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No Show in Nashville

150 years ago, on September 19th and 20th, 1873, The Scouts of the Plains were scheduled to play Nashville's Grand Opera House. They never showed up.


Left to right: Wild Bill Hickok, Texas Jack Omohundro (standing), Buffalo Bill Cody.

The show’s advance agent was in the city on September 12th, booking a theater and talking up the show’s stars to reporters.



By the night of the 19th, advertisements had appeared in Nashville’s newspapers for weeks.



And on September 14th, a long profile of Buffalo Bill and his costars appeared in the Nashville Union and American newspaper:


B. Bill, Esq., & Co.
Some Personal Facts Concerning Them.
Personalities are always read with interest, and now that “the Scouts of the Plains” are to make their first appearance before a Nashville public, at the Opera House this week, a few facts concerning them may not be amiss at this time.
The most famous of these men is Wm. F. Cody, otherwise “Buffalo Bill.” A representative of this paper had occasion some three years ago, while connected with the Omaha, Neb., press, to write up this celebrated scout, who was well known in that vicinity and on the plains farther west, long before it occurred to Ned Buntline to put lucre in his own pocket by writing for the columns of the New York Weekly his sensational and extravagant story entitled “Buffalo Bill,” of which story Cody was the central figure.
Cody was born in Davenport, Iowa, twenty-nine years ago, and drifted out on the plains when a mere youth. He developed such a peculiar adaptability for the life of a hunter that he soon became well-known to ranchmen and Indian traders, and up to about a year ago he has been employed by the government as a scout. When the Grand Duke Alexis went out to Fort Kearney from St. Louis a year ago last winter, for the purpose of Bhaving a buffalo hunt, Cody was attached to Gen. Custer’s cavalry command and went with the party, and the Grand Duke was so favorably impressed with him that when he started back to the settlements, he presented the scout with a diamond pin. It may not be out of place to state, in this connection, that it was currently reported in the vicinity of Fort Kearney at that time that Bill had to borrow a shirt in order to utilize the present he had received. but a careful investigation of this matter resulted in the story being proven a canard. However, we can readily believe that William’s wardrobe was not so extensive as at the present time. but even then, he was not a poor man, or rather he was not in destitute circumstances, and it was his custom to visit Omaha about twice a year and have a good time. Upon these occasions he would hire some chap who was familiar with the place to act as his “guide,” and “show he ‘round,” said guide being instructed to carefully note down any little damage to the personal property of others which might be inflicted during Cody’s stay in town, and the latter always paid the bills his guide passed upon as being “O.K.”
The writer met him at one time in an Omaha hat store, where he was fitting himself out with a broad-brimmed soft hat. The proprietor of the establishment told him that his (the proprietor’s) wife had been reading Buntline’s story about him, and that she had a very strong desire to meet him, and offered him the finest hat in the store if he would go home with him. This proposition Cody declined, with the remark that he was not making an exhibition of himself for hats.
Cody is a splendid-looking man, being over six feet tall and straight as an arrow. His hair is of a light color, and he wears it very long. He has been married for several years and has two or three children.
“Texas Jack,” whose real name is J.B. Omohundro, is about the same age as Cody, or perhaps a little younger. He and Buffalo Bill have been together on the plains for several years, and when Buntline made arrangements about a year ago to travel over the country with Cody, he induced Jack to join him. The latter was married to Morlacchi, the famous danseuse, not long since, and it is said that she is traveling with the troupe which performs here this week, but her name does not appear in the bills.
J.B. Hickok, “Wild Bill,” has joined the troop lately. He is not specially or widely known as a scout. For several years he has filled the position of Marshal of the town of Abilene, Kansas, in which capacity he has gained a reputation extending over all the Western States and territories. He has been constantly brought in contact with desperate men who constantly set the laws of the land in defiance, and in the many bloody frays he has had with these characters, he has always come out conquerer. He has a big heart and is widely known for his generous deeds, no one ever appealing to him for aid in vain. He, as well as Texas Jack, is much above the average of mankind, and, taken altogether, three finer specimens of Western frontiersmen than the men who are the subjects of this sketch cannot be found anywhere."


