Saturday, July 21, 2012

...and Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show

Besides the family myth surrounding Jesse James (from the previous post), the other was that a great-grandfather Metzner (either Louis N. or his father William) went into the hotel business with Buffalo Bill Cody.  I was pretty young when I heard this but it always stuck in my head.  Obviously, I must have known the importance of Buffalo Bill -- probably from all those cowboy shows that filled the airwaves in the 1950s.

Fort Wayne Sentinel, 1896
Buffalo Bill was a "romantic" American character and I am sure that my great-grandfather Louis and his brother Jasper were as smitten with his escapades as they were with those of Jesse James.  But the story of someone going into business with Buffalo Bill may be just that -- a story. Years of research have turned up nothing to confirm a connection between our ancestors and the great showman. But that said, we have two interesting photos of Louis and Jasper.  There is no identification on either photo to tell us when or where they were taken, but my assumption is the brothers went to one of Buffalo Bill's Wild West shows.  The show went to Fort Wayne a number of times...and it played at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition is Chicago.  

Ads in the Fort Wayne Sentinel for 1896 claim that the show is An Exact Duplicate, Man for Man and Horse for Horse, of the Exhibitions given at the Columbian World's Fair at Chicago in 1893, all summer in New York in 1894, and in 160 of the principal cities of the East in 1895.  

One of Cody's most famous performers was Annie Oakley.  She was listed as one of the performers in Fort Wayne that summer of 1896, along with 100 Indian Warriors, Ogallalla...Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapahoe...American Cowboys, Mexican Vaqueros,  South American Gauchos, Western Frontiersmen, Bedouin Arabs, Russian Cossacks... the U.S. Cavalry... and the list goes on and on. It must have been quite a spectacle for the folks of Fort Wayne. 

Annie Oakley, 1899; Library of Congress

I imagine the presence of Buffalo Bill in Fort Wayne would have generated a similar kind of excitement that my generation would have felt if the  Beatles or Elvis was coming to town.  It would have been a huge deal with everyone on pins and needles until the big day.

The 1896 show in Fort Wayne was preceded by rumors that Buffalo Bill would not perform with the show and the show would be only half the size of the one in Chicago.  The show's manager, Maj. J.F. Burke, assured residents that "Colonel Cody is with the exhibition every day and takes his part in the performance along with the rest."   The Fort Wayne Sentinel encouraged its citizen to attend the show, saying "This exhibition will be something that our people have never had a chance to see before, and it is not likely that it will ever come again, as Buffalo Bill is growing old and will not last forever."  The people of Fort Wayne were not disappointed. Buffalo Bill appeared in all his glory and, in fact, the Wild West Show continued touring until 1913.

For years I have assumed that Louis and Jasper Metzner found their way to a Wild West Show, based simply on these photographs.  I also think they may have had an opportunity to meet Buffalo Bill himself.  The Wild West Show was transported on trains, and because Louis and Jasper each worked for the railroad out of Fort Wayne, it's highly likely that they meet the famous showman and his entourage.  Did it go any further than that?  Such as business dealings?  I don't think we'll ever know.

Louis N. Metzner (top) and Jasper Metzner (bottom)

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