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Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Go East, Young Man!

Go East, Young Man

C. A. Asbrey   

I remember my grandfather telling me about his trip to see Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show when they came to Glasgow. It made a huge impression on him, as in 1904 he was only a young child. It was one of his earliest memories. As he was a fabulous storyteller, he related it in evocative and brilliant detail. The streets of Glasgow, and her people, were drab and monochrome. The visitors were bold, original, flamboyant, and loud. They danced, sang, shot guns, rode horses in a way nobody in Scotland did, and spoke in an enticing drawl. He almost made us feel like we'd seen it too.        
A family enjoying the Wild West Show in Glasgow1904  

The Wild West Shows were part of American culture, and helped place a version of the Old West before the very eyes of people all over the world. They influenced, and were influenced by, the vivid tales told in dime novels, penny dreadfuls, and early movies; presenting a vision of the West as a land full of outlaws, plucky settlers, and native peoples who were alternately mystic or hostile, depending on the perspective chosen. 

Of course the real West never looked like that. It was a heightened reality which had been selling for many years before Buffalo Bill took his show on the road. Entrepreneurial people found that Easterners would pay good money to experience the Wild West, and had been staging shows in towns like Palisade in Nevada since the 1870s. (See previous blog post here -  

Tales of the frontier helped to entertain a populace who were not only becoming increasingly literate, they were also much more likely to be trapped in tedious jobs provided by the Industrial Revolution. The Old West provided colour and escapism to people who lived dreary and repetitive lives. William Cody's show actually built on the success of a book he published in 1869, and extended far beyond the USA. The Wild West show toured all over Europe, starting in 1883. It sparked others too, always popular, always well-attended. I have no doubt such shows encouraged some people to emigrate, and live a new life in a new land, mainly because my grandfather talked about just that. But he never did. He stayed put in Scotland, worked hard, raised a family, and eventually passed away in a house fire. 

His dramatic passing was followed by an even more dramatic funeral, in which the biggest storm anyone had seen in years hit. I still remember the minister's eyes widening in alarm at the thunder and lightning crashing outside as he gave his eulogy. The wind was so high the windows rattled even before the tree branch crashed into it. The storm fell as suddenly as it rose, just when his coffin rolled behind the curtains for cremation. The sudden silence was as crushing as the tempest. My mother, ever a fund of Scottish superstitions and folklore, stared at the wrecked gardens outside, and wryly observed, "He wasn't ready to go. Was he?" 

But I digress. The point of this post was to talk about the people who made the journey the other way, and more particularly, the Native Americans who came to the UK. Some, like the woman many know as Pocahontas (born Matoaka, known as Amonute, died known as Rebecca Rolfe) were terribly used and abused. When she died in Gravesend, England, there were rumours that she had been murdered by a husband unhappy at being unable to re-marry when she left him to return to Virginia. Others claimed that she had either smallpox or tuberculosis. The two illnesses are so different it is certainly peculiar that they are confused. Her grave is thought to be underneath the church's chancel, though that church was destroyed in a fire in 1727 and its exact site is unknown. Her memory is honored with a life-sized bronze statue at St. George's Church by William Ordway Partridge. 

Most others are far less well-known. One man who stayed behind after The Wild West Show rejoiced in the name of Charging Thunder. In December 1891, Buffalo Bill, Kicking Bear (the famous Crazy Horse's nephew), Lone Bull, Iron Tail, Short Bull, and No Neck, were all in Glasgow on a tour. It was Hogmanay (Scotland's famous New Year celebration), Charging Thunder was far from home and surrounded by foreigners, but he decided to celebrate anyway. A few sherbets later, he returned to the campsite drunk, and assaulted one of the interpreters, George Crager; hitting him over the head with a war club. He was hauled off to Tobago Street Police Station, Glasgow. Poor Charging Thunder must have joined many with headaches and regrets when he appeared before a sheriff on 12th January (a sheriff is a judge in Scotland). 
Charging Thunder and Josephine
Once in the dock, Charging Thunder pled guilty to assault, claiming his lemonade had been spiked with whisky. He was unable to identify which Gallowgate pub he had been drinking in, but that wouldn't have been hard to identify. Any crowd drinking only lemonade in a Glasgow pub at Hogmanay in the 19th century would have stuck out like a sore thumb, let alone a group of Native Americans - if his story had been true. The Sheriff sentenced him to thirty days in Glasgow's notorious prison, Barlinnie. Once back with the show, Charging Thunder soon jumped ship, and changed his name to George Edward Williams after he fell in love with Josephine, one of the American horse trainers. They stayed in England and settled in Gorton, near Manchester, where he worked at Manchester's Bellvue Circus for many years. He worked with the elephants, and apparently had maintained a great liking for the drink. He was known to stagger to the elephant house when he was at his worst, and sleep it off in the Elephant house, with his loyal friend, Nelly the Elephant, looking over him. He died in 1929 of pneumonia aged only 52, but he left behind a family, and still has descendants in the area. They have connected to Lakota relatives in the USA, and met with extended family.

