Remembering the time Buffalo Bill came to town

Buffalo Bill with his Indians around the time of the Falkirk appearance.
Buffalo Bill with his Indians around the time of the Falkirk appearance.

Last week I wrote about some of the famous faces who had visited Falkirk over the years.

Among the many that I missed was the King of the Wild West, ‘‘Buffalo Bill’’, whose show visited the town in 1904.

I think I wrote something about Bill’s visit quite a few years ago but I’m not sure and if I can’t remember then there’s a good chance you are the same!

When I was a child in the early 1950s we spent most of our free hours out of doors.

Of the various games we played cowboys and indians was always the favourite.

Sometimes we would gather a few feathers which, along with home made bows and arrows and a bit of paint, turned us into Sitting Bull or Cochise.

Most often though we wanted to be the ‘‘goodies’’ and they were always the cowboys.

We had role models galore to copy – Roy Rogers and his faithful horse Trigger, Tom Mix and Tony, Gene Autry and Tex Ritter the ‘‘singing cowpokes’’ and the one and only Hopalong Cassidy who apparently has relatives in Bonnybridge!

These guys were stars of the silver screen and we met them most Saturday mornings at the ABC Minors or the ‘‘Pivvie’’ and for the rest of the week turned Windsor Road into Dodge City!

Buffalo Bill, whose real name was William F Cody, was the man who brought the west alive to millions across the world. Former bison hunter, Pony Express rider and army scout, Bill turned showman and was said at one time to be the most instantly recognisable man on the planet.

His great travelling circus involving hundreds of performers, most on horseback, played 29 venues throughout Scotland.

On Sunday, August 14, 1904, the huge entourage arrived in special trains from Edinburgh at the Springfield goods depot (where Central Retail Park is today) and made their way with all their paraphernalia to Randyford Farm which lay opposite today’s Forth Valley College.

Here the arena was constructed with great tents and pavilions including a special sideshow where visitors could see the ‘‘blue man’’ or shake hands with a 21 inch woman!

The main event was the amazing wild west show itself which was performed twice on Monday, August 15, in the afternoon and evening to an incredible 21,000 people who came from all over the district in special trains. The cheapest tickets were one shilling at a time when a skilled man might be earning about 30 shillings a week but, for this, the audience was treated to 23 acts with screaming bands of mounted indians, US cavalry units, settlers in covered wagons, acrobatic riders, trick gunslingers, blazing farmhouses and even a re-enactment of Custer’s Last Stand. The cowboys were supplemented by a strange mixture of Cossack riders, Bedouin cavalry, South America gauchos and even a British army regiment.

There were demonstrations of cannon fire, fancy rope work with the lasso and even Carter the Cowboy Cyclist flying through the air from a high platform at 85 mph!

It sounds like a cross between a circus and the Edinburgh Military Tattoo.

The undoubted highlight was Buffalo Bill himself who rode around the arena shooting down glass balls thrown in the air by his associates.

The evening performance was lit up by 76 electric arc lamps at a time when electricity itself was a huge novelty and thunderous applause brought the show to an end. By the morning the whole troupe was on its way to Dunfermline leaving the bairns with a multitude of new ways to bring wild west mayhem to the quiet streets of Falkirk.