Classic Cowboy Poetry

John Wallace "Captain Jack" Crawford

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John Wallace "Captain Jack" Crawford (1847-1917) became known as "The Poet Scout." He fought in the Civil War and in 1875 was appointed Captain of the Black Hills Rangers militia.

An informative biography at the Black Hills Visitor Magazine site (the article is no longer available in 2012) tells,

He was one of a very few “teetotalers” among the army scouts, and the only man on the frontier who could be entrusted to deliver an unopened bottle of whiskey, according to William “Buffalo Bill” Cody. In his autobiography, Cody described a meeting with Jack in July of 1876...Crawford replaced Buffalo Bill Cody as chief of scouts for the 5th Cavalry, "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." He joined Buffalo Bill Cody's show, and the article reports, "The partnership with Cody ended in Virginia City, Nevada, in the summer of 1877 when, in a combat scene staged on horseback, Crawford accidentally shot himself in the groin and blamed the event on Cody's drunkenness.

Find a similar article here in Deadwood Magazine.

Crawford later settled in New Mexico, and was involved in ranching and mining.

Photo courtesy of Martha Dayton, "Captain Jack's" great granddaughter.
Read some of her comments below

Captain Jack Crawford was a newspaper reporter, wrote several books, and was well known for his poetry and tales about his experiences. Poet James Barton Adams (The Cowboy's Dance Song) wrote the foreword to Whar' the Hand o' God is Seen and other poems, noting that he and Crawford were close friends, and writes, "...I never knew a day to pass in which he did not, with rapidly moving pencil, give outflow to his poetic imaginings in rhyme...." Adams tells that Crawford was illiterate until he was wounded in the Civil War, "To use a homely colloquialism, he did not 'know a B from a bull's foot' until taught the alphabet by a Sister of Charity when, near the close of the War, he lay upon a hospital cot suffering from a gunshot wound received in battle...."



Comments from "Captain Jack" Crawford's Great Granddaughter

Books by "Captain Jack" Crawford

Preface from Poet Scout by "Captain Jack" Crawford

Biographical Sketch by Leigh Irvine from Poet Scout

Foreword by James Barton Adams from Whar' the Hand o' God is Seen


In 2008, Scott E. Lusby shared photos of James Barton Adams, who was his great great grandfather, in Picture the West. The photos also include Adams' friend, Captain Jack Crawford. See those photos here.






California Joe

The Burial of Wild Bill

The Broncho

Broncho vs. Bicycle

Klondike Balloon

more to come ....


California Joe

Well, mates, I don't like stories,
   Nor am I going to act
A part around this camp-fire
   That ain't a truthful fact.
So fill your pipes and listen,
   I'll tell youlet me see,
I think it was in fifty,
   From that till sixty-three.

You've all heard tell of Bridger,
   I used to run with Jim,
And many a hard day's scouting
   I've done 'longside of him.
Well, once, near old Fort Reno,
   A trapper used to dwell;
We called him old Pap Reynolds

   The scouts all knew him well.

One night the Spring of fifty
   We camped on Powder river,
We killed a calf of buffalo,
   And cooked a slice of liver:
While eating, quite contented,
   We heard three shots or four
Put out the fire and listened,
   Then heard a dozen more.

We knew that old man Reynolds
   Had moved his traps up here;
So, picking up our rifles
   And fixing on our gear,
We mounted quick as lightnin',
   To save was our desire.
Too late; the painted heathens
   Had set the house on fire.

We tied our horses quickly,
   And waded up the stream;
While close beside the water
   I heard a muffled scream.
And there among the bushes
   A little girl did lie.
I picked her up and whispered :
   "I'll save
you, or I'll die!"

Lord, what a ride! old Bridger,
   He covered my retreat.
Sometimes the child would whisper,
   In voice so low and sweet:
"Poor papa, God will take him
   To mamma up above;
There's no one left to love me

   There s no one left to love."

The little one was thirteen,
   And I was twenty-two.
Said I: "I'll be your father,
   And love you just as true.
She nestled to my bosom,
   Her hazel eyes, so bright,
Looked up and made me happy,
   Though close pursued that night.

A month had passed, and Maggie
   (We called her Hazel Eye),
In truth, was going to leave me

   Was going to say "good-bye."
Her uncle, mad Jack Reynolds

   Reported long since dead

Had come to claim my angel,
   His brother's child, he said.

What could I say? We parted.
   Mad Jack was growing old;
I handed him a bank-note
   And all I had in gold.
They rode away at sunrise,
   I went a mile or two,
And, parting, said: "We'll meet again

   May God watch over you."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Beside a laughing, dancing brook,
   A little cabin stood,
As, weary with a long day's scout,
   I spied it in the wood.
A pretty valley stretched beyond,
   The mountains towered above,
While near the willow bank I heard
   The cooing of a dove.

'Twas one grand panorama,
   The brook was plainly seen,
Like a long thread of silver
   In a cloth of lovely green.
The laughter of the waters,
   The cooing of the dove,
Was like some painted picture

   Some well-told tale of love.

While drinking in the grandeur,
   And resting in my saddle,
I heard a gentle ripple
   Like the dipping of a paddle.
I turned toward the eddy
   A strange sight met my view:
A maiden, with her rifle,
   In a little bark canoe.

She stood up in the centre,
   The rifle to her eye;
I thought (just for a second)
   My time had come to die.
I doffed my hat and told her
   (If it was all the same)
To drop her little shooter,
   For I was not her game.

She dropped the deadly weapon,
   And leaped from the canoe.
Said she: "I beg your pardon,
   I thought you were a Sioux;
Your long hair and your buckskin
   Looked warrior-like and rough;
My bead was spoiled by sunshine,
   Or I'd killed you, sure enough."

"Perhaps it had been better
   You dropped me then," said I;
For surely such an angel
   Would bear me to the sky."
She blushed and dropped her eyelids,
   Her cheeks were crimson red;
One half-shy glance she gave me,
   And then hung down her head.

I took her little hand in mine
   She wondered what I meant,
And yet she drew it not away,
   But rather seemed content.
We sat upon the mossy bank
   Her eyes began to fill
The brook was rippling at our feet,
   The dove was cooing still.

I smoothed her golden tresses,
   Her eyes looked up in mine,
She seemed in doubt then whispered
   "Tis such a long, long time
Strong arms were thrown around me
I'll save you, or I'll die."
I clasped her to my bosom
   My long-lost Hazel Eye.

The rapture of that moment
   Was almost heaven to me.
I kissed her 'mid her tear-drops,
   Her innocence and glee.
Her heart near mine was beating,
   While sobbingly she said:
"My dear, my brave preserver,
   They told me you were dead.

"But, oh! those parting words, Joe,
   Have never left my mind.
You said: We ll meet again, Mag,
   Then rode off like the wind.
And, oh ! how I have prayed, Joe,
   For you, who saved my life,
That God would send an angel
   To guard you through all strife.

"And he who claimed me from you,
   My uncle, good and true

Now sick in yonder cabin
   Has talked so much of you.
If Joe were living, darling,
   He said to me last night,
He would care for Maggie
   When God puts out my light."

We found the old man sleeping.
   "Hush! Maggie, let him rest."
The sun was slowly sinking
   In the far-off glowing west;
And, though we talked in whispers,
   He opened wide his eyes.
"A dream
a dream!" he murmured,
   "Alas! a dream of lies!"

