let that sink in for a second because I know there are probably people wondering how she got carbolic acid in the first place. Carbolic acid is known today as phenol. We still use it in modern medicine, particularly in chloroseptics which you would take for a sore throat or in lip balm like Carmex. Back in 1905, carbolic acid was used as an antiseptic for minor wounds. In fact, some companies advertised it as a way to get rid of common colds.
Erin: In small doses.
Anna: Small doses. So, it wasn’t at all uncommon the carbolic acid would have been in the household. Death by carbolic acid is particularly gruesome. It affects the central nervous system causing seizures, comas, and dysrhythmia and can actually cause chemical burning if used in large enough quantities.
Erin: It’s definitely not a good way to die. As soon as Ina Kate made her statement to her grandmother, Dr. Driesbach knew how dire the situation was. The newspaper describes what followed…”Dr. Driesbach glanced at her and instantly saw her condition, sprang to her and over her strong protest laid her down and forced a glass of medicine down her. In less than a minute from the time she first spoke, she became unconscious and perhaps would have died instantly if not for the medicine Dr. Driesbach gave. She had taken about an ounce of carbolic acid that was in the bottle on a shelf in the kitchen.” We are going to assume that Dr. Driesbach probably gave her ipecac syrup, which was commonly used to induce vomiting, but in Ina Kate’s case, obviously it was too late.
Anna: I love these old newspapers because they don’t leave anything out.
Erin: No, it’s all in there.
Anna: Now, despite Dr. Driesbach’s best efforts, Ina Kate passed away shortly after the incident. A note was later found on her dresser which she had written after she left the kitchen table. It was addressed to her grandmother, Susan, and said “Tell mother that Ina is alright. I am in Heaven with Papa.” It was a painful event for all involved, and we do plan to do a later episode on the life of Lena Lillie, but I think it is worth noting that shortly after the death of Ina Kate, Charles and Lena Driesbach divorced. Now, this tragic situation understandably put a strain on the entire family.
Erin: Ina Kate’s story is so unbelievably heartbreaking. I can only imagine being 16 and being so far from home after the death of a father that she was obviously very close to. Ina Kate was adored by her family. She was beautiful – in the pictures we have of her she is blond with this really sweet face. What drove her to kill herself in one of the most horrific ways is unknowable really. But at the same time, her story has threads in it that weave itself into almost all stories of teen suicide. She thought her situation was hopeless. She was depressed, she was away from her mother, her father had been sick a long time, and now he was dead. She had to move far away from her friends. Her grades were suffering. She was sensitive and probably a perfectionist. All of that combined must have seemed overwhelming to her and I just wish that we could go back and tell her that it would have all been alright if she had just given herself what she needed most and ultimately could not and that was time.
Anna: Now, Ina Kate’s story really sheds some insight into a problem that’s really as old as time itself. We tend to think of teen suicide as being a new phenomenon, but it really isn’t. Approximately 8500 people committed suicide ca. 1910. We don’t know how many of them were teenagers, but it’s safe to say that a fair number of them were. In 2010, there were approximately 4,000 suicides by teenagers. And poisoning was the most popular method of suicide by women. For some reason around the time of Ina Kate’s death, October was a month plagued by a disproportionate number of suicides. Her story represents two really sad statistical truths. Now, there is always a lot of embellishment and lore that surrounds tragedies like this, and I remember when I first started working here at the Ranch I would hear rumors of a girl who had killed herself inside Pawnee Bill’s mansion. Supposedly she died in the sitting room upstairs on the fainting couch after drinking poison. Of course after doing research on the subject, we know that’s not true. Ina Kate died at her grandparent’s home in Pawnee and the mansion itself wasn’t built until 1910.
Erin: We don’t know how the death of Ina Kate affected Effie Judy – but we can assume she was traumatized by the shocking death of her beautiful smart daughter. We can assume she never fully recovered. And she no doubt suffered from guilt and depression herself. But it does seem that between 1905 and 1920, there was a period of relative calm that came to the family. Effie officially made her home in Pawnee and the surviving children seemed to be adjusting and happy in the town. Ethyl became a school teacher in Quay, Oklahoma and married a man named Glen Dickey sometime around 1913. They lived in the area for a while before moving to Colorado and later on to the Pacific Northwest. The Dickey family did suffer a few tragedies along the way though. Family history relates that the first child of Ethyl and Glen, a girl named Alfrada died in infancy in 1914 however; there are no records that we can find of this little girl’s birth or death. Ethyl and Glen would also lose a son named Frank in 1942 at the age of 20 in a car accident. Their remaining three children all survived to adulthood and have living decedents.
Anna: Now that leads us to the eldest Judy son, and my personal favorite, Blaine. I have always been drawn to Blaine’s story and his life has so many dramatic and compelling turns in it. Blaine was very active in Pawnee social circles in the 1910s. Whenever there was a social gathering of young people, Blaine was usually front and center. After graduating from Pawnee High School, Blaine attended the University of Oklahoma. He graduated on June 10, 1915 with a Bachelor degree in Zoology. He was also an active member of the Sigma Nu fraternity during his time at the university. He then moved to Hazelton, Pennsylvania to study medicine at the Hazelton General Hospital.
Erin: After the outbreak of WWI, Blaine joined the Army as a nurse in 1917. He never served overseas, but he helped soldiers at bases in both Pennsylvania and New York City. It was in these Army hospitals that he would come into direct contact with one of the worst pandemics the world had seen since the outbreak of the Black Death in the Middle Ages. By the time the Spanish Flu was finished, nearly 6% of the world’s population was dead.
Anna: Now the Spanish Flu, despite its name, actually began here in America at Ft. Riley, Kansas. Because of troop movements during WWI, the disease hit pandemic levels very quickly. Within seven days the flu had spread from Kansas all the way to New York City and beyond. The illness was particularly devastating for young men and women that had healthy immune systems like the soldiers that had been training for war. It would cause what is called a cytokine storm or an overreaction of the body’s immune system which was actually surprisingly fatal. The illness started out like a regular flu with general aches and pains and fever, but when black spots would start to appear on the sufferer’s cheeks, people automatically knew that it was the extremely violent strain that was killing so many people. Interestingly enough, it was this same strain, the H1N1 virus, which would be the cause of the 2009 flu pandemic, which would kill 18,000 people worldwide. We know it today as the swine flu or the bird flu. And interestingly enough, as well, it was said that it started at Ft. Riley because they were raising pigs and chickens for the soldiers to eat.
Erin: That’s crazy. For a young medical student like Blaine being exposed to this kind of situation was like a trial by fire. Strong young men, soldiers like him, were dying around him and there was the very real threat that he himself would catch the illness. He would have played an integral part in supporting the medical staff at Mount Vernon Hospital in Mount Vernon, New York. In this teaching hospital, Blaine would complete his studies and finally become a doctor in 1920. On December 23, right before Christmas in 1922 he married New York native Eva Ethel Myers and it seemed like he was living a charmed life. Here Blaine was a physician and he was also strikingly handsome. Unlike Ina Kate his sister, Blaine had really dark hair and a really beautiful face for a man – I mean movie-star good looks. There’s a reason you’re in love with him.
Anna: I love Blaine so much.
Erin: And Blaine was in love himself, a newlywed.
Anna: We all know what’s going to happen next. Unfortunately, on February 19, 1923 Blaine Judy died. The newspaper in Pawnee simply reported his death in passing, stating that his mother was on her way to New York for the funeral. Family history relates that his death was the cause of an illness and while we don’t exactly know what that illness was, after the pandemic that had so recently swept the world, it is certainly worth considering that this relatively healthy 30 year old newlywed might have succumbed to the flu. He was buried in Pine Plains, New York in a family plot owned by his wife’s family.
Erin: Again, another crushing blow. Poor Effie Judy – to have two of her children die in the prime of their lives is just unimaginable. Back in Pawnee, the youngest member of the Judy family was starting his married life as well. Albert had recently gone to school to become a pharmacist and he operated a drug store for much of his adult life. On June 29, 1924, Albert married school teacher Hazel White in Prague, OK and they settled in Henryetta until 1945 when they moved back to Pawnee. Hazel and Albert moved in with Effie who was residing in Pawnee Bill’s mansion, keeping it up as an unofficial museum and tribute to her brother’s life.
Anna: Now the house had actually been offered briefly to the Boy Scouts of America but they decided that it would cost too much money for upkeep and they could not accept it. So they gave it back to the Lillie family after that. Effie took control of the mansion after a brief court battle with her brother, Albert, and she invited many children in the surrounding area to come and experience Pawnee Bill’s mansion. She hosted church camps for girls. She loved to have children in the house. They would play croquet on the front lawns and hosting sleep overs in Pawnee Bill’s den. Many children in Pawnee remember helping her polish the silver in the kitchen or cleaning the cut glass collection or playing on the wagons down at the barn.
Erin: By all accounts, Effie was devoutly religious and gave much of her life away in service to the church. It is my assumption that Effie’s faith was the probably the only thing that enabled her to function. She was pious and generous and from everything we’ve seen, a loving and devoted mother and community member. So having Hazel and Albert live with her was probably a time when she felt happy and contented. Unfortunately, there would be more sadness. Hazel and Albert never had children and Hazel suffered from multiple sclerosis and epilepsy for much of her adult life. It would be that illness that would claim her life on April 2, 1958. Hazel had just returned home from the hospital where she was being treated for her condition, which had taken a sudden turn for the worse. She had been in declining health through much of that year and was confined to a wheelchair. While she was bathing, Hazel had a seizure and drowned. While this event was extremely sudden and tragic, it would be the last incident of that kind of misfortune to fall upon the Judys.
Anna: Effie Judy died on May 15, 1958 at the age of 90. Albert would remain at the mansion briefly and when he married his second wife, Ruth, later in the summer of 1958, they moved into a smaller home on the Ranch property which had been built next to the park entrance. Albert never had children of his own, but he did become a step-father to Ruth’s two children when their marriage occurred. It would be Ruth and Albert that would sell the mansion to the state of Oklahoma in 1962. The sale would mark the first time the Ranch was open to the public as an official museum and it has remained that way ever since. Albert Judy would pass away on November 30, 1975 at the age of 76. And he was the last of the Judy children to still be alive.
Erin: We basically owe the Judys our livelihood Anna, if it weren’t for Effie Judy and her son Albert, we might not have jobs, – and there might not be a Pawnee Bill Ranch. It just makes you wonder if the devastation Effie suffered in her life didn’t make her cling to objects a little more tightly. When our loved ones are gone, all we really have are our memories and objects can serve as tangible connections to the past and to the people we loved. Perhaps Effie realized the power of place and the power of preservation in creating meaningful ties to history. Whatever her reasoning, we are forever grateful for her forethought and her sense of responsibility to the community and to the future. The Ranch is in a way, a tribute to the Judy’s as well.
Anna: Now before we wrap up this podcast on the Tragic Judys, I think we need to mention one more tragic event that was related to us by a Judy family member. Hazel was a doting aunt to her niece and nephews and her niece remembered a story about her grandmother being killed when the ceiling fell in inside the mansion. That room was supposed to have been the Buffalo Bill Room. As of this recording, we have not been able to authenticate that this event occurred. In our last podcast, we talked about how the paranormal investigators detected negative energy in the room, but the research is ongoing into this subject and if we find anything about it, we will certainly update our listeners in a future podcast. Now, next month we will be talking about a subject that we get a lot of questions about here at the Ranch. On December 17th, 1916, Billy Lillie was born in Kansas City, Missouri. He was born into a rather unique situation and the story of his death has become quite a legend itself. We will be talking about his life, how the Lillies adopted Billy, and we will also answers some of the questions and rumors surrounding his tragic death.
Erin: That’s all for now, thank you. I am Erin Brown, Pawnee Bill Ranch curator.
Anna: And I am Anna Davis, Pawnee Bill Ranch historical interpreter. Thank you for listening and we will see you next time.
Pawnee Bill Ranch
Music: Frog Leg Rag
Anna: Thank you for downloading the Pawnee Bill Ranch Podcast, brought to you by the staff of the Pawnee Bill Ranch.
Music: Jingle Bells
Erin: Welcome to the Pawnee Bill Ranch Podcast. I'm Erin Brown, Pawnee Bill Ranch Curator.
Anna: And I'm Anna Davis, Pawnee Bill Ranch Historical Interpreter.
Erin: Well, Anna, the Christmas season is fast approaching and while the mansion is beautifully decorated thanks to some local volunteers, this time of year is just always a little bittersweet for us. We talked last time about how the history of the Lillie family just sort of pulls you in and you really start to care for the people that lived here on the property. I think this is especially true when we talk about Billy Lillie, who was born on December 17th, 1916. His life is sadly overshadowed by the tragic way in which he died but he was incredibly bright and vibrant for someone so young.
Anna: We want to warn everyone to have some tissues handy because this is going to get a little intense. Billy's death is so well known and talked about and there are a lot of rumors and some misinformation that surround him. We've recently begun to change the way we educate the public about Billy because we believe that he is so much more than his death. Part of that has been in response to the amount of questions that we get about Billy on a regular basis. And Erin, I can't tell you the number of parents I've had on tour wanting me to tell their children how Billy died so that they don't make the same mistake. I think a much better way to think about it is tell your children about Billy's life so that he can be a role model because he was just such an amazing person. So, today's podcast will be focusing on the life and death of Billy Lillie.
Erin: Right, and since we've changed the way we educate about Billy, I think we've also had a lot of people take us aside and tell us that they appreciate that we don't just automatically tell about how he died.
Erin: So, there are two sides of that story. But right off the bat we are going to address one of the biggest tales surrounding Billy and that is whether or not he was involved with the Orphan Train. There is this persistent rumor that Billy was adopted by Pawnee Bill and May during an Orphan Train stop here in Pawnee. I mean, I've been here almost 14 years and when I first came here, that was what we were telling the public. That is even written in Pawnee Bill's official biography and it's just completely fabricated.
Anna: Yeah, it was one of the first things I heard when I started working here too.
Erin: Yeah! The Orphan Train, just to give you a little bit of context, was a child welfare program that was started in 1853 as a way to send children from crowded cities such as New York and Boston out across the nation in hopes of being adopted. It was a way of disbanding these street gangs of children that had become a problem in some of America's largest cities on the East Coast. It's estimated that nearly 250,000 children, that's a quarter of a million children, were relocated by the time the program ended in 1929.
Anna: Now the Orphan Train was not a pleasant experience. The conditions on the trains were described as being little more than cattle cars where children, ages 6 and up, would be watched in groups of 30 to 40 by an adult. At each stop these children would be lined up for prospective parents to look at and if they were lucky, they would be adopted. These children would do whatever it took to be adopted. They would sing, they would dance, and they would just try to charm these people into taking them home with them; basically begging these parents to give them a chance. Very often siblings were split up and they were not reunited for many years and some children were even used as indentured servants by the families that had taken them in. It's truly a tragic piece of American history that not many people know about.
Erin: Right. And we know that Billy was adopted when he was 4 weeks old by Pawnee Bill and May. Any child under the age of two did not make the grueling journey on orphan trains simply because they could not care for themselves. So, as far as Billy being a member of the Orphan Train, we can say definitively that this did not happen. However, Billy's birth happened in a place that by modern standards is kind of nearly as absurd to think about. Today births you know can happen anywhere, at a home or in a hospital, but Billy was born in what was known as a maternity sanitarium.
Anna: Now I know what we're all thinking and we are not about to have a visit from our old friend tuberculosis. There is actually a difference between the words sanatorium and sanitarium. They are both used to describe places where people with long term illnesses could go, but a sanitarium usually refers to a place that was kind of like a health spa. So, it had your spas and your saunas and places to relax; while a sanatorium was generally the term used for places where people with mental illness or a physical illness would be treated. Erin: Okay, so we're going to kind of set a little scene here. It's 1916 and you are a 15 year old girl. You've recently found that you are pregnant and you are unwed. What in the world do you do? There was at the time a number of cure all medications that proclaimed to cure. And I'm going to put these words in air quotes because although they don't come right out and say it they allude to the termination of a pregnancy. Okay, so these medicines would claim to be able to fix, and I'm putting these in air quotes too, "irregularities" and "obstructions" as well as help these women who were "temporarily indisposed", but these so called medications contained some extremely dangerous ingredients like pennyroyal and tansy and paste of lead. In fact pennyroyal was extremely toxic and led to many deaths from women who had taken it to induce a miscarriage and ended up bleeding to death as a result.
Anna: Now Erin, we love podcasts.
Erin: Oh, yeah.
Anna: We love listening to them and we love recommending them to each other too. And there is a wonderful podcast out there called Sawbones which explores the weird and wonderful world of medical history. I would highly recommend giving it a listen if you are interested at all in the history of medicine. It's fascinating. They have a saying over at Sawbones and they say when it comes to these cure all drugs from the turn of the century. If the item claims that it cures everything, it probably cures nothing.
Erin: Right and does some damage as well. There were other options out there for unwed mothers too. We're going to put up just a disclaimer right now. We are going to talk very, very briefly about the sensitive subject of abortion. We're not giving our opinions; these are simply historical facts and we think it is important to know the history behind abortion because it tells us a lot about women's history and medical history, as well as changing cultural and social norms.
Anna: Now abortion has a long history. It goes pretty much back to the beginning of time. When you start looking into the topic they usually start around Ancient Rome and Greece. But for our purposes we focus on the early part of the 20th Century. In America at that time, abortion was highly illegal and not to mention incredibly dangerous. That's not to say that you couldn't find a good doctor for the right amount of money, but for most women the practice was incredibly traumatizing. Before 1930 abortion practices were probably more dangerous than actually giving birth to the child. Most of these people who were performing abortions were not licensed. They probably weren't doctors. They were just doing this to make some money. It was estimate that of the 150,000 abortions that occurred between 1900 and 1930, about 1 in 6 of those women died as a result.
Erin: Let's just let that sink in for a minute. 1 in 6 women who attempted to have an abortion died. That is an extremely frightening statistic. And it speaks to the incredible desperation felt by many women at the time. Now on the other hand, what happened in other circumstances was that the unwed mother carried the child to term and gave birth. They might keep the child but for those mothers that could not support the child nor had any support of their own, they would often times give the child up for adoption. There were any number of ways to do this but the one that is more important to our story are maternity sanitariums. You know you've always heard those stories about in the olden days women being sent off to tend to their elderly aunt for approximately 9 months and then they would return home looking maybe a little worse for wear but as crazy as that might sound, it's actually the kind of secrecy in how these places operated.
Anna: Right and Billy wasn't born in just any regular maternity sanitarium. He was born at the Willows Home at 2929 Main Street in Kansas City, Missouri. This place would see between 25,000 and 35,000 births and adoptions during its operation and it was referred to as the Ritz or Waldorf Astoria of maternity homes. If you found yourself residing there, your family could be expected to pay upwards of $1000 towards your room and board. Now that's not a lot of money by today's standards, but what cost $1000 in 1916 would cost $20,800 today. It was elite, it was comfortable, and most importantly, this place could keep a secret. Privacy for these young women was so important that when the home finally closed in the 1960s, every record of births and adoptions was taken from the facility and burned by staff members.
Erin: Good grief. So much history lost right there too. But let's think about that money. That is almost $21,000 today. Can you imagine just how badly a family would want to hide a pregnancy to spend that kind of money?
Anna: I can't even imagine my parents sending me away if I was expecting and some of these women were, you know, my age, 27 and 28 years old. It's really just a sign of times that these women were living in. Erin: Yeah. The Willows Home was built in 1905 and it was a pretty unassuming white Victorian home. It was sponsored by the Catholic Church and it was run by a man named Dr. John W. Kephner, who was the chief obstetrician. Beneath him was a veritable army of nurses, maintenance men, assistants, secretaries and superintendents that kept the enormous operation running smoothly. The Willows Home would take in girls of all ages from all around the country. They did have woman as young as twelve and as old as 27 as patients, but most of the young women there were between the ages of 15 to 19.
Anna: Now when a woman was sent to the Willows Home, she would arrive at Union Station in Kansas City, which was just a short walk away from the maternity home. These women would usually arrive in the very early days of their pregnancy, before they were beginning to show in any way, and they would stay there until about three months after they had given birth so there would be no signs of the pregnancy they had just gone through. If you could not make the short walk to the Willows from Union Station, a limousine would be sent to pick you up. Once you were a patient at the home, however, you were not allowed to leave and you would have very little contact with the outside world. Usually the only time these women would leave the facility was if their families came to Kansas City for a visit. And this was all in an effort to hide the fact that these unwed women were pregnant.
Erin: Despite the isolation, the Willows Home was very luxurious. The doctors encouraged patients to have daily massages to help with the aches and pains of pregnancies, regular exercise was a must to keep their bodies in shape, and there were also steam saunas and private rooms. I'm kind of thinking I wish I was at the Willows Homes during my pregnancies. During its heyday, the Willows housed 100 mothers and 150 babies at a time and demand to stay there got so high that the nurses worked to create an outdoor nursery where children would sleep in cribs under a canvas tent. Anna: Yeah, there's still pictures that survive of that today and it's really amazing to see.Erin: And since there was a full team of doctors at the home, many women would also give birth there. If there was a medical emergency during delivery, the women were sent to a local hospital, usually St. Anthony's, where they would care for the mothers in a larger facility. Anna: And it's important to remind people listening to this that these children were not orphans. They had parents and were placed up for adoption. Unlike most facilities, the Willows had a reputation of placing their children in homes before they turned one year of age. Their method was extremely simple…during the holidays they would send out postcards to prospective parents which would advertise the number of children that they had up for adoption. The Willows also took extraordinary lengths to ensure that the adoptive parents were "matched" to their children. So, to explain this…Erin, you know the holiday season is coming up and you and your husband have decided that three is not enough, we're going to have our fourth.
Anna: So you hop on the train, you go to Kansas City; you go to the Willow's Home. You go into their front parlor and the nurses there have picked out three children for you to view. They would show you the children one at a time and these children would be matched to your physical characteristics. So, the first child might have your blonde hair and your husband's brown eyes. The next child might have his dark hair and his dark eyes. And the last child might look more like you. And of those three you were expected to pick which one you wanted, so as the child grew up, it was feasible that it could have been your biological child.
Erin: No one ever had to know.
Anna: No one ever had to know. Usually when the nurses presented you with these three choices, it was the first one you picked. The first child that they showed you was the first one that was usually picked. Interestingly enough, little girls with blonde hair and blue eyes were usually the most widely requested adoptees.
