For a period of time the most famous American on the planet was William Frederick “Buffalo Bill” Cody. A former scout, Indian fighter and buffalo hunter, Cody later found fame when he created “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West” in 1883. The “Wild West” was a circus-like attraction that toured annually and featured: cowboys, Native peoples, Turks, Gauchos, Arabs, Mongols and Georgians (often referred to as Cossacks). The show was extremely popular and made international superstars of many of its performers including Annie Oakley and Sitting Bull. The show was the forerunner to the modern day rodeo and inspired a generation of film makers like John Ford, John Wayne and Sam Peckinpah who made westerns that millions watched and loved.
Though the show eventually became a great success, Buffalo Bill went through several financial wobbles, especially in the early days of the enterprise. In 1884, Bill nearly went bankrupt. After deciding to spend the winter in New Orleans of that same year, Bill hired a boat to take his performers and equipage to the Crescent City via the Mississippi river. Bill then went ahead by train to secure performance grounds while the hired steamship headed to New Orleans.
While steaming down the river, the ship collided with another vessel sinking the steamer and almost drowning everyone on board. Cody estimated the monetary loss to be around $20,000. After the initial shock of what happened, Bill decided to open in New Orleans on time. This decision proved to be disastrous. The weather was completely merciless raining the entire 3 months that the “Wild West” was there, deterring spectators from showing up. At the end of the endeavor, Bill counted his losses at about $60,000. Combined with the $20,000 lost on the river, Buffalo Bill was staring at $80,000 dollars of debt.
Needing a cash infusion to keep his fledgling business afloat, Buffalo Bill found help in the form of a wild and carefree Englishman named Evelyn Booth. Booth, who was worth $25 million dollars, recorded his experiences with Buffalo Bill in an exciting travel journal that eventually found its way into the possession of the Denver Public Library.
This journal sat undiscovered on the dusty shelves in the Western History Department’s manuscript archives for nearly forty years. When Kellen Cutsforth, an employee of the Western History Department, eventually discovered it. After unearthing the journal, Kellen began transcribing its contents. Enthralled by what he found, Kellen spent copious amounts of time researching the journal’s contents and corroborating the stories told within its pages. After years of research, Cutsforth has brought the journal to life in his new book Buffalo Bill, Boozers, Brothels, and Bare Knuckle Brawlers: An Englishman’s Journal of Adventure in America (TwoDot, 2015).
Transcribed and edited (with relevant commentary for contemporary audiences) by Cutsforth, Booth’s journal reveals his career as a young care-free “frat boy” with unlimited funds, gives first-hand accounts that involve drunken nights, fist fights, illicit sex with prostitutes, sporting events, and full-blown adventures with the most well-known celebrities of the day. If you are interested in the book it can be found in the library's catalog here.