The Wild West Comes to Princeton

Printed on verso: "Pawnee Bill in Princeton. May 15th 1899.  The Indians."

Printed on Verso: “Pawnee Bill in Princeton. May 15th 1899. The Indians.”

Gordon William Lillie, better known as Pawnee Bill, began his entertainment career in “Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show” serving as the interpreter and coordinator for the Pawnee Indians.  While on tour in Philadelphia, Gordon met May Manning, whom he married two years later, and May’s parents convinced Gordon to venture out with his own western show.  His first attempt in 1888, “Pawnee Bill’s Wild West Show,” proved to be a financial failure. His second attempt in 1899, however, “Pawnee Bill’s Historical Wild West, Indian Museum, and Encampment,” found greater success.

The Historic Wild West Comes to Town

Screen Shot 2013-05-27 at 10.42.21 AMOn May 15, 1899, Pawnee Bill’s Historical Wild West was set to perform in Princeton.  Leading up to the event, the Daily Princetonian ran several advertisements highlighting the coming extravaganza.  An illustrated advertisement on May 6 mentions a reorganized, rearranged, improved, and augmented show presenting  1,000 men, women, horses, Indians, and soldiers with performances to be held at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., as well as a Grand Street Display (a parade on Nassau Street) at 10:00 a.m.  A May 9 advertisement describing an earlier performance in Charleston, South Carolina, provides a glimpse of the action to come (including a mention of May’s shooting):

The combined shows of Pawnee Bill which exhibited here [Charleston] yesterday is first-class in every respect: as a life-like portrayal of savage modes, it has no equals …. The performances of the trained animals were excellent, and equal to any every exhibited in this city.  May Lillie’s shooting is wonderful, and the riding and driving of 35 wild mustangs are all grand features.  The wild buffaloes and long-horned Texas steers, the grand Mexican Hippodrome races, by senors and senoritas, are most wonderful and exciting.

A Bloody Riot on Nassau Street

While various newspaper accounts of the activities on May 15 differ slightly, all report that the Grand Street Display did not go well.  According to an article that ran the following day in the New York Times, “Princeton Students Riot, Attack Pawnee Bill’s Wild West Combination,” the town had an unwritten law which forbid touring parades from proceeding on the streets of Princeton, and “it had been a matter of common knowledge in the [touring] profession that the students would enforce the unwritten law.”  With the Grand Street Display set to go forward as advertised, a large group of students, reported as 600-700, had gathered on Nassau Street that morning to meet the parade, and several of the students welcomed the performers by slinging mud, eggs, potatoes, and firecrackers.  The firecrackers startled the horses which caused a brief run-away wagon until one of the lead horses fell.  The procession continued down Nassau Street, but unfortunately, the parade route was a loop, and on the second trip through the gauntlet of flying produce, the cowboys and Indians began to “use their whips freely” and the stung students replaced their harmless projectiles with stones.  The scene soon escalated into a full and deadly skirmish:

Then the cowboys and Indians retaliated.  Some of them drew their revolvers and began to fire, but they either used blank cartridges or fired over the heads of the crowd.  Others, however, unslung their lassoes and used them as whips. Some of the Mexican or South American cowboys unslung their bolas and used these with great effect, the leaden-covered ends being exceeding effective.  The cowboys charged the crowd several times and rode down those who could not get out of the way.  In this manner Elwood Dillon, a colored man, was knocked down, kicked in the head by a pony and his skull fractured.

As the fighting continued, the wagons were driven rapidly down Nassau Street to safety. The horses of a speeding stage-coach, “Fort Sill,” can be seen entering the frame of the following photograph, appropriately titled “Fort Sill Stage-Coach Runs Away.”

Printed on Verso: "Pawnee Bill in Princeton. May 15th 1899. The Fort Sill stage-coach runs away."

Printed on Verso: “Pawnee Bill in Princeton. May 15th 1899. The Fort Sill stage-coach runs away.”