Erin: On January 11, 1917, the Pawnee Courier Dispatch reported that Pawnee Bill and May had left Pawnee for a brief holiday in Kansas City. Now, let's look at that date there. January 11. It's very feasible to assume that the Lillie's received one of these postcards from the Willow's Home during the holidays.
Anna: A baby would make a great Christmas present. Erin: A baby would make a great Christmas present. The very next week an article appeared in the January 18th, 1917 edition which said "Major and Mrs. Lillie Adopt a Son." The article stated "Major and Mrs. Lillie made a trip to Kansas City last week and returned with a bright eyed baby boy. They went to the Willows Home and adopted the little fellow who is just four weeks old. This will be a splendid home for this little one and we hope that he may ever be strong and well and a source of great pleasure to his new parents." Surprise! The Lillies had kind of fooled everyone with their brief vacation and adopted a baby son.
Anna: Now it wasn't a surprise to anyone though that May had pined for motherhood. She had a child about one year after she and Pawnee Bill were married, but all we really know about this baby was that it was a boy and he died when he was about 6 weeks old. We believe he is probably buried somewhere in Kansas, either in the town of Caldwell or the town of Wellington. The baby was reportedly very large and May later stated that she had to undergo "a surgery" that made it impossible for her to carry any more children. Now, we have always assumed this surgery was a hysterectomy and it happened when she was still fairly young.
Erin: Yeah, like nineteen.
Anna: Yeah. May had filled her life with the excitement of show business and of running the Ranch, but she really longed for a baby. So, imagine how happy she was to have this beautiful baby boy that was now hers to raise as her son.
Erin: Yeah and his given name was Gordon William Lillie Jr., but he was always called Billy. Pawnee Bill and May truly loved Billy as if he were their own. They loved him so much! All you have to do is tour the mansion and see the toy room to see that Billy was adored. There are so many photographs that survive of Billy and he probably had every kind of toy and game and book he could have wanted. We are so fortunate to have so many of Billy's drawings and his notes and homework as well. It was really obvious that the Ranch captured his imagination. From everything we have seen Billy was a normal, funny, smart, little boy who loved to play and spend time with his friends. He was well known to his father's show business friends who referred to him as Pawnee Bill Jr. or the Lieutenant.
Anna: I love that. Pawnee Bill was the Major and Billy was his Lieutenant. One of my favorite Billy items is a poem that he wrote for penmanship class when he was in the first grade. We found it recently tucked inside of a Bible in the mansion and I think it shows just how much he loved his parents. It says, "I am thankful for each little bird, for every flower that blooms, for summer with its sunshine, for winter with its snow. I am thankful for my mother dear."
Erin: Very sweet. It's incredible how much love was in that house hold. Through photos we can see that he had a special bond with his mother. They are always looking at one another, holding hands, and just enjoying each other's company. With his father he always looks so handsome and grown up in his suit and bowtie. We have photographs of Billy playing dress up, pretending to be Sherlock Holmes while on vacation. They took him to Coney Island and Philadelphia and showed him parts of the world that even some adults never saw in their lifetime. He got to meet governors, well known artists, and Wild West show stars. He had a pet alligator, bison, horses, dogs, a black bear, chickens, and coyotes. It must have been so exciting to grow up on this Ranch with everything that Billy had and experienced.
Anna: Now one of the neatest things that we have had happen recently is a visit from one of Billy's childhood friends, Don Stolz. Mr. Stolz now lives in St. Paul, Minnesota and is the creator and owner of the longest-running dinner theater in the United States, the Old Log Theater. His father was a Methodist minister and Mr. Stolz's actually oversaw the United Methodist Church which is here still today in Pawnee. The Stolzes only lived in Pawnee a few years before his father was reassigned, but Don had fond memories of living in Pawnee. You actually recorded an oral history with him when he visited the Ranch back in June of 2011.
Erin: Yes, I love Mr. Stolz. It was a great thrill to talk to him. Just a little backstory, his children were taking him through this pilgramie of his boyhood. His sons were driving to everywhere he had lived where his father had been a minister. And I was really inspired by his pilgrimage through the memories of his boyhood at the age of 90 and wanted to interview him as he was the only person still alive that I know of that played with Billy in the mansion. One thing that really stuck with me from that interview was his recollections of Pawnee Bill and May and Billy as a family. We often describe the Lillie's in terms of what they did rather than who they were, and to hear them described as this loving family unit was very moving for me. Don remembers family dinners, and this cracked me up, because he was really insistent that every time he visited they served him creamed carrots and he hated creamed carrots! But he ate with the family a lot of Pawnee Bill would pick him up at the parsonage and drive him to the Ranch in his big car and it made an impression on him that stuck with him his whole life. He remembers, and this again meant a lot to me, that the Lillies were a happy family. Don loved the wild freedom that came with having a friend live at the Ranch. They just ran all around – they played in the barn – Don remembers specifically playing with the electric train. He loved that train so much.
Anna: And that's kind of where he then segwayed into a conversation that we both really enjoyed because of its tenderness and really its fondness. Don told you that Pawnee Bill and May never let Billy plug the train in because they were concerned for his safety. And he remembered being fascinated by the idea of electricity and the potential awesomeness of having the train run on its own around the track, but the little boys were mindful of the Lillies and they obeyed their wishes. We both thought it was just so poignant that they were so protective of Billy and his little friends. Even today looking at that train it's still so easy to imagine little boys crowded around tracks, playing with them and pushing those trains around them. I think it's very obvious from the condition of the little trains that they were very well loved and played with a lot.
Erin: For sure. That's really a bittersweet memory because we all know what happened to Billy and his accident. Don Stolz was still living in Pawnee when Billy died and he also had vivid memories of attending his funeral and sitting in the living room of the mansion, lined up with the other little members of their 3rd grade class, but we will talk more about that tragedy in a minute. One reason that we felt really strongly that we wanted to do this podcast, Anna, is because we feel that Billy in the past has been reduced to simply a death story. Just this tragic tale. We feel like that really cheats Billy and it is a disservice to Pawnee Bill and May and their family. He was a little boy who lived life fully and was loved abundantly. He had friends, he loved to draw pictures of the mansion and the buffalo, and he loved to dress like a cowboy and ride his pony, named Ribbon. He liked to pretend to write checks on his dad's old "Two Bills" era Wild West Show checks. Every night he slept with a rag doll he had named Brownie. He was kind of a little corker. He loved his parents and he was from everything we've seen, beautiful inside and out. We can learn a lot from Billy about life, and not just death.
Anna: Now, Billy was extremely bright and he loved to act. There are multiple retellings in the newspapers about Billy being in plays both at school and at church and he always had the starring role. It seemed that he was gearing up to follow in his father's footsteps. He liked the spotlight and it seemed that he was very friendly and personable with everyone in town. Billy's life was such that his birthdays were reported in the newspapers. An article in the courier times and dispatch reports on the occasion of Billy's 8th birthday: "Billy Lillie entertained some of his little friends at his home on Blue Hawk Peak last Saturday...The afternoon was made merry with various games, featured with a number of cowboy stunts, and daring acts of the Wild West. Refreshments were served and favors given and all had a jolly good time. The guests were Donald Stolz, Frederick Stolz, Orville Hornbaker, Jack Cash, A.J. Wilkerson, Gertrude Wilkerson, and Mary Barrera."
Erin: Awe! That's so sweet. But I think it's pretty common knowledge for people who are familiar with the Pawnee Bill Ranch what happens to Billy just three months after his 8th birthday. The Pawnee newspaper describes the tragedy as follows: "The people of Pawnee were shocked and dumfounded last Tuesday afternoon when the words that announced the shocking and accidental death of little Billy Lillie were heard on the streets. How little we know of the things that are in life's pathway just ahead of us. Only a few hours before the untimely death of our friend Billy, he was in our office on his way home from school, his bright little face reflecting the happiness of both his home and school life."
Anna: Ugh, it's just so sad. There are a lot of rumors that surround his passing, but I think it's important that we need to set the record straight. About 5:00 on the evening of March 31, Billy was playing with a rope on the windmill tower. He had grown up seeing rope tricks and Wild West Show acts, and no doubt had probably played "cowboy" his whole life, as little boys usually do. The newspaper reports that he tied one end of the rope around his neck and the other end to the windmill tower near the ground. Some people speculated that he was playing like he was a calf or a horse tethered to a fence. But, eventually he climbed up to the first cross beam of the tower, which was above his head only a few feet and fell on the opposite side of the cross beam, from which the other end of the rope was fastened. Now, it's possible he believed that the rope was long enough for him to reach the ground, because it was just short a few inches, but whether he fell or accidentally jumped thinking he had enough rope, his neck snapped. The housekeeper in the mansion discovered Billy a short time later and called the doctor, but it was too late. Dr. Haddox reported that his death had been instantaneous.
Erin: Pawnee Bill and May were understandably heartbroken and May later said in a newspaper interview, "I don't know why it's so easy for me to win the applause of multitudes but so hard just for me to be a mother." She had wanted him so much and of course, we know, they didn't have any other children. Billy's service was held in the home, with Don Stolz's father Fred officiated along with Rev Rudy Ziegler and he was interred at Pawnee's Highland Cemetery. His 3rd grade class led the funeral procession from the home all the way out to the cemetery.
Anna: That thought just gives me chills. Erin: Yeah.
Anna: Now, it's just such a difficult thing to talk about and to think about. No one really wants to think that an 8 year old can passed away in such a tragic way. It's also very hard for the staff to talk about sometimes because Billy isn't just a little boy who died nearly 90 years ago. Inside that mansion, it still feels like Billy is there. Playing on that windmill tower was something that he had probably done a hundred times in his life and in one moment everything changed. People have such an emotional response to this story. I think it's the emotion behind it that almost does Billy a disservice because we want to make this event so much bigger than it was and in reality it is simply about a little boy who was using his imagination and playing…and the unthinkable happened.
Erin: Right. The following Christmas, the Lillie's bought a mausoleum for Billy's present. The previous year, his present had been a train that had come all the way from Philadelphia and in 1925, they were building him a mausoleum. There is a quote from Pawnee Bill that always gets to me and he is explaining why they decided to build the mausoleum, "That was all we could give Billy this year. I think he didn't mind lying on the hill all summer, but we could not leave him out there when the weather was cold and all the flowers were dead. And, after all, he had to have a Christmas present."
Anna: Apparently, being without their boy that first Christmas was too much for the Lillies to bear and they packed up and headed south to San Antonio where they wouldn't be reminded of the cold and they could take some time to themselves to continue healing. But, they eventually returned to Blue Hawk Peak, and you have to think that their home was never truly the same again. There were happy times in the years after Billy's passing, but when you look at all of Billy's items that the Lillies preserved its apparent that he was never far from their thoughts.
Erin: Yeah and it's kind of like we're taking care of him still. I mean, we clean his toys; we file and document his papers. We set out, like right now at Christmas, we set out his Christmas drawings with little fake cookies for Santa from him. I like to smile when I think about Billy and the precocious little boy that he was. And most importantly, Anna, we remember Billy. I think we remember him as he and Pawnee Bill and May would want him remembered. As a beautiful boy who lived fully and died tragically, who was adored in life and cared for and loved even after his death.
Anna: I like to play a little game with history where I ask myself what if. What if a certain event had turned out differently? How would that have impacted history? I know when we were preparing for the Mexican Joe podcast we talked about what we thought Billy would have been when he grew up. And we pretty much agreed that he would have been a star. He would have been a man just like his father and who knows how he could have changed the world with all of his youth and energy and imagination. But I think the most lasting tribute to Billy is the one that his parents left him. Tucked inside that Bible in the mansion, along with his poem written about his mother, were two other items. One was a postcard picture of the bison grazing on the hill at Pawnee Bill's Ranch. The other was a newspaper clipping, yellowed but it was still in pristine condition. It simply says…"In Memoriam, of our dear little son Billy Lillie, who left us March 31, 1925. How we miss you every day. Mr. and Mrs. G.W. Lillie."
Erin: We hope that this podcast makes you think about Billy and the Lillie family a little differently. We hope that it also reminds you to hold those you love just a little tighter. We want to wish you a Merry Christmas from the Pawnee Bill Ranch. I'm Erin Brown.
Anna: And I'm Anna Davis. Thank you for listening and we will see you next time.
Music: 1920s Christmas Medley (First Noel/God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/Auld Lang Sine) Music: Frog Leg Rag
Anna: The Pawnee Bill Ranch is owned and operated by the Oklahoma Historical Society. For more information, go to www.pawneebillranch.com or find us on Facebook under Pawnee Bill Ranch and Museum.
Pawnee Bill Ranch
Anna: Welcome to the Pawnee Bill Ranch Podcast. I'm Anna Davis, Pawnee Bill Ranch Historical Interpreter.
Erin: And I'm Erin Brown, Pawnee Bill Ranch Curator.
Anna: Above the Black Hills of South Dakota, a group of workmen began their day by climbing 506 steps to the peak of the mountain. Miners, sculptors, rock climbers, they were men who never thought for a moment about the monumental task they were about to undertake. Every day they worked, using dynamite to blast away the thick granite face of the mountain. Every day they used jackhammers that would rattle their bones to powder to give life to faces made of stone.
Erin: The work was hard, the dust was thick and merciless, the noise was incredible and many quit after one day on the job. It wasn't really the fact that they were suspended on the side of a mountain, held there by two thin cables and a wooden seat that drove them away. For many, the very personality of the man that was running the project was too much for them to handle. He was a gruff perfectionist with a swift temper who never minced words but it was in his great imagination that one of the icons of the American identity was born.
Anna: I am extremely excited for our subject today, Erin. I love art and I love art history and I find myself taking time out of my day to study the artwork in Pawnee Bill's mansion. There is something so special about the sculpture of Pawnee Bill that sits in the living room today. It was done by American artist Gutzon Borglum and you can see the perfection that he strove for as well as the thought that went into every single piece of the bust. In a way you can see a lot of the same style that went into the carving of Mount Rushmore, which was being carved at the same time as our sculpture.
Erin: I agree. I think Borglum's bust of Pawnee Bill is one of our most special artifacts, and I like that we're taking this opportunity to talk in depth about the artist who created an artifact that figures so prominently in our collection. Besides, Borglum is just a hoot. His life is crazy! We thought it would be hard to top the lives that the Judy family led, but I think that Gutzon Borglum might very well give them a run for their money. He was described by his contemporaries as an outspoken individual. He was egotistical. He was an idealist who was critical of those that did not share in his high standards of art. He had very firm opinions about how the world worked and at the core of the story I think you will find an artist with a tortured soul, just constantly striving to be the best that he could be. He was a critically acclaimed sculptor who reveled in the highest praise but then saw everything fall apart as he took on projects that would become larger than life.
Anna: The epitaph on his tomb in Los Angeles, California gives him this tribute: "His birthplace was Idaho. California first taught him art. Then France who first gave him fame. His genius for the exquisite as for the colossal gave permanence in bronze and marble to moods of beauty or passion to figures of legend and history. As partier he stripped corruption bare. As statesman he toiled for equality in the rights of man he made the mountain chant remember. These giant souls set America free and kept her free. Hold fast your sacred heritage. Americans' remember. Remember!" That's…quite a statement.
Erin: Oh, my.
Anna: And as we talk about him, you'll realize how odd some of these statements really are.
Erin: It's like, who's buried here? That is a monumental epitaph. I told you before mine is going to say "Here lies Erin Brown. The laundry is done." Not remember Americans!
Anna: Remember! So, today, we are going to be discussing the crazy life and legacy of one of the greatest American sculptures of the 20th Century…Mr. Gutzon Borglum.
Erin: We do have a warning before we start this podcast though. Gutzon Borglum's life was full of controversy and he was not always the most politically correct individual. We are going to be covering some very contentious topics in today's podcast such as the Ku Klux Klan, the use of sacred American Indian land in the building of Mount Rushmore, and Mormon polygamy. We're not giving personal opinions here, we're just giving historical fact.
Anna: Gutzon Borglum was the son of Danish immigrants. His father, Jens (sometimes known as James) Borglum, had immigrated to the United States in 1864 shortly after the outbreak of war in his native Denmark. And I was unable to find what war that was, but it just said the outbreak of war. From the family papers of Solon Borglum, Gutzon's younger brother, it is stated that instead of participating as a soldier in this war, Jens married Ida Caroline Mikkelsen, a woman from a very educated German family, and the couple moved to the U.S. to better their prospects. Shortly before moving to America, Jens and Ida were introduced to the Mormon religion by missionaries and they became converts. Jens spent his entire life traveling from place to place, filled with a wanderlust that was never satisfied. This would put a strain on his family in later years, but they spent a good deal of their time moving around the American West. As soon as the family was settled in Nebraska in 1864, Jens became a practicing polygamist. And he moved his family Utah and Idaho where he could practice polygamy among other likeminded individuals.
Erin: Jens's second wife, Christina Mikkelsen, was the sister of his wife Ida. They were literally sister wives. Christina and Jens were sealed to each other in the Salt Lake Endowment House on November 25, 1865. John Gutzon de la Mothe Borglum was born to the couple on March 25, 1867 in St. Charles, Idaho Territory. The only other child born from this union was Gutzon's brother Solon, who was born on December 22, 1868 in Utah. By 1871, Jens had decided that he wanted to leave the Mormon church and move to Omaha, Nebraska. Once the decision was made, Jens took his wife Ida and his eight children with him, leaving Christina alone behind in Utah. This traumatic event left a long lasting mark on the life of young Gutzon. None of the Borglums were associated with the Mormon religion after this break from the church. In fact, both Gutzon and Solon would invent stories about their early lives to completely eliminate the fact that they were born as the result of a polygamist relationship.
Anna: And there's no evidence that Gutzon ever saw his birth mother again.
Erin: Wow, that's really sad.
Anna: It is really sad. And understandably Gutzon's childhood was an unhappy one. He started at the age of five to run away from home for short periods of time and while he was running away he would work different jobs to support himself. Here's where the historic record differs from actual fact. Some sources state that he was enrolled in a boarding school in Kansas at this time while other sources state that the entire Borglum family moved briefly to California. Whatever the situation was, it was around the age of 16 that Gutzon himself settled in California. There is a lot of information that is hazy when it comes to Gutzon's early life. People said that he liked to tinker with his own legend when he was still alive. He would take years off his age and change the story of his birth and who his parents were and he would just try to create a better story. He had this drive within him to make himself something more than what he was and that ambition was what followed him through his entire life.
Erin: While in California, he started to study art full time. His father had been a woodcarver in his early life before becoming a doctor and that time spent as an artist really influenced both Gutzon and his brother, Solon. He excelled at his craft and the work that he produced while living there really showed his drive to give his all when it came to art. He fully embraced this California lifestyle and started submitting his works to magazines and showing in galleries alongside his contemporaries like William Keith and Virgil Williams. They drew their inspiration from nature and the American West and Borglum would come to idealize American heroes.
Anna: Now one of the artists that he formed a partnership with was Elizabeth Jaynes Putnam (known to her friends as Lisa). She was a divorcee who was 18 years his senior. She was a painter in her own right and she took Borglum on as a protégée and began to manage his career. In 1889 love blossomed and Gutzon and Lisa were married and around this time he started to paint portraits of high profile individuals like General John C. Fremont. This led to connections to people like Theodore Roosevelt and Leland Stanford, who was the founder of Stanford University. Gutzon realized that to be an artist, you had to have wealthy patrons, because you couldn't make enough money just out on your own. His entire life would be spent trying to get these influential people to give him money so that he could continue on with his work.
Erin: Shortly after their marriage, the Borglums moved to Paris in search of academic training. In the world of art, if you wanted to be an up and coming "it" artist, you had to go to Europe. Several of his paintings were accepted into the 1891 and 1892 Paris Salons, which were like these big art showings. Lisa began exhibiting her works in Spain at the same time. The outlook was very bright for this couple, but the competition in Paris was intense and finding paying patrons was proving incredibly difficult. To make matters worse, this was putting a strain on his marriage to Lisa and their marriage began to suffer. In the early days, they had a mutual respect for each other based on passion for art and their talent, but as Gutzon began to grow more skilled in his craft, he realized that he was unhappy and he and Lisa separated in 1901.
Anna: It's very sad, and I don't want to say that Gutzon Borglum was an art snob…
Erin: But he was.
Anna: But he was an art snob.
Erin: And he thought that he was getting a little too good for Lisa.
Anna: Exactly. Borglum was about to meet the man that would influence his career for the rest of his life though. His brother, Solon, had established an extremely successful career as a sculptor in America. Some say the reason why Gutzon quit painting in order to focus on his sculpting was to capitalize on his brother's success. Basically, he's Solon Borglum, I'm Gutzon Borglum, I'm just as good. And he really wanted to prove that he was the better of the two, and that sibling rivalry would kind of spur them on for the rest of their lives. During the waning years of his marriage to Lisa, Gutzon met famed sculptor Auguste Rodin in Paris. To say he was motivated would be an understatement. Rodin's style of sculpting gave Gutzon the inspiration that he would carry with him for the rest of his life.
Erin: In 1901, Gutzon boarded a boat back to the United States to continue his sculpting career. On the boat, he met a woman named Mary Montgomery. Mary was the daughter of Christian missionaries and she had grown up in Turkey. She had just completed a Doctorate in History at the University of Berlin, one of the first women to do such. She was known as the most accomplished woman in the world in Oriental languages and she was fluent in Arabic, Greek, Egyptian, Hebrew, Sanskrit, and Turkish. I mean, she was amazing. It was love at first sight, and although Borglum was still married, the pair became inseparable. It was a relationship built on shared passions and Gutzon was really attracted to her intelligence. She had a beautiful mind! Mary would say later that Gutzon was the man that she could always argue with, sometimes successfully.
Anna: I guess that's what makes a successful marriage…if you can argue and sometimes be right. Mary Ellis Borglum Vhey, his daughter, described her father as literally being shot out of cannon when he arrived back in America in 1901. He was inspired. He sculpted and designed 100 statues for Saint John the Divine in New York City. He was chosen to carve the Lincoln statue in the Rotunda of the United States Capital. He was the first living artist that the Metropolitan Museum of Art had ever purchased from during his life time. He also won the Logan Medal of the Arts, surpassing his brother Solon in success as was his goal. So he actually did beat his brother! In 1908, he won a national competition which placed his carving of General Philip Sheridan in the middle of Sheridan Circle in Washington, D.C. After this carving won the contest, an art critic was stated as saying that "as a sculptor Gutzon Borglum was no longer rumor…he was a fact." He also had a legendary temper that would rear its ugly head from time to time. The St. John's job ended when Borglum smashed the casts of angels that he was making after he was criticized that they were too 'lustfully attractive'.