She drifted like a shadow
   To where the old man lay.
"You had a dream, dear uncle
   Another dream to-day?"
"Oh, yes; I saw an angel,
   As pure as mountain snow,
And near her, at my bed-side,
   Stood California Joe."

"I'm sure
I'm not an angel,
   Dear uncle, that you know;
These arms are brown, my hands, too
My face is not like snow.
Now, listen, while I tell you,
   For I have news to cheer,
And Hazel Eye is happy,
   For Joe is truly here."

And when, a few days after,
   The old man said to me:
Joe, boy,
she ar' a angel,
   An' good as angels be.
For three long months she's hunted
   An' trapped an' nursed me, too;
God bless ye, boy! I believe it

   She s safe along wi' you."

The sun was slowly sinking
   When Mag (my wife) and I
Came riding through the valley,
   The tear-drops in her eye.
"One year ago to-day, Joe

   I see the mossy grave

We laid him 'neath the daisies,
   My uncle, good and brave."

And, comrades, every Spring-time
   Was sure to find me there

A something in that valley
   Was always fresh and fair.
Our loves were newly kindled
   While sitting by the stream,
Where two hearts were united
   In love's sweet, happy dream.

by John Wallace "Captain Jack" Crawford from
  The Poet Scout: A Book of Song and Story, 1879

Crawford introduces the poem in his book, The Poet Scout: A Book of Song and Story, in the chapter, "California Joe and the Girl Trapper; a Camp Fire Reminiscence":

About the middle of April, 1876, I received a note from CALIFORNIA JOE, who had a fine ranche [sic] on Rapid Creek, and was trying to induce new comers to settle there and build a town, to be called Rapid City. The note was written in lead pencil, and ran thus:

Rapid, April 10, 1876

If you can be spared for a week from Custer, come over and bring JULE and FRANK SMITH with you. The reds have been raising merry old h—ll, and, after wounding our herder and a miner named SHERWOOD, got away with eight head of stock, my old Bally with the rest. There are only ten of use here, all told, and I think if you can come with two boys, we can lay for them at the lower falls, and gobble 'em next time. Answer by bearer if you can't come; and send me fifty rounds of cartridges for the Sharps —big fifty. Hoping this will find you with your top-knot still waving, I remain as ever, your pard,  JOE.

I immediately saw MAJOR WYNKOOP, commanding the Rangers, got his permission, and arrived at Rapid Creek on the following night, with four comrades besides myself. After two days' and nights' watching at the lower falls, JULE SEMINOLE, one of my scouts, a Cheyenne, can in at dusk and informed us that there were between twenty and thirty Indians encamped at the box elder, about twenty miles away, and that they were coming from the direction of the Big Cheyenne, and would probably move to Rapid during the night. JULE could almost invariably tell just what an Indian was going to do if he could get his eyes on  him, and he was correct in this instance.

About three o'clock next morning Joe went up to his cabin and stated a big log fire; also two other fires in different cabins. These cabins were over a mile from where we were in ambush, while our horses were all picketed a quarter of a mile down the creek, which was narrow at its point of entrance from the prairie, but widened into a beautiful river half a mile up. Just as day was breaking, one of the Indians was discovered by FRANK SMITH wading up the creek. FRANK reported to JOE and I, and JOE remarked: "Let him go —he will soon signal the others to follow." In fifteen minutes more the shrill bark of a coyotte [sic] proved JOE's judgment to be correct. Twenty-three well-armed Indians—Sioux—rode up along the willow bank in Indian file.

There were seventeen of us, ZAB SWARINGEN and NED BAKER, two old miners, having joined us the night before. We had six men on one side, near an opening, which we believed the Indians would break for on receiving our fire from the opposite side; and farther up, when the Indians had got parallel with our main body, we took aim as best we could in the gray of the morning, and fired nearly together ; then, before they recovered, gave them another volley, and, leaving our cover, followed on foot those who did not stay with us. We were disappointed in their taking the opening, but the boys were in fair range and did good work, killing one, wounding two, and unhorsing three others, who took to the woods.

We got fifteen ponies, our first fire never touching horse hair,  but emptying several saddles. Out of the twenty-three Indians, fifteen escaped. Joe killed three himself with his big Sharps rifle, the last one being nearly five hundred yards away when he fired from a rest off Frank Smith's shoulder. Joe
had a piece taken out of his left thigh, Franklin was wounded in the left arm, and the writer slightly scratched near the guard of the right arm. Nobody was seriously hurt, and we had eight scalps to crown our victory.

But I did not intend, when I commenced, to write all these particulars; I merely intended to speak of a camp-fire story, as told by Joe at the camp-fire on be night following  the incident related. The following lines, as nearly as I can recollect, tell the story of Joe's courtship and marriage. I must add that Joe was Killed at Red Cloud, in December the same year, while acting as Black Hills guide. He was a brave, generous, unselfish man, and his only fault was liquor.

Photo courtesy of C. E. Avery In 2008, researcher Ron Lawson wrote to us about this image, which has been posted for many years at It came from a collection of photos lent by C.E. Avery.

C.E. Avery had written, "Interesting image of southwest cowboy probably from southern California or Arizona. Identified as Earle R. Forrest, taken August 10,1901 at Washington, Pa. (maybe he was a Wild West Show performer or originally from this town and returned to it when this photo was taken). He wears a sugarloaf sombrero, cowboy cuffs, shotgun chaps with conchos on the side, a concho studded holster from which he is drawing a Colt Army or Peace Maker, and California style spurs with large rowels and drag chain. He rests his boot on a nice stock saddle with high cantil."

In August, 2008 Ron Lawson wrote to say: "This photo is of the late Earle R. Forrest (not a Wild West Performer). Forrest was an author noted for several popular Western articles and books including California Joe which he co-authored with Joe E. Milner (the grandson of California Joe). The book was eventually made into a popular film in the 1940s." Ron Lawson supplied the link here to the description of Earle R. Forrest's papers at Arizona State University, which includes a biography of Earle R. Forrest.

The book by Joe E. Milner and Earle R. Forrest, California Joe, Noted Scout and Indian Fighter, was first published by The Caxton Printers, Ltd, in 1935, and republished in 1987 by the University of Nebraska Press. It includes a chapter, "The Rescue of Maggie Reynolds," which tells:

Few incidents in the history of the Old West have been as badly misrepresented as California Joe's rescue of little Maggie Reynolds from the Cheyennes. This incident wsa the subject of a poem entitled "California Joe," written by Captain Jack Crawford, the poet scout, who exercised poetic license by creating a fictitious story not borne out by facts; but that is a poet's privilege... The truth of the rescue of Maggie Reynolds is given here for the first time in print. That this is the correct story there can be no doubt, for it has been handed down in the Milner family, from California Joe himself, who related it to his sons, to Joe E. Milner, who heard it from his father...

