A Southern Belle on the Prairie (Part 3)

[A Southern Belle on the Prairie Part 1 and Part 2.] As she read about Texas Jack's marriage to the beautiful, and by all accounts incredibly sophisticated, Italian ballerina Giuseppina Morlacchi, Ena Palmer consoled herself by teaching Doctor Carver how to shoot. After months of Texas Jack's tutelage, she was able to hold her own against even the finest male marksmen on the frontier. She took the lessons she learned from Jack and his friend Buffalo Bill Cody and passed them on to her dentist friend, who lived with her on Medicine Creek while working to build his own home. She recorded in her journal that Carver nearly killed her when his pistol accidentally discharged in the home, finishing the entry by saying simply that "I trust it will be a lesson for him; he is too careless with firearms."


Ena Palmer, circa 1876.

Over time, the Doctor continued to pursue his proficiency with firearms with far more fervor than his relationship with Ena. Perhaps the relationship had been doomed from the start—though she was every bit as capable a sharpshooter as he would become, he wanted fame and she wanted a life of quiet domesticity. He wanted medals and recognition, while she wanted a home filled with the laughter of children. When he went to California to compete in a series of shooting exhibitions he begged her to come with him. She refused. He begged her to follow. She would not.


Soon, she met a man named David Coulter Ballantine. Ballantine was an established and successful businessman who could hold his own with the titans of ranching and industry, but who melted before the beautiful southern belle. He was too shy to court her, so she arranged to be camping in a tent overlooking the river just where he would pass by and see her. They sat on the bluff, looking down into the valley, and talked long into the night. When Mr. Ballantine rode away the next morning their futures were assured. They were married in early October 1875.


David Coulter Ballantine

When Doctor Carver received the news that Ena Palmer was now Mrs. David Ballantine, he was certain he was being lied to. He bought an expensive locket with a jewel to match her eyes and boarded a train back to Nebraska. When he arrived at Medicine Creek, it is said that "one look into Ena's eyes told him that this Coulter Ballantine had satisfied the 'great want and asking of her heart.'" He placed the locket on her desk, next to a pistol that had been a gift from Texas Jack, and left.


Ena's husband was soon elected state senator, and the fortunes of David and Ena Ballantine seemed set. Ena was saddened in the summer of 1880 to learn of the death of Texas Jack. D. Jean Smith writes that "Ena reflected on the man she had once loved as she drew out of her trunk the picture that Jack had sent her in his stage costume. She had long ago put to rest the broken dreams of a life with the dashing scout, but she would never forget the buoyancy of his spirit, his quick, easy laugh and flashing dark eyes. And, yes, she could still shut her eyes and remember the easy touch of strong hands on her waist as he lifted her off her fiery little pony, Falcon."


In her chest, she kept a clipping from the Leadville Daily Chronicle noting the cowboy's death which said that:


"He was noted as a cool, intrepid Indian fighter, government scout and ranchman, but was never a desperado or even a quarrelsome man, and it is believed had no white man's blood upon his hands, unless drawn in legitimate warfare. In fact, his most intimate acquaintances refer to his kindly disposition and his exceptional muscular strength."


Ena and her husband welcomed a pair of children into their lives before tragedy struck. Her husband, returning from his duties as state senator, attempted to board a moving train and was thrown beneath the cars. He died of his injuries on October the 2nd, 1882, at the age of 39. Ena was 33, with a six-year-old son and a daughter not yet two years old. Even in the face of her loss and her grief, Ena remained convinced that she had made the right decision in marrying Mr. Ballantine. When Doctor Carver and Buffalo Bill joined forces to launch the Wild West show in 1883, she wrote "Carver is in America now and has joined Buffalo Bill in his 'play.' How thankful that I am as I am. The quiet dignity of my home life is worth a world of such as that."


Washington McClary.

Ena turned the operation of the ranch that had been her husband over to a local rancher named Washington McClary, unaware that Mr. McClary had been secretly in love with the beautiful southern belle for years. The two grew close, and the two were married in early July of 1884, with Ena expecting their child. The two set off on a honeymoon, but on the return trip their wagon hit a rut in the road and overturned, breaking Ena's neck and killing her unborn child. Ena died days later and was buried next to her parents.


Ena's life, like Texas Jack's, was tragically cut short. Jack was 33 when he died in Leadville. Ena was 35. Despite the brevity of her often tragic life, the words she recorded in her journals have lived on, allowing historians and researchers an intimate glimpse at life on the Nebraska frontier after the Civil War. Ena's journals and the mementos she collected are a part of History Nebraska's Ballantine Family Collection. She was born Annie Palmer. She sometimes called herself Ena Raymonde. When she was riding with Texas Jack, Ena was dubbed Pa-he-minny-minnsh, or "Little Curly Hair," by a Pawnee friend of the scout. When she was married the first time she was Mrs. David Coulter Ballantine, and for just under two weeks before her death she was Mrs. McClary. But history remembers her not for the names she was given, but for the one she earned—Ena of the Plains.

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