Erin: Oh my goodness.
Anna: That's like a five year old! Like, I'm going to take my ball and go home now.
Erin: Tantrum, tantrum! That would be a theme that followed him throughout his career. St. John's would not be the last time he smashed his original works.
Anna: Oh, no.
Erin: On May 20, 1909, Gutzon married Mary after being granted a divorce by his first wife, Lisa. The pair would have two children, Lincoln and Mary Ellis. Borglum bought a house and farm in Stamford, Connecticut which the growing family named Borgland. Borglum believed that his new house and fame gave himself the legitimacy that he had never had growing up. The Stamford years were the happiest for the Borglum family. Gutzon himself is quoted as saying "I built my soul a home." And we both commented about how much we loved that quote. Everybody's soul needs a home!
Anna: Especially for a tortured artist. But the weird thing is, I can't find any information about Borgland today.
Erin: Yeah, Borgland is like vaporized.
Anna: So, if any of the listeners out there know anything about Borgland in Stamford, Connecticut, please let us know because we would like to know what happened to this property. Now, in 1915, The United Daughters of the Confederacy chose Borglum to carve a monument to Robert E. Lee on Stone Mountain in Georgia. Borglum had always been very vocal about his views on "nativism". And nativism was a big ideal at this time in American history. He believed that being an American meant that a person was born of American parents. It seemed like his belief completely was separated from his own experience. He disliked immigrants, even though his parents had been immigrants from Denmark.
Anna: He admired what groups like the Ku Klux Klan stood for and he even joined the organization briefly during his time in Georgia. The KKK was actually the main financial backer of the Stone Mountain project.
Erin: That's unbelievable. I think that his dislike of immigrants is definitely grounds for some psychoanalyzing, but he, you know, he made many choices throughout his life that were questionable. Borglum had radical ideas when it came to people of other races and we don't have any way of knowing if he was actively discriminating against people or held prejudicial views, or if he just felt like the KKK was an opportunistic thing. Some people have suggested that his joining of the KKK was simply a way for him to bond with his patrons and possibly get more money.
Anna: Now, it was said that he did have a black chauffer during much of his life and the man was very long suffering. But they said that he didn't really discriminate on him because he was black. People said that he simply didn't have time for anybody, white or black, because unless they had money to give him for his art, he didn't have time for you.
Erin: Yeah, there's probably a lot of truth to that. If you had money, he probably liked you. The original plan for Stone Mountain was for Borglum to carve a 20 ft. high bust of Robert. E. Lee on the side of the 800 ft. rock face. Borglum accepted the commission, but he told the assembly "Ladies, a twenty foot head of Lee on that mountainside would look like a postage stamp on a barn door."
Anna: How do you tell your backers that? They're giving you money!
Erin: He knew best! The idea was morphed into a high relief frieze of Lee, Jefferson Davis, and Stonewall Jackson leading a legion of troops. It was the largest carving done since the age of Rome.
Anna: Stone Mountain had its problems from the very beginning. The carving was stopped by WWI and Borglum found it incredibly difficult to trace the figures onto the massive stone face he was working on. So he had actually had to develop a magic lantern that was large enough to project his sketch onto the mountain. On June 23, 1923 the first cut on Stone Mountain was made by Borglum and on January 19, 1924, Lee's head was unveiled, just in time for the General's birthday.
Erin: Stone Mountain began to run into financial difficulties and Borglum's personality created tension between himself and the Daughters of the Confederacy. He was a perfectionist who demanded that his way be the only way. He drove workers away from the sight and caused a lot of trouble for the financial backers. In March of 1925, Borglum smashed his plaster models once again and left Georgia.
Anna: He took his ball and went home.
Erin: The project did continue, although sculptor Augustus Lukeman began his work by clearing the site of all of Borglum's sculpting. Despite the fact that he did not complete Stone Mountain, Borglum used his knowledge gained at the site for his next big project: Mount Rushmore.
Anna: In 1925, he moved to Texas to work on a monument commissioned by the Trail Drivers Association that honored the men that had worked on the Western trails. Although the cast was completed in 1925, he had no money to complete the project. I believe the project was finally done in 1940, however. He lived in the Menger Hotel in San Antonio, Texas, which was where a lot of the artists of that time were kind of congregating at and he set up an artist's studio there. We know that the Lillies enjoyed wintering down in South Texas and it's highly likely that they met Borglum while on vacation in San Antonio. And San Antonio was actually where Pawnee Bill's bust was created in 1932. He also worked very briefly on plans to beautify the Corpus Christie waterfront, but that plan was never realized. In fact, Lincoln in later years would go through and carve the statues himself and he would place them on another mountain in South Dakota. It seemed that Gutzon was on a downward spiral until South Dakota state historian Doane Robinson reached out to Borglum with an interesting idea…let's carve a sculpture on the side of a mountain to promote the state's tourism.
Erin: Now that's a big idea!
Anna: That is a big idea.
Erin: I love this guy's thinking outside of the box. The sight of Mount Rushmore was originally known by the Lakota Sioux as Six Grandfathers. The mountain had been seized from the Lakota during the Great Sioux War of 1876, even though an earlier treaty had deeded the Black Hills region to the Lakota in perpetuity. That's kind of sad story that repeats itself throughout our American history.
Anna: It really is. And that's where a lot of the controversy of Mount Rushmore comes from today.
Erin: Yeah, because it was the religious land for the Lakota and the choice of Mount Rushmore it's still controversial. On March 3, 1925 Congress authorized the Mount Rushmore National Memorial Commission and President Calvin Coolidge insisted that along with George Washington, two Republicans and a Democrat needed to be portrayed on the mountain. Borglum chose Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln for their contribution to American history and for their place in American history.
Anna: Didn't hurt that Teddy Roosevelt was his friend though.
Anna: Between October 4, 1927 and October 31, 1941, Borglum, his son Lincoln, and 400 unskilled workers carved the 60 ft high faces of the four American presidents on the sheer rock face. The project was mammoth and Borglum was his usual cranky self during the time. He demanded perfection from his workers, he scaled the rock faces of the presidents himself, and he changed things as he went, which meant more work for everyone involved. He would run workers away, he would yell at them, he would fire them without though and that would leave his son Lincoln to chase the men down and beg them to come back because they needed these men to complete the project. These men were suspended over the edge of the mountain on thin cables. They were blasting with dynamite. They were pounding away with jackhammers held in their hands as they were suspended over that huge distance.
Erin: That's crazy to think about.
Anna: These men were loyal to the Borglums, and amazingly enough, there wasn't a single fatality during the Mount Rushmore project.
Erin: That's unbelievable.
Anna: The entire operation ran over budget, leaving Borglum to constantly beg for money from Congress, from the state of South Dakota, from different backers. He even mortgaged Borgland a few times to simply continue on. The financial stress added to his moods and the entire time he worked on Rushmore, he worked on other commissions to keep a steady stream of money flowing in. Basically, if someone had the time and the cash, he would carve them.
Erin: George Washington was revealed to the public on July 4, Independence Day, 1934. The face of Thomas Jefferson had to be moved after 18 months of carving after the granite proved too soft to continue the project. His face was blasted away and moved to its current location and it was dedicated on August 30, 1936. Abraham Lincoln, Borglum's personal hero and namesake for his son, was dedicated on September 17, 1937. And Theodore Roosevelt, his friend, was dedicated on July 2, 1939. The original plan for the mountain was to carve full bodies for each president. I mean, can you imagine? But there wasn't enough money for that. What was supposed to have cost $100,000 ended up costing a whopping $989,992. Borglum swore to keep going, even if he had to fund it himself. He was obsessed.
Anna: He loved Mount Rushmore so much.
Erin: He did.
Anna: On March 6, 1941, Gutzon Borglum died in Chicago following complications from surgery. His son, Lincoln, was charged with completing his father's work. Lincoln worked for a few months on refining some of the features of the presidents. He fixed Lincoln's lapel, he did some work on the eyes and the mouths but he decided that his father's master work to remain as it was. On October 31, 1941, Lincoln Borglum ended the work at Mount Rushmore and declared that the monument was complete.
Erin: Mount Rushmore is no doubt Borglum's greatest legacy and it stands as a testimony to the creative vision of one of America's most talented sculptors. Fittingly, the piece is not without controversy, much like the life of the artist that created it. We are reminded of Borglum every time we see that beautiful bust he created of Pawnee Bill and the fact that he and Pawnee Bill's lives converged and resulted in one of the most amazing works of art in our own collection is fascinating.
Anna: That's right. And I would highly suggest that if you want more information on the Mount Rushmore project and about Gutzon Borglum, I would definitely suggest watching the American Experience episode on Mount Rushomre. It was produced by PBS. You can watch it online. There's footage of them carving the mountain. They talk to some of the workers on the mountain. They also talk to Mary Ellis Borglum Vhey, who was his daughter. It's a really fascinating topic. There's a lot that we couldn't include in today's episode because it would have gone way too long. But as always, we thank you for listening to our podcast. I'm Anna Davis.
Erin: And I'm Erin Brown, We hope that you are all enjoying a great start to your New Year, and we will be back next month with the story of one of the Wild West's most colorful cowgirls. Goodbye for now.
Anna: The Pawnee Bill Ranch is owned and operated by the Oklahoma Historical Society. For more information, go to www.pawneebillranch.com or find us on Facebook under Pawnee Bill Ranch and Museum.
Pawnee Bill Ranch
Anna: Thank you for downloading the Pawnee Bill Ranch podcast, brought to you by the staff of the Pawnee Bill Ranch.
Erin: Welcome to the Pawnee Bill Ranch podcast. I'm Erin Brown, Pawnee Bill Ranch curator
Anna: And I'm Anna Davis, Pawnee Bill Ranch historical interpreter. Now, Erin, it's no surprise that we, and probably our audience, love a good cowgirl!
Erin: Yes, and we also love a good character and today's podcast combines the two because we are going to bring our listeners the fantastic story of Lillian Smith, cowgirl entertainer extraordinaire.
Anna: I love Lillian Smith.
Erin: Me too!
Anna: Lillian Smith is one of those women who seemed extremely comfortable in her role as a cowgirl. Unlike some of her contemporaries, she had no qualms about hanging out with rough and tumble cowboys or cavorting with men. One of the reasons that we love the stories of historic cowgirls is because they were mostly indomitable spirits! They were wildly independent and acted outside the bounds of what was considered lady-like or what was considered appropriate for a woman at the time.
Erin: Yes, cowgirls are fun to read about and learn about because they were trailblazers and they were courageous because it took a great deal of bravery and self-determination to make a way for yourself in a male-dominated field in a male-dominated world. Lillian Smith is definitely one of those unforgettable and fascinating Wild West Show characters that really typify that Wild West cowgirl spirit.
Anna: So take your Victorian conventions and throw them out the window!
Anna: I think one of the things that people will find when we talk about Lillian, and really any performer in the Wild West Show, is that they loved the attention that they received and they had talent to back up their strong personalities and boasting claims. Lillian was one of the best shots in the world. It wasn't just something that she talked about, she really was. And I think her life shows that sometimes talent alone is not enough to make a happy life.
Erin: Lillian Francis Smith was born on February 3, 1871 in Coleville, Mono County, California. Lillian was what can only be described as a tomboy growing up and playing with dolls absolutely did not interest her. At the age of seven, she asked her father for a "little rifle" to play with.
Anna: A little rifle.
Erin: I want a little rifle, daddy. By the age of 10, she started performing. Her father, Levi, started entering her in turkey shoots where she shot so many turkeys that the organizers had to tell her to stop to give the boys a chance. Her father actually offered $5000 to anyone that could beat her. An offer was even extended to Doc Carver, one of the best marksmen of the time, to meet up with Lillian in St. Louis for a contest. He never showed and the legend of Lillian Smith was born.
Anna: Now we're not quite certain how Buffalo Bill found her. He is quoted as saying that he discovered her in a San Francisco shooting gallery in 1886 and from there he recruited her to join his Wild West Show. At this time she was about 15 years old. She became known as the California Girl or the California Girl Shot of the West. The original plan was to have her stay on while they were at Staten Island during the summer of 1886, but her personality and flash seemed tailor made for the Wild West Show. She was an instant hit and this led to a career devoted to shooting and show business. Lillian was a flashy dresser. She liked white dresses with yellow sashes and huge feathered hats and she was very boastful in her personality. But it was all backed up with an incredible talent. Buffalo Bill really thought that she was going to be the star that carried his show into the future and that caused a lot of problems with one of his other stars.
Erin: Yes, I think that as with most situations where you have two women who are famous and talented and working together, people just sort of kind of assume that there is tension. Now, in all cases that's not necessarily true, but it was extremely true in the case of Lillian Smith and Annie Oakley. Their feud was legendary. While the newspapers reported that they got along like best friends, they disliked each other immensely right from the beginning. Oakley was already working for Buffalo Bill when he hired Lillian Smith. Before Lillian, Annie had never had a female rival. She had made a name for herself by competing and winning against men. Lillian Smith was a completely different animal. Annie Oakley favored the shotgun, Lillian Smith, the rifle. Annie Oakley was a ground shot, Lillian Smith was an especially great horseback shot. The rivalry was not a friendly one, and most resources say Lillian Smith's rough around the edges personality was really the reason.
Anna: Yeah, cause Annie was very feminine and was kind of offended by things that went against the Victorian norms of what women should do. And Lillian Smith was also a braggart and she was quoted as saying many times, "Now that I'm in the Wild West, Annie Oakley is done for." She was not refined like Annie Oakley. Annie really helped to create the stereotype of the prairie beauty and Wild West Show promotional material kind of downplayed any masculine associations with her actions. Annie Oakley still managed to maintain the standards of what was deemed lady-like, but Lillian Smith cussed and wore flashy clothes and she liked men. She was felt at home with the cowboys and the Native Americans with the show and this really flew in the face of Oakley's conservative behavior. Lillian had this air of uncultivated gruffness about her. When a newspaper ran a story where Lillian had supposedly given this very eloquent and polished interview, another newspaper was quoted as saying that Lillian sounded more like this. And I'm not making this up. This is an actual quote…"Swing de apple dere, young fellers, an let me bust his skins."
Erin: Oh my goodness, there is just something so endearing about Lillian Smith and I think it is that she was just unabashedly herself. She was out there. She was who she was and if you didn't like it, you could just get out of her way. You just can't help but love a woman who defied convention and lived life on her own terms. Even more damning to Smith was that she was a shameless flirt. She liked men and wasn't ashamed to admit it or show it. You know, Anna, gossip is not a modern invention and in the Wild West Show circuit, gossip was a favorite past time.
Anna: I think it still is today, actually.
Erin: Yeah. Word quickly spread that Lillian Smith was a bit promiscuous and had a pretty impressive and lengthy list of lovers.
Anna: She had at least four husbands in her lifetime. She had a string of relationships that didn't work out. Her first husband was a man named Jim Willoughby, a performer with the Wild West Show. He was a cowboy who performed under the name Jim Kidd. He was one of her biggest promoters and it seemed that he really loved Lillian. When the rivalry heated up between her and Annie Oakley, Jim Kidd got some friends from California to write some not so flattering things about Annie Oakley in the press, while giving high praise to Lillian. Lillian, however, thanked her husband in 1889 by running off with a cowboy named Bill Cook, one of his very good friends.
Erin: Oh, Lillian. One thing that Lillian Smith did have in her favor was her age. Lillian was 15 when she joined the Wild West Show, and Annie Oakley was 26. Still pretty young. Oakley might have felt insecure about competing against a younger woman who was obviously popular with the male contingent. This age difference was apparently so much of a thorn in Oakley's side that she changed her birthday. Annie Oakley became six years younger overnight! She also had new show clothes made to draw try to draw attention her way.
Anna: I love her show clothes. It was literally a skirt that said Oakley on the side of it.
Erin: We all know that beauty is in the eye of the beholder but Lillian Smith was not what you would call a traditional beauty. She was also not petite like Oakley. She had a tendency to gain weight. She liked to drink and those were problems that would plague her for much of her life. Oakley would make comments, like public comments about her figure and kind of ridicule her for it. She would state that Lillian's coarseness and ample figure would never give her long lasting fame. This really shows the pressure Oakley felt having to work alongside and compete with Lillian Smith.
Anna: Smith never received the status that Annie Oakley did and her reported "difficult" personality might have been part of the blame. But even though she never reached Oakley's level of fame, Lillian shooting feats and her professional achievements deserve recognition. She was unbelievably skilled. Like I said earlier, she could boast and she could back it up. She could break ten glass balls on strings swinging from a pole and then shoot the strings without missing. She broke 72,800 swinging balls in six days without a miss.
Erin: That's incredible!
Anna: The more incredible one was that she shot 300 swinging balls in 14 minutes and 33 seconds using a single load .22 rifle. She was truly amazing!
Erin: Truly. Now the trouble between Lillian and Annie came to a head when the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show traveled to London in 1887. Both women were given equal billing in the programs and advertisements, and that really upset Annie Oakley.
Anna: That was a big no-no.
Erin: Yeah. They were presented to royalty from all around the world. Annie Oakley got some public criticized for shaking the hand of the Princess of Wales, which is a no-no; while Lillian got praise for taking time to show her rifle off to Queen Victoria.
Anna: According to Lillian she and Queen Victoria were the best of friends after that.
Erin: The press was just merciless and it didn't help that friends of Lillian were placing less than favorable articles about Annie in the press. Buffalo Bill refused to intervene. He refused to comment on the newspaper articles and he left it completely up to Frank Butler, Annie's husband, and Nate Salisbury, Cody's business manager, to try to control the situation. Cody's silence reportedly wounded Annie very deeply.
Anna: Now, if Buffalo Bill was one thing, it was a showman and he had to have known that the controversy was only creating more interest in the shooters and that's probably one of the reasons that he remained silent. We don't know why he didn't comment, but that definitely might have been the point. Annie Oakley would get her chance at revenge, though, when she and Lillian were invited to shoot at Wimbledon in London. Now Wimbledon was a very prestigious shooting event and it was normally only for men so to have Lillian and Annie show up was a very big deal. Lillian Smith arrived first with her rifle and she had the worst showing of her career. It was an embarrassment for this woman who had been so boastful and had such talent. In fact, her showing was so bad that rumors started to emerge among the Wild West show circuit that she was cheating in her act in the show. Now there's no evidence that she was cheating, but I guess her performance there was horrible.
Erin: And what we probably think is that she just had a bad day. You know, she just had a very bad day because to have cheated her whole life prior to that would have really been impossible and no one to have noticed. I think she was truly a talent and just had a terrible day.
Anna: In fact, Lillian was so embarrassed and so frustrated with herself that she just stormed off the field at Wimbledon and left in this huge huff. So, when Annie Oakley arrived two days later, people were expecting her to shoot the same way. Annie showed up using a rifle instead of her shotgun.
Erin: Ooh…just like Lillian.
Anna: Just like Lillian. And she shot so well Prince Edward, the Prince of Wales, stepped forward to congratulate her and she was the toast of London after her performance.
Erin: Relations between Lillian Smith and Annie Oakley deteriorated so much that Oakley refused to travel with Buffalo Bill's Show. She left London and joined Pawnee Bill's Wild West Show for a season. This was thrilling for Lillian and it gave her the chance to gloat that she had driven the great Annie Oakley away. It didn't last.
Erin: Eventually, Cody realized that Smith would never be the draw for him that Oakley was and so the two women basically traded places. Smith joined Pawnee Bill's Show and Oakley joined back up with Buffalo Bill. It was during her time after leaving Buffalo Bill's show that Lillian underwent a transformation, figuratively and literally. When she appeared on the Pawnee Bill show circuit, Lillian began billing herself as Princess Wenona, an Indian princess/rifle prodigy. She had either tanned her skin a deep brown and she probably wore brown face like a dark makeup to make herself appear darker, she dyed her hair black, she wore it in braids and she traveled for years with Pawnee Bill's show and with the Miller Brothers' 101 Ranch, mostly as Princess Wenona.
Anna: When she styled herself as Wenona, the "Sioux princess" she claimed to be the daughter of a great chief named "Crazy Snake," and this has definitely raised some eyebrows from people in later generations about whether or not she was Native American. What we can say for sure about Lillian Smith is that in the 1880 census, by race, she was listed with an I – which was the symbol for Indian.
Erin: And she would have only been nine at the time.
Anna: Yeah, so her parents were the ones telling the census takers what race they were.
Erin: And this was before she was a performer so there was no reason publicly to declare her an Indian.
Anna: Yeah and we've also seen it recorded that she was a student on the roster of Carlisle Indian School, but we've never actually seen physical evidence of that. We do know that in her will, she requested to be buried in her Indian clothing. The area of California that she was born and raised in was known for having a band of Northern Paiute that had settled there, but there is so little on Lillian's history that it's really hard to say that she was a member of that band.
Erin: Right, it's really hard for us to say whether Lillian Smith really had American Indian ancestry, but she certainly attracted audiences both with her brash personality, her amazing talents, and her portrayal of an Indian princess. Audiences were drawn to Lillian Smith AKA Princess Wenona because she represented something that was really exciting and a little foreign. She was a woman, she was outspoken, she was talented, and when she was Princess Wenona, she was a little exotic and intriguing. It wasn't hard to see why the public would have wanted to see her. I don't think it was just a happy accident that she adopted the name "Princess Wenona." By calling herself a princess, she set herself apart. She made herself special and tried to become more unique than the other native woman in the show. She saw the advantages to being a princess and she ran with it. I mean the Wild West Show has never been accused of being completely honest in any way.
Anna: No, definitely.
Erin: She even toured with Pawnee Bill's show with her last husband, Frank Smith and had an act called "Wenona and Frank – the World's Champion Rifle Shots." And…as part of it, get ready for this…she shot the ashes off of his cigar while he was smoking it – I love it! I think we should possibly revive that one for our modern reenactment. Kidding!!