The authors refer to J.W. Buel's Heroes of the Plains, "in which that author accepts as truth the story of Maggie Reynolds' rescue told in Captain Jack Crawford's poem. We quote the following from Buel":

California Joe's courtship and marriage as told by himself, and repeated in the sweet, pathetic story by one of nature's noblemen, Captain Jack Crawford, is unquestionably one of the most sympathetic and lovingly sorrowful recitals that was ever created by imagination or found in any of the peculiar phases of human life. Its reproduction here will thrill the hearts of every lover of the most noble instincts of human nature, and perhaps bring tears to the eyes of many, moved by that fellow feeling which establishes a universal kinship among mankind. It has been asserted that California Joe married the little girl he had rescued, six years afterwards; but it is possible the name of the girl, Maggie, being the same as that of his wife, gave rise to this belief. The circumstances as here related, concerning the rescue of Reynold's daughter, are undoubtedly true; but that he married this same girl afterwards is scarcely worthy of belief.

The authors say that Buel redeems himself in the last sentence, and confirm the name of Milner's wife, which was Nancy Emma Watts. California Joe, Noted Scout and Indian Fighter, is dedicated "To Nancy Emma Milner, who, as the bride of California Joe, spent her honeymoon in a covered wagon, crossing the plains to California in 1850."

The authors include Crawford's poem and end the chapter:

Franklin W. Hall has informed the authors that Jim Bridger covered California Joe's retreat with Maggie Reynolds. Crawford also mentions Bridger in  his poem; but the Milners have no record of his taking any part in the adventure. The version we have given is the one that has been handed down from California Joe to his sons. However, as Mr. Hall was personally acquainted with Joe during the Black Hills gold rush, we must accept his statement as correct; for he speaks with the authority of a man who heard the scout himself relate the story.

California Joe, Noted Scout and Indian Fighter is out of print, and used copies are available from Amazon and other used booksellers.

J.W. Buel's Heroes of the Plains is out of print and rare. You can view images of the entire book here in The Open Library.

Mary McCaslin has a contemporary recording of "California Joe" (hear a sample at CD Baby). She sings it in a YouTube video here. Guy Logsdon devotes a chapter to the song in his The Whorehouse Bells Were Ringing, and notes it was recorded by Ray Reed (hear a sample at Smithsonian Folkways) and by Jim Ringer.


The Burial of Wild Bill
To his last, best friend, Charley Utter (Colorado Charley)

Under the sod in the prairie-land
   We have laid him down to rest,
With many a tear from the sad, rough throng
   And the friends he loved the best ;
And many a heartfelt sigh was heard
   As over the earth we trod,
And many an eye was filled with tears
   As we covered him with the sod.

Under the sod in the prairie-land
   We have laid the good and the true
An honest heart and a noble scout
   Has bade us a last adieu.
No more his silvery laugh will ring,
   His spirit has gone to God;
Around his faults let Charity cling
   While you cover him with the sod.

Under the sod in the land of gold
   We have laid the fearless Bill;
We called him Wild, yet a little child
   Could bend his iron will.
With generous heart he freely gave
   To the poorly clad, unshod
Think of it, pardsof his noble traits
   While you cover him with the sod.

Under the sod in Deadwood Gulch
   You have laid his last remains;
No more his manly form will hail
   The red man on the plains.
And, Charley, may Heaven bless you!
   You gave him a "bully good send;"
Bill was a friend to you, pard,
   And you were his last, best friend.

You buried him 'neath the old pine tree,
   In that little world of ours,
His trusty rifle by his side
   His grave all strewn with flowers;
His manly form in sweet repose,
   That lovely silken hair
I tell you, pard, it was a sight,
   That face so white and fair!

And while he sleeps beneath the sod
   His murderer goes free,
Released by a perjured, gaming set,
    Who'd murder you and me
Whose coward hearts dare never meet
   A brave man on the square.
Well, pard, they'll find a warmer clime
   Than they ever found out there.

Hell is full of just such men ;
   And if Bill is above to-day,
The Almighty will have enough to do
   To keep him from going away
That is, from making a little scout
   To the murderers' home below;
And if old Peter will let him out,
   He can clean out the ranch, I know.

by John Wallace "Captain Jack" Crawford from   The Poet Scout: A Book of Song and Story , 1879

Some later versions of the poem have an asterisk on the line "His murderer goes free" and note, "
* Tried and released by a lot of petty gamblers, but afterward arrested at Laramie City, and taken to Yankton, Dakota, tried and hung."


The Broncho

I am saddest when I'm gladdest
     And I'm gladdest when I'm sad;
I am maddest when I'm baddest,
     And I'm baddest when I'm mad.
But my sadness and my badness
     With my madness all combine,
Just to fertilize the gladness
     In this broncho soul of mine.

I would rather be a broncho
     With a lightnin' disposition,
Then a goody goody smooth one,
     Who for suckers goes a-fishin'.
For the broncho shows his colors
     An' he reaches out behind him,
An' you know just what's a comin'
     When you undertake to bind him.

He is not a goin' to stand for
     To be roped an' throw'd an' bottled,
To be bridled, cinched an' saddled,
     An' unmercifully throttled;
An' he'll buck and kick like blazes
     Just for all that there is to him,
You may break his heart and kill him,
    But you never can subdue him.

What's the reason, do you ask me?
     Ask the chump as does the ropin'.
He'll admit a pound of sugar's
     Worth a a hundred pounds of dopin'.
An' it's well the broncho knows it,
     An' resents it when you bleed him;
But with smiles an' lumps of sugar—
     Why, a little child can lead them.

by John Wallace "Captain Jack" Crawford from Whar' the Hand o' God is Seen and other poems , 1910


Broncho vs. Bicycle

The first that we saw of the high-tone tramp
War' over thar at our Pecos camp;
He war' comin' down the Santa Fé trail
Astride of a wheel with a crooked tail,
A-skinnin' along with a merry song,
An' a-ringin' a little warnin' gong.
He looked so outlandish, strange and queer
That all of us grinned from ear to ear,
And every boy on the round-up swore
He never seed sich a hoss before.

Wal', up he rode with a sunshine smile,
A-smokin' a cigarette, an' I'll
Be kicked in the neck if I ever seen
Sich a saddle as that on his queer machine.
Why, it made us laugh, fer it wasn't half
Big enough fer the back of a suckin' calf.
He tuk our fun in a keerless way,
A-venturin' only once to say
Thar' wasn't a broncho about the place
Could down that wheel in a ten-mile race.

I'd a lightnin' broncho out in the herd
That could split the air like a flyin' bird,
An' I hinted round in an off-hand way,
That, pervidin' the enterpris'd pay,
I thought as I might jes' happen to light
On a hoss that'd leave him out o' sight.
In less'n a second we seed 'im yank
A roll o' greenbacks out of his flank,
An' he said if we wanted to bet to name
The limit, an' he would tackle the game.

Just a week before we had all been down
On a jamboree to the nearest town,
An' the whiskey joints and the faro games
An' shakin' our hoofs with the dance-housel dames
Made a wholesale bust; an', pard, I'll be cussed
If a man in the outfit had any dust;
An' so I explained, but the youth replied
That he'd lay the money matter aside,
An' to show that his back didn't grow no moss,
He'd bet his machine agin my hoss.
I tuk him up, an' the bet war' closed,
An' me a-chucklin', fer I supposed
I war' playin' in dead sure winnin' luck,
In the softest snap I had ever struck,
An' the boys chipped in with a knowin' grin,
Fer they thought the fool had no chance to win.

