John Wallace Crawford
|J.W. "Captain Jack" Crawford|
Crawford in full Western attire, 1881.
|Born||John Wallace Crawford
March 4, 1847
Carndonagh, East Donegal, Ireland
|Died||February 27, 1917
Woodhaven, Long Island, New York
John Wallace (Jack) Crawford (1847-1917), known as "The Poet Scout", was an American Civil War veteran, an American Old West scout, and a poet of western lore. He was a scout for General George Crook and General Phil Sheridan, friend of Wild Bill Hickok and co-actor, performer and scout with William F. Cody (Buffalo Bill). In 1875 Jack was appointed as a Captain of the Black Hills Rangers of Dakota. He was famous for his books and poems, many still performed and recorded as songs, such as "The Death of Custer", "Rattlin' Joe's Prayer" (which became the basis, reset as narrated by a soldier, of the song "deck of cards") where a miner preaches a sermon from playing cards, and "California Joe and the Girl Trapper". His poem "Only a Miner Killed" has been cited as the basis for Bob Dylan's song "Only a Hobo". Jack Crawford became a speaker and performer in music halls and stages all over the US, lecturing on the west, the Sioux Indian Wars and encouraging his audiences to forswear liquor. He also became an active speaker at many reunions of civil war veterans, and film of him is among the last scenes in Ken Burns' epic "The Civil War". One of his most famous exploits included delivering a bottle of whiskey to Buffalo Bill, while on campaign. Cody wrote of the incident in his biography "An Autobiography of Buffalo Bill":
On learning that I was with Crook, Crawford at once hunted me up, and gave me a letter from General Sheridan, announcing his appointment as a scout. He also informed me that he had brought me a present from General Jones, of Cheyenne. 'What kind of a present' I inquired, seeing no indication of any package about Jack. 'A bottle of whisky!' he almost shouted. I clapped my hand over his mouth. News that whisky was in the camp was likely to cause a raid... I will say in passing that I don't believe there is another scout in the West that would have brought a FULL bottle of whisky 300 miles.
John Wallace Crawford was born in Carndonagh, East Donegal, Ireland on March 4th 1847. His parents were both born in Scotland. The father, John Austin Crawford, was born in Greenock near Glasgow and married Susan Wallace who was not only a Scot but claimed to be descended from Sir William ‘Braveheart’ Wallace. Like many Scots at that time the Crawfords moved and settled for a time in Ulster. When John Austin Crawford emigrated a second time Susan followed him and found him, working as a miner in Schuylkill County, near Roaring Creek and the small settlement of Minersville, Pennsylvania. The children had been left behind but in 1860 they came by themselves on a sailing ship. John Wallace Crawford was by now 13 years old but was big for his age.
As soon as the children arrived John Austin Crawford was off to join the Union Army to fight in the Civil War. Immediately after his arrival in Pennsylvania young John, though merely a boy, started to work in the coalmines, picking slag for about $1.75 per week. At age 15 he lied about his age and joined the Pennsylvania Regulars. His father was wounded twice, initially at Rappamattock and then more severely at the momentous Battle of the Wilderness, which took place from May 5th-7th 1864. At age 17, John Wallace Crawford was wounded the following week at the equally fiercely fought Battle of Spotsylvania. The father died shortly afterwards of a combination of both his terrible wounds and the debilitating effects of alcoholism.
Jack was wounded on two more occasions during the Civil War and was nursed back to health in the Sisters of Mercy hospital near Philadelphia, where the nuns not only nursed him but taught him how to read and write. Eventually his learning of those skills would lead Jack to his career as a writer. In the short term and directly after the War, it allowed him to secure a position as a postmaster in Numidia, Pennsylvania. In September 1869, Jack married the local school teacher, Anna Maria Stokes, and together they had 5 children, including a girl who was named for Jack's friend William 'Buffalo Bill' Cody. Her name was May Cody Crawford.
'Captain Jack Crawford, the poet scout, is one of the noble characters whose memory will live so long as records exist of the pioneers who braved the vicissitudes of the frontier and made possible our Western civilization of today. A man of broad mind, daring and brave and yet with all the sweet tenderness of a child of nature, he became great by achievements alone. Others have gained a temporary fame by dime novel writers. Captain Jack, in comparison with others, stands out as a diamond of the first water. He has helped to make more trails than any scout unless it was Kit Carson. That was before the war. During that struggle he was wounded three times in the service of his country. When the war closed he was for many years chief of scouts under General Custer. He laid out Leadville in the Black Hills in 1876, and was of great service to the government in the settlement of the Indian troubles which succeeded the Custer massacre.'