Anna: Now, we don't know why she chose the name Princess Wenona, but we do know that there was a book published shortly before her birth that had a character in it named Princess Wenona who was a Native American princess. So, whether or not that influenced her, we really don't know. And for some reason, the marriage with Frank ended in divorce, as had all of her others. Frank, it almost seemed, had been the man that Lillian really loved and respected. They had a great time together, they had a lot of common interests, and it was her longest lasting marriage. She never truly got over their split. Before Frank she had married a performer from the 101 Ranch named Eagle Shirt who was a Sioux of mixed heritage. There was at least one other husband before Eagle Shirt named Wayne Beasley, who was another cowboy from the 101 Ranch. So, she liked her cowboys. When the shows had ended, Lillian settled in Ponca City, living much of her later life in a cabin on the property of the 101 Ranch. By 1911, she was kind of forgotten by the public and she was kind of in this really lonely existence. But it was also at that time that she met one of her most interesting partners…a man named Emil Lenders. Emil Lenders was a well-respected wildlife artist. London born, German raised and he was the man who painted several of the bison pieces in the mansion that we currently have today.
Erin: Emil was quoted as saying that he had found sunlight in Oklahoma. What started out as a friendship turned into love and Lillian and Emil started a romantic relationship. The only problem…Emil was married. His wife, Eva Day, and their young daughter refused to give up their home in Philadelphia and they never moved to Oklahoma. In 1922, the Miller brothers deeded a portion of the land south of Bliss, OK to Lenders and he and Lillian created The Thunderbird Ranch. She even tried to develop her own show with Lenders as her manager. It was called "Princess Wenona's Western Show," but it apparently was not successful. By 1926, Emil had left Lillian and moved his artist studio into Ponca City, leaving Lillian alone. Lillian seemed to be one of those people that loved love but we can also see that she would be incredibly hard to live with on a daily basis. She loved the excitement of being in a relationship but her moods changed quickly. She was not the most stable person.
Anna: We're not really sure why her relationship with Emil ended. Lillian didn't really have any friends outside of the cowboys that she knew on the 101. She had one really good female friend, Jane Woodend, who was another cowgirl who was living out her days in obscurity on the 101. Bill Pickett, the famous cowboy, would drop by to see her from time to time, making sure that she was alright, give her the things that she needed and make sure really that he was giving her the respect that a woman with her talents deserved. And sometimes a few of the Millers would stop to see her and talk about the old show days, but that was really about it. It was really sad. Even her faithful pony, Rabbit, who had been by her side for 25 years died in 1928.
Erin: The end of her life was really tragic. Lillian lived simply surrounded by her chickens and dogs in a cabin on the 101 Ranch. She was sort of viewed as an eccentric – kind of an outsider in the oil-rich Ponca community.
Anna: I read that when she went into town, she would be followed by a group of chickens and dogs wherever she went.
Erin: Yeah, and people just sort of crossed the street the other way when she came by. The winter of 1930 was the one of the coldest winters on record for Oklahoma. There were several consecutive days of below-zero temperatures and it was too much for a broken-spirited and probably broken down bodied Lillian Smith. Lillian Smith, the California Girl, died on February 3, 1930, her 59th birthday.
Anna: That's really said.
Erin: Yeah, she was too young. Too young to die like that. She died alone and broke. So, it was a really tragic end to a really interesting life. The Millers were out of town when she died and a Miller cousin was put in charge of the funeral. He felt it was important that she have a Christian service and a proper burial so he enlisted a local minister to conduct her funeral. Very few attended and the pallbearers were cowboys from the 101.
Anna: Now we all know that Annie Oakley's name lives on in the halls of famous female performers and she is really credited with helping to pave the way for women in show business. But Lillian Smith has not enjoyed such a triumphant page in the history books. She really kind of settled into obscurity not only in her life, but also after she died. She was buried in an unmarked grave and didn't even have a headstone until the 101 Ranch Association raised money for a headstone in 1999. I have to say that her headstone is absolutely gorgeous. The woman that had so many different names made it known as a final request that she be buried under her maiden name, Lillian Smith. The tombstone honors this and it also has all the shows that she ever performed for, all the names she ever performed under and all of her unbeaten records. It's a flashy headstone for a flashy woman and we think that she probably would have absolutely loved it.
Erin: Yeah, no doubt that Lillian Smith who was performing in the heyday of her career would have absolutely adored that big huge headstone. And it's really great that the 101 Ranch Association pulled together to get that for her. She deserved it.
Erin: So that concludes our interpretation, kind of the condensed version of Lillian Smith AKA Princess Wenona's life. She deserved to have her story told because she was a trailblazer in her own right.
Anna: Well, we thank you for listening. We are cooking up a really good episode for next time. As always, I'm Anna Davis.
Erin: And I'm Erin Brown. Thank you. Until next time.
Pawnee Bill Ranch
Anna: Thank you for downloading the Pawnee Bill Ranch podcast, brought to you by the staff of the Pawnee Bill Ranch.
Erin: Welcome to the Pawnee Bill Ranch podcast. I'm Erin Brown, Pawnee Bill Ranch curator.
Anna: And I'm Anna Davis, Pawnee Bill Ranch Historical Interpreter. Well, Erin, one of the reasons why we enjoy winter around here is because it gives us time to do all sorts of research about Pawnee Bill history and there are two words that get us very excited: route books.
Erin: We love route books. Not only are they a glimpse into what life was like on the road during a Wild West Show season, they are so much fun to read. They're like a good book that you just can't put down and some of the things that are recorded put soap operas to shame. I mean, talk about drama. We thought it would be a fun podcast topic to focus on one season to give our listeners an idea of what life on the road was like with the show. It was really hard to pick just one season to talk about, but we think that the 1901 season has a good variety of events. There were marriages, a few deaths, accidents and injuries, and just some really unusual happenings. And all of it took place in the middle of one of the worst heat waves America had ever seen. Our plan for this podcast is to run through some excerpts, so you will hear references to particular show characters, cast members, and various locations around the United States.
Anna: Now the 1901 route book was written by H.G. Wilson and L.F. Nocodemus. H.G. Wilson was the manager of the Wild West Show and also, coincidentally, he was the husband of the show's mind reader. Nicodemus was the publisher of the programs, so they were both multitaskers! This is what they had to say in the preface of the 1901 route book… "Route books have come to be looked upon as an absolute necessity by the followers of the white tents. They afford a ready reference to events, furnish valuable data, and are frequently referred to in after years for interesting information. Every year witnesses an improvement in these little volumes. They grow more pretentious yearly, in order to keep pace with the great shows whose events they chronicle."
Erin: And we are forever grateful for those authors for taking the time to record the happenings along the way. I mean, I've probably referenced route books thousands of times by now. They are an invaluable resource for us here.
Anna: And they are definitely the guide for Wild West Shows.
Erin: Yeah. Now the 1901 season of Pawnee Bill's Wild West Show started in Litchfield, Illinois. The show cast had started gathering in the town well before the May 4th opening day and all of the different nationalities in their native costumes gave the town a very exotic and international feel and their arrival generated an air of excitement. On the Wednesday before the first show, 17 cast members were initiated into Elkdom by the Litchfield Lodge of Elks. There was just this real party atmosphere in the city. The Mexican band gave a concert on the public square, the mayor and city council welcomed everyone heartily, and the route book says that "the businessmen were anxious to have us return here next fall."
Anna: Opening day had been threatened by a thunderstorm the night before, but it was sunny and beautiful and it was really a great day for a show and the crowds came out in droves. The performance was two hours long and it all went off without a hitch. The writers had this to say about the occasion "Pawnee Bill deserves the greatest credit. He certainly organized one of the most novel street pageants ever seen. So passed the first day of what we all hope will be the most prosperous season Pawnee Bill has ever seen." So, it proved to be a perfect way to start the 1901 season.
Erin: The show traveled by rail during the night and for the next week they made stops throughout Illinois. They experienced rainy weather, which put a damper, literally, on attendance and revenue, but they did have a sell out in Lincoln, which helped bolster their financial situation. All the rain and mud made it really difficult for crew members to load and unload wagons, and several of them broke, so repairs had to be made all along the way. We know that weather was the greatest enemy and conversely, could be the greatest friend of the tent show business.
Anna: We're going to take a brief pause in our route book timeline to give you some background information on the cast and crew itself. This might be old information for some of you, but the Wild West Show was kind of like its own traveling city. There were cooks, barbers, musicians, advance men, lithographers, car managers, car porters, trainmen, ticket sellers, ticket takers, concession stand workers, canvasmen. And the canvasmen they had the job of putting up the tents and taking them down. The side show performers were there, livestock managers and crew, a band, a light department, an ammunition department, blacksmiths, a harness maker, grooms for the horses, and on and on and on. That's just a small snippet of what they took with them. And that doesn't even include the list of the regular show performers. So moving the show from city to city was a massive undertaking and it took a great deal of organization and commitment on everyone's part.
Erin: Back to our timeline – on May 12 and 13, 1901 the show appeared in Kanakee, Ill. The weather had turned bitterly cold during their travel, but they reported good crowd attendance despite the wind and weather. The route book tells us for a fun outing, the cast took a tour of the city asylum…
Anna: Took a tour of an asylum…
Erin: Apparently the show grounds in Kankakee were on the banks of a river and across from that was a large asylum. Now the route book does not mention of what kind of asylum it was though. However, we were curious, Anna.
Anna: Most definitely.
Erin: And looked it up and this asylum was a hospital for the mentally insane. Doesn't that sound like fun?
Anna: Taking a tour of a mental institution. Ugh…
Erin: The asylum was huge and housed in several gorgeous buildings. And this really speaks to the time that, for fun, people could tour insane asylums. It's really sad. The writers went on to say that it was a very beautiful location and they had good business. And that continued in Streator, La Salle, Joliet, and Blue Island, Illinois. The show made its way to the outskirts of Chicago, first performing in Hammond, Indiana and then in Oak Park, Illinois. They had phenomenal business…until the cast started leaving to go party in Chicago. Without a cast, there could be no show, and we kind of see hints of this adventurous, rebellious streak amount the crew members throughout the route books – these guys wanted to have a good time so they would sneak away to the big city, but they always came back – sometimes to ramifications, but I guess the adventure was worth it to them.
Anna: You have to imagine that for a person who probably had never been to a big city before some of these performers were really excited to go see these sights they had always heard about. So they would run off, go see the sights, and come back for a show. Evanston, Illinois was their next stop, followed by Elgin, Illinois on May 22. Now it was not uncommon for new performers to join the show somewhere along a season's route, or even for performers to jump off mid-season – only to come back in later. In De Kalb, Illinois the side show picked up a new performer named Michael Belfry, who was "the clay molder". I can only assume that he probably did sculptures in the side show tent. And in Belvidere, Illinois they picked up the sword walker, Miss Ruth Parkinson. Also in Belvidere it was noted that Michael Belfrey, the clay molder, made a high dive during the show. We don't know if this was on horseback or just a regular high dive, but it was extremely impressive to them, just the same.
Erin: He was pulling double duty that day. Rockford, Illinois, Janesville and Kenosha Wisconsin saw large crowds with no incident. In Waukegan, Wisconsin on May 30th, the Elks club showed up at the train depot at 4am to serenade the show cast as they arrived. I'm not sure if that was a welcome serenade or an act of good will or what that was all about. In Racine, Wisconsin, May Lillie bought $500 in Indian blankets from a factory and gave them to the American Indians in the show. They stayed up all night comparing them with one another and trading them. In Milwaukee the show started to see the first accidents of the season. It was bound to happen. The crowds hadn't been great and as it was put "Like most resorts, they came to see, but not to spend." During the show the chariots driven by Billy Taylor overturned but he was uninjured. Mexican Joe also had a rough time with a hard ride on a bucking bronco, but too also escaped injury that time.
Anna: They traveled around Wisconsin and it was pretty much business as usual until they rolled into Sheboygan on June 5th where they encountered a real disaster. While the train was pulling from the station in the middle of the night one of the flat cars jumped the track. The car behind it derailed and the front portion of the train broke loose and started to roll out of control. Each train had a group of men nicknamed the Razorbacks who would tend to the cars. One of the Razorbacks ran the entire length of the train, swung himself underneath the sleeper cars and cut off the air supply which stopped the entire train.
Erin: That's like a super hero.
Anna: It is like a super hero. It had rolled nearly 800 feet before it was stopped. The only injury was to the conductor who was jumping from the candy wagon to the flat car to help when he hurt his foot severely. A few cowboys were thrown from their bunks due to the sudden stop, wagons damaged, and the two flat cars wrecked, but they were lucky that there was no further damage.
Erin: The bad lucked continued in Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin on June 6th. The show was late because of the train derailment, but they were still able to kind of hurry up and do both shows. This poor man named Dutch Miller was seriously injured during the artillery drill. During the drill the cannon overturned, trapping him beneath the heavy wheels. His hip dislocated and he was bruised enough to require a trip to the hospital, though it was recorded that he would be rejoining the show in hopefully 7-10 days.
Anna: 7 to 10 days after your hip is dislocated.
Erin: Can't keep a good man down.
Anna: In Michigan and Wisconsin they complained a lot that the weather. It was cold and it was rainy. I guess it was so cold that they had to wear their heavy coats because it felt like winter.
Erin: In June.
Anna: And tents were constantly being blown down. I guess being around the Great Lakes really wreaked havoc on them. By the time they left Green Bay on June 12, they had hoped to have seen the last of the blustery weather for the season.
Erin: They hadn't seen the last of crazy accidents though. On June 15 in Merrill, Wisconsin, Alexi Georgian, the head of the Cossacks, was hanging on the side of his horse, running full speed through the arena, when he hit a fire hydrant. Yes, he hit a fire hydrant. It was in the middle of the arena.
Anna: Now, I understand that you don't have control where your show grounds are going to be but you would think they wouldn't put the arena around a fire hydrant.
Erin: Yeah, so many questions about this incident. You would think he would have had a run through too, but accidents are called accidents for a reason. They had known the hydrant was there and have even placed a light on it to warn the riders, but when you're hanging off a horse and you're like backwards, things happen. He fractured his collarbone and three ribs. On a lighter note, Dutch Miller, the artillery man who had been crushed by a cannon in Fond Du Lac rejoined the show
Anna: If you're keeping track, it's about nine days later that he showed back up. The show exhibited in a baseball park on June 19. Again, they really had no control over where they were going to perform. So sometimes they performed in baseball parks, sometimes they performed in the center of town. A man named Oliver Provost was thrown off a bucking bronco and severely injured. It was said that the throw would have killed a normal man, but he was made of strong Sioux stock. He suffered partial paralysis and the doctor severed his artery, taking a pint of blood. And supposedly that cured him a few hours later because he was able to talk again. But he was never taken to a hospital. Instead, they placed him back in the sleeping cars and expected him to make a full recovery. And you don't hear anything else about Oliver Provost again.
Erin: We're hoping for the best.
Anna: Hope you got well, man. The show was next expected to go to Chippewa Falls, but that show was cancelled as that town had been quarantined for small pox.
Erin: Very clearly, exposing the cast and crew to small pox would have been a very bad idea, so they moved on to Menomonie, Wisconsin where they reported the weather to be so hot on June 22. The parade was late, but the business was big. Nicodemus and Wilson wrote "This is one of the prettiest towns we have showed this season. The river from the Main is elegant. Nick is out there with the camera." It was also noted that the fishermen with the show battled mosquitoes until the trains were loaded without even getting a single bite. In Red Wing Minnesota, the cast got their first taste of the Mississippi River. The trains stopped on the banks of the river and the cast spent their time swimming and rowing and kind of just relaxing and having a good time. Pawnee Bill and a party of his family and friends chartered a steam boat to spend a few hours on the water. All enjoyed themselves…except the authors, who say Nick didn't like the river water. If you ask me, Nick sounds like a real diva! He's the diva of the Wild West Show.
Anna: You take what you get. Stillwater, Minnesota was next on their schedule. The area around Red Wing and Stillwater was very hilly and they had a lot of trouble with the wagons up and down the hills on this terrain. Heck Quinn, who was the leader of the cowboys, took twice as long getting the parade up and down the hills because he wanted everyone to stay safe. Jack Lear, a cowboy, got his first fall from an old mule. And Pawnee Bill and a group of cast members visited…wait for this…the Stillwater penitentiary.
Erin: Yay! Let's go visit the jail!
Anna: We went to the insane asylum and now we're at the Stillwater penitentiary. Pawnee Bill was presented with a cane that had seen service in the pen for twenty years. I don't know what kind of service. And he took time to talk to the Younger Brothers who just so happened to be confined there. The route book authors suggested that the Youngers brothers were expecting early release. The show was off to St. Paul and Minneapolis next.
Erin: Minneapolis was perhaps one of the worst stops of the show season. They described the weather on the first day, June 28, as a hurricane. High winds and rain wrecked tents and poles. Cowboys lost their hats in the high winds, a performer's glasses were broken by a falling pole, but luckily the only spectator injured was a little boy who was bruised when a tent pole fell on him. Their business was excellent though. However, poor Mexican Joe was thrown twice during the Pony Express race. And that Miss Lizzie Smart's…she's always meeting with bad news. Her horse collided with another cowboy and she was thrown to the ground. Oh, and one bit of excitement was that a few cowboys were almost arrested for counterfeit money! George Aherne found himself $5 short while shopping in the big city and he offered a barkeeper $5 of money issued by the Arkansas Valley National Bank, the institution that Pawnee Bill owned. He had been keeping it as a souvenir since it had Pawnee Bill's signature on it, but the barkeeper didn't think it was real. So, he actually had George arrested, but once the police looked into the matter, they decided that the check was indeed legitimate and set him free. It got Pawnee Bill's bank free publicity though because it was the talk of the city the next day.
Anna: In Ashland Wisconsin on June 30th, the Wild West Show encountered a cyclone. It blew down the canvas tents at 7 in the morning. The Side Show tent was actually nearly destroyed, but they were able to keep doing for a parade and a large show. Old Bell, a horse ridden by Billie Williams, died of heart disease during the Grand Entrance.
Erin: That would have been a real damper to begin the show.
Anna: One of the Cossacks took a fall during their act but he was not seriously hurt. The July 4th show was in West Superior, Wisconsin. It was actually almost cancelled because when the show staff arrived they found that their performance area was taken up by a small lake. O.J. Krause, the Wild West Show business manager, found a location in the center of town to perform and they were actually nearly over run with droves of people who came to see the show. The same thing happened the next day in Brainerd Minnesota, leading the side show annex to declare that they could close early for the season because they had made all the money that they needed.
Erin: Woo hoo! Sauk Center, Minnesota on July 6th is the first mention in the route book we see of the intense heat that they would struggle with through the rest of July and into August. Mr. C. Metius, the show treasurer, got news that his mother had suffered heat stroke in back Philadelphia. So, this really worried the whole cast because a lot of them were based out of Philadelphia and most of their family was still there. So, it turns out, Anna, that the summer of 1901 was the 3rd worst heat wave ever in America. 9500 people would die that summer all over the United States because of the extreme heat.
Anna: Now, we perform out Wild West Show today in the month of June. And it can get really hot in June. I can only imagine how it was to be a cast member on the road at this time, because today we have air conditioners we can retreat into, but back then they didn't have anything.
Anna: So it was probably just miserable for these people performing in this show.
Erin: They traveled on to Little Falls, Minnesota. The one thing they saw fit to saw fit to record was that the fishermen caught 125 catfish and a secret wedding happened! Now that was in the same sentence.
Anna: Secret wedding!
Erin: Secret wedding! We love it! I guess the heat had a real effect on the love lives of the crew this year, because it's starting in July that we start hearing about weddings and engagements and love affairs! It says that Mr. Harry Skipper and Miss Mamie Lawrence tied the knot in front of the entire company, but when the nuptials were finished, it was revealed that Millie Egypt and George Malone had secretly already gotten married in Minneapolis.
Anna: St. Cloud Minnesota saw a respite from the heat with a little rain shower. The showers were bad for business but everyone was really thankful because it gave them not only a needed break from the heat but also gave everybody water. So that was a big thing that they talked about that season was that everyone got water when it rained. In Hutchinson Minnesota Mexican Joe's bronc took a wild ride and took him all the way through the teepees. That night, a cook named Texas fell asleep on the steps of the sleeper train and he actually fell off the train while it was in motion. So, I don't know how he slept through the train getting going.
Erin: I don't know why he would think it would be a good idea to sleep on the steps. Weird.
Anna: He had to walk 30 miles to catch up with the show that afternoon but he actually didn't get injured during his fall. To add to the weird calamities, Rush, a horse tent man, went swimming and nearly drowned. He had to be rescued by some local children.
Erin: That's my favorite part of this whole season. He had to be rescued by babies.
Anna: And swore he would bath in a bucket from then on. One of the Cossacks fell in the arena, but there were no broken bones. On July 13, the show visited Northfield Minnesota where the Younger Brothers had been captured. Remember, we met the Younger brothers in Stillwater, Minnesota when they were in the penitentiary and now we're in Northfield where they have been captured. The cast took a chance to visit the bank where their big shootout had happened, but they found it had been turned into a hardware store. The fishermen that night caught 150 catfish and the Indians caught a turtle, which was soon turned into turtle soup.
Erin: So, I guess we know what the cast and crew of the Wild West show were eating in 1901. A lot of fish! By July 25 in Plattsville, Wisconsin the entire cast and show stock was struggling with the intense heat. In Lancaster, riders started to fall during the races because of the heat. But happier news came on July 27, which is also my anniversary, when Mr. Swain left the show to marry Miss Ryan of Chicago. There's something about the heat and those love affairs!
Anna: In Freeport Illinois, the show finally got another break from the heat with a little rain storm. Mr. Swain and his new wife entertained the cast with a banquet. The band serenaded the new couple while the Native Americans performed what they called an Orange Dance in their honor. They were also given a silver service that had been paid for by the cast. During the performances, a few members of the Wild West Show thought it would be a good idea to try and steal some of Pawnee Bill's wardrobe from his personal car. The route book says "They will all have time to repent their rashness."
Anna: So, I can only assume they probably got arrested for doing this.
Anna: Then in Mendota Illinois on July 30, Texas, that man who had fallen off the train earlier, fell from the train once more after he fell asleep on the outside steps again. Only this time, it didn't turn out so good for him because he was killed when he fell underneath the train's wheels.
Anna: His remains were buried in Freeport, Illinois under his real name which was John Youndie. In Sandwich, Illinois the next day the international cast was extremely surprised to learn that the city that they were in had a huge international population. The Cossacks, Turks, and European side show members all met people from their own countries living in the city.
Erin: So the heat continued through early August and on August 4th in Monmouth Illinois, James Harto and Catherine Wren were secretly married by a man named Father Owens. Now they were all sly and they tried to deny that the marriage had occurred, but the entire cast reportedly told them…"We shall see later."
Anna: We're going to wait for that baby bump to appear!