An' so we agreed fur to run that day
To the Navajo Crossin', ten miles away,—
As han'some a track as you ever seed
Fer testin' a hoss's prettiest speed.
Apache Johnson and Texas Ned
Saddled their hosses and rode ahead
To station themselves ten miles away
To act as judges an' see fair play.
While Mexican Bart and Big Jim Hart
Stayed back for to give us an even start.

I got aboard o' my broncho bird,
An' we came to the scratch an' got the word,
An' I laughed till my mouth spread from ear to ear
To see that tenderfoot drop to the rear.

The first three miles slipped away first-rate,
Then broncho began fur to lose his gait,
But I wa'n't oneasy an' didn't mind,
With tenderfoot more'n a mile behind.
So I jogged along, with a cowboy song
Till all of a sudden I heard that gong
A-ringin' a warnin' in my ear,
Ting! Ting! Ting! Ting! too infernal near,
An' lookin' back'ards I seed the chump
Of a tenderfoot gainin' every jump!

I hit old broncho a cut with the quirt
An' once more got him to scratchin' dirt;
But his wind seemed weak, an' I tell you, boss,
I seed he wasn't no ten-mile hoss.
Still the plucky brute took another shoot,
An' pulled away from the wheel galoot,
But the animal couldn't hold his gait,
An' somehow the idea entered my pate
That if tenderfoot's legs didn't lose their grip
He'd own that hoss at the end o' the trip.

Closer and closer come tenderfoot,
An' harder the whip to the hoss I put;
But the Eastern cuss, with a smile on his face,
Ran up to my side with his easy pace—
Rode up to my side, an', durn his hide,
Remarked 'twar' a pleasant day fur a ride;
Then axed, unconsarned, if I had a match,
An' on his breeches give it a scratch,
Lit a cigarette, said he wished me good day,
An', as fresh as a daisy, scooted away.
Ahead he went — that infernal gong
A-ringin' " good-bye " as he flew along;
An' the smoke from his cigarette came back
Like a vapory snicker along his track.
On an' on he sped, gittin' further ahead,
His feet keepin' up that onceaseable tread,
Till he faded away in the distance; an' when
I seed the condemned Eastern rooster again,
He war' thar' with the boys at the end of the race,
That same keerless, unconsarned smile on his face.

Now, pard, wh'n a cowboy gits beat he don't sw'ar,
Nor kick, if the beatin' be done on the squar';
So I tuck that Easterner right by the hand
An' told him that broncho awaited his brand.
Then I asked him his name, an' whar' from he came,
And how long he'd practiced that wheel-rollin' game.
Tom Stevens, he said war' his name, an' he come
From a town they call Bosting, in ol' Yankeedom.
Then he jist paralyzed us by sayin' he'd whirled
That very identical wheel round the world.
Wal', pard, that's the story o; how that smart chap
Done me up w'en I thought I had sich a soft snap;
Done me up on a race with remarkable ease,
An' lowered my pride a good many degrees.

Did I give 'im the hoss? W'y, of course I did, boss,
An' I tell you it wa'n't no diminutive loss.
He writ me a letter from back in the East,
An' said he's presented the neat little beast
To a feller named Pope, who stands at the head
O' the ranch where the cussed wheel horses ar' bred.

by John Wallace "Captain Jack" Crawford from Whar' the Hand o' God is Seen and other poems , 1910

"Captain Jack" Crawford included "Broncho vs. Bicycle" in his 1910 book, Whar' the Hand o' God is Seen and other poems. The poem is included in John A. Lomax' 1919 book, Songs of the Cattle Trail and Cow Camp, where the author is cited as "anonymous."

In Whar' the Hand o' God is Seen and other poems, Crawford introduces the poem, "Written by the request of Colonel Albert A. Pope, and read at the Bicycle Club Dinner, Boston, given in honor of Mr. Tom Stevens, the famous bicyclist, who had just returned from a tour of the world on his wheel."  (You can hear a National Public Radio story about Tom Stevens here at NPR and find the text of his 1887 book, Around the World on a Bicycle, here at Project Gutenberg.)

New Mexico's Press of the Palace of the Governors offers a hand-typeset and hand-bound edition of "Broncho vs. Bicycle."

The author of a better-known poem about the bicycle, The Gol-Darned Wheel, remains anonymous. The poem was included in Jack Thorp's 1921 book, The Songs of the Cowboys. At the Western Folklife Center site, you can hear the late Sunny Hancock's recitation of "The Gol-Darned Wheel," from a recording made at the Western Folklife Center's first Cowboy Poetry Gathering in 1985. Glenn Ohrlin has recorded the song, and in his book, The Hell Bound Train, he calls it "a fine example of the 'funny' cowboy song." He writes, "In Texas Cowboys, Dane Coolidge tells of getting cowboy Jess Fears to write 'The Gol-Darned Wheel' down for him in Arizona in 1909. Coolidge wrote further, 'This was hot stuff and the boys all wanted a copy of it. They were like housewives exchanging recipes, only a cowboy hates to write.'"

See also A.B. "Banjo" Paterson's poem, " Mulga Bill's Bicycle."



Klondike Balloon

I can sit on a bronco’s hurricane deck, 
    When he bucks as high as the moon; 
But beat my skin if you’ll get me in 
    To an untamed Yankee balloon, 
That goes like a Winchester rifle shot, 
    Up toward heaven’s back garden spot. 
I have run some risks on the wild frontier, 
    When the reds were about in the land, 
But to jump in the air from away up there 
    Would exhaust my supply of sand. 
You bet I’d hang to that old balloon, 
    If she bumped herself against the moon. 
Supposin’ that overgrown parasol 
    ‘D’ happen to make a kick, 
An’ fail to do as he wanted it to - 
    He’d be dumped to the earth too quick, 
And sink so deep that his friends no doubt 
    Would go to China to dig him out. 
I sorter hoped that the old balloon 
    ‘D’ refuse to straddle the clouds, 
But he meant to stay when he cut her away 
    Tho’ he landed to fill a shroud. 
An’ sooner or later, you hear me tot, 
    He’ll break his neck from that parachute. 
An’ if I’m around when the corpse comes back, 
    And is laid on his last low bed, 
And the soft winds sigh a sweet lullaby 
    O’er the poor balloonatic’s head, 
I hardly think it will be amiss, 
    To write him an epitaph just like this: 
"Here lies the body of one who flew 
    Like a meteor up toward heaven’s blue. 
And then, with a reckless sort o’ grace, 
    Flew just as fast toward the other place. 
He changed so often it’s hard to tell 
    Whether upon his final scoot 
He works a balloon or a parachute."

by John Wallace "Captain Jack" Crawford, circa 1899

Captain Jack noted at the end of the poem: "Respectfully dedicated to that princely aerial balloonatic, Professor Leonard, by his fool brother,—JACK (Once a Good Scout—Now a "Sour Dough Dawsonite").

Martha Dayton, the great granddaughter of "Captain Jack," shared this poem. She told us that the poem was written during Captain Jack's "Dawson City days during the Yukon gold rush" and that she believes "it was published in the Dawson paper in 1899" but never collected in book form.

There is a photo of Captain Jack in the Klondike here at the Captain Jack Facebook site.

