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  • Matthew Kerns

The Madam

On this day, October 8, in 1836, Giuseppina Morlacchi was born in Milan, Italy. Trained at La Scala, Morlacchi became one of the most renowned ballerinas of her day both in Europe and in America, where she arrived to star in The Devil's Auction at Barnvard's Museum in New York City. She introduced America to the can-can in Boston, eventually buying a home at Lowell, Massachusetts and a modest farm near Billerica. She would continue to tour America with her own Corps de Ballet, and was widely regarded as the finest dancer of the era.



An appearance in Chicago in the winter of 1872 coincided with the arrival of Ned Buntline, Buffalo Bill, and Texas Jack. Perhaps unsure of the drawing power of his scouts, Buntline quickly convinced Morlacchi, who by this time was invariably referred to as "The Peerless" Morlacchi by the press, and her manager John M. Burke to join the Scouts of the Prairie.



After their inaugural show Buntline quickly realized that his stars indeed had drawing power, but needed some help with their acting. He took Bill Cody aside and asked Morlacchi to work with Texas Jack. Cody's wife recorded the meeting:


“Texas Jack,” [Buntline] said, “meet the Peerless Mademoiselle Morlacchi.” Texas Jack put out his hand in a hesitating, wavering way. His usually heavy, bass voice, cracked and broke. There were more difficulties than ever now, for Jack had fallen in love, at sight…And never did a pupil work harder than Texas Jack from that moment!



The two were married the next year, and remained together through thick and thin, rich and poor, until Jack's death in Leadville in 1880. Morlacchi retired from acting and returned to her Lowell, Massachusetts home, where she taught dance to girls working in the town's mills. She died in 1886, and is buried in Lowell's St. Patrick Cemetery.


A woman of intelligence and beauty, Morlacchi was one of the most well-known women of her time. She was doted on by Jack, who referred to her as "the Madam" in his letters. She was a ballerina, a singer, an actress, and the first lady of the American western. Today we remember Giuseppina "The Peerless" Morlacchi.



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