Erin: Mt. Pleasant, Iowa reported that everyone was sick with heat. In Ft. Madison, Iowa, Letty Adelle, a fabulous cowgirl, took a hard fall from her horse during the lady's race. She suffered a black eye, but thankfully no broken bones. In Toluca, Iowa, Harry Winners, master of transportation, shot himself through the forefinger while teaching...TEACHING another man how to handle a revolver.
Anna: I wonder if he was teaching him how to do quick draw tricks, you know?
Erin: He was not a good teacher. He was like a teacher of how not to handle a gun. At the same time, Frank Brown, ammunition tent manager, was shot in the leg by a bunch of exploding shells. I mean, it's like these people knew nothing about gun safety!
Anna: Now, the heat wave continued through Pontiac, Paxton, Tuscola, Taylorville and Virginia Illinois. In Tuscola, on August 11, Charles Humberstone and May Herbert were married. The writers of the route book actually had this quote to say about it, "This show wins the penant this season for marriages, with a few more to hear from." Also, another piece of good news was that Mr. Smith's dog, Spartans, delivered four puppies in Petersburg, Illinois. Spartans was the candy tent mascot that season. The show continued to battle the heat through Clinton Illinois until they had their worst performance in Dubuque, Iowa on August 18. The heat was unbearable and riders just kept falling from their saddles. Not sure if it was from heat related things or distraction.
Erin: I'm sure it was heat.
Anna: But they just kept falling from their saddles.
Erin: They were probably passing out.
Anna: Yeah. Dutch Miller, the man who was injured earlier in the season when the cannon fell on him, was injured when the cannon exploded prematurely during his act. He was taken to the hospital and it was feared he would lose sight in his eye. The cast members raised nearly $300 to hire a special doctor to do the eye surgery and they helped to take care of him and they even pledged more if the operations exceeded that amount. It's a miracle that poor Dutch continued to work for this show because it was like do or die every day for him.
Erin: No one said Wild West Shows were dangerous! On the evening of August 24 one of the most serious and tragic incidences occurred in Correctionville, Iowa when a group of drunk and armed men tried to board the single women's train and demanded admittance. Now you can just imagine being young and single and being with your friends.
Anna: Probably in your bunch asleep.
Erin: Yeah and a bunch of drunk men with guns are trying to get in at you. So, these guys were scared off by a few of the Wild West Show cast members on the train and they ran off into the night. Joe Sullivan, who was a butcher for the show, tried to head them off. I guess he was going to just try and teach them a lesson. And they shot him in the head and he was killed by a man named Harley Cave. Cave barricaded himself in a hotel in town called the Pitty and refused to leave. So, all the show cast members surrounded the hotel and were going to kind of take matters into their own hands. They threatened to burn it down until Cave came out. Pawnee Bill and Mr. O.J. Krause arrived and they kind of got their men back under control and the Sheriff was successful in getting Cave to surrender.
Anna: Yeah, and there's no other mention of Cave again so we're not really sure what happened to him.
Erin: He probably met with justice.
Anna: He probably did. The show calmed down a little bit as they traveled to Missouri Valley and Dennison, Iowa. On August 30, Mr. Niccodemus rejoined the show in Tipton, Iowa with a delivery of mini ponies to help strengthen the miniature Wild West Show.
Erin: I bet that brought moral up too because who doesn't love a mini pony.
Anna: The heat wave finally ended in Vinton, Iowa and in Grundy Center Iowa on September 1, May Lillie shot 24 out of 24 targets during her performance. Also during that same performance, a cowboy and his bucking broke loose and got into the seats of the audience, causing chaos amongst everybody. Luckily, no one was injured.
Erin: The show continued to tour through Iowa and Nebraska though September. One sentence caught my eye in September and it was, "May Lillie springs a new hat today as a warning to the ladies to ditch their straws."' Apparently May set the fashion tone and what she wore was an example of what was acceptable for the other ladies in the cast and crew to wear. So what she was saying was it was fall and stop wearing your straw summer hats! You have to maintain some decorum even if you're on the road. There is also a line that always cracks me up because we don't know exactly what it means but when the show was near Columbus Nebraska, the authors write, "Dr. Swain is initiated into the mystery of the private car. Initiation fee paid." This is the same Swain who was married just a month or so earlier but the way it is written, we don't really know what it means, but it always makes me laugh.
Anna: And there are so many inside jokes in these Wild West Show books.
Erin: Yeah, and we don't get it.
Anna: We have no idea what they're talking about.
Erin: They mystery of the private car. That's like innuendo for any number of things.
Anna: In October – something significant happened that still affects us today. Pawnee Bill purchased the Casey herd of buffalo in Missouri and had them shipped to Pawnee, Oklahoma. This was the beginning of his dream to establish a bison ranch. This entry is also one of the last ones of the season. The show performed for the last time in 1901 in Jackson, Missouri on November 2. So that was a long season.
Erin: It was!
Anna: From May to November.
Erin: That's a lot of crazy weather to endure.
Anna: Exactly. From there they shipped everything to their winter quarters in Chester, Pennsylvania.
Erin: Now, the 1901 route book that we have doesn't include the court records in the back, so we thought it would be fun to read some of the other entries to you from other seasons so we can give you an idea of what kind of crimes were committed and what the punishments for those crimes were. And these are crimes or offences that the cast members committed. So, here's the first one: Nestor the Cossack was charged with eating 20 eggs for breakfast, he was found guilty and sentenced to 10 slaps.
Anna: The manager of the midway was charged with not eating breakfast, he was found guilty and sentenced to 10 slaps.
Erin: So, it's like you can't eat too much and you can't eat too little.
Anna: You're going to eat what you're given and be happy.
Erin: That's right. You're going to get slapped around. The rube, which was like a cowboy comedian, he was charged with fighting and found guilty and sentenced to 5 slaps. So apparently fighting was a lesser offence than not eating breakfast.
Anna: The property man was charged with wearing other people's clothing and being late in putting up his own dressing tent. You had to take care of your tent people.
Erin: And you had to wear your own clothes.
Anna: Now it said he was placed in jail, which I'm assuming he wasn't actually placed in jail. He was probably put in a car or something and was awaiting bond at the time of the writing.
Erin: I don't know. It depended on how serious they take it.
Anna: I guess so.
Erin: Finally, old Willie was charged with not properly saddling his horse and then I guess he was a real hot head because when he was approached he pulled a gun on the police. So, not a good idea Willie. He pled guilty and was given 15 raps.
Anna: I don't even know what the difference between a rap and a slap was and these might have been a little tongue in cheek, but they were really funny anyway. We hope you've enjoyed our podcast and we really hope that you have a deeper understanding of what life was like on the road with Pawnee Bill's Show. It was a lot of fun and a lot of things went on.
Erin: Yeah, it was definitely a rollercoaster. There were highs and lows. Thank you for listening. Until next time, I'm Erin Brown
Anna: And I'm Anna Davis. We hope you tune in next month for our next podcast. We've been working on some new research and I think you'll find it interesting! Thank you for listening and see you next time.
Pawnee Bill Ranch
Erin: Welcome to the Pawnee Bill Ranch podcast, I'm Erin Brown, Pawnee Bill Ranch curator.
Anna: And I'm Anna Davis, Pawnee Bill Ranch historical interpreter.
Erin: Anna, so far we have dedicated our podcast to discussions revolving around specific events and people associated with Pawnee Bill history. We've had the opportunity to really dig deeply into some of the more interesting, fun, and also some of the more difficult topics during the course of our podcast. So today we decided to switching things up a little bit.
Anna: We thought our listeners might like to know a little bit about the ranch today. For example, how did the state come to own the ranch? Some people might also wonder what we as a staff do all the time. There's a lot more that goes on besides just giving tours through the mansion and interacting with the public. People might also wonder what there is to do at the museum as well as some of the secrets that the public doesn't get to see on a regular basis. So, today we are going to give you an inside look at how our facility operates.
Erin: Let's start with a little bit of history first. After May Lillie passed away, Pawnee Bill started to think about what would happen to his Ranch after he died. He had always felt a really deep connection with the Boy Scouts of America and decided shortly before his death that he wanted the Ranch to pass into their hands to become a Scout Ranch. This was during a time that the Boy Scouts had just been given Philmont, Frank Phillips's ranch in northern New Mexico, so the BSA decided that taking on another ranch might put a strain on their resources, so the Boy Scouts gave the ranch to Pawnee Bill's family.
Anna: Pawnee Bill's sister, Effie, who we talked about in The Tragic Judys podcast, lived in the mansion alongside her son Albert and his wife Hazel. When Effie died in 1958, Albert decided to sell the property. Today, we know the cost of upkeep on this property is extremely high and you can only imagine how much of a strain it would have put on a single family to try and keep this thing up and running. In 1961, the State of Oklahoma expressed interest in purchasing the site to open as a museum. The deal was finalized in 1962 and the state paid…get ready for this…$65,000 for the property.
Erin: What a deal!
Anna: What a deal. Albert and second wife Ruth lived in a white house on an acre of property that they requested the state deed to them.
Erin: Right and in this wonderful full circle event, Stella Lyon, who was the owner of the white house from the 1970s until her death, willed the Pawnee Bill Ranch that white house and acre. So the white house, which is located just next to the ranch, which we affectionately call Stella's is part of the Ranch once again. It is used for anybody who comes to the ranch to do work and needs a place to stay overnight. We have also used it for intern housing and my family has actually lived in it twice for several months during repairs to the carriage house. We are really fortunate to have the house at our disposal.
Anna: Now, the mansion itself pretty much became a museum immediately after the state purchased it. It was available for tours and the first manager, a man named Bill Guthrie, who was actually related to Pawnee Bill by marriage, and his family lived upstairs. The carriage house was converted in the late 60s into a manager's residence and that wasn't the only change made to the site. The state created an exhibit pasture and brought bison back in from the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. There was a time of about 20 years where there were no bison on the property, but today we are still a working bison ranch because of that. The state built and improved roads, created picnic areas and built restrooms and a covered pavilion to encourage tourists.
Erin: That's right. In addition to that, a modern museum was constructed in 1969 to house a large piece of the collection. Strangely enough, it is the one building on the site that most people don't remember from their previous visits!
Anna: And that's kind of strange because it's the biggest building up here.
Erin: I think that just goes to show too that people remember what's authentic.
Erin: A maintenance barn was also constructed at the same time. That's not in a public access area so you don't see that when you come to the ranch. In the barn, a concrete floor was poured to replace the original dirt floor. We're talking about the historic 1926 barn that you can go in, so we're really glad that it has that nice concrete floor. And here's a secret…the old granary in the barn was converted into office space and it also houses a portion of our archive. In fact, it's where my office is located today.
Anna: The State of Oklahoma realized what a treasure the ranch was and how central the story of Pawnee Bill and the story the Wild West Show was to the story of Oklahoma and they invested a great deal of resources to make the necessary improvements to get the site ready for the public to enjoy. It took a lot of planning and a lot of thought went into ensuring that the Pawnee Bill Ranch would be a place that could be a part of some of people's happiest heritage tourism experiences.
Erin: The Ranch today is close to 500 acres, and that is about ¼ of the size of Pawnee Bill's original ranch. The ranch today is a mixture of hills and rolling grassland lined with timbered acres. I think it's one of the most beautiful places in Oklahoma, but I do realize I'm a little biased. Here's another little secret…some of the plants and vegetation, the trees, on the site were actually planted by Pawnee Bill and May! Next time you come to the ranch, try to look at the roses that are around the fish pond. Those Japanese Tea Roses were planted by May Lillie and they still bloom today and I think they have the most wonderful smell.
Anna: Literally living history.
Erin: Living history.
Anna: We are a little partial to this place, but I don't think we are alone in our Pawnee Bill Ranch love! One of our favorite things about working here is hearing the experiences of people that they've had here. We love to hear people say, "Oh, I love that place." Or "My parents brought me here when I was little and I just had to bring my own kids." We hear stories from older individuals about the time that Pawnee Bill and May actually lived here at the Ranch and it made such an impression on them that it's something they remember even to this day and want to share with us. It's really special to be a part of this place that people want to visit and share with other people. We love seeing photos taken at the Ranch, both past and present. We love hearing stories. We just love this place.
Erin: It is special and part of why we wanted to do this podcast was to discuss what it is that people can do when they come here to visit. I think that most people know that they can take a tour through the mansion. We always say that the mansion is the jewel of the ranch. It's one of the highlights and the reason for that is that it is filled with Pawnee Bill and May's personal belongings. Virtually everything in it was theirs. It gives our visitors this really authentic experience. The mansion is our most compelling artifact. People feel a connection to history and to the people who came before us when they see a historic living space. House museums like the mansion are evocative in a way that's different from almost anything else. Our mansion makes people feel things and when people feel things, they care!
Anna: We give tours through the mansion, but what people don't see is the cleaning and care that goes on behind the scenes. We respect the house and we take the best possible care of it we can. We do a deep cleaning about once a week and we clean the visitor access rugs more frequently because they have more traffic. Another secret, and one that we are asked about often on tour, is how do we clean the house? Very rarely do we use modern cleaning solutions. They're usually too damaging for historic woodwork and historic artifacts. Most of the deep cleaning is done using brooms, cotton cloths, micro fiber cloths and vacuum cleaners. That's it. Erin – you take care of the artifacts in the home and make sure they are all nice and clean. It's a constant job, but it's so incredibly important to keep on top of things. And it's a very necessary job that we enjoy very much.
Erin: Cleaning also just gives us a chance to re-familiarize ourselves with the things in the house and make sure there isn't any new damage or pests or anything like that, so we try to be really vigilant in our care of the mansion and all the artifacts on site. We are constantly monitoring movement inside the house as well. It's really important to know exactly what's going on with the structure of a historic home, so every few months we go through the mansion with a fine toothed comb, checking out the different cracks that have appeared on the walls to gauge just how much the house is moving over time. This study will become incredibly important in the preservation of the mansion for the future.
Anna: People can tour the museum and see our exhibits related to Pawnee Bill, May, the Wild West Show, the Pawnee Indians, and so much more. Our museum is a large building, but it doesn't actually hold all of our artifacts. We make an effort to trade out items every so often and change exhibits to provide a fresh and new experience. That's why some exhibits are taken down from time to time. It's not because they aren't popular, it's simply time for something new. We also have a newly renovated children's play area and a newly renovated museum store, both of which we are extremely proud of and would encourage anyone that hasn't seen them, to come on up and check them out!
Erin: The big barn which was built in 1926 is always an attraction. It's an impressive rock structure. It's a beautiful building. And it used to have "Pawnee Bill's Buffalo Ranch" painted on the roof and you could see it from the highway. Sadly, that is no longer there, I would love it if it were still there. I think it looks awesome in the photographs. But the barn is wonderful just the same! Our collection of wagons is located in the barn as well as some pieces of farming equipment. The barn also houses our billboard which was recently featured on Antiques Roadshow, which was thrilling.
Anna: Now, when people think of a billboard today they usually think about what's on the side of the road with advertisements on it. But we are not talking about a regular size billboard. Our billboard is 10'x70'. It's actually called a barnside because these types of posters would be as big as the side of a barn. It was found in Lamont, OK in the 1980s and it advertised a one day show in Blackwell, OK. The appraiser for Antiques Roadshow said that this billboard is legitimately priceless and he had never seen anything like it in his entire life. So, we are really honored that it has come home here to the Ranch and it is definitely one of the most impressive artifacts.
Erin: Our log cabin is also an outbuilding that people remember and enjoy seeing. I mean, what kid hasn't come to our ranch and played pioneer in that log cabin? Our log cabin was built just shortly after the mansion was constructed in 1910. People used to think that the log cabin was here before the mansion and that Pawnee Bill and May lived in it before their dream home was completed, but we know that's not true. Pawnee Bill did actually live in a cabin on the ranch, but it is no longer here. Pawnee Bill built the existing cabin so that his visitors to the ranch could see and experience what frontier life was like. It was built intentionally for education, not to be lived in; however, some of his big city guests enjoyed staying overnight in the cabin to get the feel of "roughing it." Log cabins really weren't built to survive over 100 years, so our little cabin needed a little bit of TLC. The logs were rotting away in portions, it was sinking into the ground and a lot of the chinking was missing. Our cabin was restored by a specialty company out of Colorado. It took them about two months and that happened about two years ago. They preserved as much as they could and our cabin is looking good again! Hopefully it will last another hundred years.
Anna: Right next to the cabin is the blacksmith shop and we use it for demonstrations. It's surprising to most people when they find out that we still use it today! You might not know this, but when school groups come here for field trips they often request a blacksmith. We have a wonderful Oklahoma organization, the Saltfork Craftsmen, who send us a blacksmith when we need one. School groups can request several different options for educational programming, so these types of reserved groups get to experience the ranch in kind of a special way. They can do a buffalo program, a program on life a log cabin and play pioneer games, they see the cowboy whip act, all of that's in addition to the normal mansion tour!
Erin: Another fun structure is the observation tower, which sits in the middle of Blue Hawk Peak. You can't miss it if you come to the Ranch. One of the most common questions that is asked by tourists is what was built while Pawnee Bill lived on the site. The simple answer is that everything except the museum and the bathrooms was built by Pawnee Bill and May. The tower is one of the structures that was built a little bit later than the others but still in the range of 1911-1912. It's certainly a favorite of many of the children that come here to visit. But you have to be careful. You can climb the spiral staircase but the stairs are pretty steep and narrow. But once you make it to the top, you get to see the ranch from this really high vantage point. Everything is so pretty from up there – and you can see the animals from the top. If you can imagine when Pawnee Bill lived on the ranch, the trees on the property were not here so that gave them a fantastic view of the surrounding hills and prairies.
Anna: Of course, we can't forget the animals here on the property! They are one of the favorite things here on the Ranch. We have people drive through our pasture almost every day like a ritual of sorts. We have a herd of about 40 bison, 40 longhorn, and 4 Clydesdales. Back in Pawnee Bill's day, those numbers would have been much larger because he and May ran one of the largest bison ranches in the world. As we mentioned earlier, we are still a working ranch. Sometimes when people come to the Ranch our animals might not in the pasture or it might look like they're missing. We haven't gotten rid of them. The animals have access to 500 acres of land and can go where the public cannot. If you are planning to come and see the animals, it's best to arrive in the morning when they've gotten fed or early evening when it's starting to cool off. Days when it's really hot, stormy, or when the animals are calving are usually days when the animals will be gone. And we really don't have control over the animals so we can't call them in when they're missing. So if you come up when they're gone, you'll just have to come back another time.
Erin: We might want to share this kind of neat story that we had. Just a couple weeks ago, we had the opportunity to fulfill one of the wishes for a terminally ill five year old boy. He wanted more than anything to see a buffalo and he had been in a children's hospital in Ohio for a very long time. So they came here and it just so happened that our animals were being naughty and left the pasture. We were able to take him out, he and his family, and find the bison where they were hiding. It just made us really appreciate what we get to do here and not take for granted the animals and all the wonderful things that we're surrounded with. It really brought it home that it's a special place and it means things to people.
Anna: It meant a lot to them so we were very grateful to be able to do that. We also have another secret that has to do with the animals. Do you know that some of our animals have actually names? Not all of them do but a very few select do.
Erin: The big ones.
Anna: The big ones do. So next time you come to the Ranch, you can say hi to our bison bulls, Nick and Little Bill.
Erin: Right and they were actually named in a contest. So those were the winners. The Clydesdales, we have four of them, they are Spirit, JR, Laddie, and Dan. They sometimes come when you call them by name. They're gentle giants. They are used in parades and in the Wild West Show to pull wagons and the stagecoach. Most people familiar with the ranch know that we do a reenactment of Pawnee Bill's Wild West Show every June. We try to stay as faithful to Pawnee Bill's original show as we possibly can. This year we are doing the show one weekend, Father's Day weekend on June 13 and 14 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are on sale now. But we do a lot more than just a Wild West Show.
Anna: That's right. We have events year round. In October we have a quilt show that we have done every year for many, many years. We do different events like style shows.
Erin: Ghost stories.
Anna: Ghost stories. We decorate the mansion every Christmas.
Erin: We're getting ready to have an Easter egg hunt.
Anna: We are getting ready to have an Easter egg hunt; one of the longest running Easter egg hunts in Oklahoma. We have a lot more than just what the Wild West Show is in the summer time. We also have a lot of people choose to have important events here at the Ranch, like weddings, birthdays, reunions, and conferences. We looked at our calendar earlier and in May we have a wedding almost every weekend so it's a really special time here at the Pawnee Bill Ranch. These are booked year round and they provide a lot of support to the upkeep of the Ranch. We love getting to host these events for people and we love that people choose to have their biggest events here at the Ranch.
Erin: That's right. Every time someone gets married or something, one of the thoughts that runs through my head is "Oh, that's great. They're always going to remember the Ranch as a part of one of the happiest days of their lives."
Anna: And we have former brides and grooms come up and celebrate anniversaries and come through every couple of months, so it's really fun to see them again.
Erin: We hope that the podcast answers any questions about the modern day ranch and what we do now. Please feel free to contact us at email@example.com or you can write us on Facebook at Pawnee Bill Ranch and Museum. We'd love to hear from you and answer any questions or listen to feedback. Our podcast can also be found on iTunes now, so that's very exciting. You can look that up if you subscribe to iTunes.
Anna: Until next time, I'm Anna Davis.
Erin: and I'm Erin Brown. Thank you for listening.
Anna: The Pawnee Bill Ranch is owned and operated by the Oklahoma Historical Society. For more information, go to www.pawneebillranch.com or find us on Facebook under Pawnee Bill Ranch and Museum.
Pawnee Bill Ranch
May Lillie's Pistol
Erin: Welcome to the Pawnee Bill Ranch Podcast. I'm Erin Brown, Pawnee Bill Ranch curator.
Anna: And I'm Anna Davis, Pawnee Bill Ranch Historical Interpreter.
Erin: Well, Anna, last month we talked about the different things that we do here at the Ranch and the Ranch today. One of the things that we did not mention was authenticating artifacts or providing people with information about their antique or their artifact. And surprisingly, it's something that comes up pretty often.
Anna: People come in all the time off the street with items.
Erin: Sure. Most of the time, the items that we authenticate are coming from private collectors that have purchased an item from another collector or an auction house. Items can appear on eBay or sometimes people inherit things when a relative passes away. We can go back in our archives and match up dates, names, and other events to hopefully provide an authentication. We would like to think that every Pawnee Bill item out there for sale is completely authentic and the real deal, but sadly, this isn't always the case.
