The John Wallace "Captain Jack" Crawford Collection consists of family and personal papers, research, and drafts of writing projects as well as correspondence related to business and personal matters. Writing topics include poetry, short stories, and theatrical plays. His business interests included performing, mining, scouting, and running a farm and general store.
John Wallace Crawford (1847-1917), sometimes called "Captain Jack" or "The Poet Scout", was born in Northern Ireland. Immigrating to the United States at the age of eleven (1858), he joined his father in a coal mine in Minersville, Pennsylvania. In 1863, he and his father joined the Union Army in the Civil War, serving in the 48th Pennsylvania Volunteers. ‘Captain Jack’ was wounded four times, the last of which occurred at Spottsylvania. A nun taught him to read and write while he was recuperating from the wound. After the war, Crawford returned to Pennsylvania, married Maria Stokes and started a family.
One of the original seven men who settled in the Black Hills region after the Custer expedition in 1874, Crawford was a newspaper correspondent for The Omaha Daily Bee, reporting on conditions in the Black Hills. He also became Chief of Scouts for the Black Hills Rangers. After the defeat of General Custer at the Battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876, Crawford joined the Fifth Calvary at the urging of his friend, William Frederick ‘Buffalo Bill’ Cody. While he served as a scout and messenger for both Generals Merritt and Crook, Crawford continued to send dispatches to The Omaha Daily Bee. In the fall of 1876, Crawford joined Buffalo Bill's theatrical troupe for the winter season. He starred as ‘Captain Jack’ opposite ‘Buffalo Bill’ in western themed melodramas.
In the spring of 1878, Crawford journeyed to the gold fields of Dawson in the Yukon Territory. He never had much luck as a miner, so, a year later, he traveled to San Francisco to negotiate the publication of his first book, The Poet Scout. During the last half of 1879 and through 1880, Crawford scouted for the U.S. Army in New Mexico for their campaign against the Apaches. Crawford liked the area, so after he resigned from the Army in 1880, he decided to remain in New Mexico. After Crawford accepted a position as post trader at Fort Craig, he sent for his wife, Maria, and their children. The family maintained their residence at this isolated location for nearly two decades, even after the troops withdrew and the fort closed. He continued to prospect, perform, and write. The Poet Scout was enlarged and reprinted in 1886 and was followed by three other books; Camp Fire Sparks, Lariette and The Broncho Book. He also wrote several plays in which he took the central roles, and he authored more than a hundred short stories.
Because of a promise that he claimed he made to his mother on her death bed, Crawford allegedly never touched a drop of whiskey. Proud of his sobriety, he became a special agent of the Justice Department under President W.H. Harrison in the fall of 1889. Responsible for the capture of outlaws and "bootleggers" who sold whiskey to Native Americans, he traveled extensively throughout the Southwest during the next four years.
In 1893, Crawford devoted time exclusively to his career as an entertainer. By 1898, he attained recognition as one of the country's most popular platform entertainers. However, by 1899 he submitted to ‘gold fever’ again joining the rush to the Klondike. After two years, he returned to his career as an entertainer, but his finances were precarious. Estranged from his wife, Crawford died in his Woodhaven, Long Island home in 1917.
Restrictions: McCracken Library staff may determine use restrictions dependent on the physical condition of manuscript materials. Restrictions may exist on reproduction, quotation or publication. Contact McCracken Research Library for more information.
Acquisition Note: Source: Harriet Crawford Richardson. Gift
Preferred Citation: John Wallace "Captain Jack" Crawford Collection, MS 322, Harold McCracken Research Library, Buffalo Bill Historical Center.