Along with Elwood Dillon, several students and performers were injured and bruised in the pitched battle on Nassau Street, and the unfortunate seriousness of the event required action from the university:

The students were preparing for a lively time to-night when this afternoon President Patton summoned every member of the university to attend a mass meeting.  He forbade them to go to the circus to-night, and said that if any student disobeyed him it would be at the student’s peril.  Major Lilli [sic], owner of the show, was present and made a speech, which aided in pouring oil on troubled waters.

Pawnee Bills Wild West Show lives on today in annual reenactments on the last three Saturdays of June at the historic Pawnee Bill Ranch in Oklahoma: Pawnee Bill Ranch.

The photographs of Pawnee Bill’s Wild West Show on Nassau Street are part of the Western Americana Photography Collection, which houses more than 10,000 photographs pertaining to the American West.  Nearly 7,000 images in the collection are available online in the Princeton University Digital Library.  Below is a gallery of related Buffalo Bill and Pawnee Bill photographs from the collection.


Brown, Erin Glanville. “Pawnee Bill (Gordon William Lillie, 1860-1942).” Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. (accessed June 27, 2013).

“Pawnee Bill’s Historic Wild West.” Daily Princetonian. May 6 and May 9, 1899. (accessed June 27, 2013).

“Princeton Students Riot. They Attack Pawnee Bill’s Wild West Combination.” New York Times. May 16, 1899. (accessed June 27, 2013).

Drake Bros. Studio Photograph Collection

A recent addition to Princeton’s Manuscripts Division and Collections of West­ern Amer­i­cana, the Drake Bros. Studio Photograph Collection contains photographs and related manuscript material that provides a visual record of Silverton, Oregon, and surrounding areas in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The collection contains nearly nine hundred photographs from the Drake Bros. Studio, most with the studio stamp on the back along with detailed manuscript notes by June D. Drake (1880-1969), including dates, identification of individuals, and the names of buildings and streets (many of which no longer exist in Silverton).  Photographs dated before 1900 are primarily copies of images taken by William L. Jones and other noted Oregon photographers. The collection may be the working files for Drake’s unpublished history of Silverton and environs.  Manuscript material includes notes and newspaper clippings on the history of Silverton and Silver Falls State Park, as well as the Drake and Schoenfeld families.

About June D. Drake and Drake Bros. Studio

Photographers June D. Drake and his brother Emory Roy Drake founded Drake Bros. Studio in 1900 in Silverton, Oregon. Four years later the brothers bought out the business of W. L. Jones, a noted 19th-century Oregon pioneer photographer, and added his negatives to their inventory. The brothers operated together until 1908, when a fire destroyed their studio; very few images were salvaged. June Drake continued to photograph in a new studio until his retirement in 1960.  June was also a local historian interested in documenting Silverton history through his images as well as written essays.  Several of his local history pieces were published in the Silvertonian and Silverton-Appeal newspapers.

Silverton Falls State Park

Drake was also a vocal advocate for the preservation of Oregon’s natural beauty, and perhaps his greatest achievement was his contribution to the establishment of Silver Falls State Park.  Drake photographed all ten of the park’s falls from as early as 1902 and created many travel brochures, pamphlets, and postcards to raise awareness around Oregon and the Pacific Northwest of the need to protect this area from logging. Now covering more than 9,000 acres, Silver Falls is the largest state park in Oregon, and one of the most popular trails for photographers visiting the park is the Trail of Ten Falls.

A detailed description of the Drake Studios Photograph Archive can be accessed via the Princeton University Finding Aids site: Drake Bros. Studio Photograph Collection.

Biographical and descriptive text throughout is adapted from the inventory description provided by Kol Shaver and edited by Valerie Addonizio.  Finding Aid and folder inventory written by Jameson Creager, Class of ‘2015.

Looking at the West: The Photographer

All images from the Western Americana Collection, Princeton University Digital Library.

The American Indian Souvenir Playing Cards, ca. 1900.

