Captain Jack of the
MOST people will have
heard of icons of the American west such as Buffalo
Bill, Wild Bill Hickok, General Custer, Sitting Bull and
Calamity Jane; men and women who were possessed of a
sense of adventure and who lived in dangerous and
But how many know the amazing story of their friend and
contemporary, Captain Jack Crawford? A man born and
reared in Carndonagh who helped shape much of what we
know today as the ‘Wild West’.
Captain Jack Crawford
poster advertising an evening in the Courthouse,
Captain Jack (known as
"The Poet Scout"), was a master storyteller about the
Wild West and was one of the most popular performers of
the late nineteenth century. Local media company Crana
Communications has produced a radio documentary telling
the amazing story of a penniless and illiterate teenager
who fled famine and poverty in Ireland to achieve fame,
fortune, and adventure in the US.
Jack Wallace Crawford was born in Carndonagh in 1845 at
the height of the devastating Irish Famine. He survived
this, just like he did many other dangerous situations
throughout his life. He was descended from Braveheart
William Wallace so maybe danger and adventure were in
Like many Irish men and women, Jack sought a better life
and prospects than Donegal could offer so he boarded a
ship to the US. Jack was barely fifteen years old. But
this was only the start of his adventures, according to
Jim Doherty of Crana Communications: “Jack arrives in
the States just as the Civil War begins. He lies about
his age to join up on the Union side and is wounded 3
different times. Ironically, the last time proves to be
the best thing that could ever happen to him. While he’s
recovering, a nun teaches him to read and write. He
discovers he has a talent for writing, and this sets him
on a totally different path in life.”
Jack goes on to become a Chief Scout with the US
Cavalry, narrowly missing out on being killed at the
Little Big Horn alongside his friend General Custer.
“His is an amazing story. He seemed to know and meet
everyone we know about from the ‘Wild West’, including
Billy the Kid, Buffalo and Wild Bill Hickok. He even
became an extremely popular stage performer and even
brought his ‘Frontier Show’ to Carndonagh and Derry to
wild acclaim. He was a megastar from here, a celebrity
when the word actually meant something,” Jim said.
Captain Jack Crawford in
full frontier garb in 1881.
Local historians Sean
Beattie and Marian Harkin were major contributors to the
documentary, having done considerable research on his
story. Two other contributors who feature prominently in
the programme are Maud Hamill and Alister McReynolds.
Maud is secretary and researcher at the Ulster History
Circle, which erected a Blue Plaque at Captain Jacks
former home in Carndonagh in 2016. Alister McReynolds is
a writer and broadcaster on topics related to Ulster
Scots history and heritage and is currently writing a
book about Captain Jack’s poems and other writings.
The documentary, ‘Captain Jack Crawford: The Poet
Scout’, will air on Newstalk at 7am Sunday, October 17th
and will be repeated on Saturday 23rd October at 9pm.
The programme will then be available as a podcast on the