The Wild West Comes To Blackburn.
It was early in the morning of Tuesday, 27th of September, 1904 when three special trains arrived in Blackburn consisting of 53 vehicles and weighing 1,000 tons and stretching five–eighths of a mile; this was the world famous Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. The living legend, Buffalo Bill (real name Colonel William Frederick Cody of the U.S Army and the Indian Wars) was in town to demonstrate his shooting skills.
They pitched camp in farmer George Simm's Holehouse farm on the corner of Accrington Road and Croston Street, Blackburn. The logistics of the show are amazing, 800 people and 500 horses in a city of canvas; one baker received an order for 700 loaves, while the horses ate 480 bushels of bran and oats and 6 tons of hay in one day. The show began with a parade on horseback, with participants from horse-culture groups that included U.S. and other military, cowboys, American Indians, and performers from all over the world. Turks, Gauchos, Arabs, Mongols and Georgians displayed their distinctive horses and colourful costumes. The main events included feats of shooting, staged races, and sideshows. Performers re-enacted the riding of the Pony Express, Indian attacks on wagon trains and stagecoach robberies. There was a re-enactment of Custer's "Last Stand" at the Battle of the Little Big Horn and Buffalo Bill played General Custer.Buffalo Bill made two appearances in the show showing off his skills at shooting objects while riding at a gallop; he was 62 at the time. The show also featured an attack on a settler's cabin by red Indians and Buffalo Bill would ride in with an entourage of cowboys to defend the cabin. The two hour show was certainly value for money, although with tickets ranging from one shilling to seven and sixpence for a box seat (£5.49 to £41.17) at today's prices, it was a little over priced but it must have been a once in a lifetime experience to anyone who could afford it. It was reckoned that the two shows were seen by 30,000 people. The show started in Stoke-on-Trent on the 25th April and visited every corner of England Scotland and Wales and played in 132 towns until 21st October, two shows at each venue that must have taken some organising.
The Red Indian Who Never Went Back.
When the Wild West Show carried on the rest of the tour, a 26 year old Lakota Chief called Charging Thunder stayed behind. He never returned to his prairie homelands and instead married Josephine, one of the American horse trainers in the show. He settled in Darwen living at 11 Back Duckworth Street and working at the Sankey Pipe Works in Hoddlesden. He had three children two of them born in Darwen. They moved to West Gorton in Manchester, he changed his Indian Name to George Edward Williams after registering with the British Immigration authorities, he worked for many years at Belle-Vue, looking after the elephants, his favourite elephant was called Nelly and when he got drunk, he would sleep off his hangover with the elephants with Nelly standing guard over him. Charging Thunder died from pneumonia in 1929 at the age of 52. His body is buried in Gorton Cemetery. He still has relatives living in Manchester. The story of Charging Thunder was shown on “Inside Out", BBC One on Monday 23 January 2006.
Research from the Northern Daily Telegraph and the Blackburn Times.
Written and researched by Jeffrey Booth (Library Volunteer).