Martha Dayton notes:

The photographer is Eric A. Hegg, and his archive is at the University of Washington (photos are in the public domain). You can view more photos here.
The sub-head under the title on the original poem says, "Written on the occasion of the first balloon ascent in the Klondike." A link here describes the event and has a reproduction of the newspaper article.
A complete set of Klondike Nugget newspapers on microfilm are held at:


Comments from "Captain Jack" Crawford's Great Granddaughter

Photo courtesy of Martha Dayton, "Captain Jack's" great granddaughter.
Read some of her comments below


In October, 2008, Martha S. Dayton, the great-granddaughter of Captain Jack Crawford (granddaughter of May Cody Crawford), shared the photo above, an uncollected poem, and the comments below.

Martha Dayton notes that the family "will be posting stuff, letters, obits, photos, discussions, etc." on Facebook and that anyone interested may view or contribute information. She also told us that, "Some of the family's collection was donated to the Buffalo Bill Historical Center this summer, and some other things are at the Autry Museum of the American West."

Of the photo above, she comments, "Here is a my favorite photo of him, with his "Grand Army of the Republic" badge. Did you notice that Captain Jack (at a GAR 50th anniversary encampment) in the Ken Burns' series,
The Civil War?
" It fades out with Captain Jack featured in the last movie-clip sequence."

Following are Martha Dayton's additional comments:

A comment about the info at about the fallout between Cody and Jack: family stories and letters we have reveal that Jack let out to the press he had shot himself, but somehow a real bullet got in among the blanks. Cody left him to recuperate in Virginia City while the show went on, and he was stuck for money. My great grandfather never implied that Cody had done it deliberately; Jack's accusatory dialog only implies neglect or irresponsibility. He did go back to work with the Wild West show and gave his daughter "Cody" as a middle name, so they must have retained a form of friendship after they patched the quarrel up. They did continue to have falling-outs over money and business expectations—the correspondence is quite lively (there is an archive of business letters at the Denver library, and the family has more). It was in Virginia City that Captain Jack met Mark Twain, while at the Territorial Enterprise paper. Perhaps he was writing for some extra bucks. Jack went back to work with Cody later in his life, around the time of the English tour. Buffalo Bill continued to joke that Jack was the only man in the West who would have delivered the gift of a fifth of whisky (from back east to him in Deadwood) full!

A fun thing the biographer of Wild Bill wrote: on an occasion in Deadwood when Jack recited his poem about the promise to his mother on her deathbed not to drink, Hickok would cry really loudly, the tears dripping off his moustache "It just tears me up when you talk 'mother' like that, Jack..."

Darlis Miller, Capt. Jack's biographer, told me that when Sitting Bull was examined after his death, he had two things in his pocket: an amulet and a picture of Captain Jack.

The family recently found some old chautauqua posters of Captain Jack, in color, with space to print his appearances below.

Helpful notes on interpreting Jack's poetry: Both biographers of Captain Jack (Paul T. Nolan and Darlis Miller) chronicle Jack's change over his life from Indian Fighter (i.e. "painted heathens..." in his poetry) to Indian advocate as the years went on. As one of the first four settlers in Deadwood, he was building a cabin with a very young man when they were shot at from ambush and the boy was killed; family tradition holds Jack became a scout after this episode, out of reprisal and feeling the Indians' actions were cowardly. This belief probably altered on General Crook's "starvation march" and chasing Crazy Horse around! I think the sympathetic attitude solidified during his period as Indian agent and post sutler at Fort Craig, New Mexico. This time was an attempt to re-establish his relationship with his wife (which his wandering trips to Deadwood, later to the Cariboo gold rush and the Yukon gold rush along with his performing tours did nothing to help), and bring his two-children out from Pennsylvania; a salary and stable job at the Fort must have seemed attractive after the scouting life. Two more children were born at Ft. Craig (one of them dies while Jack is up at the Cariboo gold rush, and is the subject of many a sad poem); my grandmother is named after this dead child. Wanderlust and the hope of quick riches struck again, though. Leaving his wife to manage the store, the ranch, and to feed the soldiers (my grandmother remembered waiting tables) he put together a show featuring the Vittorio Apaches apparently more sympathetic in performance tone, which benefited them a lot. When Jack went back to the Wild West show, he must have taken this changed attitude with him, because he did not return to that rhetoric; on stage, I am sure it was different—the plays were all pretty us-versus-them. Cody seems to share this dichotomous attitude: bluff Indian fighter on stage, benefactor and angry man at their treatment behind the scenes. Interesting subject for an article! Jack and his wife, Maria (pronounced Mariah) took out a homestead ranch south of the fort. Jack would return there periodically until he and his wife finally separated after the Yukon departure. The interview with her on her claim for his army pension quotes her reasons—besides long periods alone - for the separation: "He was a jolly fellow, and very popular with the ladies..." Lots of innuendo there! He certainly was handsome.

Another great story that Jack wrote about: One night camping out on ranch business, Jack was by the fire when a man showed up asking to share the warmth. Jack offered hospitality, and realized with trepidation as the evening went on that his guest was William Bonney [Billy the Kid]! As he was normal and pleasant, not belligerent or aggressive, Jack asked him frankly what had made him take up a life like his. The Kid did not take offense, but according to Jack laid the blame to reading dime novels and getting big ideas about the West as a child back east. Jack later would use that story as the reason for his belligerent attitude against dime novels, when he himself had been the subject of several (another reason might be that he never benefited financially from their publication).

A SUGGESTION FOR DISCUSSION on a thing that strikes me about Jack's poetry and makes his descendants squirm, is how saccharine and sentimental it is ("treacle" was the adjective my mother used). There is not a doubt about the courage and manliness of Cody, Wild Bill, Pawnee Bill, Jim Bridger, California Joe, Captain Jack and other characters that formed Jack's acquaintance and audience. What was the mechanism that made these bluff characters so attracted to the blatant squishily sentimental?

Books by "Captain Jack" Crawford



Among Captain Jack Crawford's books are:

The Poet Scout: A Book of Song and Story, 1879

1889 Edition

In the publication of the sketches and poems in the following pages I have no thought of grasping literary or poetical distinction. They are the crude, unpolished offspring of my idle hours—wandering thoughts which came to me on the lonely trail and in the bivouac and camp. They were written with no studied effort, but are the spontaneous bubblings from a heart whose springs of poesy and poetic thought were opened by the hand of Nature amid her roughest scenes. In the selections herein produced many past incidents of an adventurous
life have reproduced themselves on the memory, and taken the shape of verse. That they are crude and rough and lack the polished finish of the droppings from more gifted pens, I freely admit, and I would therefore beg the critics to spare them. I have never figured as a hero of fiction or dime novels, and have refused to allow my name to be used in connection with that kind of literature; hence I come before you with my "Poet Scout" in a measure unheralded.

I had a Christian mother, my earliest recollection of whom was kneeling at her side, praying God to save a wayward father and husband. That mother taught me to speak the truth when a child, and I have tried to follow her early teachings in that respect. It would require a much larger book than this to tell the story of my life and the sufferings of one of God's good angels my mother. To her I owe everything truth, honor, sobriety, and even my very life. Her spirit seems to linger near me always; she has been my guardian angel. In the camp, the cabin, the field, and the hospital, 0n the lonely trail, hundreds of miles from civilization, in the pine-clad hills and lonely
caňons, I have heard in the moaning night winds and in the murmuring streamlets,

The voice of my angel mother
Whispering soft and low.

