Buffalo Bill, Boozers, Brothels and Bare-Knuckle Brawlers: An Englishman’s Journal of Adventure in America, by Evelyn Booth, edited by Kellen Cutsforth, TwoDot, Guilford, Conn., and Helena, Mont., 2015, $22.95
Evelyn Booth, born in 1860 to wealthy English parents in Dublin, Ireland, visited the United States with two friends after graduating from college and kept a journal that begins on Oct. 24, 1884, and ends in April 1885. As the title of this book suggests, Booth was mighty frank about what he was up to during his stay in the States. He and affluent companions Reginald Beaumont Heygate and Dr. John Percival Frizzle seemed most interested in gambling, drinking, boxing and hunting for both animals and women (in bordellos or elsewhere).
Call the trio sportsmen or carousers, but their American adventures make for most interesting reading, especially since Booth writes about taboo subjects of the time with a good dose of what editor Kellen Cutsforth calls “rough-hewn humor and biting wit.” Frizzle on occasion adds his own take on events. Their writings are loaded with references to people and places of the Gilded Age unfamiliar to most modern readers, but Cutsforth provides ample informative endnotes.
The biggest treat for fans of the 19th-century American West is an account of the self-indulgent trio’s encounter with celebrated showman Buffalo Bill Cody, who was performing his Wild West show in New Orleans. Booth and Buffalo Bill met for two shooting matches. Booth won the first by three, and Cody won the rematch, although Booth noted: “The return match was shot off with the following result, Bill 47 Self 46, though three were counted to him which he never touched.” The Englishman added, “In the evening we all got very full, and I was arrested for giving the Cowboy yell in the streets.…As it was getting rather hot, [and] some of us being arrested every night, I determined to accept Bill’s invitation to stay up in the camp and did stay there till they left the town.”
Major John Burke, general manager and press agent for Cody’s Wild West, soon arrived with 30 Indians to replace others in the show, and Booth remarked, “Among the new ones were three squaws, two of them quite good looking.” He also reported that “the first boxing match on record between Indians took place at the Wild West camp…and resulted in one being knocked out.”
It’s unfortunate Booth didn’t keep a journal when he returned to the United States in 1886 and, according to Cutsforth, provided much financial support for Buffalo Bill’s show and helped Cody hatch the idea of taking the Wild West to England (see related story in Western Enterprise in the February 2014 issue of Wild West).
Among other names that pop up in Booth’s journal are opera singer Adelina Patti (“looking the worse for wear”), champion boxer John L. Sullivan (“a mass of muscle”), Chicago brothel owner Carrie Watson and jockey Frederick James Archer, a well-known Englishman of the day, who joined the adventurers in Hot Springs, Ark. The only disappointments are that the diary isn’t longer and that on this trip the boys didn’t venture farther west than Arkansas. Booth, by the way, later owned ranchland in Wyoming, visited Canada’s Klondike and settled in Oregon. He died in 1901 at age 41.