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Mason County Memories

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Captain Jack Poet Scout History Column Dave Petersen John Wallace Crawford aka Captain Jack the poet scout was a friend of Buffalo Bill and visited our area about 1915, a few years before he passed away. He had been born in Ireland in 1847 and came to America after his father was banned from Ireland for making "Revolutionary" speeches. As a boy of the age of 14 he began working in the coal mines after his father enlisted in the Union Army. He wished to take part in the civil war though and ran away to join the Union Army, finally being admitted into the 48th Pennsylvania Volunteers. His father, and Jack were both severely wounded in battle, Jack survived but his father did not. After he was moved to a hospital in Philadelphia to recover from his wounds he was taught to read and write by one of the sisters of charity. Afterwards young Jack went back to his home to support his mother and raise a family of his own. When his mother was about to pass away she made a deathbed request to Jack that he never drink, as his father had been an alcoholic, a promise that he made and kept to the end of his life in 1917. He was married in 1869 but did not find his way west until 1875. At the time that he went to Nebraska he was working for several eastern newspapers as a correspondent reporting on life in the western frontier. Jack is recognized as having helped to fuel the fire of the Gold Rush into the Black Hills because of his reporting and the sensationalizing of the riches to be found there. A short time after his arrival Wild Bill Hickok was shot and killed by Jack McCall and he penned the following in tribute to Hickok "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" He left the Black Hills the following year after serving as the chief scout for the 5th cavalry to join Buffalo Bill in his Wild West show, although this arrangement did not last, he left the show after and accident that he blamed upon Bill's drunkenness. By 1880 he was living in New Mexico, trading and scouting for the army telling stories of the west and writing his poetry. His first book entitled "The Poet Scout" was published in 1879 and advertised as being a book of song and story. He made one more attempt at finding riches when he went to the Yukon during the Gold Rush of 1898 but he returned and again found himself on the lecture circuit where his real goldmine was in the writing and entertaining. Jack was a showman, and quite a flamboyant personality who seemed to love the stage and love having an audience to tell his stories to (he resembled Buffalo Bill) He would go onstage in his buckskins, with a rifle over his shoulder telling those tales of the Wild West to the delight of young and old. He was very popular on the Lyceum Circuit and traveled extensively. The Lyceum movement lasted until the early 20th century and was instrumental in bringing talent, actors, debates and other important figures and issues to small towns all over the country in particular during the times before radio and movies replaced them as a form of information and entertainment. Epworth utilized the movement in their scheduling of summer programs when they opened in 1894 and continued that tradition for a number of years until it faded from popularity and was discontinued here as well. Captain Jack found his way into the Manistee area where a stage was setup in a wooded glen about 1910, he put his show on for a number of local people and children. I was fortunate to have found several photographs of his presentation that are published here possibly for the first time anywhere. He passed away in New York in 1917 from Bright's disease, one of the last of a breed who lived a rich life from soldier in the civil war, to miner, Indian Scout, poet and entertainer. If you have local stories and photographs of Mason County and wish to share those with our readers please feel free to contact me at 757-3240, davep@blackcreekpress.com or mail in care of the Ludington Daily News PO Box 340 Ludington Mi 49431.

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