Get the latest
Recent Posts

Book of the Week — Broncho Vs. Bicycle

The first we saw of that high-toned tramp
war over thar’ at our Pecos camp;
he war comin’ down the Santa Fe Trail
astride of a wheel with a crooked tail,
a skinnin’ along, with a merry song,
an’ ringin’ a little warnin’ gong…
An’ every boy on the round-up swore
he had never seed sich a hoss afore…

Broncho vs. Bicycle
John Wallace Crawford — Captain Jack, the Poet Scout (1847-1917)
Santa Fe, NM: The Press of the Palace of Governors, 1987
Z232.5 P7 C57 1987

From the Biographical Briefs: “John Wallace Crawford, also known as Captain Jack, ‘The Poet Scout,’ held his own in the frontier drama that featured such flamboyant figures as Buffalo Bill Cody, Wild Bill Hickok, California Joe, Colorado Charley Utter, and Calamity Jane. He was a veteran scout of the Indian Campaigns of 1876, an early pioneer in the Black Hills, and a star in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. But most importantly, he was the only one of these celebrated heroes of the American West that chose to seek fame as a poet and playwright.

The son of Scottish immigrants, he came to this country sometime around 1860 when he was thirteen years old. Shortly after his arrival he began working in the coal mines of Pennsylvania, but soon opted for the more exciting life of a boy soldier. Twice he attempted to join northern forces fighting in the American Civil War and was twice rejected because of his age. His third successful attempt made him a soldier in the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry before the age of sixteen. While recouping from war wounds, Crawford launched his career as a poet-playwright. Previously uneducated, he learned to read and write under the tutorage of a Sister of Charity who nursed him in a West Philadelphia hospital.

Many years later it was war experiences that indirectly inspired the poem “Broncho vs. Bicycle.” The year was 1882. Crawford was on a mission to meet General E.A. Carr and assist him from a nearby railway station to Fort Craig, New Mexico. Unsure of the identity of his charge, and in the hustle and bustle of the station, he mistakenly introduced himself to Colonel Albert A. Pope, president of Pope Manufacturing Co., which was famous for its bicycles. There was a familiarity in Pope’s face that Crawford soon associated with his Civil War days. Pope was the same officer who had assisted the wounded Crawford on the battlefield twenty years previously.

Several years after this reunion, Pope requested that Crawford attend a dinner of the Boston Bicycle Club and prepare a poem to be recited on what the frontiersman referred to as ‘those crooked tail affairs.’ Though Crawford declared he was better versed on the subject of broncos, he promised he would write something that would include both. Thus he wrote, ‘Broncho vs. Bicycle,’ a poem he said he recited in nearly all of his programs thereafter and which was nearly always ‘rapturously’ received.

Captain Jack arrived in the West in the 1870s, making his home in the mountains of New Mexico for more than half of his forty-year career on the frontier. He was one of the founders of such early towns such as Deadwood, Custer City, and Crook. As Chief of General Crook’s scouts in the Black Hill in 1876, he established a reputation for being ‘bold, honest, and skillful.’

In appearance, he was much like his contemporaries — clad in buckskin, sporting fashionable shoulder-length brown hair, a goatee, and a mustache, topped off with a wide-brimmed felt sombrero. He was tall and wiry, with a sensitive face.

As scouting was often seasonal, Crawford devoted a large amount of time to a higher aspiration — that of being a famed writer. He turned out hundreds of short stories, songs, poems, and plays that portrayed his frontier experiences. His collected works appeared in 1886 in a volume titled The Poet Scout, published by Funk & Wagnalls. He was a correspondent for eastern newspapers. Crawford also established a reputation as a platform speaker and traveled about the country staging his own plays, including ‘Tat, or Edna, the Veteran’s Daughter,’ the first play to be copyright from a New Mexico address. He recited his poetry, never missing a chance on these occasions to express his strong feelings on patriotism and temperance.

But for all of his striving, and as a biographical sketch in The Poet Scout indicates, Captain Jack remained a ‘rough diamond’ that with formal educating would have ‘sparkled in the literary world.’ His legacy was quietly left in his simple tales of life on the American Frontier.”

Broncho vs. Bicycle was designed and printed by Pamela Smith at the Press of the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe, with illustrations by Sarah Laughlin, and binding by Diana Bynum. Text is set in Goudy Light and printed on Nideggen paper. Bindings are made of awning canvas, sketch pad backing, and Fabriano Ingres papers. Printed in an edition of two hundred and fifty copies. University of Utah rare books copy is numbered 89.



No Comments

Post A Comment