Irrigation Fair

Written By: nppladmin - Oct• 23•20
Originally published on on October 23, 2020.

We are starting a new series on FB called Throwback Fridays! Each Friday, we will post pictures of historic North Platte and share a little local history behind the picture.

This first post features an Irrigation Fair taking place in downtown North Platte on Tuesday, October 13, 1896. The excerpt below is from: Buffalo Bill: His Family, Friends, Fame, Failures and Fortunes by Nellie Snyder Yost (1979).

“Lincoln County was the first choice, due partly to over 200 miles of canals in operation already. The new irrigation canals were dug by Buffalo Bill and his friend Isaac Dillon, and called the Cody-Dillon canals helped secure Lincoln County as the first state-wide fair.

Buffalo Bill was impressed at the work the city was going to do and wrote a letter to early pioneer, William Park, from his Wild West Show on May 3, 1896. Buffalo Bill stated that he would do his part and do a show on October 12th or 13th, he would bring his trains and put on the complete Wild West Show with the Congress of Rough Riders. It would cost him $5,000 but since it was his home town, it was worth it.

A new bandstand was completed at the fairgrounds (today’s Cody Park area) along with a Women’s Building, a new grandstand to seat 2,000 people with extensions, an amphitheater, race track stalls, and a ten-acre lake. A life size statue of Buffalo Bill was furnished by local marble cutters that cost $800.00.

The Grand Army of the Republic decided to hold a reunion the same time and a large tent city was put up to accommodate them. Union Pacific Railroad piped water to the grounds and gave old rail road ties for campfires.

The crowds started arriving on Sunday, October 11th 1896 from all directions of the country. Visitors came by covered wagon, horseback, and train. By noon, over 4,000 wagons were counted. Cody’s train was coming from Omaha and was running late, so the railroad sidetracked all trains and the “Lightning Express” was used to get the train to North Platte in time. The entire population of North Platte and visitors from far and wide came to greet Buffalo Bill at the station. Even though the train arrived during the usual church service hour, the ministers dismissed their congregations and accompanied them to the station. Cody road through the town accompanied by band after band.

The next day, Monday, October 12, 1896, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and Congress of Rough Riders paraded through downtown North Platte. Cody’s daughter joined him in the parade. Cowboys, cowgirls, and hundreds of horsemen paraded down the streets with the Wild West Band. Cody was driving a spirited grey Arabian team in a carriage. Mrs. Cody and the Governor of Nebraska Silas Holcomb were in the carriage with him.

Admission was fifty cents for adults and twenty five cents for children under the age of nine. It was reported by local newspapers that Buffalo Bill took in over $20,000 from the Irrigation Fair.

Years later, it was Buffalo Bill’s Show that was remembered, not the Irrigation Fair.”

Excerpt from Buffalo Bill: His Family, Friends, Fame, Failures and Fortunes by Nellie Snyder Yost (1979).

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