Anna: Right. If you go back and listen to our very first podcast on historic firearms, we interviewed David Kennedy of the Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center. In that podcast you'll find a section where we discussed with David about faking historic guns. It doesn't happen very often and we don't want to scare people away from collecting, but when you're dealing with historic artifacts, it's always best to be vigilant. Recently, we've gotten a lot of questions about artifacts that have appeared on a more national stage. As the history of the Wild West becomes more popular, items start to appear on popular television shows. Of course, that always generates a lot of interest in Pawnee Bill. We see an increase in tourists and an increase in questions.
Erin: And that's always a good thing.
Anna: It is always a good thing. Always get interested in Pawnee Bill. We've had items appear recently on Antiques Roadshow on PBS, The Walking Dead on AMC, and on the History Channel. So, we thought that we would dedicate this podcast to an artifact that has caused some controversy. It appeared on a History Channel television show and unfortunately the artifact has a history that is too good to be true.
Erin: In late February of 2013, we started to get a lot of comments and emails from people about an episode of the History Channel show "Pawn Stars". They were really excited to see a Pawnee Bill artifact on the show. It really got our interest because we had no idea that a Pawnee Bill artifact was going to appear on the show. No one had contacted us and that is always a red flag. Usually we are one of the first people a show calls before running information related to Pawnee Bill.
Anna: It's called vetting information. You have to check your sources.
Erin: The episode was titled Lunch Larceny and during the episode, a gentleman presented the store with an 1838 Colt Paterson pistol that supposedly belonged to May Lillie's father. The pistol was presented in a red leather case that had an inscription that read: To Gordon William Lillie Pawnee Bill Interpreter of the Pawnee and May Manning Lillie from William F. Cody Buffalo Bill. We were very surprised when the expert on the show authenticated the entire story.
Anna: No hesitation. He just said that he believed the whole thing. There were, understandably, a lot of red flags with the story that was presented. There was no date was ever given as to when this gun was gifted to May Lillie from Buffalo Bill, and that, of course, you would assume would be very important. There was a very narrow time frame between when May's father died in 1903 and when the Wild West Show ended in 1913. The gun case itself does not look appropriate for the kind of presentation that was supposed to have happened. In fact, the gun when the case was opened was resting on bubble wrap. Wild West Show items are usually pretty ornate with display boxes made specifically for the occasion, like our silver tea service in the mansion. There are photographs that survive of the original presentation box. The gun case is not the original case the weapon would have come in. It's a red leather case that looks almost like a briefcase. The engraving on the gun looks too modern. In the world of artifacts, just because something has an engraving on it does not make the story behind it true.
Erin: Historians use the word provenance to describe the chronology of ownership, custody, or location of an object. It's the history behind an object. Unfortunately, this gun, and the story behind it, has no provenance. How this gun, which was alleged to be a gift to May Lillie, ended up on TV screens across the country on the popular show will probably forever remain a mystery. We have many firearms in our collection that belonged to Pawnee Bill and May and it seems odd that a special one like this, especially one alleged to be her father's, would have ever left our collection. It is also odd that we've never heard of it before.
Anna: Yeah, there are other museums that have Pawnee Bill guns in their collection. That's not rare but this is a pretty special kind of gun you would think.
Erin: Yeah and even if we don't own it, we usually have a knowledge of what is out there either in private collections or in another museum. So, we know what is out there in terms of authentic, important Pawnee Bill artifacts. Quite simply, someone was probably trying to make a little more money off this weapon by adding the names of Pawnee Bill, Buffalo Bill, May Lillie, and a Col. Manning. While the history behind the gun might not be true, the gun itself is really rare.
Anna: Exactly. We contacted David Kennedy again and asked him a little bit about what he knows on Colt Paterson. The Colt Paterson was Samuel Colt's first attempt at creating a commercial repeating firearm. It used a revolving cylinder with chambers that would align with a stationary barrel. The weapon was deemed a failure and actually ruined Samuel Colt's business for many years after. Because of this, less than 3000 Colt Paterson's were manufactured and some experts guess that less than 200 survive to modern times. So it's a rare gun. The gun was used in limited circulation by the American military. It was believed that the gun was too fragile for military use. The main buyer of the weapon was the Republic of Texas for use in the Texas Rangers, the Texas Navy, and the Texas militias. The firearm also saw service during the Seminole Wars in Florida in the 1830s and 1840s as well as during the Mexican-American War from 1846 to 1848. At auction a Colt Paterson can bring in between $10,000 and $20,000 for a poor condition pistol like the one featured on the show. Paterson's in better condition have sold for as much as $1,000,000 at auction.
Erin: What is the truth in this matter? It is the case of two William R. Mannings, one who owned the gun and one who didn't. And it appears as though the expert on Pawn Stars just morphed the two William R. Mannings into one person. May Lillie, herself, stated in interviews throughout her life that before she met her husband, she knew nothing about guns and that he was the one that taught her everything. Growing up in the household of a magnetic physician in the middle of Philadelphia, it's very unlikely that May had any contact with firearms. In fact, she stated she didn't. Her father, Dr. William Richard Manning, was a man with no military record and no political aspirations. He led a very quiet life before his daughter became an international star and a very quiet life until his death in 1903. It is not likely that this gun ever belonged to him, nor is it likely that Buffalo Bill presented it to his daughter, May Lillie, after his death.
Anna: Colonel William R. Manning is actually a real person and he was the probable owner of the gun. We did a little bit of genealogical research on his side of the family and came up with some pretty interesting things that kind of made the puzzle fit for us. Colonel Manning came from a very long line of military men. His grandfather, Lt. Col. Laurence Manning, Sr., served under General Henry Lee during the American Revolutionary War. His father, Laurence Manning Jr., was also a Lieutenant Colonel for the United States Army. He served in Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida. Col. Manning was most notably the commander of the 50th Georgia Volunteer Infantry for the Confederacy during the American Civil War. It is very likely that he saw service during the Seminole Wars, which is where he would have come into contact with a Colt Paterson. So, there he is with the gun in question. He had 10 children, one of which was named Mary Manning. Of course, May's real name is Mary Manning but he passed away in 1871, which is when May would have been about 2 years old. We know that she had a brother and a sister after she was born, so this man, of course, not related to her. He is buried in Georgia with the rest of his family. These two William R. Mannings never knew each other and were not related. It's really just a case of mistaken identity.
Erin: We have tried to contact "Pawn Stars" to get more information on this situation and to explain what we know about the two William R. Mannings, but we have not received a reply back. We do not know where the gun is today. We would like this to serve as reminder that you should always be vigilant when you're buying an antique or historic artifact. If there are ever any questions about the history of an item, please consult an expert. This is most definitely a case of "Buyer Beware." In this instance, the Colt Paterson is real, but the story is fake. The gun never belonged to May Lillie's father.
Anna: So, what can you do to save yourself from buying a fake? It is important to ask questions when coming into contact with any historic item, be it a gun or a simple antique. It is so easy to engrave a name on an item and suddenly something that might be worth $200 is suddenly worth $2000. We see it a lot, especially with rifles. You take a really cheap rifle that would have been about the time period of Pawnee Bill, you put his name on it, and suddenly it's selling for $20,000 at auction. We see faked items, not just guns, all the time in on-line auction houses, in private collections, and in antique stores. Do not trust an inscription alone.
Erin: Exactly. We can't stress how important it is to get a second opinion. There are experts in museums all around the United States that can offer their expertise on any given subject. A little bit of research goes a long way. Say that you had a piece of luggage that says on the outside that it belonged to Pawnee Bill. Do some research on the type of luggage it is. Find out how and when it was used. Compare dates to events that would have taken place in the person's life time. Most of all, trust your instincts…if you have a bad feeling about the item, it is probably best to pass it up then to be stuck with a very expensive lemon. Also, when it comes to appraisals, be aware that museums will not place a monetary value on an artifact. It's against our code of ethics. You will have to go to an official appraiser. It is also one of my pet peeves, and probably a lot of curators across this country, to be approached by someone who is "seeking more information about an artifact they have" and they're under the guise of wanting to do research and gaining more knowledge. And then I turn around and see that same artifact turn up in an on-line auction house with the tagline "authenticated by Curator of Pawnee Bill Ranch." Please don't do that. It's really rude. I don't want to unknowingly help you sell an artifact. We are in the business of preserving history, not selling.
Anna: Yeah, of course, we would like all the items come to us because we want to preserve them. We hate to see them go up for auction. And also, another thing is, don't try to make puzzle pieces fit that shouldn't fit together. If you have a bunch of similar information, there's some coincidences in there, just keep going with your research. It's better to have the whole picture then just part of the picture that's mismatched. That about ends this month's topic. We've got some really interesting topics lined up for the summer. We've recently begun talking to other archives around the United States and some of the things that we've found we thought would make really good podcast topics.
Erin: Right. In June we'll be talking about a series of letters we found in the University of Wyoming archive. They are from May Lillie and she wrote them while in Europe with the Wild West Shows. She sent them to her good friend, Annie Ostendorff, and we have learned a lot not only about the show in Europe, but also we've learned about the interesting Ostendorffs. And in July and August we will begin a two parts series on the run of the Two Bill's Show. The beginning will even be told in Pawnee Bill's own words taken straight from a document found on one of our recent research trips to the Cowboy Hall of Fame. Until next time, I'm Erin Brown.
Anna: And I'm Anna Davis. Thanks for listening and we'll see you next time.
Pawnee Bill Ranch
The Ostendorff Letters
Erin: Welcome to the Pawnee Bill Ranch Podcast. I'm Erin Brown, Pawnee Bill Ranch curator.
Anna: And I'm Anna Davis, Pawnee Bill Ranch historical interpreter.
Erin: Well, Anna, it's no secret that one of our favorite parts of working at the Ranch is dealing with people who knew Pawnee Bill and May when they lived here. Getting to talk to these people is almost like watching history come alive. But sadly, as time goes by, actually meeting these people is becoming a rarity. But, something equally as impressive is when we get to read documents that are in Pawnee Bill and May's own words. So, this winter we had the opportunity to do some research and we reached out to archives around the U.S. and we came across some documents that we thought would make really interesting subjects for our podcast.
Anna: Right. One of those institutions that house a piece of Pawnee Bill history is the University of Wyoming. Their collection covers a wide array of subjects from the American West. They have personal papers of Owen Wister who was the author of the Virginian. They have papers from Wyoming's first female governor Nellie Tayloe Ross. And they also have some personal papers of Buffalo Bill Cody. But there was one collection in particular that caught our eye when we were looking through their finding aids and that was because it contained a set of letters that shed some light on a remarkable piece of Pawnee Bill history. And it's all told from the perspective of a 24 year old May Lillie.
Erin: This collection we refer to as the Ostendorff collection and it contains a lot of wonderful items. We got really excited when we talked to the University of Wyoming and they were so generous to share with us. We love it when institutions share with us because that's what it's all about: sharing information and learning. There were photographs of the Wild West Show during its heyday, a catalog from Pawnee Bill's Old Town and Indian Trading Post, and a series of about a dozen letters written from Pawnee Bill and May to the Ostendorff family. The main recipient of the letter was a woman named Annie Ostendorff and the way that May writes to her, it is very apparent that they had this close female friendship. So, we decided to do a little research on the Ostendorff family and what we came up with was pretty interesting.
Anna: Yeah. Now, we're not exactly sure just how Annie Ostendorff met Pawnee Bill and May. Some of the letters allude to the fact that at one time she might have been a show performer. She probably might have been a trick rider because May makes reference to the girls all saying hello. This was before 1894 however because she stopped performing to settle down to raise a family. Her husband, Lewis Ostendorff was a publisher based out of New York City who did some work for Pawnee Bill during the run of the Wild West Shows. Annie was born Anna Paul in 1873 in Chicago, Illinois. Her parents were immigrants from Germany, which made hers and her siblings first generation Americans.
Erin: And that was the same for her husband, Lewis. Lewis Henry Ostendorff, Jr. was born in April 1854 in New Jersey. His father Lewis Sr. was from Germany and his mother, who has the best name ever, Mary McWhinney, was from Scotland. We aren't sure exactly how or when Lewis and Annie met, but on July 12, 1890, they were married in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Almost exactly a year later, on July 22, 1891, they welcomed their son, Robert Wilson Ostendorff, who was always called Robbie. He was born in Manhattan, New York City.
Anna: Yeah, so we have two families that are very good friends who are writing letters to one another during this time period. To set the scene a little bit, we have to go back to what was happening in the 1894 Wild West Show season. Now we talked about in a previous podcast Pawnee Bill's ill-fated balloon ride, which took place in Antwerp, Belgium in 1894. Pawnee Bill's Wild West Show visited Europe in that season. Before the season began, the Lillie's found themselves in Philadelphia, which kind of was their base of operations before they were here in Pawnee. They were preparing for their big overseas trip. The first letter we see from May was written on February 16th, 1894 in Philadelphia. Written to Annie Ostendorff, we learn a little bit about the preparations that were going on behind the scenes for the Wild West Show.
Erin: The letter says: "My dear friend, I will now try and answer your welcome letter. I intended to write to you a little while after I got home but I sent for some photos and that is what I have been waiting for. I have had an awful cold am just getting over it. We have been having awful bad weather it is awful cold today. I would love to get over to see you again. I suppose you heard of us going to Europe. I think it will be an awful nice trip. Mr. Lillie goes to Washington Monday for a few days. I expect to go down to Frederick soon to practice. Well, I am in hopes of seeing you before I go away. Regards to Mr. O from Mr. L and I. Your true friend, May. P.S. I send photo with this letter hoping you will like it. Bye Bye, May."
Anna: So, it's a pretty hopeful letter to a good friend. May was looking forward to the European show. She was getting ready to practice and she was preparing for this international trip and it seemed she'd been preparing for a while. I think it's interesting that we get to see a little bit of May's, almost education in a way, through these letters. She has this almost rough quality in the way that she writes.
Erin: Yeah, it's really interesting to see the way that May wrote and the vernacular she wrote in. There's no doubt that she was a very intelligent and business savvy woman. She had a lot of common sense, but the way that she phrases things and the way that she writes and spells kind of tells us that she probably didn't have much formal education. In Pawnee Bill's biography, Glenn Shirley writes that May was a graduate of Smith's College and her father was a physician. But we've proven that to be false. She probably did attend a regular public school in Philadelphia but nothing beyond that.
Anna: Yeah, there are lots of Quaker schools and they like to give education to everyone, so it's very likely that she attended something like that. Now, there's a short letter that was sent to Annie before the Lillie's left for Europe. It doesn't have a date on it, but what May talks about kind of puts it in between the other letters. It says…"My dear friend, yours to hand." Yours to hand was kind of an old timey phrase that manes that May had received Annie's letter in the mail. "Glad to hear from you and to hear you are all well. We are in the best of health. The steamer Illinois left yesterday morning with part of the show. They had a beautiful day. There were about 75 people and 100 head of stock. We will be over Tuesday sometime after dinner. Mother wants me to stay home as long as I can but I would of come over sooner. Hoping to see you soon with regards to Mr. O and yourself. From Mr. Lillie and myself. Your true friend, May."
Erin: The next letter in the series is written in Antwerp, Belgium on June 3rd, 1894. We see in this letter that May thinks things aren't all they're cracked up to be in Europe. The letter says…"My Dear Friend, Yours to hand and was very glad to hear from you and to hear you are feeling better. We are all well at the show and are enjoying ourselves but I tell you this place is no America. I do wish I was back and if I do come back all O.K. I promise you I will never come over again. We have been having awful bad weather raining and so cold but it is very nice today. Business is not as good as it ought to be. Oh but I do get some handsome flowers Sunday night. I got a large basket and Monday I got a large bouquet and the flowers are handsome over here. I am never without them. Dear me but these shoes have spoilt me. I can't wear no others and they are about worn out. I shall soon send over for you to send me another pair over. So you was to Buffalo Bill's opening. I should loved to been there. That was funny in Little Robbie calling him Pawnee Bill. It would be awful nice if you could come over here I think the change would do you good. All the girls in camp send their regards to you and Mr. O. With best wishes to you and your hubby from Mr. Lillie and myself, I am your True Friend, May. Love to little Robbie from Mr. Lillie and I."
Anna: So, there are two things about this letter that I love. Number one, she's complains about the cold weather and she grew up in Philadelphia, so you would think she would be used to it by now. Number two, little Robbie went to the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show and got to meet Buffalo Bill but called him Pawnee Bill instead.
Erin: Yeah. That happens a lot. Still today, people confuse the two.
Anna: So, what this letter kind of tells us and what we can corroborate in the route books is that the show in Europe was being plagued by bad weather and low attendance. Now, it seemed like May was really homesick for America at this time. You know, of course, when she married Pawnee Bill she had never been away from home so this is probably her first big international trip. But she enjoyed the nice Belgian flowers that she was being given during her performances. The next letter is dated October 31, 1894, so almost 5 months after the last letter. The letter head that this is written on shows a grand hotel known as the Hotel Bellevue, which is in The Hague, Netherlands. The Hague is on the ocean and the hotel is still in existence. It is a beautiful red roofed Dutch building and it's easy to see why May and Bill chose it as their vacation spot.
Erin: This letter is the longest of the group at three pages and it reads…"My dear Annie: Your ever welcome letter came and I was as pleased to hear from you but it was awful sad news to Mr. Lillie and I to hear of Mr. Ostendorff being sick. I do hope and pray he will recover soon. I also hope you are over your trouble. I know it is over by this time. Yes, it is awful the trouble you have had but we must have trouble before it comes all together. Mr. Lillie and I are in the best of health and our trip through Holland. We have seen many beautiful sights over here oh it is so much better than Antwerp and the people are so nice. My only trouble is I can't understand them very well and I don't seem to learn. It would be nice if you and Mr. O could come over. I might of saved him the spell of sickness but I do hope your next letter will say he is better and you are all O.K. with a nice little girl."
Anna: So, she couldn't speak Dutch and she was frustrated because she couldn't speak Dutch and she couldn't learn Dutch. You pointed out that she's saying that she could have saved Mr. O from his sickness if he'd only come to Europe with them.
Erin: I love that. She's like, maybe I could have kept him from being sick! What? How?!
Anna: She seems to have this big vendetta against Antwerp. I wonder if it had to do with the balloon ride. Like, I wonder if that had anything to do with it.
Erin: Oh, yeah. She hated Antwerp and everything about Belgium. But, she was a proud American. We can gather that.
Anna: And then one of the other big things is she alludes to Annie having some troubles. If you paid attention to that last line, she said "I hope you're okay with a nice little girl." So, surprise! The reason why Annie and Mr. O aren't in Europe is because Annie is pregnant with her second child! It's the first mention of this child in any of the letters, but it becomes very apparent that May is infatuated with this baby. She also talks about the plans for the rest of their season. May writes…"We leave tomorrow at twelve o'clock for the South of France. Our first stand is Lyons. We will stay South of France all winter and Italy and Spain and then play Sweden and other countries next summer and come home in the Fall. Now we will do this if we make money in France but if we don't we will surely come back to good old America and nothing would suit me better than to have Gordon say we go to America. I have enjoyed it over here ever so much but I would like to come home now. It is so very cold where we are but we go 500 miles south of here so I guess it will be warm."
Erin: So what we know now that May didn't know then is that things did not go well when they went to France. The Pawnee Bill Wild West Show never made it to Italy, never made it to Spain or Sweden. The attendance at that show in France, at the many shows in France, was low and to make back their money, they had to go back to the Netherlands to perform for Queen Wilhelmina. They were hugely popular in the Netherlands so they made money while they were there. We don't know what happened with the rest of the show season but they just could not attract good crowds.
Anna: Can you image a two year stand for this Wild West Show in Europe? It ended up being like, what, a half of a year, but they had originally planned for a two year tour.
Erin: Yeah, two year show. But it seemed at the time that Pawnee Bill was excited at the next chapter of his show. She goes on to write…"Gordon is down to the train they are loading the stock and baggage. He is just wild to go to France. Of course you know it will be better when we come home we can advertise of being in these different countries. You can write to me all along and I can tell you how we are doing. Then we come home we will sure come and see you. "
Anna: May's letter then turns to talk of little Robbie again. We know that she and Pawnee Bill loved children and it seemed that Robbie Ostendorff kind of captured her imagination so maybe she saw something in little Robbie that she really liked. She writes…"So Robby is riding a bucking horse. He must do it for Pawnee Bill when he comes. Gordon did laugh when I read it to him. I expect he is a big boy by this time. It is time to eat as I will close with love to you. Best wishes from Mr. Lillie to you. I do hope Mr. O will be better and you are in good health. Kiss Robby for us. Your true friend always, May. P.S. Write as soon as you get this address."
Erin: And the fact that they have their three-year-old on a bronc kind of points to the fact that Annie Ostendorff was a trick rider or a horse woman or something. Even though we don't have records to prove it in our archives, I mean, we don't have a complete cast roster, but I mean who else but a trick rider puts their three-year-old on a bronc? I don't know!
Anna: I mean these people are living in the Bronx! There are probably not many people in the Bronx that know how to ride a bronco. So, you have to imagine that she had some sort of horse experience.
Erin: The last letter in the collection to Annie was addressed from Philadelphia. So they're back home by this point on February 5th, 1895. It says…"Mrs. Ostendorff, my dear friend. I will answer the letter you sent to mother. I have been expecting a letter from you since I have been home. We got home a week before Christmas and had a very nice voyage over. I thought of you while I was in New York. We got in at the wharf at nine o'clock and we left on the eleven ten train so you see we didn't stay long in New York. I was so anxious to see my mother and all the folks. Gordon and I are in the best of health. I hope you have got over your trouble all right and in good health. How is Mr. Ostendorff? I do hope he is well and home. We often speak of you both and wonder how you are. Gordon said Sunday night "May write Mrs. Ostendorff and see how they all are." I expect Robbie is a big boy. What is the baby? A boy or a girl?" And what I really find interesting in reading all these letters is you can really see a difference. She refers to pregnancy as your trouble. "The trouble." So, it's very different.
Anna: And we know how much trouble she had with her own pregnancy, so yeah, she does refer to it a lot as "the trouble." The letter continues "Gordon is very busy getting the show ready. He is buying horses now. We are going to have a neat show next summer if nothing happens. I think we will open April the 26th. Gordon is going out West to buy some ponies for we can't get what we want in this part of the country. Our show closed in Lyons France and we sent the Indians home and Gordon and I stayed in Paris for eight days and we just had a lovely time. I think the city is just grand. I would love to go over there and stay in Paris about two months there is so much to be seen. I tell you it is a gay town. If Gordon comes over to New York City I will come over to see you. Have Mr. O write him a long letter for I will be so glad to hear from you! With kind regards and best wishes for you and Mr. O from Mr. Lillie and myself. Kiss Robby for me. Your true friend, May."