“Fifty-three of the best photographs of the homes and faces of the Pueblo Indians, taken in the last few years by A. C. Vroman of Pasadena, are ingeniously arranged and excellently reproduced for The American Indian Souvenir Playing-Cards; and a zarape in colors illuminates the back of each card. It is a handsome and typical collection. Lazarus & Melzer, Los Angeles, $1.”

–Advertisement from The Land of Sunshine: The Magazine of California and the West (Volume XIII, June-December, 1900).

Thanks to a gift of Donald Farren ’58, the department recently acquired two sets of souvenir playing cards illustrated with half-tone reproductions of photographs taken by noted photographer of the Southwest, A. C. Vroman.
Adam Clark Vroman was born in La Salle, Illinois, in 1856, and moved to Pasadena, California, in 1892 in hope of finding a better climate for his wife, Ester H. Griest, who was dying of tuberculosis.  Following her death in 1894, Vroman and an associate opened a store in Pasadena specializing in books, stationary, and photographic supplies.  The success of the store, which is still in operation today as southern California’s oldest and largest independent bookstore, Vroman’s Bookstore, provided Vroman with the means to pursue his many interests, including amateur pursuits in archaeology and historical documentation of the American Southwest.

In 1895, Vroman took his first trip through the Southwest, visiting Arizona and New Mexico, which he documented extensively through photography.  Between 1895 and 1904, Vroman continued to explore and document the Southwest, collecting Southwestern Indian artifacts and photographing Native American villages and the people and customs of the Southwestern Indians (Apache, Hopi, Navajo, and Pueblo).


The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections holds several individual Vroman photographs and three photograph albums, all of which can be viewed online in the Princeton University Digital Library. Two of the Vroman albums represent (at least in part) the cultural studies of the Museum-Gates Expedition of 1901, led by Peter Goddard Gates, a California philanthropist, and Dr. Walter Hough of the United States National Museum.  Vroman served as the official photographer of the expedition.

Vroman was a man of many interests, and after 1904 his attention turned abroad with tours in Japan and Europe, which included collecting Japanese netsuke and photographing European architecture.  His last tours in North America, in 1914, were of the Canadian Rockies and the East Coast.  Vroman, who died of cancer in 1916, left a substantial collection of Indian artifacts to the Southwest Museum, and his Californiana collection and sixteen albums of platinotype prints from his various expeditions were given to the Pasadena Public Library, where they are still available to view by appointment.  Vroman’s collection of Japanese netsuke is now part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which described the collection as one “considered to be the finest and largest in the United States at that time [1910].  This group of 2,500 pieces had been assembled by A. C. Vroman of Pasadena, California, and was purchased and presented to the Museum by Mrs. Russell Sage, one of the Metropolitan’s first great benefactors” (Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, Fall 1980).

Select Bibliography

Apostol, Jane. Vroman’s of Pasadena: A Century of Books, 1894-1994. Pasadena: A.C. Vroman, 1994.

Mautz, Carl. Biographies of Western Photographers: A Reference Guide to Photographers Working in the 19th Century American West. Nevada City, Calif.: Carl Mautz Publishing, 1997.

Powell, Lawrence Clark. Vroman’s of Pasadena. Pasadena: [s.n.], 1953.

Vroman, A. C. Photographer of the Southwest: Adam Clark Vroman, 1856-1916. Edited by Ruth L. Mahood with the assistance of Robert A. Weinstein. Introduction by Beaumont Newhall. [Los Angeles]: Ward Ritchie Press, 1961.

Watts, Jennifer and Andrew Smith. Adam Clark Vroman: Platinum Prints, 1895-1904. Los Angeles: Michael Dawson Gallery; Santa Fe: Andrew Smith Gallery, Inc., 2005.

Webb, William and Robert A. Weinstein. Dwellers at the Source: Southwestern Indian Photographs of A. C. Vroman, 1895-1904. New York: Grossman Publishers, 1973.