And these sacred thoughts have made me forget at times that there was danger in my pathway. Nor will I ever

The day that we parted, mother and I,
Never on earth to meet again ;
She to a happier home on high,
I a poor wanderer over the plain.

That day was perhaps the greatest epoch in my life. Kneeling by her bedside, with one hand clasped in mine, the other resting upon my head, she whispered: "My boy, you know your mother loves you. Will you give me a promise, that I may take it up to heaven ?" "Yes, yes, mother; I will promise you anything." "Johnny, my son, I am dying," said she; "promise me you will never drink intoxicants, and then it will not be so hard to leave this world." Dear reader, need I tell you that I promised "Yes;" and whenever I am asked to drink, that scene comes up before me, and I am safe. With these few words I launch my little craft upon the great sea of literature, trusting that it may sail smoothly and weather every gale.
                                                                     JOHN WALLACE CRAWFORD.

(1886 Edition)

A ruddy drop of manly blood
The surging sea outweighs.

SINCE the earliest eras of myth and fable all races have paid homage to heroism. There is in the constitution of man a tendency to hero-worship, and power always commands a certain reverence. We never tire of believing in the resources of Nature and in the hidden possibilities of man; hence we are ever encouraged to learn of any unusual feats of our fellow-men. Revelations of virtue, courage, skill, and remarkable powers of endurance are always received with wonder and pleasure, for they help to build in the mind a hope. They lead  us to believe that " what man has done man can do," and to trust in the beneficence of Nature. Almost any stories of the exploits of men are interesting if true, provided they give us a new insight into the history of the human mind. However humble the actor or rugged the scene in which he is depicted, it is in a certain sense MAN acting and living under the varied circumstances of the age and country in which the special agent is stationed.

It is wonderful what a fascination is inwoven with stories of life in the far West. Tales of frontier times charm us* and hold our attention even as did the legends and Arabian fictions of boyhood days. The very landscapes in the
country of the setting sun are vast and awe-inspiring, and they seem to communicate to man somewhat of their own broad proportions. It has been the universal conclusion of careful observers that men who go from old settlements in the East to the mining regions or plains of the West become broad-minded, good-natured, and liberal if there were any such tendencies in their characters. The Western man is noticeable for his frankness and generosity; and even though his manner be strikingly unconventional there is seldom a question that his motive has origin in good-fellowship. Who that has ever known a genuine frontiersman of 49 can forget his open hospitality? In his presence one feels that all is clear as the diamond mornings of June. There is no need of condescension or apology for anything. The lugged child of the mountains stands firmly on his feet, as much as to say that all men exist by inalienable right. Hypocrisy, greed, stinginess, and all petty quibbling are forgotten. His smallest measure of value for years was four or five times what we pay for a loaf of bread or a glass of beer, and his "dust" is divided with a generosity that puts to shame the liberality we have known in other lands.

I have never looked upon these Atlantean-shouldered giants of the new West without feeling in a certain sense that they grew thus rich in physical powers and cleverness from contemplating the bounty of Nature, the plentifulness of landscape, the wastes of mountains and plains. A certain grandeur attaches even to the arched sky and silent stars when beheld from high mountains or viewed from the depths of grand canons walled with sublime rocks and mountains crowned with peaks of perennial snow. Buckle's theory that the vast mountains of Asia make the inhabitants superstitious and cowardly may be true; but the " Rockies" and Sierras of the American continent seem to inspire men with courage and renewed confidence in the strength of manhood. The same
statement is true of the boundless plains of the West. The cow-boy stands as a perpetual contradiction to any philosophy which teaches that the vastness of Nature makes man believe in his own insignificance. He has never had any misgivings as to hid right to life, liberty, and happiness after his own fashion.

It is comparatively seldom that one meets a real hero in the West, one entitled in any high and philosophic sense to be clashed with men of extraordinary powers. There are many to whom is due the credit of personal intrepidity, for their valor goes without question. They are bold in danger and fearless in the presence of mortal foes. Like the old Spartan gladiators, who were willing to face man or beast in the arena of bloody combat, they do not fear sanguinary conflicts, and their courage remains unabated to the end. But physical valor alone is not the full measure of heroism. Life is more than a series of conflicts, and its true rewards do not rest purely on a physical basis. The greatest man, the most heroic man, must lead a life which spans a wider field than animal endurance or good-fellowship. The true hero does not forget that man has  an intellectual and a moral side in his nature. The old heroes were supposed to be children of the gods, and the gods were not of the flesh, but of the mind or spirit. "The gods of fable are the shining moments of great men." Nothing is truer than that the mind is in a high degree the measure of the man. The highest unit is, therefore, one that deals not alone with acts of physical bravery,  but with the mental life as well.

Men who have the courage to think for themselves are rare, and those whose thoughts are morally pure and clear with the light of truth are rarer still. It is one of the most difficult of tasks to think, and next to this is to give a
thought skilful expression, the clothing of clear language. Then how are we to estimate a man who, amid the conflicts of Indian warfare and the surroundings of miners camps, not only acquired a fair education, but learned to cummune with Nature and long for the inspiration of her divine afflatus? Has he not interesting elements in his mental constitution, and such a faithfulness to the true ideals of life as to attract admiration? This higher heroism demands a finer feeling and rarer powers than the simple conquests due to bone, muscle, dapper exploits, and animal courage. If we find in one individual the combined beauties of an active mind, a brave spirit and great physical courage, he becomes exceedingly interesting. We long to know him, to see and feel his personality. Such a man is Captain J. W. Crawford, familiarly known as "Captain Jack." His ambition for self culture never flagged for a moment, whether on the soldier's march or by the trapper's lonely fireside.

Captain Crawford's character is unique, and his life is full of incident. He is a rare example of a brave frontiersman, with a fine mind and a tender heart. Border life seems to have made him gentle rather than to have hardened him, while the grandeur of nature moved him to write poetry. At first glance it seems that there is an incompatibility between an Indian scout and a poet, and many persons are loath to believe that a man whose life was spent in frontier pursuits and Indian warfare can write readable poetry. It was, however, the theory of Macaulay that poets thrived in early ages, and that civilization is necessarily de structive of bards. If this is true, there is something worthy of consideration in the fact that the great West more nearly fulfils the concisions named by
Macaulay as being favorable to the production of poetry than any other part of the American continent. The primeval forests, the "wild torrents fiercely glad," and the wealth of vast wastes in nature combine to give to minds of poetic tendencies that fullness of imagination and love of the beautiful which the complexities of civilization in crowded cities render in a manner impossible. If there is any music in a man s soul, it will find expression amid the primal scenes of the lands where Captain Crawford spent many years of his life, hearing voices in the air "as of nymphs that haunt the mountain summits and the river founts, and the moist, grassy meadows." The power of feeling the impressions made by Nature on the mind and heart is one of the first requisites of the poet. A broad, good-hearted man, whose life leads in rugged paths, learns to know the value of
friendship and to recognize true manhood at a glance. In the same surroundings he becomes an expert at detecting hypocrisy. Many of the poet scout's ballads celebrate the homely virtues of every day life, or remove from deceit its hollow mask. His vocabulary abounds in expressions which glorify the graces of simple manhood, and for this reason even his rudest lines of dialect imitation have a beauty and freshness that are admirable. Such verses readily become popular with the masses, and nothing is more frequent, than to hear some of his lines
familiarly quoted in certain parts of the West where they have been published.