Erin: So, was that baby a boy or a girl? We kind of think May wants it to be a girl.
Anna: Yeah, she keeps saying is it a little girl? Is it a girl?
Erin: Since there were no more letters between the two women that we have, there very well could have been but we don't know of them in existence, we had to do some additional research to uncover the answer to that question. Along with these letters, Pawnee Bill wrote several to Lewis Ostendorff which mostly discuss business matters. Lewis was printing biographies and programs for Pawnee Bill to sell while in Europe. There were a few letters dated past 1917 in which Pawnee Bill is talking to another gentleman though. He refers to the man as My Friend and Namesake or Friend Ostendorff. While doing some genealogical research on the family, we discovered that Annie had given birth to a little boy. So a little baby brother for Robbie was born on November 17, 1894.
Anna: And that little boy was really special. The Ostendorff's decided to name their son Gordon Lewis Fred Ostendorff in honor of their dear friend Pawnee Bill, which is why he refers to him as my friend and namesake. Sadly, Annie Ostendorff died fairly young at the age of 43 on May 14, 1910. Lewis Ostendorff passed away at the age of 68 on January 16, 1923. Robert, so little Robbie, settled into life as a cashier for various businesses in and around New York. I know he got married and he did have children. Gordon Ostendorff's life, however, started to mirror his dear friend and namesake though.
Erin: That's right. It's really kind of a cool turn of events. There is a very short letter from Pawnee Bill that is dated October 31, 1917. It reads…"Friend Gordon, I was glad to hear you are doing so well. Hope it will continue. Your work was satisfying last year and if I go out would like to have you with me. Best Wishes, Yours. G.W. Lillie." Gordon Ostendorff, the little baby that May had been so excited about, grew up to be a cowboy just like Pawnee Bill. He toured with a few shows and on his WWI draft card, he lists that he is a cowboy, but unemployed at the present.
Anna: Yeah, and Pawnee Bill alludes to trying to get a show together at Coney Island so, you know, they were trying to get these little shows in and around the country. And then I know he tried to do another big tour again.
Erin: Pawnee Bill was nothing if not optimistic.
Anna: The final letter in the Ostendorff collection is one written to Gordon from Pawnee Bill sometime after 1936. It sheds some light on the fact that even though Gordon Ostendorff was approaching 50 he was still out riding with these shows. Pawnee Bill writes: "I am now past 75 and have excellent health and enjoy my life about as much as I ever did. In reference to your saddle, I am sorry to say that I don't have an extra second hand saddle. My last two saddles that I have are the ones that I use and Mexican Joe uses so I wouldn't dare send it away. The only other saddle that I know of in town is at the second hand store and it is such an old rattle trap that I couldn't advise you to buy it. However, once in a while we have a chance to pick up a good second hand saddle and if we do, I will let you know."
Erin: Wow. It's really interesting to hear just how much the world changed in the 50 years that these letters spanned. In 1894, Pawnee Bill was off buying ponies from his show in the Western United States and in 1936 there are no second hand saddles to be had.
Erin: It's also really amazing that these two families stayed in touch for so long. Even after Lewis and Annie died, their sons Little Robbie, Robert, and Gordon shared a special bond with the Lillies that lasted up until the end of their lives.
Anna: That concludes our Ostendorff letters podcast. We just wanted to take this opportunity to read you some of Pawnee Bill and May's letters in their own words because it shows that they were real people and it is always fun to peek into people's private correspondence and their privates lives and these relationships that they had with one another.
Erin: Right, it shows them in a really personal, relaxed way and it gives us a glimpse of how they would have communicated with friends. These letters also shed light on a very interesting time in Pawnee Bill and May's lives – when they were building a business together and trying to tour Europe. I think it also kind of shows May in a vulnerable way. She was hopefully but she was also disappointed.
Anna: And very homesick.
Erin: Very homesick. May has always got a positive spirit in everything, but these letters kind of show some cracks in that. We hope you've enjoyed our podcast. We are a little late in bringing it to you because we've been busy putting on a Wild West shows. We hope you got to see our show in June. It was June 13th and 14th. If not, it will be our new tradition to stage a show on Father's Day weekend every year. So, hopefully when our summer settles down a little bit, we are still really busy with groups and some other things going on, we hope to get back in a routine for sure this fall. But thank you so much for listening and for your support of the Pawnee Bill Ranch. I'm Erin Brown
Anna: And I'm Anna Davis. Thank you for listening and we will see you next time!
Anna: The Pawnee Bill Ranch is owned and operated by the Oklahoma Historical Society. For more information, go to www.pawneebillranch.com. Or find us on Facebook under Pawnee Bill Ranch and Museum.
Pawnee Bill Ranch
The Rise and Fall of the Two Bills Show
Anna: Thank you for downloading the Pawnee Bill Ranch podcast brought to you by the staff of the Pawnee Bill Ranch.
Erin: Welcome to the Pawnee Bill Ranch Podcast, I'm Erin Brown, Pawnee Bill Ranch Curator. Anna: And I'm Anna Davis, Pawnee Bill Ranch Historical Interpreter.
Erin: Well, Anna, we took a little bit of a break this summer from recording the podcast. Between tourist season, rodeos, different events, and much needed vacations it always gets a little hard to find the time to research and write and record. But we're back! We're excited to be back and we're ready to bring our listeners more tidbits of Pawnee Bill history!
Anna: That's right! And the topic that we have chosen today is definitely a doozy. We had originally planned to cut it into two podcasts, but we decided to condense down the information and present it in one. I have to say that this topic is one of the most confusing topics that we have ever researched for this podcast. There are so many different people involved and so many different emotions that it just kind of forms this really tangled web of information and it's really hard to pull the threads apart. It's full of so much drama that it really puts soap operas to shame. Soap operas have nothing on this topic.
Erin: Right, and one of the things that makes it really difficult to try to wade through the information is that we have a lot of different people who are telling the story from a lot of different perspectives with conflicting information. So, it's hard to really figure out what happened. But we're going to present you with what we think truly happened regarding the rise and fall of The Two Bills Show, the largest Wild West Show the world had ever seen. So, one of the things that kind of spurred this topic on was that we took a trip to the National Western Heritage Museum and Cowboy Hall of Fame in OKC to see what they had in their archives. We came across an unpublished manuscript that was written in Pawnee Bill's own words. Now, through his life Pawnee Bill had been really quiet about the subject of the Two Bills Show. It was a really sore subject for him to talk about, but this manuscript, which was written in the 1930s, painted an incredible detailed picture of what happened during the Two Bill's Show from Pawnee Bill's perspective.
Anna: I mean, we could talk forever about the Two Bills Show. There's so many different parts of it. The simple story that we usually get tell to the public when we talk about the Two Bills Show is that Pawnee Bill and Buffalo Bill combined their shows in 1908. The show ran until 1913 and it closed due to bankruptcy. Now, as you're going to learn this is the extremely simplified version of this topic. There are a lot of different individuals involved in this story but we are going to try to tell this story without getting overly confused, because it's very easy to do.
Erin: Yes. So, as we always do we always like to start from the beginning. Even though our story technically starts in 1908, it's beneficial to give you a little bit of background on the history of Wild West Shows. Cause that's what we do. In 1873, Ned Buntline, famed dime store novelist, wrote a play, a hugely popular play called "The Scouts of the Plains." This play was specifically created to star three of the biggest draws of the American West. Those were William F. Cody, Texas Jack Omohundro, and Wild Bill Hickok. The play also employed this beautiful Italian actress named Giuseppina Morlacchi who would portray the Indian heroine of the production. The show was meant, it was conceived, to be a serious portrayal of the American West, but many audiences instead found it to be laughable. They thought it was a comedy. However, here was born idea of combining Western mythology with show business really captured people's imaginations. In fact, this is where our story kind of gets more intriguing. In 1873, 13 year old Gordon Lillie happened upon the actors as they were staying at the St. Nicholas Hotel in Bloomington, Illinois. Later on that evening, he had his ticket to see "The Scouts of the Plains" at Schroder's Opera House in Bloomington and he would later say that it was there when he decided that's what he wanted to do with his life.
Anna: Yeah, he described these men on horseback in front of the hotel with this long billowing hair. He was just so intrigued by that, so that's how he got interest in that.
Erin: He decided I want to be a showman.
Anna: He wanted to be a showman with long billowing hair.
Erin: Which he did have!
Anna: "The Scouts of the Plains" ended its run fairly quickly after it began. The play was plagued with problems from its star, Wild Bill Hickok. Hickok would show up drunk to performances. Now, none of these people were stage actors. Like, they were…
Erin: They were just people.
Anna: They were just people. So, Wild Bill would show up drunk. There were stories of him pulling out his six shooters and shooting the stage lights because he was so hung over that they hurt his eyes or there was also a story where he became too amorous with Giuseppina during a love scene that got them labeled as indecent. So, you can imagine how that went down.
Erin: A little too real!
Anna: A little too real. So, Texas Jack, Wild Bill, and Giuseppina were paid off and sent home. Buffalo Bill's legends kind of continued to grow from there. He would star on the stage off and on for the next eleven years until he had gotten financial backing for his new endeavor: Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. The first Wild West Show was in 1883 and Buffalo Bill instantly became an international superstar. Pawnee Bill was with him that first season as the Pawnee interpreter. Another important person with him that first season was a man named Nate Salsbury. And, arguably, Salsbury was the most important person for this show. He was Buffalo Bill's business manager and he would be the man responsible for all of the business deals that were undertaken by this Wild West Show.
Erin: The Wild West Show business was not for sissies. It was cutthroat. It took extreme dedication and innovation to keep a show open and making a profit. Everyone was out for themselves in this business and they were all battling for a portion of the same profit pool. When Pawnee Bill decided to start his own show in 1888, he quickly ran into difficulties resulting from the ruthless business practices of other Wild West Shows, including, and especially, Buffalo Bills. Pawnee Bill would have this to say in 1908about his Wild West Show: "For 20 years we have worked almost night and day and at last we have made a wonderful success. Our show is now considered the third best paying and most attractive show property in the whole United States. During all this time the Buffalo Bill Show did all in their power to stop us. Hiring our best performers, stopping us from getting Natives legally off their reservation. This show at every opportunity would go 30 to 50 miles out of their way to cover our advertisements with theirs reading 'Coming Soon' when they had no intention of playing the town. The people would pass us up and wait for Buffalo Bill who never came." It really seemed like Cody and Nate Salsbury fought Pawnee Bill at every turn.
Anna: It was a really dirty business. Probably the saddest statement from Pawnee Bill on the topic of the Wild West Show business came when he was talking about the failed show in Antwerp, Belgium. If you go back and listen to our Ostendorff letters podcast, you'll learn a little bit about why the show kind of failed in Europe. Pawnee Bill stated "I remember how our friends, when the cable came from Antwerp saying The Pawnee Bill's Show has failed: they all threw up their hats in the air and Hurrahed, with delight at our failure." It was this constant fight against these shows and it would continue all the way up until the combined show happened. Around 1905, however, Buffalo Bill's success started to falter. In 1905, Nate Salsbury, the man who had done everything for the show, died. And that left the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show without their main business organizer. Buffalo Bill was a man who was all about the flash and showmanship of the Wild West Show, but he was not the best business man in the world.
Erin: He was a back end man. He didn't deal with the front end of the business.
Anna: Salsbury had been the one who kept everything organized and everything running since the very beginning. So, when he died it was a big shock. He came from a show business background; he had a great interest in the show being successful. And actually when he died, he was the largest shareholder of the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show, so without his leadership, Buffalo Bill's show entered into a tailspin.
Erin: So that was something really significant with our story. Nate Salsbury died. Buffalo Bill's show goes berserk. A couple of other really significant things happened that greatly affected wild west show business landscape. The first of which was a reorganization of Pawnee Bill's Show that happened in 1907 when Edward Arlington, who was an advisor of the late James Bailey, purchased a half interest in Pawnee Bill's Wild West and Great Far East. Pawnee Bill remained an active manager and the show continued to tour the country under the same name. When the show went on the road after wintering in late 1906/early1907 promoters boasted of increased proportions and elevated standards complete with the installation of modern innovations. So it was a new and improved show. Secondly, and most importantly, the great force of the Circus Trust was formed. So this was a combination of Barnum and Bailey, Ringling Brothers, Buffalo Bill, and the Forepaugh-Sells organization. The Trust was dominated by John Ringling and this group was a force to be reckoned with. Under their powerful agreement, Ringling Brothers with their two shows, Barnum and Bailey with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show made warfare with other circuses, tent shows and Wild West shows and Pawnee Bill's Wild West under this reorganization had become a throne in their side. Anna: Yes, when Pawnee Bill partnered with Edward Arlington, the show underwent this metamorphosis and this all happened when they were quartered in Cumberland Park near Nashville, TN. With Arlington, Pawnee Bill conceived the idea of the blending the western borders with the exotic and romantic "Great Far East" and this resulted in something that the Wild West shows had never seen before. They sent agents to countries all over the world to find indigenous entertainers and the result was an "exhibition that never before granted startled American eyes." The Far East is a topic that is way too big unto itself to cover right now. We're going to devote a entire podcast to it at some point, but the important thing to note is that Pawnee Bill was doing well and he was achieving a great deal of success and PR due to his restructuring and thus the Circus Trust waged war on Pawnee Bill's show.
Erin: Right! Before the Circus Trust consolidation, Buffalo Bill was faltering. In addition to Salsbury dying, Buffalo Bill was spending out of control. He was operating solely really on advances and loans. The Circus Trust was the best thing that could have happened to him. It offered him protection. And The Circus Trust was just about the worst thing that could have happened to Pawnee Bill.
Anna: The Circus Trust sent expert billposters and lithographers and three special agents to sabotage Pawnee Bill. They covered his billboards with Barnum and Bailey posters. That is actually just one example of the work they did to try to bring other shows down. Surprisingly, the Trust did not last long probably due to the financial strain that Buffalo Bill's show put on the Barnum and Bailey team.
Erin: So we go from this war being waged between two entities, between Pawnee Bill and Buffalo Bill and his people to this consolidation: The Two Bills Show, the largest merger ever in the amusement industry up to that time. We go from this years-long rivalry, you could almost say the two men were enemies for many years, to Pawnee Bill buying at first, a third interest of Buffalo Bill's show and then later, another third and then turning around and giving Buffalo Bill's interest back to him. We can certainly understand why May, Pawnee Bill's wife, was vehemently opposed to the merger and in fact, she vowed never to perform with the show again if Pawnee Bill joined with Buffalo Bill. She stayed true to her word.
Anna: May had a valid argument. Pawnee Bill had worked for years to develop a show on a solid foundation and he had finally reached a point where he was financially secure and he had the public's trust. He was the show that people were coming to see at that time. Buffalo Bill's people had done everything in their power to destroy Pawnee Bill and she felt like it was a move made more out of emotion than business sense. May had the foresight to see the writing on the wall. She kind of knew where this was heading and her advice was to let them fail. Let them falter. They deserved nothing less than to fail in her mind. May Lillie was also shocked that her husband held so much of a grudge for things that had happened decades before. He just couldn't let it go. I don't think anyone knew just how much the constant fighting had taken out of Pawnee Bill. It was kind of like his spirit was deflated at this point. Erin: Pawnee Bill had endured a lot at Buffalo Bill's hand and we can understand how much satisfaction it gave him to now be all those people's boss. Now they all had to answer to him. So it was this really delightful turn of events for him and kind of emotionally satisfying. However, it was not the smartest business decision.
Anna: No, it wasn't.
Erin: And it is sad, because Pawnee Bill was always a brilliant businessperson, but this time he let revenge get in the way of what would have truly been the sensible thing to do. He wanted to get even and he ignored his wife. He ignored May's pleas that he rise above that. She said, and this is in his own words, she told him, these people aren't even in your class. You are a better person than they are, and now, what you're doing here, this act is you sinking down to their level. You're risking it all to get even. Anna: And May Lillie was very right, but The Two Bill's Show enjoyed a great deal of success for a while. Buffalo Bill's name alone was a huge draw. He was the biggest superstar in the world. Combined with Pawnee Bill's ability to negotiate and down to earth knowledge of the ins and outs of the Wild West business, the two men drew large crowds with "Buffalo Bill's Wild West and Pawnee Bill's Great Far East." It was sort of an unspoken agreement between Buffalo Bill and Pawnee Bill that Buffalo Bill would use his star power to bring in the crowds and Pawnee Bill would deal with the business side of things and never the two shall meet. It was when this clear division of power started to get muddled that things really got out of hand. Buffalo Bill was very temperamental and was prone to fighting with his staff and excessive drinking, and this is all according to Pawnee Bill. In fact, Pawnee Bill describes several encounters with Buffalo Bill where the man is just in bed, crying his eyes out. With the covers held over his head. Kind of like a little five year old saying "Just make it go away. Just make it go away!"
Erin: Make it better, Pawnee Bill!
Anna: Not to mention the huge resistance that Pawnee Bill was getting from Buffalo Bill's cast and crew about this new merger. I mean, these people were used to being in charge, and now he was in charge. He constantly had to smooth over hurt feelings and bruised egos and he was just trying to do what was best for this show.
Erin: Right. The two Bills were partners for 5 years. They definitely had ups and downs, definitely had successes and failures, but the point that Pawnee Bill keeps making in his own words regarding this merger and subsequent bankruptcy, is that Buffalo Bill could not face his problems. He also underscores the importance of him being able to get along with Buffalo Bill. He was not easy to deal with and Pawnee Bill repeatedly talks about going above and beyond to make their personal relationship work so their business relationship could thrive. Regardless, they could not work through the problems. When things were great, they were great and when things were bad, sometimes Pawnee Bill was the last to know. Because of the secrets. Buffalo Bill would just keep secrets and all of his people would protect him.
Anna: To complicate matters, organizing the shows administration was difficult. The Buffalo Bill employees did not want to answer to anyone who was with Pawnee Bill and vice versa, so combining the shows was difficult. Pawnee Bill ultimately gave them an ultimatum: Either you deal with it or you get out. Wild West Show performers were replaceable. They could find someone else to do your job. So, some crewmembers left, but for the most part there were no more employee strikes and the cast and crew came to respect Pawnee Bill's leadership. However, there were serious complications arising from the Bailey representatives.
Erin: It's important to note that Pawnee Bill only owned a third.
Anna: Only owned a third of the show. And Mr. Bailey died. He died during the first transitional phase so it's all left in the hands of his widow, Mrs. Bailey. So, she's the one who is kind of calling the shots right now. They demanded that Pawnee Bill fire the Dean of General Agents, whose name was Louis Cook and the Dean of Press Agents, a man named Major John Burke because of the expense associated with paying them and because they had locked horns over the best way to advertise the show. So, there was a lot of fighting going on right now. Pawnee Bill flat out refused. In his own words, he describes how this was just the beginning of him being badgered constantly about the best way to manage the show. He was getting unbelievable scrutiny from the Bailey estate. Pawnee Bill was acting as the sole manager and Buffalo Bill was to be responsible for the back end of the show – the actual performances.
Erin: What is interesting to note is that Buffalo Bill didn't own his show. He didn't have a penny in it.
Anna: No, and he hadn't for a long time. That started back with Salsbury. So, it's been a long time since Buffalo Bill's had any interest in his own show.
Erin: So, Pawnee Bill owned a third. The Bailey's owned two thirds of the show - one third of it was technically Buffalo Bill's interest. They even owned his name on the title. They owned him effectively. They held all his notes and so really, the Bailey's had an incredible amount of leverage against Pawnee Bill. So, they put so much pressure on him, badgered him, they convinced him to buy Buffalo Bill's third from them or their own third interest. They said either buy Buffalo Bill's third interest, buy our own third interest, or we'll continue to own a greater percentage of the show and make all the important decision and call all the shots. At the time, Buffalo Bill was personally a financial mess. He was described as being child-like in terms of his business sense. He had no money and could not buy his own interest from the Baileys. SO it was up to Pawnee Bill to either buy one-third or two-thirds.
Anna: Yeah, now Pawnee Bill had already paid $50,000 for one-third share.
Erin: He paid that in cash.
Anna: He paid that in cash. He ended up paying about $66,000.00 for the other two thirds of the show. So, when everything was said and done he basically told the Baileys I'm taking everything. He owned everything outright. That also resulted in him taking responsibility for all the notes and all the mortgages of the show, including a $12,000 personal note that Bailey had on Cody that have been promised to knock off the interest. He entered into a verbal agreement with Cody that once that show cleared an amount equal to the value of the show, Buffalo Bill would pay Pawnee Bill and he would deed him back one-half equity in the show. So, there's all this confusing…
Erin: A lot of this was verbal agreements. Like handshakes under the table.
Anna: Little did Pawnee Bill know, that he was being conned in this biggest way. They badgered him; they had made his life miserable, and made his job of managing the shows extremely difficult all in an attempt to convince him to buy it. It ended up working. He ended up buying the whole thing.
Erin: Right. So, at this time during the Two Bills era, Buffalo Bill began a new hobby. He started sinking money into what he hoped would be a gold mine. It was like a reverse mine though – it was draining Cody and he just kept sinking money into it. He was trying to get Pawnee Bill to invest money in it and Pawnee Bill was like what are you thinking?
Anna: You have the biggest goldmine in the world and he was talking about his Wild West show. This fantastic thing you're sitting on and you're spending your money on gold mines.
Erin: And so Cody also was involved in some dealings with women. He had some extramarital affairs that cost him financially. Buffalo Bill had unsuccessfully tried to divorce his wife, Louisa Cody, in 1905. He alleged that she was trying to poison him and he wanted a divorce. So, Louisa was like no, I wasn't trying to poison him. I was just giving him this stuff called Dragon's Breath. It was given to people to make them ill when they consumed alcohol.
Anna: She was trying to dry him out basically.
Erin: Yeah. She wanted her husband to be sober. However, besides this, Buffalo Bill didn't even know that Louisa, his much put upon wife, was the sole owner of basically all of the property he had amassed throughout his life. The divorce did not go through, the couple reconciled, but it shows just how much of a mess Buffalo Bill was in financially. He also was borrowing money from friends and acquaintances. At one point, a man came to collect on a personal note and threatened to sue the show. He couldn't get anywhere with Buffalo Bill so he went to Pawnee Bill. Pawnee Bill was like, let me go talk to him. And he found Buffalo Bill in bed, crying with the covers up over his head and Pawnee Bill said there was something inside of him that just was really heartbroken at seeing Buffalo Bill so anxious ridden and crying. So, he felt sorry for him and paid the note even though it really put the show in an unstable condition and it compromised the show's ability to function. But Pawnee Bill was always in these binds.
