The Vagabond – Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley in Gadsden


By Danny Crownover

The Vagabond recently started researching a historic building located at 408 Broad Street for owner Michelle Head.

This 1885 building was occupied by Cottle Drugs in 1901. It was found that Cottle Drugs was actually involved in getting the famous William Frederick Cody, aka Buffalo Bill, and Annie Oakley to Gadsden.

In early October of 1901, Cottle Drugs announced that that Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders was to exhibit on Broad Street on October 15 for two performances.

The event was heralded with all the feats performed by the horse and horsemen, along with a corps of guards of the U.S. Life-Saving Service, which presented the methods by which the daring and fearless men leading the lonely and perilous life of coast guardsmen rescue the ill-fated passengers and crews of vessels storm-driven upon our coasts. The service battled the elements with heroic achievements in a realistic representation of their thrilling and adventurous lives.

Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, with the open air and immense arena, allowed the management to bring for the first time the wrecks and rescues in which these men in reality experienced.

The local newspaper stated there were 20,000 seats and no tents for the performance. It reads:

“No Toppling Tents. All danger obviated in the construction of the Wild West. Being entirely different from any exhibition on the road, it should be borne in mind that Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World, which exhibits here, is not shown under canvas, it being necessary to introduce the many attractions in the open air just as they are seen in real life, beneath the blue dome of heaven and star-lit skies, and requires an immense and entirely unobstructed arena for its presentation.”

Only the seats were canopied with extra strong and waterproof canvas covering. Twenty thousand cozily-seated and sheltered onlookers were able to safely enjoy the wonderful and magnetic scenes.

Tuesday, October 15, was declared Buffalo Bill Day. Everybody took a day off and went to the show.

About 8 o’clock in the morning, long strings of country wagons filled with farmers and their families began to pour in over the county bridge and the country roads leading into Gadsden.

By 9 o’clock, Broad Street was packed with an eager, impatient and noisy crowd. The crowd increased as the time passed, until, by the time the parade, the city streets were literally jammed.

Business was at a standstill and everybody was looking for the parade. At last the pageant arrived with bands playing and banners streaming in the breeze along with the clattering of horses’ hooves.

Soldiers and rough riders of all nations were there. Cossacks, Arabs, German Cuirassiers, British Lancers, French light horsemen, Cuban guerrillas, Filipinos, Boer sharpshooters, Canadian dragoons and United States cavalrymen peacefully quartered beneath one large tent along with cowboys, Indians, Mexicans and expert horsemen.

There were seven buffaloes from Cody’s herd near the North Platt. There were 125 draft horses and 450 riding horses, and all were splendid animals.

The audiences attending the Wild West show were of exceptional character and included among their numbers nearly every prominent soldier and civilian around the country.

The enthusiasm of sedate old men was as great as that of the small boy perched in the topmost seat.

A favorite of the show was the sharp shooting of Johnny Baker and Annie Oakley. There was also the rough riding of the Cossacks and soldiers, the tumbling and pyramid building of the Arabs, the lasso throwing of the Mexicans, the Bolao pitching of the Gauchos, the bronco busting of the cowboys and the peculiar peace and war methods of the Indians.

Other features that added new interest to the entertainment included a detachment of Boers and Baden-Powell’s English Heroes.

Colonel Cody was active in his part of the exhibition, and his appearance in the arena was a signal for a large expression of approval from all parts of the enclosure.

The show was probably one of the best ever seen in Gadsden and enjoyed by all. The local newspaper commented that “Several of our prominent citizens were relieved of their pocket-books and contents by pick-pockets while Buffalo Bill was here.”

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