Minnie McKay



Texas Jack Omohundro and Donald McKay first met in Philadelphia in the leadup to the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in that city's Fairmount Park. Jack was preparing to launch his own entertainment venture near the Centennial grounds just as McKay's then nine-year-old daughter was competing in a series of races against the best female riders in the world. Jack was on hand, watching a racer known as Maud Oswald who had raced at P.T. Barnum’s Hippodrome and would soon join Jack on stage. But Jack was equally impressed with the young Minnie’s riding abilities, and quickly befriended her scout father. McKay would soon star alongside Omohundro in plays like The Scouts of the Plains, The Trapper's Daughter, and Texas Jack in the Black Hills.


A frequent guest star in these shows was Minnie McKay. From the time she was ten until she was nearly fourteen, Minnie frequently joined her father and his cowboy friend on stage, much to the delight of audiences across America.


After Texas Jack's death in 1880, Donald McKay returned to selling Katonka, a patent medicine cure-all that claimed to be made on the Umatilla reservation and brewed in the ancestral tradition of his mother's Cayuse tribe. Minnie became the face of a Catarrh (congestion) remedy that claimed to derive from an ancient Nez Perce medicine.


Minnie McKay depicted on a bottle of "Nez Perce Catarrh Syrup."

When Minnie wasn't selling snake oil with her father, she continued to perform, taking on all challengers and exhibiting her exceptional prowess as an equestrienne. One of her most impressive feats was of riding fifteen miles on horseback in just forty-five minutes. Minnie would switch horses each mile at full gallop, jumping from the back of her current horse to a fresh one without ever touching the ground.





Minnie was selling the Katonka medicine at New York City's Aquarium in 1883 when she caught what seemed to be a mild cold. She set off with her mother to return to Oregon for the first time since she left with her father in 1874 at the age of seven. Sadly, she never made it home. An article from Taps newspaper reported the details:

"How is Miss Minnie getting along?" asked a gentleman, meeting Donald McKay in the street a short time ago. The great scout's head drooped upon his breast for a moment, then, looking at his questioner, he answered in faltering tones, while the tears rolled down his cheeks, that Minnie was dead.


She had caught cold last spring while tending the medicine in the Aquarium, Thirty-fifth Street, New York, and after rallying from the first attack, had a relapse and died while en route for Warm Springs, Oregon, with her mother.


Indians are noted for their stolid demeanor, seldom showing any outward manifestation of sorrow or pleasure; yet this brave warrior, noted for his cool composure and courage, gave way to his feelings, as, in trembling tones, he answered the questions put to him. To anyone knowing McKay well, it would have seemed strange to witness such deep grief in a man so self-contained, even stoical. But it showed the more plainly how severe the affliction was, and what a crushing blow to the father's loving heart.


To the many friends of the McKays, the news of Minnie's death will come with startling suddenness. She was universally known and loved, a favorite with all, and a great attraction wherever she went. A brief history of her short life will no doubt prove interesting to many. Minnie McKay, the only child of Donald McKay, the famous Indian scout, was born April 13, 1867, and came east with her parents shortly after the close of the Modoc War, in which contest between the Indians and whites McKay rendered such great service to the United States Government. Although constantly traveling in this country and Europe with her father, he gave her every opportunity to secure a good education and took great pride in her proficiency in various accomplishments. She was a fine performer upon several musical .instruments, particularly the guitar and piano, was exceedingly modest and well-bred, quiet and unassuming, yet possessing abundant self-possession and dignity. Everyone who met her admired and respected her, and her pretty face and pleasing manners made her a favorite with young and old.


Her health was poor at times, during the past winter, but no alarm was felt by her parents until March, when her exposure to the strong draughts in the Aquarium building, where the Indian Medicine was being sold, resulted in a severe attack of pneumonia. Upon her recovery, her father sent her on the way home to Oregon, accompanied by her mother. The young girl had formed many pleasant anticipations of what she would do, when she reached the home she had not seen for nine years, planning improvements, continuing her studies, and waiting for her father's return. But her anticipations were never to be realized. On the way home she had a relapse, pleuro-pneumonia set in, and she died July 12, at San Francisco, before reaching the friends she was expecting to see after so long an absence.


The news of her death unnerved and disheartened the father as no danger nor hardship could ever have done. He fairly idolized his daughter, and her death, coming so suddenly upon their first separation, made the affliction even harder to bear. Torture could never have made Donald McKay wince, but his child's death bowed his proud head and cast a gloom upon his life nothing can ever efface. His hopes, his pride, and his happiness are buried in the small grave in the cemetery at San Francisco, Cal., where his child lies. Time may make him more submissive to the infliction, but it will not lighten his grief, nor make him forget it. The light of his home has been extinguished, the warmth of his heart has been chilled. The loss of fame, fortune, and friends he would have counted as nothing; but the loss of his daughter has humbled his proud spirit, and dimmed the fierce flash of his eyes.


Texas Jack: America's First Cowboy Star by Matthew Kerns, is available at:

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