Posters that appeared around New York City in the summer of 1843 advertised a "Grand Buffalo Hunt" that would take place across the river in Hoboken on August 31, 1843. For the entertainment of the crowd, which would be protected behind thick double-rail fencing, cowboys would pretend to hunt and lasso a herd of wild buffalo imported from New Mexico. Best of all, the event would take place free of charge.
The organizer of this event was the showman P.T. Barnum, and naturally he had a scheme to make money from it. He had secretly cut a deal with the operators of the Hoboken ferry, so that he would receive half of their net receipts. The more people he could entice to make the trip to Hoboken, the more cash he would pocket. He expected around 16,000 to make the trip, but 24,000 people showed up, unable to resist the lure of a "free" show. Barnum ended up pocketing a profit of $3500 for the day.
However, the show proved to be not quite what it had been advertised. Instead of a herd of wild, dangerous buffalo, the crowd was greeted by a ragtag group of scrawny, malnourished creatures that Barnum had bought from a local merchant for $700. When the crowd started hooting and hollering, the buffalo became frightened and broke through the "thick double-rail fencing" (which was really just a flimsy barrier) and escaped into the surrounding swampland.
Links and References
- Philip B. Kunhardt, Jr., Philip B. Kunhardt III, and Peter W. Kunhardt. P.T. Barnum: America's Greatest Showman. Alfred A. Knopf, 1995: 46-47.
- Barnum, P.T. (1855). The Life of P.T. Barnum, written by himself. 352-356.