The poem entitled "Rattlin' Joe's Prayer " has long been a favorite selection with many elocutionists and public readers. Though it is one of the roughest poems he has written, and though it abounds in slang, it is a perfect picture of the phase of life with which it deals. Where is a verse that gives a more satisfactory glimpse into the rude life of a miner than the following?

"I'm lost on the rules o yer game, but I'll ax
Fur a seat fur him back o yer throne.
And I ll bet my whole stack that the boy'll behave,
If yer angels jist lets him alone."

A striking example from a poem which abounds in the lessons of justice, and which contains throughout a commendable philosophy, is found in the first verse of "Hood's Children," a poem first read at a G. A. R. entertainment for their benefit in San Francisco. The sentence is as follows :

"Dear comrades and friend sin the golden land,
You may say I m rough, you may call me wild,
But I've got a heart and a willing hand
To feel and to work for a soldier s child."

A verse from a little poem suggested by a New York newsboy's contribution to the Grant monument fund is also in point:

"And, boys, who knows, though his dad is dead,
This peer of your snob galoots
May be carving his way to the nation's head,
Selling papers and blacking boots."

No one has ever claimed that any of Captain Crawford s poetry is comparable to the transcendental musings of an Emerson or the classic songs of Tennyson or Holmes; but there is in them a simple melody and a sentiment ever dear to the masses of mankind. Burns and Moore wrote on themes of no wider scope than those embraced within the catalogue of subjects essayed by Captain Crawford. In his most unfinished songs there is often a vigor, freshness, and originality which hold the attention, even if they do violence to the rhetoric of the reader.  As a writer in the New York Herald a few years ago said: "If his verses had no other merit, they might be commended to the other Western dialect poets as a genuine fount of raw material for them to draw from. The collection is a kind of kaleidoscope, into which each reader must look for himself and then judge whether the colors and arrangement of colors are good. It must never be forgotten that every line he ever wrote was produced under the disadvantages of a fragmentary education, gained during the storms and conflicts of adult life. Considering him as a backwoodsman, a man without the advantages of culture, whose mature life has been passed mainly upon the cheerless plains, in contest with savages and in the society of the Western barrack-room and the trapper's hut. He is a wonderful personage. Under different training the rough diamond of his nature would have sparkled in the light of the literary world.


Captain Crawford s genealogy is traceable to a Scotch orgin. John A. Crawford, the poet scout's father, led rather an eventful life. He was born near Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1816. When fourteen years old he entered a
tailoring establishment at Glasgow, and served seven years as an apprentice, and then went to London to finish his trade. After two years he returned to Glasgow. Here he made political speeches, advocated a free form of government, and was banished, a price being put on his head. He fled and hid in Rob Roy's cave, where he was fed for six weeks by an old Scotch lady called Granny McGregor, when a fishing-smack picked him up and carried him to the north coast of Ireland. Here he married Susie Wallace, the daughter of another refugee, and a descendant of Sir William, the Scotch chief. The elder Crawford was a fine tailor, a jolly companion, and a good elocutionist and reciter of Scotch selections. He was a temperate man until he married, when it seems he acquired a taste for strong drink. To escape from dissolute associates, he sailed for America in 1854, leaving his wife and five children, of whom Jack was the third, in Ireland. For four years the mother struggled to support them, receiving little assistance from her husband. Then she left her children with an uncle, James Wallace, and came to America, joining her husband at Minersville, Pa. He promised to reform, and partly did so. The children were sent for, and came to Pennsylvania but the father did little for them, and the boys were obliged to work in the coal mines. Here, at the breaking out of the rebellion, we find Jack picking slate at a coal mine at $1.75 per week. His father was  one of the first men to respond to the original call for 75,000 volunteers. He served gallantly under Captain George Lawrence, with the Ringgolds. He was twice badly wounded, once at Antietam and once at Cold Harbor. Jack soon ran away, and enlisted when he was not quite sixteen years old. Governor Curtin
sent him home twice from Harrisburgh, because he was young and small. He made a third attempt, and joined the 48th Pennsylvania volunteers, getting fully into the war in time to be twice wounded, first at Spottsylvania, May 12th, 1864, and then at Petersburg, April 21,1865. The severest wound was received at Spottsylvania Court-House while charging the Confederate works. He was carried to Washington and later to Saterlee Hospital at West Philadelphia. Here it was that he learned to read and write under the instruction of a Sister of Charity, for the necessity of earning a living for his mother and the other members of the family had deprived him of the advantage of schooling.

His father died very shortly after the war from the effects of a severe wound in the head, received May 18th, 1864 Just before the death of his father he was called upon to bear the stronger bereavement of a mother's death; but before she died she asked him to promise never to drink. This story is best told by Captain Crawford himself. In a letter dated February 26th, 1880, addressed to Colonel Judson, who had in a story made some erroneous statements about him, the Captain says:

"I desire to ask a particular favor of you. ... In some of your stories you make me say I promised some one six months ago that I would not drink, etc. Now, my dear Colonel, here is where you touch a tender point. I had a
sainted, God-fearing, and sweet mother, to whom I owe everything. No one but the Almighty knows what that mother suffered for me and all her children through my father's intemperance. When she was dying she called me to her bedside and asked me to promise her I would never drink intoxicants; and although my lips had never tasted intoxicants before, on my knees, in the presence of my brothers, sisters, and friends, I made her that promise. Colonel, as God is my judge, I have faithfully kept it, and will while I live and breathe."

The Captain has frequently brought such men as Wild Bill to tears by his pathetic recital of this incident in his life. Once Wild Bill said, after hearing Jack recite a poem called "Mother s Prayers," which is based on that promise,
"God bless you, Jack; you strike a tender spot, old boy, when you talk mother that way."

Soon after his mother's death Jack became anxious to try his fortunes in the  West, stories of which had reached his ears. The death of his mother fell upon him as a heavy blow, but despondency was soon drowned in the ocean of hope that opened up to him. The future seemed rich, and its pleasing possibilities encouraged him to work like a hero. He obtained a letter from General Hartranft, which he subsequently got General Sherman to endorse. Armed with this and similar credentials, the young man started West, where he located, and soon gained the good-will of the frontier military. He soon obtained promotion, and earned the reputation of being a bold, honest, and skillful scout. He was one of the earliest explorers in the Black Hills, chief of the pioneer scouts, and one of the founders of Deadwood, Ouster City, Crook, Gayviile, and Spearfish. In the Indian campaign of 1876 he was second in the command of General Crook's scouts, and he superseded Buffalo Bill as chief on August 24th of the same year, the latter having resigned. As a scout his record has been signaled by singular acts of bravery. He knows almost every foot of the frontier lands, and he is fearless in the presence of danger. In July, 1876, in response to a telegram, he rode from Medicine Bow, on the U. P. R. R., to Rosebud and Little Big Horn, in the Big Horn Mountains, nearly four hundred miles, through a country peopled with savage Indians. He carried the New York Herald's account of the battle of Slim Buttes to Fort Laramie three hundred and fifty miles in less than four days. For this he received in all $722.75.

