“The Green Sward Our Carpet, Azure Canopy Our Canvas, No Tinsel, No Gilding, No Humbug! No Side Shows or Freaks.” So declaimed the posters created by press agent “Arizona John” Burke for “Buffalo Bill” Cody’s great Wild West Show which opened at the fairgrounds in Omaha on May 17.
The show had had a sort of tryout the year before. William F. Cody’s fellow citizens in North Platte resolved to put on an “Old Glory Blowout” to celebrate the Fourth of July and asked Buffalo Bill to take charge.
They assumed he would produce a rodeo of some kind, but Cody had long been thinking along other lines and he seized the moment. He hired Indians, bought the old Deadwood Stagecoach, and, with the help of local cowboys, reproduced a famous stagecoach holdup. There were horse races and a sharpshooting contest, and it was all a sensational success. “I tried it on my neighbors and they lived through it and liked it, so I made up my mind right then I’d take the show East.”
He had a partner, a sharpshooting dentist named A. W. Carver, with show-business aspirations. They started out with only the haziest notions of how such an enterprise must be managed on the road, and chaos ensued. The transportation problems were enormous, the cowboys—often joined by Cody—got drunk and missed performances, but it staggered along somehow and was much admired by the press and patrons. The internal pressures created a rift between the partners: Carver said he couldn’t bear the strain. They flipped a coin for the property, Cody won, and they went their separate ways. Cody’s way, of course, was on to glory.