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Woman who knew Buffalo Bill dies

By GREG WILLIAMS
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 20, 2001

ST. PETERSBURG -- Alma Akert Werner, a trapeze performer in a circus with Buffalo Bill Cody early in the 20th century, has died at 108.

She died Tuesday (Dec. 18, 2001) at the Laurels Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in the city she came to in 1923.

At age 15, the third child of German immigrants, Mrs. Werner left her little Pennsylvania town of Brookston and traveled to Denver on her doctor's orders after she was exposed to tuberculosis. Alone in the city, she stayed at the Girls Friendly Club of the YWCA and got jobs taking care of children and working at a resort hotel, on a dude ranch and as an usher in a theater.

She met a man putting together an act for a small circus, the Sells-Floto Show. He wanted her to be in a trapeze act on one of the five points of a 35-foot star that revolved like a Ferris wheel. Soon she was doing that and blowing a bugle, too.

Mrs. Werner was about 19 in 1913 and 1914, when newspapers across the country heralded the circus' arrival.

"We would come into town, and the five of us would lead the circus parade on horses," she said in a 1993 interview. "One day, I was waiting on my horse to go into a town, and this man came over to fix my stirrup." It was Buffalo Bill Cody, who joined the thriving little circus for the summer of 1914. He always rode behind their five horses in his horse and carriage. She recalled that Cody was around 70 at the time.

Another time she recalled Pancho Villa, his ammo belts across his chest, sitting in the audience when the circus performed in Tijuana, Mexico.

It was in the circus that Mrs. Werner would meet her husband, Henry, who had a winter job with Barnum & Bailey's circus band.

Her husband joined a band that played in Williams Park every winter from 1918 to 1923. Mrs. Werner and other band wives presented tableaus and one-act plays. The Werners eventually settled here at the time a brand new druggist, J.E. "Doc" Webb, was opening a little one-horse drug store at Second Avenue and Ninth Street S.

She is survived by a daughter, Nelda Werner Barlow, St. Petersburg; a son, Edward, Hernando; nine grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.

Friends can visit her daughter's home from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Dec. 30. Donations can be made to Love and Care Non-profit Animal Association Inc., P.O. Box 8414, Madeira Beach, FL., 33708.

Gee & Sorensen Funeral Home and Cremation Services is in charge.

-- Information from Times files was used in this obituary.

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