In a letter of introduction given to Captain Crawford, in 1880, by Governor Perkins, of California, the Governor said: "He is known as Captain Jack, a title gained by his devotion and loyalty to the principles of justice, patriotism, and humanity."

* Captain Jack holds credentials entitling him to correspond for some of the best daily papers in New York. His letters in many papers have for years attracted attention. Besides letters he has written several sketches for magazines, but he abhors sensational notoriety. He has often appeared in public as a lecturer and reciter of his own poems, always with great success.

The following life-like portrait, by Edward L. Keyes, late lieutenant of the Fifth U. S. Cavalry, will give a fair idea of the man:

"Being in New Mexico last week, and having a day to spare, I decided to renew my acquaintance with Fort Craig, which place 1 had not seen since I camped there in 1875, en route from Arizona to the Indian Territory. Imagine my surprise when the first person to greet me, as I neared the trader's store, was my old friend and quondam companion, Jack Crawford, or Captain Jack, the Poet Scout, as he is now called. The meeting was a pleasure to us both. I had not seen him since we parted in the Black Hills in 1876, at the close of the Sitting Bull expedition, I to return to my post and  he to follow a fresher trail farther to the south-west. After learning that be is post trader, postmaster, post-contractor, etc., not to mention his cattle and mining interests, he made me understand that it would be bad medicine for me if I spread my blankets outside of his wickiup, as he termed his domicile. So I joyfully accepted his insinuating invitation.

"Perhaps I could give you a pen portrait of the celebrated scout. He is a tall, wiry-built man, with a nervous, sensitive face, which his open, frank demeanor dignifies when you have once entered into conversation with him.
His manner is simple and easy, entirely free from affectation. His long, light brown hair falls below his shoulders, and a mustache and goatee of the same color ornament his youthful face. A large light felt sombrero crowns his head, and his body is covered with a blue shirt with wide, flowing collar. Buckskin trousers with fringed sides cover his long, muscular legs, and a belt, with a persuader attached, usually encircles his waist. He is thirty-eight years of age, though he does not look it. He was chief of the scouts during the Sitting Bull expedition, in which I took part. It was during the campaign that he made that daring and remarkable ride, carrying dispatches alone four hundred miles, through the midst of the foe, riding at night and hiding in the chaparral during the day, with the knowledge that if his horse neighed he would be discovered, captured, and tortured.

"We spent the day in recounting half-forgottten events of the horsemeat  campaign, and again, in fancy, roughing it from the Platte to the Yellowstone, thence across the Bad Lands to the Black Hills. One incident I recalled which caused our conversation to take a poetical turn. I remembered that it was Jack Crawford who, while we lay encamped on War Bonnet Creek, Wyoming, sent us the sad, shocking intelligence of the gallant Custer's fate. I also remembered that soon after he reached our camp he entered my tent, and, throwing himself on my blankets, produced a small blank-book from his pocket, in which he at once began writing. Though Jack conversed well, his calligraphy was somewhat peculiar. He had never been to school in his life, and at the time of which I speak writing was a trail which he had only lately struck.

Notwithstanding this, he was busily engaged jotting down his thoughts. And at last I asked him what he was doing. Writing some versus on the death of Custer, was his reply. Remembering all this as though it had occurred the day before, I asked him if his now famous poem on that brave cavalry officer's tragic death was the result of that morning's inspiration. I learned that it was."

But to go farther is useless. In a limited sketch there can be no complete picture of such a man. At best there is but an occasional glance, in broken outline, at the real man. To be properly estimated with his faults, to which
all flesh is heir, and with those qualities which delight thousands who understand him, he must be known. Through all the vicissitudes of fortune, the changes of time and place, no man can say he ever forgot a friend. He holds to
the saying of Henry Clay, that no new friends can take the place of those we have long tried and loved. His social qualities charm large circles of admirers, who are ever anxious to meet him, while his stories of camp and field, and his inexhaustible fund of original Western anecdotes, enrich his earnest conversation in a manner singularly pleasing and original.


You can view the entire The Poet Scout: A Book of Song and Story on line here in Google Book Search.

Camp Fire Sparks, 1893

You can view the entire Camp Fire Sparks on line here in Google Book Search.

Lariattes: A Book of Poems and Favorite Recitations, 1904

The Broncho Book: Being Buck-Jumps in Verse, Roped for Relief of the Author, the Divertisement of Tenderfeet, and the Joy of All Those Who Love God's Great Out-of-Doors, 1908

You can view images of the entire book here in The Open Library.

  Whar' the Hand o' God is Seen and other poems, 1910

You can view images of the entire book here in The Open Library.


It is as natural for Captain Jack Crawford to weave his inspired thoughts into a fabric of song as it is for the birds of the Western wilds to warble their glad greetings to the golden dawn of a summer day. I was his companion his "pard," as we Westerners describe close friendship for many years, and it may not be a very great exaggeration to declare that I never knew a day to pass in which he did not, with rapidly moving pencil, give outflow to his poetic imaginings in running rhyme. In the rude cabin in the wilds of the San Andreas mountains in New Mexico which sheltered us for many months, in the saddle while on the trail, by the light of the campfire after a day's hard ride, and sometimes when apprehended dangers cautioned against the use of a fire which might attract undesirable attention from native Americans in gaudy headdress and hideous war paint, with saddle for seat and buckskin-covered knee for table he would sit in the  bright light of the Southwestern moon and write, and write, and write until I sometimes thought that versification was in his case an uncontrollable mania. The pad of paper and the pencil were regarded by him as being as necessary in the saddle pocket as the hardtack and jerked meat which usually constituted the scouting menu when on the trail.

While in the West, his songs were all of the West. He saw poetry in everything from the awe-inspiring grandeur of the mountains to the sneaking coyotes which sang us to
sleep at night from their perch on a distant sandhill, but since he drifted Eastward and came into touch with civilization he has tuned his poetic lyre in a different key and writes of more commonplace things.

His first book of verse was printed many years ago and was wholly made up of Western song. Such copies as are yet in existence are preserved as valued mementoes by many of
his friends and companions who knew him in border life. The present volume embodies a few of his earlier wildland efforts interspersed among poems of varied character.

The literary polish which characterizes the work of the great poets will not be found in the productions of this picturesque son of the Borderland, but tender, soulful touches of
human nature crop out in every verse. He never sat as a boy beneath the watchful eye of the old-time schoolmaster in vogue in the days of his boyhood who stood as a tyrant before his tousle-headed flock with a dog-eared book in one hand and a corrective hickory rod in the other. What education he possesses was picked up in the wild school of
Nature and through association with army officers and their wives at the several frontier military posts at which he was stationed while in the government scouting service. Before
learning to read after returning from active service at the front in the great Civil War, the page of a printed book was to him but a jumble of unmeaning black characters massed upon  white paper. To use a homely colloquialism, he did not "know B from a bull's foot" until taught the alphabet by a Sister of Charity when, near the close of the War, he lay
upon a hospital cot suffering from a gunshot wound received in battle. Considering all of this, the work between the covers of this volume must appeal to the educated reader as being truly remarkable.

With these simple words of introduction the drippings from his poetic pen are passed up to the reader.

                                                                  Denver, Colorado
                                                                  JAMES BARTON ADAMS.




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