Halliday Sutherland

"A born writer, especially a born story-teller. Dr. Sutherland, who is distinguished in medicine, is an amateur in the sense that he only writes when he has nothing better to do. But when he does, it could hardly be done better." G.K. Chesterton.

Charging Thunder

When Halliday Sutherland was a boy, he saw Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in Glasgow. He later described it as “the best entertainment of my childhood… a better show for boys of all ages was never staged in any amphitheatre.” This is the story of how he came to meet Charging Thunder, one of the Sioux in the show.

Tragedy came to the “Wild West Show.” As soon as he arrived in Glasgow Colonel Cody had asked through the Press, and by circular letter, that no publican would supply his Red Indians with a drink. To the Indians, drink was fire-water, and would inevitably lead to bloodshed. One morning Charging Thunder went out and found a publican who served him with whisky. When Charging Thunder returned to the East End Exhibition grounds, all those who saw him fled. Colonel Cody ordered the interpreter to tell Charging Thunder to go to his wigwam and sleep it off. The interpreter, a half-caste, gave the message. Charging Thunder seized his tomahawk and went on the war-path. The interpreter with great courage faced the Indian, but in a moment his skull was fractured and he fell senseless. Charging Thunder stood still. In a flash of sanity he knew he had struck down a friend, and dropped his tomahawk. He was held, and offered no resistance when the police arrived to take him away. The interpreter was removed to the Royal Infirmary, which faces the gaol in Cathedral Square.

The magistrates committed Charging Thunder to the High Court on a charge of attempted murder, and [he] was lodged in Glasgow Prison, of which my father was the doctor. Public feeling was aroused—against the publican who sold the drink. There was sympathy for the Indian and his victim.

Each day my father gave us first-hand news of the Sioux. At first he was dejected, Not one word of English could he speak, but the prison officials by signs made him understand that the interpreter was alive, and would probably recover. As a prisoner awaiting trial he had certain privileges. He did not wear prison clothes, could receive visitors, and Colonel Cody and Indians from the show came to see him.

Great was my delight on a Saturday forenoon when my father returned with a large basket of fruits, bought at Mrs. Campbell’s shop (alas, now a limited company), opposite the Central Station. The basket I was to take to Charging Thunder. I went round to the gaol, of which I had the freedom, and rang the bell. The large massive doors of wood and iron only opened to let Black Maria in and out, but in one side of the gate was a little door, and through this I passed. The warder on the gate then unlocked the inner gates of iron bars, which made the entrance hall a large cage, and I was in the courtyard of the prison. There I found another warder, who took me upstairs into the north wing, and unlocked the door of a cell.

The Indian sat on his bed under the window. He wore his moccasins, headdress, and pigtail of large feathers. At the door stood the warder, smiling. I advanced with my present. Charging Thunder rose, and with gravity took the basket and placed it on the end of his truckle-bed. Then to my embarrassment, he clasped me for a moment, spoke some words in his own language, and bowed. The audience was at an end, but a week later two Red Indians came and left a head-dress at our house. From the Royal Infirmary came the good news of the interpreter, who recovered, and at the trial gave evidence in favour of the prisoner. A light sentence was passed, and soon Charging Thunder was giving his war-cry in the “Wild West Show.”

From: A Time to Keep by Dr Halliday Sutherland

Note: In A Time to Keep Dr Sutherland wrote that he had met Chief Sitting Bull. Sitting Bull died in December 1890, but the incident and the incarceration of a Sioux (Charging Thunder) in a Glasgow gaol (Barlinnie Prison) was in 1892. On this basis I have changed the name from “Sitting Bull” to “Charging Thunder” and have removed two references to a Sioux “chief”.

Charging Thunder remained in Britain, married and settled in Manchester under the name George Edward Williams. You can read the story here.

Photo credit: Käsebier, G., photographer. (ca. 1900) Charging Thunder, a Sioux Indian from Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. , ca. 1900. [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2006679573/.

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This entry was posted on 2 April 2020 by in A Time to Keep, Early life, Glasgow.

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