From Points West magazine
Originally published in Winter 2011
Buffalo Bill Goes to the Big City
By William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, 1916
In its collection at the Buffalo Bill [Center of the West], the McCracken Research Library has a stenographer’s transcript of William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody’s word-for-word dictation of his memoirs during the winter of 1915 – 1916. Apparently, that dictation became 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.”
Cody has traveled to Chicago and in this last installment, is ready to depart for a ball at the Riverside Hotel. Later, he journeys to New York and has what he calls “the time of my life.”
• • •
By this time Mike [General Phil Sheridan’s brother] was ready and we went out to the ambulance (hired car, taxi), and he told the driver to drive to Riverside Hotel. On arriving there, we went in[side]. This was just shortly after the big fire in Chicago, and the Riverside Hotel was one of the favorite resorts. It was an old-fashioned hotel, and we entered a hall. On the right-hand side was a large bar, and on the left was a ladies’ parlor.
Mike had taken off his coat, and said, “Hand the boy your coat and hat.”
I said, “I guess right here we quit.”
Mike said, “Why?”
I replied that I was taking no chances on my coat. [the special coat was a gift from Grand Duke Alexis of Russia]
“Oh,” he says, “give it to the lad, and he will give us a check for the coat.”
I did so, and at this moment, General Merritt, of General Sheridan’s staff, told Mike that the General was waiting for us in the ballroom. I was escorted into the ballroom by General Merritt and Colonel Sheridan, and on entering the room, I came near stampeding, for I seen a herd of the handsomest women and men that I ever imagined could be rounded up. They took me right in through the crowd to the center of the hall, where the General was surrounded by a bevy of beautiful ladies. He commenced introducing me to them, and I commenced bowing to them—as much as I could in those tight-legged pants.
The General said, “Now, Bill we are going to have a dance.”
I said, “General, you know that I can’t dance.”
“Oh,” he said, “I’ve seen you dance often.”
“Yes,” I said, “but please remember where that was, that was out among the wild bunch.”
I heard a lady say, “Why, we’re a wild bunch!”
[Another] lady said, “Now, remember, General, you promised my first dance was to be with your chief of scouts.”
“Well,” I said, “General, I can’t dance anything but a square dance.”
The General said, “Then we shall have an old-fashioned quadrille,” and the lady who had been promised the first dance with me seized me by the arm. The General was in the same set, and two other gentlemen, I don’t know who they were, and then when the other sets had been formed on the floor, the music started and everybody went to dancing. I knew the quadrille dance, and I followed in, but I wondered where the caller was.
However when the dance was finished, I escorted the lady over to the group where the General was, thanked her and excused myself, and then I commenced making my way for the door which led downstairs. I turned to the left and went into the bar-room. I went up to the bar-keepers, and I said, “I know you kind of people, and I want you to hide me for a little while.”
One man who seemed to be the boss said, “Come and get around behind here,” and placing a chair behind a big icebox, he said, “sit down here, and then they can’t see you.”
Presently the General and a lot of his friends came down to get a drink, and I heard him say to Mike, “Where is Cody?”
Mike said, “I don’t know, I can’t find him.” So they nominated their drinks, and while they were mixing [them], the bar-keeper mixed an extra one, and while they were drinking, [he] shied one to me behind the icebox.
This same thing was repeated quite a number of times during the evening, and everybody was looking for Cody. The boss bar-keeper came to me about twelve o’clock and told me that it would end in a few minutes and that I had better get my coat and hat on so as to be ready for the General, who would be down soon, and he was mad all over.
I was standing in the hall when the General came down and he said, “Where in the H___ have you been?”
I told him that the fight was too hot for me, and I retreated.
“Well,” he said, “Mike, you take Cody home.”
The next morning the General to my tale of woe, and he laughed and said, “What kind of a break are you going to make when you get to New York?”
I told him if it made no objections to him that I would just as soon return to the sagebrush.
“Aw,” he said, “you’ve got to go through now, Bill. By the way, Mr. Angle, one of the Pullman Car Company, is going to take his own car to New York, and he wants to take you along with him, and he is going to start at eleven o’clock. Mike, you have Bill down to the depot, and I will go on down to the office.”
So at eleven o’clock, I was down at the station, and I was introduced to Mr. Angle, of the Pullman Car Company. He had quite a party with him of ladies and gentlemen, and we sure had a fine time on our trip to New York.
On arriving at New York, I was met at the depot by Mr. J.G. Hecksher and Colonel Schuyler Crosby, who took me out to their carriage. I was driven to the Union Club, and when we went into the club, they told me to register, which I did, and then after dinner, they said we’d go to a theatre. I wasn’t saying anything but doing just what they told me. In the meantime my trunk had arrived and had been sent up to my room, and they told me, “Bill, now get on your evening dress, and we will get back here in time to take you to the theatre.”
I got one of the boys to help me get into this claw-hammer suit again.
When Mr. Hecksher got back, he looked me over and said, “Where in the world did you get that suit?”
I told him Mike Sheridan bought it for me in Chicago.
“Well,” he said, “it’s the worst buy any man ever made. Tomorrow morning I will take you down to my tailor, and have the right kind [of] suit made for you.”
However, we went to the theatre, and I had the pleasure of seeing Edmund Booth act. On our return to the Club, we had a cocktail and a little supper, and [Mr. Hecksher] said, “Bill, tomorrow morning, all the gentlemen who were out on your hunt will have breakfast here with you at the Club.”
So next morning I got up about half past six, and I was down in the club by seven. I waited there till twelve o’clock before any of them showed up, and when Mr. Hecksher arrived, I asked him what time they usually had breakfast in that town. He said about half past twelve, and I told him that I had been up since seven o’clock waiting for that breakfast. The gentlemen all made their appearance at the appointed time and we all had a jolly lunch.