He was not the first Native American to settle in the UK by  along way. Some men brought back wives and children for a very long time, mingling into society from the 16th century. Edinburgh, in particular, had a fair degree of Cree diaspora, and many like Matilda and Elizabeth, daughters of Cree-Scottish Nancy Hodgson and John Davis, found the city more tolerant of their race than other parts of the UK. Others made a name for themselves. Samson Occom, (1723 – July 14, 1792) was a member of the  Mohegan nation who toured as a preacher. He noted in his memoirs that he was especially well-received in Scotland, but also complained he was paid less than his peers, despite raising more money. 

Another early visitor was poor Tobias Shattock and his brother, John, of the Narragansett tribe of Rhode Island. They came to plead a case to the King, and had been promised a free passage to Scotland in 1768. They were both struck down with smallpox, and were looked after by an Edinburgh merchant, Alexander Mowbray. John survived, but Tobias was interred in Edinburgh's historic Greyfriars graveyard. You may be familiar with the place due to the story of Greyfriars Bobby, the faithful dog who stayed at his master's grave. The burial amongst The Covenanters was intended as a high honour, but his family were only informed months later in a printed notice. John continued his journey to London, where his journey proved to be futile. The King was not interested in helping him, or the Narragansett people.  

The 19th  century brought an entirely different vision of the vanishing American West to British audiences, an educated, elloquent Native American lady, Susette La Flesche (1854-1903), and her husband, newspaperman Thomas Henry Tibbles, began an extensive lecture tour of Great Britain. She was the mixed-race daughter of Iron Eyes, chief of the Omaha tribe. Her given name was Inshtatheamba, Bright Eyes. She was frequently called Princess Bright Eyes, but usually asked to be called Mrs. Tibbles. She disliked the title, as it showed an ignorance of the Omaha system of governing the tribe, but was pragmatic enough to realise that it got her cause attention which plain old Mrs. Tibbles didn't.     

At a time when the Native Americans were being portrayed as savages, and being driven on to reservations, she presented an alternative vision. She was a gifted communicator, and enthralled audiences with presentations on the beliefs, religions, practices, and the challenges her people were facing. She raised money for churches and schools, as well as raising awareness of the cause of Indian citizenship. 

Others weren't treated as well. Walter McDonald, a "Canadian Indian",  was making his way to Edinburgh in 1914 where he had family. The newspaper describes "His red skin, with feathered hat and show attire" which "made him a conspicuous figure." It was a rural, and unsophisticated, area. Children bothered and teased him, and he  began throwing stones to see them off. The police in Armadale diffused the situation, but he met further problems in Bathgate where a group of young men decided he must be a German spy  and beat the poor lad up. Don't ask me why, other than the fact that he was a stranger, and Europe was already embroiled in WW1. The USA didn't join until 1917. As the police in Armadale had been helpful and kind, he returned there. Some of the locals were outraged that he'd been treated so badly, and provided him with ordinary clothes, paid his train fare, and escorted him safely to the train to Edinburgh. It's a story I wish I'd known when I policed that area, so I could have dug up the records from the archives.

I don't have time to cover all the fascinating, and colourful people who ventured east to share their interesting lives with the other side of the Atlantic, but I thought you might enjoy a flavour of the lives, and deaths, of some of the people from the Old West who came our way.

Released 16th July 2020 


“She hasn’t got the combination to the safe,” said the manager. “You can scare her as much as you want. We all know you’re not gonna use that gun on us.”

Rebecca’s breath halted as she felt a careless arm drape around her shoulder.

“I don’t need a gun to hurt someone. Give us the combination.” The manager remained mute and turned his face away. “Your call, sir.” He pulled Rebecca around to face him as she gasped in alarm. “Just remember who you’ve got to thank for this, ma’am.”

He pointed over at the manager, who refused to meet her eyes. “That man right there.”

