25 cts..Family Ticket..25 cts. [ticket likely for a lecture by John Harwood Pierce, frontier showman].
A larger-than-life American character
Here is a ticket. It is an admission ticket to “Col. Pierce’s Lecture.” The ticket cost 25¢ and admitted a whole family. It is printed on very deep-orange coated card stock. It looks to be from the 1870s or 1880s and it is illustrated.
Who is Col. Pierce? A likely candidate is John Harwood Pierce (1848–1925). Pierce led a full and exciting life, gaining fame in his later years as a public entertainer. In an interview before her death in 2012, his daughter described him as a “character” and added “t hurts to say it, but he was something of a con man.”
What else do we known about Col. Pierce? He was a poet, a Civil War soldier (as a corporal, [i]not a colonel), a teacher to former slaves in the South, an Indian Scout and militiaman (only a lieutenant colonel), and a friend of Buffalo Bill. Pierce was a celebrity journalist for the Omaha Daily Bee where he wrote as “Ranger of the Plains,” recounting stories of the Western frontier and General George Custer. He was also an inventor of a pneumatic “railway,” a minister, and…an orator.
Pierce appears to have been quite a self-promoter. Styling himself “Colonel Pierce,” he lectured in full costume. Sometimes he wore full western buckskin; sometimes he wore his Civil War uniform. He called his lectures “The Indian Monologues.”
Pierce’s lecture ticket is illustrated with a scene showing an advancing line of Union infantry charging up a hill. The regiment’s commander and the American flag lead the way forward. Confederate soldiers return fire. That it is a Civil War scene is reinforced by the caption “Remember the Heroes who stood by our Flag.”
Pierce regaled his audiences with stories of his childhood Indian friends, his Civil War service in the 11th Illinois Cavalry Regiment, and his friendship with Buffalo Bill. The frame of Pierce’s diverse life experiences allowed him to exaggerate his tales, to fill in the gaps in an entertaining way. The critics praised him:
His magnetic eloquence was recognized in New York City, where at the Cooper Union and the Coliseum audiences of many thousands were so delighted with his oratory, that the New York World on commending said: A man of power and full of fire; he greatly moved the hearers again, and again.
As the fiftieth anniversary of the Civil War approached, Col. Pierce was much in demand as a speaker. He donned the ceremonial uniform of a G.A.R. Commander (to which, in truth, he was entitled) to look more the part of a heroic soldier. He lied about his age, desiring to be thought of as one of the oldest veterans of the war. His white hair and flowing white beard helped propel the narrative.
In 1915, at a costume party for the Panama Pacific International Exposition, Col. Pierce transformed a military uniform into the spectacular outfit of the “King of Fairies.” Trimmed in white fur and with a fantastic bejeweled hat, the costume won first prize. The San Francisco Examiner took notice:
Who would have guessed that the Rev. J. H. Pierce, late President of this, and Colonel of that, an Honorable too—only a few votes shy—would grow long hair and let his vandyke wave unmowed until the wind blew through his whiskers? Ah well, it is all to please the kiddies. … It was THE costume all right.
As much as Col. Pierce lived the part, he had to look the part. If his tales were exaggerated, so his costumes had to be too. Blue serge, buckskin, and bluster. That’s certainly worth 25¢ admission.
According to Barbara Case and her thorough online biography, Pierce considered himself to be, in some ways, “last man standing” — the last of the frontier showmen who out-survived them all. Wild Bill Hickok, Captain Jack Crawford, California Joe, Buffalo Bill Cody. They had been the last of a dying breed, but Pierce, in his mind, had outlived them all.
Description: 25 cts..Family Ticket..25 cts. [ticket likely for a lecture by John Harwood Pierce, frontier showman].
[Np, np, c. 1870s–1880s]. Ticket. 2 x 3½ inches. Orange, coated stock paper. Illustration. Near fine.
Refs. Dad was a veteran…of the Civil War | SanDiegoUnionTribune dot com and John Harwood Pierce — Biography — Part 1 accessed online.