James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok, billed as “the most celebrated Scout and Hunter of the Plains,” began his brief career in show business in 1872 at Niagara Falls with a few captured buffalo and a staged hunt. The hunt was promoted by showman Sidney Barnett, who with his father owned a museum on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls that was popular with tourists. Barnett believed that an event featuring live buffalo would be a major attraction there. Asked for his help, William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody referred Barnett to John B. “Texas Jack” Omohundro, who promised to help secure the animals for the hunt. Barnett also secured the help of Maj. Frank North, through whose auspices a group of Pawnee Indians was invited to the hunt.
But plans for the great event went awry. Texas Jack backed out, many of the captured buffalo died, and the Pawnee who had been invited to the hunt, were refused permission by their agent to participate. With no hope of arranging a hunt in time for the Fourth of July, as originally planned, Barnett postponed the event. According to one account of the hunt, published in 1895, he “went to the Indian territory where he engaged some Sac and Fox Indians and Mexican cowboys, and secured a fresh lot of buffaloes for his show. It was in Kansas City that he met Bill Hickok, one of the most daring and dashing scouts in the west, and he engaged him to go east and manage the Niagara Falls buffalo hunt.”
The widely advertised performance finally took place on August 28 and 30, 1872, on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. Read more about the hunt in Joseph G. Rosa’s article, “Wild Bill Hickok, Buffalo Bill Cody, and the Grand Buffalo Hunt at Niagara Falls,” in the Spring 2005 issue of Nebraska History. Copies of the magazine are available from the Nebraska State Historical Society Landmark Stores.
The Fall 2011 issue of Nebraska History announces a new NSHS membership category: Subscription Only. For just $29 per year, you’ll receive four issues of each of Nebraska History and Nebraska History News. (Memberships with full benefits are still $40.) Click here to learn more. — Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor/Publications