Originally published in Points West magazine
Buffalo Bill Goes to the Big City
By William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, 1916
In the previous issue of Points West, Dr. John C. Rumm, then curator of western American history at the Buffalo Bill [Center of the West], introduced us to An Autobiography of Buffalo Bill (1920), a compilation of articles in Hearst’s Magazine between August 1916 and July 1917 titled “The Great West That Was: ‘Buffalo Bill’s’ Life Story.” The Center’s McCracken Research Library has a stenographer’s transcript of Cody’s word-for-word dictation of his memoirs during the winter of 1915 – 1916, and it seems that much of what Cody dictated came from the articles as they appeared in Hearst’s Magazine.
In the previous selection from his dictated narrative, Cody tells about his much-coveted gift from the Grand Duke Alexis of Russia, a man whom he’d served as guide during a hunting trip in Kansas: an overcoat with a diamond and ruby buffalo head pin. Cody has now arrived in Chicago for a visit with General Phil Sheridan, who had also hunted with the Duke.
We went down and got into the ambulance [hired car, taxi] and Mike [General Sheridan’s brother] told the driver to drive over to Chapin & Gore’s. I had no idea what that meant, but when the ambulance stopped and we got out and went in, I recognized something very familiar: bar-keepers, and all sort of bottles setting up on the shelves. Mike said, “Bill what will you have?” I said, “Have them to build us a cocktail. I want to see if these Chicago bar-keeps can make a prettier cocktail than we can out on the prairie.” Well, it was so good, that I would just like to have another one or two of them.
By this time quite a large crowd had collected around us, quite a number of reporters, as the morning papers had stated that morning that Buffalo Bill, Sheridan’s great scout, was to arrive in Chicago that day. I was also introduced to Messrs. Chapin & Gore, the proprietors, who told me that as long as I was in the city, that everything was free at that establishment for me.
Colonel Mike said, “Come on Bill, we have got to get up to the house.” Presently, the ambulance stopped in the front of a nice-looking residence, and the Colonel and I got out and the Colonel told the driver to go back after the General. Mike took me into the house and everything was so swell, that I was hardly afraid to step for fear that I would knock over a million dollars’ worth of furniture. Mike showed me upstairs to my room and showed me the bathroom, and the beds, showed me how the water worked, as Mike knew that I for once in my life [was] off my range.
We walked back down stairs, and went down in the parlor and he went about the house doing something and left me there alone. I was smoking a fifty cent cigar, as he told me that I could smoke, that they were keeping bachelor quarters and smoked all over the house. Shortly I had an occasion to spit and looked all around the room for a spittoon and not finding any I just swallowed my spit. When the Colonel came in I asked him if they didn’t keep any spittoons around here, and he said of course they do, and he pointed to the vases about three feet high they looked to me, beautifully ornamented. I told him that I had noticed them, but I couldn’t dare spit in one of them for a thousand dollars.
By this time the General drove up in his ambulance, and the servant opened the door, and in came the world’s greatest cavalry-man. He said, “Mike, lunch ready?” “Yes,” answered Mike. We went right into the dining room and there we found a toddy at each one of our plates, which the General said, “\”Take hold, Bill, we will have a drink, just as if we were out on the prairie.” At luncheon he told Mike that he was to bring Bill that night to the Riverside Hotel, and have him fixed up as fine as he possibly could, as some of the finest ladies of Chicago will be at the ball to meet him. The General said, “I will have the ambulance take me down to my headquarters and I will send it back to you.”
• • • •
Soon as the General left, Mike said, “Bill, have you got your evening suit with you?”
I said, “Evening what?”
“Why, your evening dress.”
I said, “One of those [claw] hammer coats, and a vest, and et cetera?”
He said, “Yes.”
I says to him, “You know very well that I have never had one in my life.”
He said, “You heard what the General said. I must bring you to the ball, and you must be fixed up in fine style. As soon as the ambulance comes back, we will go down to Marshall Field’s, and see if we can’t dig up one for you.”
• • • •
So we started down the city in the ambulance, and we stopped at a great big store. Mike went off and interviewed somebody, I don’t know who, and a young fellow come up to me and told me to follow him. I followed him and found Mike in a clothing department of some kind and he took me into a small room, and Mike said, “Get off your clothes here. I want you to try these on.”
Finally they had me in a claw-hammer suit, they had white shirts laid out for me, neckties, and et cetera. Mike told them to wrap them up, and I asked him what the bill was, and I said, “Hold on, here, you can’t pay for these clothes, I have got money to burn.” And so I insisted on paying for them, and somebody followed on up with the clothes and I told him to put them in the ambulance.
When we were getting in, [Mike] said, “How would you like to hit Chapin and Gore’s again?”
I had kind of forgotten the name and I asked him if he meant that place where the cocktails were free, and he says yes, and I told him to tell the driver to “pound them on the back,” for that was the only place [that] looked familiar to me since I struck the town. We found Messrs. Chapin & Gore in, and a whole lot of Chinese gentlemen, and I was introduced to about a hundred, and we had three or four cocktails.
Mike said, “Now we will go home, because we’ve got quite a job ahead of us getting you harnessed up for the ball.”
When we arrived at the General’s house we told the driver to put up the team but to be ready at the front door by eight o’clock. The evening papers were out by this time, and Mike showed them to me, and I read more of my history in them, than I ever knew that I had.
• • • •
Mike said, “I’ve ordered an early dinner, and after the General’s valet will help to dress you.”
When he finally got me dressed, white kid gloves and all, I looked in a large mirror and I was a sight. It was the days of tight-legged pants, and I said to the fellow who was dressing me, “Can I ever bend my knees in these pants?”
He said, “Why certainly sir, certainly sir, bend your knees.”
“I am afraid to, if I ever bend my knees I’ll bust these breeches wide open,” I says. “Am I supposed to close my hands with these kid gloves?”
He said, “Certainly, sir, certainly sir.”
“Well, I may take chances on it, I don’t know.”
At this time Mike came up to see how we were getting along. I was wearing very long dark brown hair at the time and Mike laughed. “Well, Mike, this is no laughing matter, for I want you to know that I am not hankering after this fight,” I says. “Hadn’t we better go down to a barber and have this hair cut off?”
He said, “No, not in a hundred years.”
“Well,” I said, “You’re the boss, what’s the next move?”
“We have forgotten one thing,” said he. I asked him what that was. “You should have a silk hat,” said he.
“A stove pipe hat,” said I. He said yes. I said, “Why, if I ever went down the street with a stove-pipe on some fellow would shoot it off before I got a block, and I have forgotten to bring my guns along with me.’
He said, “Come on.” We went down stairs, and one of the servants [was] standing there with my coat. He helped me on with it, and handed me my Stetson hat.
• • • •
In part three, Buffalo Bill arrives at Riverside Hotel for the ball.