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Ulster History Circle Blue Plaque for ‘Captain...

03 October 2016

On Saturday 1st October, the Ulster History Circle unveiled its first Blue Plaque on the Inishowen for ‘Captain Jack’, (John Wallace Crawford) 1847-1917.

John Wallace Crawford was born in Carndonagh in 1847 to Scottish parents, John Austin Crawford, a tailor and Susan Wallace. Both parents had fled Scotland and had taken refuge

in County Donegal where they married in 1841. Five children followed, two born during the famine, one being young John Wallace Crawford.  His parents left him and his siblings with an Uncle James Wallace in Carndonagh and emigrated to America.  It was many years before John brought his siblings to the parents who had settled in the mining town of Minersville, Pennsylvania. For John it was work in the coalmines at $I.75 per week but 1864 saw him with the Pennsylvania Regulars fighting in the Civil War. ‘Jack’ as he was now called was wounded on several occasions and during one such recuperation, he was taught to read and write by the Sisters of Mercy in a hospital near Philadelphia.

The ensuing years saw his marriage in 1869 to Anna Marie Stokes and the commencement of a career in writing, and in the short term a position as a postmaster in Numidia, Pennsylvania, directly after the war.  Writing about his Civil War experiences and the early death of his mother unsettled Jack and before long he had headed for adventure. Captain Jack as he became known was appointed as Captain of the Black Hills Rangers of Dakota, and by 1876 he had met Buffalo Bill Cody who he replaced as Chief of scouts of the Fifth Cavalry.

In the history of the West, this was only two months after the Custer massacre at the Little Big Horn and some three weeks after the murder of Wild Bill Hickok in Deadwood.   Jack captured these events in verse which were to become famous.  By 1879, the Poet Scout had published his first book of poems. 

Captain Jack is best described by the historian and author, Alister McReynolds from his book, ‘Kith and Kin’.  Alister explains ‘Captain Jack Crawford, the poet scout, is one of those 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.  He has helped to make more trails than any scout unless it was Kit Carson. He was chief scout under General Custer and was of great service to the government in the settlement of the Indian troubles which succeeded the Custer massacre’ (reproduced by kind permission of Alister McReynolds).

Captain Jack returned to Donegal in 1894 and gave a concert of poetry readings, singing and Wild West skills in the Carndonagh Courthouse, before a further concert in the Guildhall in Derry. He died in New York in 1917.

Chris Spurr, Chairman of the Ulster History Circle says, ‘The journey Jack Crawford made from the north of Donegal to the American frontier won him fame and acclaim for his work as a scout with the U.S. Army and for the verses he wrote about the heroes of the West. The Ulster History Circle is delighted to honour the Poet Scout, who always proudly remembered his Scottish forbearers, with a blue plaque in his birthplace, Carndonagh.  We are also delighted with the enthusiasm and assistance received from Maura Harkin and Sean Beattie of the Colgan Heritage Group, and the Colgan Community Resource Centre.

The Circle would particularly like to thank the Ulster-Scots Agency for their financial support towards the plaque.