Showing off for the queen

American exhibition brings animals, cowboys to England in 1880s.

JSSP Keith Norman Column Sig

Residents of the region liked to show off a bit whenever they had an opportunity. Sometimes that even came on the international stage.

We are stepping back to 1886 today when the farmers and land promoters of the area heard about the American exhibition planned for Jolly Old England.

The word came from someone with the right connections. Richard Sykes grew up in England and traveled extensively before speculating in real estate in central North Dakota. The towns of Sykeston, Edgeley, Bowdon, Chaseley and Alfred all came from his development efforts and were named after himself or places he knew in England.

When word of the American exhibition reached him in his home in England, he contacted folks he knew in the Dakota Territory to send over “a complete exhibit of products grown on the lands of the syndicate,” according to newspaper reports of the day.

From Jamestown, farmers contributed samples of hard wheat, oats, barley and “other evidences of Dakota’s wonderful soil.”


The displays were shipped from the Dakota Territory in the summer of 1886 for an exhibition planned for a year later.

The American exhibition became a big attraction in England, although we can’t credit that success to Stutsman County barley.

The American exhibition titled “The Drama of Civilization” was also the venue of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show for its European tour in 1987.

Cody brought an entourage that includes hundreds of cowboys and cowgirls, 97 Native Americans, 180 horses, 18 buffalo, 10 elk, 10 mules, five longhorn steers, four donkeys and two deer.

The show included Annie Oakley with her demonstrations of marksmanship, reenactments of buffalo hunts, stagecoach robberies and even The Battle of the Little Bighorn.

Those performers introduced the American West to the English spectator and even royalty from across Europe. From the spring of 1887 to October when Cody and the crew returned to America, they gave about 300 shows that were attended by about 2.5 million English spectators.

The most prominent spectator to the show was Queen Victoria, the reigning monarch of England. For Victoria, it was her first public appearance since her husband had died 16 years earlier.

In honor of Victoria’s visit, the show put on a special performance. The queen commented the Native dancers were “quite fearful.”


The history of the event doesn’t provide any information as to whether Victoria got a chance to check out the Stutsman County barley.

Author Keith Norman can be reached at

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