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Nathan Salsbury papers

Call Number: YCAL MSS 17

Scope and Contents

The Nathan Salsbury Papers contain correspondence, personal papers, photographs, a scrapbook, and memorabilia documenting the life and career of Nate Salsbury, nineteenth-century actor and co-owner of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. The papers span the dates 1860-1965, but the bulk of the material covers the years 1866-1903.

Series I, Correspondence , consist of eighteen folders of chronologically arranged correspondence. The two earliest letters were written by Nate Salsbury in 1860-61. In them he alludes to running away from his stepfather and to his interest in joining the circus. These are followed by nine letters from Harriet C. Fuller, Nate's teen-age half-sister, written between 1866-70. Also included in the correspondence are letters from Salsbury relatives and friends which mention his acting career. Some useful information concerning Nate's long association with William F. Cody and the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show can also be found. The collection contains nine letters from Buffalo Bill and additional letters from J. A. Bailey, John M. Burke, Jack Crawford, Jules Keen, and Steele MacKaye concerning the Show. In his reminiscences (Box 2, folder 63), Salsbury stated that when he wrote his famous book, its title was going to be "Sixteen Years in Hell with Buffalo Bill." Cody, was in his opinion, a dishonest drunkard whose only loyalty was to his incompetent cronies. Buffalo Bill's drinking problem is discussed several times throughout the papers. In Cody's first letter to Salsbury, probably written in 1884, he vowed "that after this you will never see me under the influence of liquor," although he added, "I may have to take two or three drinks to day to brace up." In a 1907 letter to Rachel Salsbury, Jack Crawford asserted that Buffalo Bill was "not a Square dealer" and that "Ned Buntline created the most selfish and brutal faker . . . ever perpetrated on the American People." The collection also includes invitations and requests for tickets, most dating from the time of the Wild West Show's tours of Great Britain in 1887 and 1892.

For the period between 1891 and Salsbury's death in December 1902, there is a small series of letters between Salsbury and his wife, Rachel, and sons, Nate, Jr. and Milton. Other correspondents include David J. Burrell, Kate Field, General Nelson A. Miles, Milton E. Milner, Frederic Remington, and Bram Stoker. Correspondence dating from after Salsbury's death discusses the sale of Salsbury's stock in the Buffalo Bill Show, other estate matters, the disposition of artifacts he collected, and reminiscences about Nate Salsbury and Buffalo Bill. In a 1924 letter, for example, Frank Butler, husband of Annie Oakley, refers to Salsbury "as one of the whitest men" he had ever known.

Series II, Personal Papers , are found in Boxes 1-2, folders 19-64. Included are biographical information, memorabilia on Buffalo Bill's Wild West, invitations and programs, printed works, papers on Salsbury's Troubadours, and writings of Nate Salsbury. The Buffalo Bill folders contain copies of the 1887 articles of incorporation, invitations, programs, and schedules. The printed works section offers some useful information on Salsbury's Troubadours and the Wild West Show. A great deal of additional Wild West Show material is found in the scrapbook (Box 5, folder 106). Writings include the original manuscript for an 1871 play, "On the Trail; or, Money and Misery" together with a number of poems, perhaps used in stage performances; an 1865 poem written by Salsbury; and a series of reminiscences written in 1901 or 1902. The reminiscences contain anecdotes and stories of his Civil War experiences, Salsbury's Troubadours, the founding of the Wild West Show, and pungent observations on Buffalo Bill. One Civil War anecdote featuring General William T. Sherman is particularly interesting. Other personal papers include Civil War discharge papers; poetic tributes to Salsbury and Buffalo Bill; recitations dating from Salsbury's acting days; a brochure for "The Reservation," cottages in Long Branch, New Jersey owned and rented by Salsbury; and a posthumous tribute by David J. Burrell.

