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Lot 14: Cody, William F. ("Buffalo Bill"). Typed letter signed, 2 pages (11 x 8 ½ in.; 278 x 215 mm.)
December 18, 2012
Calabasas Hills, CA, USALive Auction
14. Cody, William F. (“Buffalo Bill”). Typed letter signed, (“W. F. Cody”), 2 pages (11 x 8 ½ in.; 278 x 215 mm.), “Nagy-Becskerek, Hungary,” 6 July 1906, on imprinted stationery of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, to Joseph T. McCaddon, the brother-in-law of James A. Bailey who joined forces with P.T. Barnum to form the great Barnum and Bailey Circus in 1881.
A rough patch for Buffalo Bill but the show must go on.
Cody writes in part: I was very much disappointed in not getting to see you, but of course realized the reason, and Fred said you would see Mr. Starr on your return. Fred makes a suggestion that the Barnum & Bailey Ltd. furnish the entire plant same as Bailey & Cole used to furnish Cody & Salsbury, and to furnish it on a percentage. This I would agree to, providing that the Barnum & Bailey Ltd. feed their own people and horses. Before Cody & Salsbury paid for one half of the feed for Bailey & Cole’s horses and people, and it was never right. As we have given America four years rest we should certainly do the biggest business of any Show in America. And by being partners with the Barnum & Bailey Ltd., all the big shows could be routed so as not to conflict; and speaking of routing, we don’t want any more routing like we have had in these last four years. Whenever we get to a town where we could make some money, we over play the town, and we should not have been in this Hungarian Country, which is solely a farming country in the midst of harvesting. No Show would think of going into North Dakota during harvest. We have had every possible thing against us all during this European tour, the deaths of Mr. Salsbury and Mr. Bailey of course, were the greatest. Then the sickness of our horses, having to kill them all, and so many unexpected unlooked for troubles came up so constantly, that its a wonder I am alive. As you will admit, I feel sure, that we have been paying an enormous rent for the Barnum & Bailey Ltd. cars and horses. We are paying good interest on a Million Dollar Plant for them, but let’s charge that up to the other unfortunate experiences of this European tour.
And now see what is best to do to make some money. I think I can put up a far better show for next year, than I have ever given, and at no greater cost. I think we should sell about a hundred head of these horses for what they will bring-sell them at auction when we close. The rest which I think will pay to bring to America are sixteen head of fine Buckers, eight fine mules, and about thirty Cavalry horses, and special horses. I am arranging with Charles Trego, who has a farm near Downingtown, Pennsylvania to winter these horses, if agreeable to you. . .
At the time of this letter, Cody was wrapping up his European tour and getting ready for a new American show. He had wanted to retire, believing that his glory days had come to an end, but his financial situation precluded that luxury, and his show would continue for another decade. Most recently, Cody had beaten off competition from J. T. McCaddon’s International Shows. Then, a sudden outbreak of disease resulted in two hundred out of three hundred of his horses having to be destroyed. A shattering blow to both morale and finances, it was followed by the sudden death of James Bailey early in 1906. Dreams of retirement were banished. Debts, plus the fact that Bailey’s wife and other heirs to his estate wanted to leave show business, meant that Cody could not afford to end his career.