It was at that time, in July 1876, that Buffalo Bill Cody also met Jack for the first time. Crawford replaced Cody as Chief of scouts of the 5th Cavalry. Cody tells us that that was "only two months after the Custer massacre at the Little Big Horn, and a mere three weeks after the murder of Wild Bill Hickok in Deadwood". Jack captured both of these events in verse:
Custer’s death at the Little Big Horn
Did I hear the news from Custer?
Well I reckon I did, old pard.
It came like a streak o’lightning,
And you bet, it hit me hard.
I ain’t no hand to blubber,
And the briny ain’t run for years,
But chalk me down for a lubber
If I didn’t shed regular tears.
Death by shooting down of Wild Bill Hickok by Jack McCall in Deadwood.
Sleep on brave heart, in peaceful slumber,
Bravest scout in all the West;
Lightning eyes and voice of thunder,
Closed and hushed in quiet rest.
Peace and rest at last is given,
May we meet again in heaven.
Rest in peace.
After becoming Chief Scout for the 5th Cavalry under the command of Eugene A. Carr, Crawford made a famous horseback ride with urgent dispatches from the Battle of Slim Buttes to Fort Laramie, a distance of 350 miles in 4 days. This battle took place on the 9th and 10th September 1876 and was the first victory that the U.S. army had over the Siouxs after the Little Big Horn. This thumb-nail sketch describes Jack Crawford's appearance at that time: "...about 6 feet tall and of fine build, and dressed in a nicely fitting artistic buckskin suit, very much resembling Wild Bill."
In 1876 Jack Crawford became an entertainer in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. Their partnership ended in Virginia City Nevada in the summer of 1877 when, during a combat scene, Crawford accidentally shot himself in the groin. Jack, who was a lifelong teetotaller (a promise that he had made to his mother on her deathbed) somehow blamed the incident on Cody’s drunkenness.
The Poet Scout's first book was published in San Francisco in 1879. It contained amongst others the very memorable poem, ‘Only a Miner Killed’, which was less sentimental and more hard-hitting than much of his work and is said to have been a major influence on Bob Dylan’s song, 'Only a Hobo'. The poem was actually written in 1877 after the death of Commodore Vanderbilt and contrasted the ostentatious funeral of this wealthy man with the bleak and miserable funeral procession that Jack had witnessed following the death of a poor miner.
Only a miner killed! God, if thou wilt,
Just introduce him to Vanderbilt,
Who with his millions, if he is there,
Can’t buy one interest – not even one share.
In 1879 Jack relocated his long-suffering family from Pennsylvania to the New Mexico territory and began scouting for the army again, this time in their war against the Apache nation. He also became a post-trader at Fort Craig New Mexico and engaged in ranching and mining. Ten years later he was acting as a Special Agent for the Justice Department investigating the illegal liquor trade in the Indian Reservations of the Western States and Territories. He continued for the following 30 years to travel the length and breadth of America as an actor, lecturer, special government agent and adventurer and always paying careful attention to any silver or gold strikes. Jack Crawford's written accounts of life on the frontier are noted for their true representation of the real dangers that pioneer life entailed. Sometimes Native Americans were portrayed as violent demons and sometimes that description was sympathetic and understanding of the universal human motivations that Jack ascribes to the tribesmen.
In later life Jack separated from his family and moved back east, settling in Woodhaven, Long Island, New York. He died of Bright's disease on February 27, 1917.
|@ 1913 Gettysburg reunion|
- Captain Jack Crawford – Poet Scout of the Black Hills, retrieved 2011-09-10 Unknown parameter
- Crawford, John Wallace "Jack" (1913), A Prayer and a Benediction ... and Other Poems from his new book (listing, Cowan's Auctions)), retrieved 2011-02-07
- Ho! For The Black Hills - Collection of newspaper articles and letters from Deadwood written by Captain jack Crawford in 1877 chronicling the gold rush. Published 2012 by South Dakota Historical Society Press.
- Captain Jack Crawford: Buckskin Poet, Scout, and Showman - Biography of Captain jack written by Darlis A. Miller and published by Univ. of New Mexico Press,hardback 1993, reprint 2012 paperback
- The Colt Revolver in the American West—Captain Jack Crawford's Model 1877 Lightning
- Featured Cowboy Poetry - John Wallace "Captain Jack" Crawford
- John Wallace Crawford at Find a Grave