Anna: Yeah. And you have to remember that this was Pawnee Bill's hero.
Anna: So, at the same time that he's putting up with all of this, it's really breaking his heart because he loved Buffalo Bill. And this really was a big wake up call for him.
Erin: Yeah, it was a major dysfunctional relationship.
Anna: Yes, you can certainly say that this whole Two Bills thing was Pawnee Bill operating more with his heart than with his head. He needed Buffalo Bill's image to be successful with the show, but Buffalo Bill was draining everything from everyone. He was sucking the life from Pawnee Bill and sucking the money from the show, but they needed this to work because there was so much on the line. So, Pawnee Bill decided to incorporate the show to try and protect all of his property outside of the company's property, so he wouldn't personally be held responsible if the show or Buffalo Bill incurred debt or defaulted on loans. So, he's trying to protect his ranch at this time. The combined show was incorporated in New Jersey in 1909. The show was doing well through 1910 and 1911 but it wasn't enough the keep Buffalo Bill ahead of the creditors. In fact, Pawnee Bill even acquired Cody's North Platte ranch when payment could not be made on some of these loans. And that's really sad because that was Louisa's house. That was where his family lived. And Pawnee Bill actually ended up with it because of the debts.
Erin: So what happened in 1913 that resulted in the demise of the largest Wild West show the world had ever seen? Well, Buffalo Bill needed money to give to Pawnee Bill for his share of the wintering funds. The two men were supposed to split the cost of wintering the show 50/50. He told Pawnee Bill by telegram that he needed to go get money and he told him that it was going to be from his sister. So, Pawnee Bill said, okay, go. Go get the money. And then next thing Pawnee Bill knew he read in the Denver Post that Cody had visited Harry Tammen and that Tammen and Bonfils, his partner, would "preserve" Buffalo Bill's Wild West. So, Pawnee Bill read it in the paper and he asked Buffalo Bill about it and Buffalo Bill denied it. He was like, no no no, that's nothing. It's all a lie. So, the facts really were that Cody had met with Tammen and borrowed the $20,000 to give Pawnee Bill. Tammen took six months' note on the show property as collateral and Cody signed a contract and agreed to leave Pawnee Bill and appear in Tammen and Bonfils circus, which was called the Sells-Floto circus the next year. Cody claimed to be surprised about that. He said he didn't realize that that's what he was agreeing to. And that effectively would end the Two Bill's Show partnership if Cody defaulted on the loan. Buffalo Bill sent Pawnee Bill a telegram that said "Pay no attention to the press reports. I have done nothing that will interfere with our show." So, he just kept telling Pawnee Bill, it's all going to be fine. It's nothing.
Anna: And Harry Tammen and Frederick Bonfils were not people you wanted to mess with. They were like the seediest of seedy people you could ever go to for money. They were publishers of the Denver Post. They were practitioners of yellow journalism. So, they would print these wild stories that may not have been true. They were actually shot one year by a lawyer of a client and then they were actually beaten the next year by another lawyer of another client.
Erin: They are like the typical bad vaudeville villains.
Anna: I mean, William Randolph Hearst started yellow journalism but these people took it to an extreme. You did not want to mess with them.
Erin: And here Pawnee Bill's embroiled with them.
Anna: What happened next is an old story. Cody didn't pay anything on his note to Tammen. When Pawnee Bill found out that Cody had not only mortgaged the show property but also agreed to leave him for a rival, he was angry and the two men didn't speak for weeks. When the show rolled in to Denver in July 1913 there were all these rumors out there that the show was going to be seized. In fact, I think Burke was the one that told Pawnee Bill don't go to Denver because they're going to take it. But Pawnee Bill said, no, we're fine. We're going to go. So the first night, they were fine. The Wild West Show without a problem. The second show, on July 21, 1913, Pawnee Bill stated that he was watching behind the backdrop as the cast entered for their grand entry when a hand suddenly came down on his shoulder and when he turned around there were six Denver sheriffs who had entered the show grounds and informed Pawnee Bill that the entire show had been attached, including the ticket wagon and all the cash. And there was about $6,000 worth of cash in the ticket wagon.
Erin: Just from that night.
Anna: What happened next is this confusing onslaught of ugliness. Legal arrows were coming from everywhere. From Cody, from Pawnee Bill, from Tammen, from the lithography company that had sued them. What actually happened was the proceedings officially brought against them were from a lithography company. These people had printed their playbills and their posters and their programs. The typical deal was they would pay when the season was finished. They would pay everything in full. For whatever reason, the lithography company comes knocking saying we want our money now. Halfway through the season, we want our money now.
Erin: They couldn't pay it.
Anna: So, we have to think that Tammen and Bonfils who are holding this note probably knew that. And they probably badgered this lithography company saying, you need to go after these people. They were pressured by Tammen and Bonfils and so that's really how everything kind of ended. Erin: And then, of course Tammen collected on Buffalo Bill's debt.
Anna: Collected everything.
Erin: So Pawnee Bill when this happened, we have always said he was a scrapper, he just scrambled. The show itself was owned by Pawnee Bill and, now at this point, Buffalo Bill, but the show plant that included all rolling stock and transportation equipment, the railroad cars, was owned by Pawnee Bill and a man named Thomas Smith. The first thing Pawnee Bill did was sign over his portion of the plant to Thomas Smith. Smith in turn mortgaged the plan, complicating matters and causing massive delays to prospective buyers of the show. Basically it entangled it so that no one could get their hands on the show plant, which was hugely valuable. It took years of fighting it out in courts before everything was finally settled. In fact, even though the show ended in 1913, Pawnee Bill was still in court up until the 1920s trying to get what was rightfully his. This included the rights to the name "Buffalo Bill" and his own personal property which had been seized.
Anna: In September 1913 the show was sold at auction. There's a really sad story where Buffalo Bill was watching as they auctioned off his horse, Isham, this iconic white horse that you see Buffalo Bill on. He was sobbing because he didn't have the money to buy his horse. So, his friends who felt so sorry for this downtrodden and defeated man bought the horse for him so they wouldn't have to be parted. So, it's really sad stories at this time. Pawnee Bill came home to Blue Hawk Peak with his trunk and his saddle, the only things he had left of his show. He actually had to sue to get those back in federal court. He was writing these letters saying this is my personal property, I want it back, and you have no right to it. So, it finally was returned to him.
Erin: Because he was smart to incorporate the show. So, nothing that was personally his was touched. The ranch was untouched.
Anna: It's a really sad ending for the largest Wild West Show in history. However, as bitter as Pawnee Bill might have been about the end of his show, he kept quiet about it until the 1930s. He wasn't a man who really talked a whole lot about his troubles. But why did he wait so long to talk about it? Well, by 1934, when these interviews would start coming out about the end of his show, Pawnee Bill was the only one left alive in the entire mess. Buffalo Bill had died in 1917, Harry Tammen had died in 1924 and Frederick Bonfils died in 1933. In July of 1934, Pawnee Bill reminisced about the end of his show with this famous quote to a newspaper: "Time smooths everything. Buffalo Bill died my friend. He was just an irresponsible boy. As for Bonfils and Tammen, well, you can't say very many good things for men who hounded you and broke you just for the fun of it. I never knew that men could be as bitter toward a man they hardly knew."
Erin: Wow. Anna: It's really sad.
Erin: It is sad. But Pawnee Bill, after 1913, that was not near the end of Pawnee Bill's successes. He went on to put on special Wild West Shows all over the United States. He had diversified business interests. He continued to be an entrepreneur until he died. Buffalo Bill lived four years after the Two Bills Show ended. He died in 1917, like Anna said. And he worked up until he died for other people and in other people's Wild West Shows. He never again owned his own show. Well, we hoped you enjoyed this month's topic about the rise and fall of the Two Bill's Show. We will be back next month with a spooky Halloween podcast! We are going to talk about a local mystery that involves a lot of myths and legends. And has some May in it too. It's certainly going to be an interesting topic.
Anna: Definitely. We are also taking our podcast on the road! If you are going to be at the Oklahoma Museums Association conference in Idabel from September 24-26, we will be teaching a class on podcasting with our friends from the Will Rogers Museum in Claremore. We will also be attending the Mountain Plains Museums Association conference in Aspen, Colorado on September 30th. We're excited about that one! We're going to also be teaching the same class at the Association for Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museums regional conference in Tahlequah, OK on October 10th. If you are a listener of this podcast and will be at any of those events, please stop by and say hello!
Erin: We always love to hear from fans and fellow history buffs. Well, that will end this month's podcast. I'm Erin Brown, Pawnee Bill Ranch Curator.
Anna: And I'm Anna Davis, Pawnee Bill Ranch Historical Interpreter. Thank you for listening and we will see you next time.
Pawnee Bill Ranch
The Death of Dr. Moore and the Buffalo Park Sanatorium
Transcript coming soon.
Pawnee Bill Ranch
Pawnee Bill's Interview
Transcript coming soon.
Pawnee Bill Ranch
Building Pawnee Bill's Mansion
Transcript coming soon.
Pawnee Bill Ranch
Transcript coming soon.
Pawnee Bill Ranch
May Lillie's Fingers
Erin: Welcome to the Pawnee Bill Ranch podcast! I'm Erin Brown, Pawnee Bill Ranch curator.
Anna: And I'm Anna Davis, Pawnee Bill Ranch Historical Interpreter.
Erin: Anna, because last month was Black History Month we decided to devote our podcast to one of Oklahoma's trailblazing cowboys, Bill Pickett, otherwise known as the father of bulldogging. We mentioned in that podcast that his story was one that was shared by the many minorities working in the American West. The same could be said for women in the West as well. When you study the history of the American West, you learn that some historians of the time painted women in these very intentionally pretty or feminine terms. They were the "prairie Madonnas"; and the "wilting violets"; but the truth was that many of them were doing the exact same job as their male counterparts, often times with the same dangerous consequences. Because March is Women's History Month, we decided to once again turn our attention to one of our favorite cowgirls to tell a story that shows just how dangerous life on the Wild West Show circuit could be. Of course, we're talking about May Lillie.
Anna: Yes, now we have already done a podcast on May in March 2013. It is the perfect time of year to focus on May because in addition to Women's History Month, it's also her birth month. She was born March 12, 1869 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. That first podcast focused more on the biographical information on her life, but today's podcast is going to be a little bit different. Now, there are so many different parts to May Lillie's life that we could, and we usually do, talk for hours about her. Now, during that first podcast we didn't touch one of the major events of her life. It was an accident that would actually change the course of May's professional career. It's a story that we tell in our museum and people always have a wide array of reactions. Some cringe. Some laugh. Some are just straight-up stunned and we affectionately refer to it as the story of May Lillie's fingers. It's one of those strange little tidbits of history that's pretty often over looked.
Erin: Exactly. May Lillie's fingers take center stage in this episode as we bring you the story of a tragedy that occurred in the lives of Pawnee Bill and May in 1889 in Haverstraw, New York. One of the most advertised acts in Pawnee Bill's Show was the joint shooting act that Pawnee Bill and May starred in. Since the development of the show, Pawnee Bill and May had been partners in life and love. She stood by him and all the decisions he made and vice versa. One of May's most famous quotes was "I was determined that Pawnee Bill would never find May Lillie downtrodden, and he never did."; I think it's safe to say that May was Pawnee Bill's biggest fan and most ardent supporter. May wanted the show and her husband to be successful because she had a vested interest in both. It's important to note that she was a woman who was not born a cowgirl. She was not initially familiar with the west or the western lifestyle and she was this lady who basically, through sheer will, fashioned a persona for herself. I think that's one of the things I find most endearing about May. Now, this persona scandalized her family who were living in back in Philadelphia, but May wouldn't have had it any other way. We talk a lot about Pawnee Bill being a self-made man, but May is definitely an example of a self-made woman. She made things happen for herself and for Pawnee Bill.
Anna: Right! And there is this wonderful quote from Pawnee Bill near the end of his life when he says "There would have been no Pawnee Bill if it hadn't been for May Lillie."; So, I think, you know, that statement is really true. They had a partnership in the very truest sense of the word. We have all kinds of photographs showing the couple touching each other tenderly, they're laughing with one another, they're smiling, or they're just enjoying the company that each had to share. They truly brought out the best in each other. Up until Pawnee Bill defied May by partnering with Buffalo Bill in 1908, everything they had done, they had actually done together. I think that it's really telling that one of the publicity pamphlets that they made for their ranch emphasizes on the front page that Pawnee Bill and May Lillie were "Equal Partners"; in their buffalo ranch. Of course, this is the time when women didn't have a whole lot of rights to a whole lot of things, but they bill themselves as equal partners. They had a lovely life together here at the ranch, but as we know all too well their lives were riddled with tragedy and the story that we will tell you today is just one example of a hardship they struggled to overcome.
Erin: One of the biggest reasons that the joint shooting act of Pawnee Bill and May was so popular was because of the inherent risk involved. It's no secret that audiences love the threat of danger. It was exciting to go to the Wild West Show exactly because it was so unpredictable at times. You never knew what was going to happen. Obviously, we would hope that no one wanted someone, you know, a cast member or an animal to get seriously injured, but it was kind of like going to see someone dance with the devil. You know what they say, you do it enough times, you're going to get burned. It's still true today for our modern Wild West Show, but in a lesser sense. We have all sorts of safety regulations in place, but you still don't know what's going to happen. People break bones, they get thrown from saddles, stage coaches and wagons have overturned. Things haven't changed a whole lot in a hundred years.
Anna: No, it's like when people go to sporting events to see a car wreck happen or a boxing match or they watch people on a tightrope. It's kind of that same thing. Now, there were acts that were more dangerous than others in the Wild West Show and performers were not separated by race, as we discussed in the last podcast. They were separated by sex, however. Females performed in their own acts, but the danger for both was still the same. Everybody participated in the same equally dangerous routines. We have records of a knife throwing act being done where one day the woman that stood against the board and had knives thrown at her refused to perform any longer because of the danger.
Erin: And let's clarify there that was a mixed act because it was her husband...
Anna: Her husband [Laughs] throwing knives at her!
Erin: …throwing knives at her. A little family drama there.
Anna: Exactly! There were chariot races where men and women would race both horses and bison at breakneck speeds. Sometimes the chariots would flip and they would throw the rider into the crowd and arena. You know, we have stories where horses would break loose and go stampeding through the arena into the audience. It was pretty dangerous. Like Erin said, you never knew what you would see when you went to a Wild West Show, but that's what added to the excitement! We still get excited when our modern Wild West Show comes around because we just never know what's going to happen.
Erin: Right. Of course, the hallmarks of Wild West Shows were the shooting acts. Who doesn't know the name Annie Oakley? She was really what helped to shape what Wild West Shows were during the late 1800s. The rivalry between Annie Oakley and Lillian Smith, one of our former podcast topics, made international headlines. May Lillie was talked about in newspapers all over the world. During the Victorian and Edwardian era, a woman who could shoot was something, you know, just a little exotic, very much unusual, and maybe even a little taboo. A woman's face on a poster would draw a crowd – especially if that woman was portrayed as looking especially feminine or pretty and the promoters of the Wild West Shows knew that. Their husbands were usually a part of the act too. It wasn't unusual to see Frank Butler at Annie Oakley's side or Lillie Smith's husband at that particular time participating in the act. May Lillie and Pawnee Bill shot in tandem and their act was spectacular.
Anna: So what exactly happened in New York on July 22, 1889 that would change the course of May Lillie's career? May had only been shooting in the Wild West Shows since the previous year. It's been well documented that she was a natural shot. Again, she had never handled a gun before she met Pawnee Bill and had actually won awards for her sharpshooting abilities. We talked about in the Lillian Smith podcast that shooters normally had a preference in the weapon that they used. Lillian Smith used a shotgun and Annie Oakley used a rifle. May typically used a rifle in her shooting acts. The act started as it had many times before. May and Pawnee Bill would take turns holding targets for one another in the arena while the other would shoot the target out of their hand. It doesn't sound like something I would do, but…
Erin: No. Couldn't pay me!
Anna: No. Sharpshooting targets at the time were typically glass balls that were filled with feathers or some sort of other powdery material. That way, when the bullet struck the target and the glass ball shattered, it would dramatically release the insides to signify that the person had managed to shoot the target.
Erin: So, that evening May had on her beautifully beaded gauntlets. She had these gorgeous, beautiful show gauntlets, which is a glove, and she held a glass ball outstretched in her right hand. She stood at one end of the arena while Pawnee Bill stood at the other with his rifle at the ready. When the crowd was sufficiently quieted and she was ready, she would smile at Pawnee Bill and nod. And so he was dressed all in his buckskin. He was very striking looking. He had this long hair at the time. So, when she nodded he shot his rifle like they had practiced thousands of times before and for reasons that will probably never be realized, the bullet sheared through the tips of two of her fingers. Pawnee Bill had managed to, literally, shoot his wife's fingers off.
Anna: Her glove exploded with the shot. You can imagine how horrific this is. This is in front of a large crowd, a live audience. So, her glove explodes. The blood starts pouring out the end of her gauntlet and was trickling down her arm. The Nyack Evening Star reported that she screamed and "considerable excitement"; ensued. That was probably a huge understatement. This event happened, again, in full view of a Wild West Show audience, so the people that were witness to the accident were understandably concerned. Now, what happened next is up for debate because May relayed the story much later in her life to a writer from Tulsa and that is where much of our information comes from. But as with virtually all things related to Wild West Show happenings, sometimes those facts get blurred and elaborated a little bit. This woman had just been shot in front of an audience of probably hundreds of people. While most of us probably would have run screaming from the arena, May Lillie, of course, handled things a little differently.
Erin: In the article titled "Just May,"; which appeared in the Tulsa daily newspaper shortly before her death, May tells the writer that she ran to the side of the arena out of the view of the crowd and one of her cowgirl friends took the handkerchief from around her neck and gave it to May. She used that handkerchief to wrap up her hand to stop the blood flow. The Nyack Evening Star reported that after her fingers were shot, she was attended to by two doctors and it was found necessary to amputate the two fingers below the first joint. And we know that's accurate. Her two fingers were amputated at that point. You know really for the most part though, May took care to hide her hand in gloves or away from any photographers. So, we don't really have photographs that show her injury. But because the crowd wouldn't leave because they were so concerned about her, she went back into the arena to finish the act on her horse, George. She just loved that horse. She had just got shot, had her fingers amputated, and she finished the act. Ok. [Laughs]
Anna: A lot of people ask what caused the accident. You know, that's a natural question—how did this act go so very wrong? It was a trick that they had performed dozens of times and this was really the first time that something had gone wrong. Was Pawnee Bill to blame? Well, according to May, she reported that someone must have knocked the front site out of line and that is why the .38 Pawnee Bill shot tore her fingers off. She trusted her husband completely and May held Pawnee Bill totally blameless and therefore felt comfortable enough to come out, to finish the act because you know what they say, the show must go on! We don't know if that actually happened because it wasn't reported in that local New York newspaper at the time, but May did include it years later in kind of this "official"; story of hers that she did finish the event.
Erin: There are a few people here in the town of Pawnee who related that story to us as well. One, the late and wonderful Stella Lyon who knew both Pawnee Bill and May personally. She used to say that May would tell people that after the events of that night, "she quit him cold"; and never held targets for her husband again. So, again, that's a little bit in conflict with what May reported to the Tulsa World. Of course, you never know what you're trying to say to a reporter versus what you might tell a girlfriend.
Anna: Honestly, would you have blamed her?
Erin: No! I would've been like, "You can go find you another assistant.' Someone else can hold those glass balls. But of course what she told the reporter was "Of course I trusted my husband. Someone, you know, knocked his sight out of line. It wasn't his fault at all."; She told Stella Lyon, "Never again would I hold a hold a glass ball!"; It definitely changed the way she handled her shooting act as well. If you can imagine, it would be difficult to use any firearm in the same manner as you had with a fully functional hand, let alone one that was missing digits. She most definitely would have had to adapt her acts to better suit her new needs.
Anna: Now, I once had a man on tour one day whose parents use to play bridge with Pawnee Bill and May during their later years at the Ranch. You know, a lot of people don't know, but they loved to play cards. The Lillies used to host huge card parties at the mansion for their friends and he was very small at the time, but he very vividly remembered coming while his parents were playing bridge with them. And since he was young at the time he didn't remember a whole lot, but he always remembered that when it came time to shuffle the decks of cards, Pawnee Bill would always make May do it. The reason for that was because—it's kind of cruel—she had difficulty doing it correctly because she was missing fingers.
Erin: I can't even do it with all ten of my fingers!
Anna: So, I guess he made her shuffle the cards because she looked funny doing it. So, they would laugh, have a good time with it and, you know, she held no ill will toward her husband, which is something you would learn to do after fifty years together.
Erin: Better laugh than cry! May had an incredible ability as an entertainer, so what we believe is that if it was at all possible for May to return to the arena she would have. She was a consummate showwoman and understood the importance of saving face and putting on this charismatic persona for the audience. In no way would she have ever questioned the ability of her husband or made anyone believe that her injury was debilitating or even overly painful because you know what? May had grit. She was truly tough as nails. But we do know that this injury certainly put an end to that joint shooting act. They didn't do it again. We do know that May never again did target shooting with a rifle. She did continue to perform in a variety of different ways including exhibition riding on her much loved horse, George. She also was very involved in the Pawnee community and was a female bison ranch manager. Missing those two fingers didn't really get May down.
Anna: It never slowed her down.
Erin: It never slowed her down, no.
Anna: Well, that about ends the topic of May's fingers. We are cooking up some good topics for April and May. We'll probably be taking another break this summer because we become busier in the summer months. We do have a fun announcement to make though. We have joined Twitter! So, if you would like to join us on Twitter, you can find us @pawneebillranch. We are also on Instagram! So, we've charged forward into the twenty-first century! On Instagram, we are also @pawneebillranch and we post all sorts of fun pictures throughout the week, as well as having our Facebook feed as well.
Erin: Yes, so we thank you so much for listening and we hope you will join us next time. Until then, I'm Erin Brown.
Anna: I'm Anna Davis. Thanks for listening and we'll see you next time.
Pawnee Bill Ranch
Bills to the left of me, Bills to the right. Here I am...Pawnee Bill!
Transcript coming soon.