“Anything that happens to her is down to you. Not me,” said the manager.

Rebecca felt herself dragged from the room by one arm. She was pulled into the office next door and pushed against the wall. The man walked over and pulled down the blind before returning to her. Her breath came in ragged pants of fear. “Please, no. Don’t.”

He leaned on the wall, a hand on either side of her head, and pressed his face close. “You were gonna hold this place up. Are you some kind of idiot?”

She blinked in confusion. “Huh?”

The man pulled down his mask, revealing the face of the fair man who had walked into her office looking for Fernsby. “Don’t lie to me, honey. You had the same idea as we did— look at Meagher’s bank account to see where he gets his money. We’ve watched you march up and down outside this place all day, like you were on sentry duty, while you built up your courage. You even got in the way of us doin’ it. What the hell is goin’ on in your head? How dumb can a woman get?”

“You? Here?” She couldn’t quite decide whether to stop being scared or not.

“Yeah. Me.” He indicated with his head. “Now, Nat’s in there, and he needs the combination of the safe. It’s too new and sophisticated for him to crack the combination. You and me need to put on a bit of a show to make sure the manager gives it up.”

“You’re not robbing the bank?”

Jake huffed in irritation. “Try to keep up, Becky. I need you to scream for help so the manager gives Nat the combination to the vault. We want Meagher’s records too.”

She shook her head. “Me? I can’t scream.”

“What do you mean you can’t scream? All women can scream.”

“I can’t. I’m just not made that way.”

He frowned. “Look, Becky. If you won’t scream, I’m gonna have to make you. Let’s do this the easy way, huh?”

“Please, help! Noooo.”

Jake frowned. “You call that screamin’? That’s useless.”

“I told you. I can’t.”

Jake flicked up an eyebrow. “Last chance, Becky.”


“Nope.” A gloved hand reached up to her hat as his eyes glittered with mischief. “Don’t say you weren’t warned, sweetheart.”

Available for Pre-order Now. Released 16th July Innocent to the Last

Innocent to the Last


  1. Really interesting, C.A.! The stories of how people sloshed around, USA to Britain were fascinating.

  2. Wow, this article is jam-packed with fascinating information about Native Americans who decided to live in the UK. I didn't know about most of these cases, but I was happy to see Susette, the Native American woman who actually lived in the UK and taught people about the religion and culture of Native Americans.
    A very well written article, Christine. Your Scottish grandfather sounds like a very unique and interesting man. What a shame he died so young.
    As always, I wish you the very best and great success with your upcoming release, Innocent To The Last.

    1. Thanks so much. I enjoyed learning about these people as I researched them. Yes, I adored by grandfather. He was larger than life, and also a real-life war hero. I was lucky to know him.

  3. Christine, this is just fascinating to me. Thanks so much for this post. I will definitely be rereading it again, because I didn't know so much of this. So interesting! I'm enjoying my foray into Ancestry . com and learning about my ancestors, too--although they came from Scotland, England, and Ireland over to America, and did what your grandfather talked about. I don't believe any of them ever returned to their native land. (BTW, I loved the story about your granddad's funeral. That sounds like a great send-off!)

    Wonderful post, Christine. I really enjoyed it.

    1. Thank you, Cheryl. It was the most dramatic send-off I've seen. That'd for sure. I loved learning about these people. I'd always been told that Scots brought Native American families back with them, but never looked at any detail. I didn't know there was a Cree community in Edinburgh, and want to know more about it.

  4. Fascinating post! I've been thinking a lot about representation and the stories we choose to tell -- and despite all those stories about Pocahontas in my childhood ending with her marriage in England, I had no idea she'd come to such a sad end. Love the story about your grandfather and the storm. Wish I'd tape recorded or written down my great-aunt's stories.

    1. I fear that she had the most horrible life, and just when she thought she'd finally get to go home, it was snatched away from her. Thanks, I always had a special love for my grandfather.

  5. Mr. Tibbles and his wife were also instrumental in the states for their defense of Chief Standing Bear of the Ponca tribe when he won his suit to return to his homeland and not have to remain on the reservation. (Helen H. Jackson was also involved with raising money for the defense.) The book "I Am A Man" is about his journey and Tibbles also wrote a book "Standing Bear & the Ponca Chiefs".

    I loved this look at the lesser known journeys and the reaction/results of those who Journeyed East. Thank you so much! Doris

    1. Thanks for that information, Doris. That expands on my research on the UK by a very long way! A book to look out for, that's for sure.