Originally featured in Points West magazine in Summer 2009
“Captain Jack” Crawford in Panama
The Panama Canal may seem far from the American West—in geography, culture, and everything else western—but make no mistake: John Wallace “Jack” Crawford (1847–1917), pictured here at the canal construction site in 1912, was a westerner through and through.
An Irish immigrant, Crawford had the heart of an adventurer, the most important prerequisite for a true westerner. He was miner, soldier, Chief of Scouts for the Black Hills Rangers, Klondike gold prospector, army scout in the war against the Apaches, trader, “revenooer,” playwright, short story author, poet, and actor. In fact, Crawford joined William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody’s theatrical troupe (before Cody’s Wild West was inaugurated) for the winter season of 1876. There he starred as “Captain Jack” opposite Buffalo Bill in western melodramas.
By 1893, Captain Jack, known as The Poet Scout (the title of his first book), was devoting his time exclusively to a career as an entertainer and eventually was recognized as one of the country’s most popular platform entertainers. Was his travel to Panama just another adventure?
Captain Jack in Panama, 1912. Black and white photograph. MS 322 John Wallace “Captain Jack” Crawford Collection. P.322.0255