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Of Cowboys and Ballerinas

How did America's first famous cowboy and the world's most beloved ballerina fall in love? How did a Confederate cavalry scout from Virginia turned Texas trail-riding longhorn herder woo and marry a La Scala-trained Italian danseuse whose arrival in America and introduction of the scandalous can-can dance had enchanted and inflamed puritan Massachusetts?

Texas Jack Omohundro and the Peerless Giuseppina Morlacchi were both heading west at roughly the same time, he from his native Virginia to the open spaces and big ranches of Texas and she from a long engagement at Her Majesty's Theatre in London towards New York to star in the new spectacle of The Devil's Auction on Broadway. Jack rode across the Red River and into Texas unheralded while Morlacchi's arrival, on the fastest ship to ever cross the Atlantic, was mentioned in newspapers across the country and greeted with the full company of the New York Academy of Music's orchestra. While Jack rose from kitchen help to cowhand to trail boss in some of the most legendary ranches of cattle country, Giuseppina slowly gained control of her own ballet company, using her own choreography, and amassing a small fortune to purchase a working farm in Billerica, Massachusetts.

While he was leading longhorns up the Chisholm Trail into Kansas and learning the language of the Comanche, she was traveling throughout the eastern half of America and received glowing coverage in newspapers from New York to New Orleans. When he sat across card tables and shared bottles of whiskey with Wild Bill Hickok in Hays City, she and her agent John Burke took on new theatrical challenges and more demanding roles. While he and Buffalo Bill scouted out of Fort McPherson, Nebraska, and lead European aristocrats on celebrated buffalo hunts, she and her troupe traveled to California for a long series of shows in San Francisco.

Their paths crossed for the first time, according to her manager John Burke, as her troupe returned from California to Boston, stopping for a single show in Omaha, Nebraska. If Mr. Burke is to be believed, the cowboy Texas Jack and his friend Buffalo Bill were in the audience that night to see the lovely ballerina in action. When novelist Ned Buntline convinced Cody and Omohundro to star in a play loosely adapted from their real-life experiences in the West, he also managed to score a major coupe when he convinced the famous dancer to join the cast as Dove Eye, "the Indian maiden with a weakness for scouts." As written, her character was to fall in love with the handsome Buffalo Bill, but within a few shows it was obvious to everyone that the stage chemistry between the beautiful Italian dancer and the Texas cowboy was undeniable.

Life imitated art in the most romantic way possible. The satin-dressed ballerina and the buckskin-clad scout fell in love. When the theatrical season ended Buffalo Bill and Texas Jack headed back to the prairie to hunt and bask in the freedom of the open plains, but it wasn't long before Texas Jack was on a train bound east. Newspapers in Rochester, New York, noted the famous cowboy arriving in their city, and his sudden appearance at the theatre, where Morlacchi and her ballet troupe were engaged. They were married two days later and spent the rest of their too-short lives together.

To learn the full story of Texas Jack and the Peerless Morlacchi, check out Texas Jack: America's First Cowboy Star coming May 1st wherever books are sold.

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