When the big night came, there were no scouts. A notice in the paper explained that “For some reason, the “Scouts of the Plains” did not reach the city yesterday. Consequently, there was no performance at the Opera House last night.



The next night, with a large crowd waiting to be allowed into the Opera House, the show's cast and crew never showed. The Nashville Union and American newspaper reported that "Buffalo Bill and Company, who were advertised to appear last night at the Opera House, failed to make an appearance. A large crowd were present waiting for the doors to open, and of course were sadly disappointed. The cause of a non-appearance is not known."



“The “Scouts of the Plains” have evidently come up missing, so far as Nashville in concerned,” reported the Union and American a day later. “Nothing whaever, of a relable character, has been heard of them since their agent visited the city, a week before last. They were to appear here Friday and Saturday nights, going from here to Memphis at which place they are advertised to appear tomorrow night. We see by late Cincinnati papers that they are also advertised to appear in that city tomorrow night, to commence a two weeks engagement. A great many reserved seats had been engaged for the performance here, but of course, the money will be refunded if the troupe fails to visit Nashville.”



The Scouts did manage to make their next scheduled show in Cincinnati, where a critic’s review makes it sound like the good people of Nashville weren’t missing much. He filed this review:

"Buffalo Bill, King of the Bordermen was brought out to a full house last night...the material of the play consists of the regulation Dutch and Irish characters, a well-rouged heroine, six "Indian" supes, and the three stars: Buffalo Bill, Texas Jack, and Wild Bill—the "border" men, of which the first is the "King."
The Ninth-Street manager, to whose enterprise the town is indebted for this visitation, must be congratulated on having at last found something that pays, for the house last night scooped in every bootblack and corner loafer in town, but as their money is as good as anyone else's, certainly the manager is not in a position to complain.
"Buffalo Bill" is the connecting link between the scum of the cities and the scum of the plains, the mouthpiece of the unfledged ruffianism that requires the vigilance of the police the year round to keep within bounds.
Not one of the three principal roughs has the least notion of acting, for it is as much as any one of them is capable of to recite a simple English sentence, and on his natural level, if he got a position in a theater at all it would be at shoving scenes. It is as "border men," however, that they base a claim to intrude themselves on the community—as killers of half-breed Indians, and fighters about the drinking-shops of new settlements but here, too, they are weak, for there are in our midst , which is at the same time no cause for congratulation, any number of men who could beat them at that game. In our County Jail we have a quartette beside which they are nothing. Cody and his friends always fought, in well-armed gangs, against the effeminate, defenseless beggars of the prairies, while our "Wild Bill," in every case, killed his man in single fray, the victim, three times out of four, being the biggest man. It makes the difference, however, between savage and civilized life, that these brought are let loose to prey upon society, while ours are safely locked up, thus preventing other managers than the Sheriff from getting up a reveal sensation, and he would not be allowed to take money for it.
But there is one good side to the show. By exhibiting themselves, Cody, Omohundro, and Hickok make enough to buy refreshments, which otherwise they might be apt to get in a different way, thus relieving the traveler by night of much anxiety and the corporation treasury of expense. Therefore let them be treated as was old "Eccles" in the play—let them have a fair supply of money."


It was more than two years before Buffalo Bill and Texas Jack finally showed up at the Opera House in Nashville, where they played for four days from December 27-30, 1875. Nashville’s Grand Opera House (which opened as the Adelphi in 1850) lasted until 1902 when it was gutted by a fire. It was rebuilt with the original facade, and in 1916 was turned into the Bijou, Nashville’s black-only theatre in the Jim Crow era.


Nashville’s Bijou Theater in 1956, shortly before it and its neighboring Masonic Lodge were torn down to make room for the new Municipal Auditorium.

Where one time Buffalo Bill and Texas Jack performed, now Ethel Waters, Bessie Smith, and Ma Rainey entertained sold-out shows to sitting-room-only audiences. The Bijou was demolished in 1957 to make way for the Nashville Municipal Auditorium.


The tour of 1875-1876 would prove to be the Scouts’ final tour. Of course, Wild Bill was long gone, having traded the theaters of the East for the mining towns of the Black Hills and a date with destiny in Deadwood.





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