Pushaluck's Romance, a Story in Three Acts, Yet Incomplete

I was doing some research this week on Buffalo Bill and the Indians (more on that later) and came across a delightful story in the New York Times that I want to share.

In the summer of 1886 Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show set up camp at Erastina, Staten Island. (The picture on this page is some members of the Wild West show at the Erastina camp in an 1888 tour.) Cody was just back from a triumphant tour of Europe and announced the arrival of the Wild West show in New York with a Manhattan parade. "Everything is on a big scale," The New York Herald enthused, "The arena is like a monster circus ring. Around it the long rows of seats rise high one above another. Gleaming in a grove at one side are the white tents of the Indians, painted over with fantastic designs."

Among these fantastic Indians was a Pawnee man whom the New York Times identified as "Pushaluck." (The name might be comic invention--I can no other references to the man outside of these articles in the Times.) Pushaluck was described as "the best looking fellow in the camp, not excepting the Europeans and Americans." He spoke, the Times noted, "a little English and a great deal of Indian."

Enter romance.

"A comely damsel of 19 summers," (and from New Jersey) began to hang around the camp. She seemed to be "riveted upon the fascinating person" of Pushaluck, who in turn "lingered as near the comely young damsel as duty and fences permitted." The other performers began to fear that their companion "had fallen a victim to New Jersey's charms." But before they could intervene, the unlikely couple slipped out of camp to elope!

Cody, it was reported, was in a "towering rage" when he heard of the elopement--not out of any 19th century opposition to interracial marriage, but because it might worsen his always contentious relationship with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Cody had a contract with the BIA to return his Indian performers to the reservation "in good order" at the end of the season. "To return Pushaluck as a Benedict would not be, in Buffalo Bill's opinion, to return him in good order," the Times noted.

["A Benedict" is 19th century slang for a confirmed bachelor newly married, taken from the character Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing.]

Cody hired detectives to hunt down the lovebirds. In the interlude a Times editorialist took the opportunity to draw a historical lesson from the event in a piece titled "A Modern Indian." "Day by day," the Times declared, "new and touching illustrations of the progress of civilization are made known, and each succeeding edition of the census shows a wider spread of sweetness and light among the people . . . . Already he [the Indian] is the rival of civilized man in his capacity for firewater, and his noble devotion to aged and decrepit silk hats." The writer also praised Indians for their "enterprise in the amusement business . . . digging up the hatchet and gliding through the dizzy mazes of the war dance for a reasonable share of the gross receipts at the box office."

Taking great liberties with the paper's own reporting of the event, the editorialist praised Pushaluck who went "alone to the wigwam of a Newark white chief, sang his song under the window, won the heart of the daughter of the house, and eloped with her after the manner of his good white brothers." After a long passage contrasting this modern development with "the old-time custom as set by trusty authors in graphic tales" the editorial concludes that Pushaluck "may further fit himself for the age and country in which he lives by deserting her and running away with some other gentleman's wife."

Cody's detectives caught up with the pair three days after they disappeared--the searchers finding that "an Indian in native costume, accompanied by a white girl, was not a hard object to trace." The two had been married "in regular orthodox English fashion" in Philadelphia, where they were found honeymooning "in a boarding house on Ninth Street that is much patronized by 'freaks.'"

Pushaluck was convinced to return to the show, and the young woman to her parent's Jersey home. Their separation was a "quite affecting" sight, according to the Times, and the two made plans to reunite at the end of the season and go together to live on the reservation. "Mrs. Pushaluck is reported to have a considerable sum of money, and Pushaluck is looking forward to great honor and many ponies on the reservation," according to the Times. Pushaluck and his bride refused to reveal her maiden name accoring to the Times, and Pushaluck in particular "is not at all inclined to converse about the matter."

And there the story ends--for now. I can find no reference to a Pawnee Indian named Pushaluck anywhere except in these three NY Times articles, and a few secondary sources in Google Books that cite the times articles. Tomorrow I will explore the meaning of the story a little more.

NY Times article #1: Pushaluck's Romance
NY Times article #2: A Modern Indian
NY Times article #3:Won a White Bride