That evening several of them, including Mr. James Gordon Bennett, told me to go to Niblo’s Garden to see the Black Crook [musical theatrical production]. Messrs. Jarrett and Palmer were the managers of this theatre at that time. Our party was ushered into their private box, and when the curtain went up on the first act, disclosing about two hundred thinly clad girls, it took my breath away. After the first act, Mr. Palmer came into the box and invited the party back on the stage, and into a big wine room, where there were about a hundred girls and a lot of gentlemen irrigating, and the champagne bottles were popping in every direction. Of course, our party wasn’t long in getting into action, and Mr. Palmer sent the leading ladies and the stars of the Black Crook around to our tables. Presently, I discovered sitting on my lap what I thought to be the prettiest thing I ever looked at. I should have driven her away, but as she had a glass of wine in her hands and seemed to be enjoying herself so, I hated to disturb her.
Mr. Bennett, seeing that I was kind of enjoying myself at that kind of a show, said to Mr. Palmer, “While Mr. Cody is in the city, you give him the freedom of the theatre’s private box,and don’t forget the champagne room, and you charge the bill up to me.”
“All right,” Mr. Palmer said. “We will see that Cody is well taken care of.”
The next night I had been notified that Mr. August Belmont, Sr., was to give me a dinner at his Fifth Avenue residence, and then followed dinners at each of the gentlemen’s houses who had been on the hunt. Some of the gentlemen were entertaining me all the time, showing me through the city, and the parks, and I was having the time of my life.
After spending a few weeks in New York, Cody decided to pay a quick visit to the Philadelphia area to see relatives in Germantown, a Quaker community a few miles west of the city, where his mother had been born, and West Chester, a small town about twenty miles southwest of Philadelphia. While there, he received word from General Sheridan, directing him to return to Fort McPherson to guide the Third Cavalry on a military expedition. Cody traveled back to Chicago in the private railcar of Frank Thompson, a Pennsylvania Railroad executive; from there, he rode a Pullman car on the Chicago Rock Island Railroad to Omaha.
I was [met] in Ogden Depot by a delegation of my Omaha friends who were there to take me over to Omaha, telling me that the Union Pacific Train didn’t leave Omaha for the west until twelve o’clock that night, and that Judge Dundee and my Omaha friends wished to entertain me until the U.P. left for the west… [My friends in Omaha] had heard of my evening suit and they insisted on checking my trunk up to the Paxton Hotel. On arriving there Judge Dundee and a large party of my friends met me, and the champagne commenced to flow.
They said dinner would be ready at eight o’clock, and they wanted to see me in my evening dress—nothing would do but I should put it on… After I was dressed, we returned to the main lobby of the hotel and from then until twelve o’clock things were kept going in western style. My friends [said] that I was not going to have time to change from my evening suit to my traveling clothes, and they sent my trunk down to the train and had it checked for McPherson station. They had brought along with them about fifty bottles of all kinds of drinkables, which they placed in my drawing room. Bidding them goodbye, the train pulled out and I was off…
As I couldn’t get into the baggage car to get any other clothes, and as we arrived at McPherson station at six o’clock in the morning, I had to put on my evening dress suit. I had forgotten that my Omaha friends insisted on my wearing a silk hat, and they had forgotten to put my old Stetson hat in the car with me, but thank goodness I had the old coat with me, and a splendid pair of fur gloves.
On my arrival at McPherson station, my old faithful friend White [whom] General Sheridan had named “Buffalo Chips,” was waiting for me… When I opened [the door] White [saw] how I was dressed. He should have liked to [have] fallen dead, and especially at the hat. I said, “Never mind, I am going this way.”
…White brought up the horses and I hollered to him to bring in all four canteens, and then we commenced drawing corks and filling these canteens, and taking a few drinks with the boys who were standing around. In the meantime, the boys were all laughing at my stove pipe hat and evening dress. I told the station master to cache two or three bottles for me in his office, as I might need them when I came back. One of the boys standing around seen that I had no overshoes on, so he pulled off his own, and put them on for me, and then I was ready. White in the meantime had strapped the canteens on our saddle, but before going, the saloonkeeper had brought me over some hot coffee and a nice hot breakfast, which I ate, and then jumping on our horses we struck out on the trail of the soldiers.
It was about one o’clock before we overtook them, and when [we] neared the rear guard, I pulled off my overcoat and strapped it behind my saddle, as it was getting quite warm by this time. I put my hair up under my stove pipe hat, telling White not to keep too close to me as I wanted to have some fun with the boys. When I passed the command, sure enough, as I galloped past, the boys began to holler, “Look at the dude! Look at the dude!” I was riding all over my horse as a greenhorn would, and they sure enough thought I was some tenderfoot from the East.
I galloped up and overtook General Reynolds, and I saluted him, and said, “I report for duty.”
“Well,” he said, “who in the world might you be?”
I had not become very well acquainted with General Reynolds, and none of the officers of the Third Cavalry, as most of them came when I was away east.
“Why,” I said, “General, I am to be your guide on this expedition.”
He said, “Can it be possible that you are Cody?”
I told him I was.
The command had halted, and he said, “Let down your hair,” and I took off my stove pipe hat, and my hair fell over my shoulders, and a great cheer went up, not only from the men themselves, but from the officers. It went up and down the line, and the dude that they had been calling at was none other than Buffalo Bill.
…After the reception, and the introduction to the officers, I went down to visit the scouts in camp, and there the boys dug me up all sorts of clothes. In fact, White had brought along an old buckskin suit of clothes of mine, and he also dug out an old Stetson hat, and also my old pet pair of guns, and dear old Lucretia Borgia [favorite rifle], so the next day, I was myself again.
…But I still wore the Grand Duke Alexis’s overcoat.