Meeting report by Sandra Millsopp
Bangor Historical Society met on 12th October for the second talk of the current season. The chairman, Ian Wilson, began by telling us the derivation of the word Shandon. He had discovered recently that it meant old fort. The headland at Luke’s Point is marked with the name “The Great Fort Hill” on an early seventeenth century map of Bangor in the North Down Museum. In the same area there is Seaforth Road. He then introduced the speaker Alister McReynolds who gave a talk on Captain Jack Crawford, the Poet Scout 1847-1917.
Mr McReynolds began by showing us a compilation of photos of some well-known Americans of Ulster Scots descent and asked us to identify them. Then he focused on Jack Crawford whose photograph showed him in the kind of western outfit made famous by Buffalo Bill.
John Wallace Crawford [known as Jack] was born in Donegal in 1847. His parents were both from Scotland. His father, John, was a tailor and political activist who had to leave Scotland. In Donegal he married a fellow exile, Susan Wallace who claimed descent from Sir William Wallace, the Scottish hero. The married couple emigrated to America and then in 1861 were joined by their children in Minersville, Pennsylvania. Jack’s father fought in the American Civil War, while Jack started working in the coal mines. At 15 he lied about his age and joined the Pennsylvania Regulars. He was wounded several times. Meanwhile his father died of a combination of wounds & alcoholism.
Jack recovered from his wounds at a Sisters of Mercy Hospital where he learnt to read and write. This education made a big difference to his life and he became a postmaster.
In 1869 he married a teacher called Ann Maria Stokes and they had five children. He wrote about his experiences in the war, including incidents which affected both sides. In 1875 he became a Captain in the Black Hills Rangers of Dakota. A relative of Alister McReynolds knew him and wrote about him, calling him daring and brave. Jack worked as a chief scout for George Custer for many years. He became a friend of Buffalo Bill Cody and succeeded him as chief scout of the 5th Cavalry. By this time Jack was writing poems about some of the famous frontiersmen. It has been suggested by some that his poem on the death of Custer helped to foster the Custer myth.
In 1876 Jack became an entertainer in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Then in 1879 he published his first book of poems. In the same year he moved his family to New Mexico and started scouting again. Some years later he started working for the justice department and investigated the illegal liquor trade in the Indian Reservations. For the rest of his life he travelled round America and wrote about pioneer life. In 1894 he sailed to the British Isles and visited Carndonagh in Donegal where he had lived as a boy. He also performed in the Guild Hall in Londonderry, before returning to USA. Later he separated from his family and moved back east to Woolhaven, New York. He died in 1917.
The chairman congratulated Mr McReynolds on a marvellous talk.