How successful were traveling entertainers in the Old West?

atm-logoHow successful were traveling entertainers in the Old West?
Jack A, Graves
Turlock, California

They were popular in the entertainment-starved West, and the good ones made a lot of money. Since the entertainers hit the mining town circuit, they found plenty of cash to pay them top dollar.

Shakespearian plays were always popular, as was “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” Sideshows, medicine shows and circuses also drew crowds. So did musical groups.

Pretty women were the most popular. Caroline Chapman was one of the first real actresses to head west. Stories tell of how, after her first performance in San Francisco, the audience carpeted the stage with pokes filled with gold.

Another favorite was Adah Isaacs Menken, a woman with an innocent appearance that belied her wild and wicked lifestyle. Mark Twain wrote a newspaper article about her appearance in Virginia City, Nevada, in the early 1860s. She rode across the stage on a horse in a flesh-colored bodystocking that made her appear nude. Her adoring audience showered the stage with gold and silver. Then, as now, sex sells.


Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian. His latest book is Wyatt Earp: Showdown at Tombstone. If you have a question, write: Ask the Marshall, P.O. Box 8008, Cave Creek, AZ 85327 or e-mail him at marshall.trimble@sccmail.maricopa.edu

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