Series III, Photographs , predominately family and friends are housed in Boxes 2-3, folders 65-89. Many of the pictures of Nate Salsbury and Rachel Samuels Salsbury date from the period when both were on the stage. In addition, the photographs contain thirty stereoscopic views of the Wild West Show (Box 4, folders 90-97) sold by Underwood & Underwood. A small Memorabilia series includes three jubilee coins of Great Britain, two medals, and a paperweight.

The collection concludes with one box of Oversize papers. The most significant item in the section is a large scrapbook which houses letters, invitations, menus, tickets, Wild West Show memorabilia, newspaper clippings, programs, broadsides, and other like papers. Much of the material found elsewhere in the Salsbury Papers was removed from the scrapbook. The letters include such items as a dinner invitation from Frederic Remington, a short August 1888 letter from Albert Bierstadt, a June 6, 1888 letter from Steele MacKaye congratulating Salsbury on the birth of a son, and an 1888 letter from Henry Watterson on the stationery of the "Headquarters National Democratic Committee." Other items of interest include a May 22, 1873 special order of Abraham Lincoln Post 11 GAR appointing Salsbury one of six company commanders; German, Spanish, and Italian programs for the Wild West Show; publicity for Salsbury's Troubadours; and a December 29, 1865 open letter from Brevet Brigadier General P. Sidney Post to the soldiers of the 59th Regiment of the Illinois Volunteer Infantry congratulating them for their outstanding war service.


  • 1860 - 1965
  • Majority of material found within 1866 - 1903


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Box 6: Restricted fragile material. Reference surrogates have been substituted in the main files. For further information consult the appropriate curator.

Conditions Governing Use

The Nathan Salsbury Papers are the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Rebecca Salsbury James and Rachel Salsbury Schloss, 1964-67.

Associated Materials

Nathan Salsbury, Objects Associated with Buffalo Bill (WA MSS S-3019), Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.


4.96 Linear Feet (6 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The papers contain correspondence, memorabilia, printed material, writings and photographs on the life and career of Nate Salsbury.


Nathan Salsbury, son of Nathan and Rebecca Welch Salsbury, was born in Freeport, Illinois. Left an orphan, he lived with his stepfather, Jedutha Fuller. On the outbreak of the Civil War, he enlisted in the ranks of the Union Army. He served in the 89th and 59th Illinois regiments in the Army of the Cumberland and was wounded three times. After discharge Salsbury became an actor and wrote several plays, including "Patchwork" and "On the Trail, or, Money and Misery." In 1875 he organized Salsbury's Troubadours, a successful acting company, and in 1884 joined Buffalo Bill as co-owner of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. Eleven years later he established "Black America," an acting, singing, and tumbling extravaganza with a cast of 600 African Americans.

Salsbury married Rachel Samuels, a young actress, in 1887. The couple had four children, one of whom was Rebecca Salsbury James. Nate Salsbury died on December 24, 1902 in Long Branch, New Jersey.

For additional biographical information, see The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Vol. VIII, page 166, and his "Reminiscences" (Box 2, folders 62-63).


Nathan Salsbury (1780- ) m. Lemira Clark (1788- )

Nathan Salsbury ( -1847?) m. Rebecca Welch* ( -1854?)

Nathan Salsbury (1846-1902) m. 1887 Rachel Samuels (1856- )

Nathan Salsbury (1888-1963)

Milton S. Salsbury (1890-

Rachel Salsbury (1891- ) m. William H. Schloss

Rebecca Salsbury (1891-1968) m. 1 Paul Strand (1890-1976) m. 2 William H. James (1899-1962)

Martha Salsbury m. Jedutha Fuller (1812?-

Washington C. Salsbury m. Celestina Rawson

Nathan Rawson Salsbury (1856- ) m 1881 Frances A Gibbs (1866- )

Mattie Salsbury m. Akeley

Lemira Salsbury m. 1847 Jessie C. Wells

Note: The first Nathan Salsbury had four other children. *Rebecca Welch later married Jedutha Fuller and after her death Fuller married Martha Salsbury.

Guide to the Nathan Salsbury Papers
Under Revision
by Bruce P. Stark
November 1986
Description rules
Beinecke Manuscript Unit Archival Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

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