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The Peerless Morlacchi

The love of Texas Jack's life, and the first lady of the American western, was not western at all. She was an Italian danseuse and the world's most famous ballerina.

Giuseppina Morlacchi, who picked up the cognomen "The Peerless Morlacchi" was born in Milan Italy, and began her ballet training at the age of six at the famous La Scala Theatre Ballet, where she was a pupil of the world's greatest ballet instructor, Carlo Blasis. Before she arrived in America to much fanfare in 1867, she had been a prima ballerina in Milan, Florence, Paris, Lisbon, and London. American newspapers often claimed that the reason dancers of her caliber didn't grace the stages of New York or Boston was because of the simple fact that in London, Morlacchi could command $500 a night, the equivalent of $8,500 a night today.

But as the first book musical, The Black Crook, dominated New York's Broadway, Morlacchi was paid her extravagant fee to star in the competing play, The Devil's Auction.

One of the dancers, dressed like a horse, who accompanied Morlacchi in The Devil's Auction.

While Texas Jack and Buffalo Bill were chasing Miniconjou Sioux across the prairies of Nebraska, Morlacchi was introducing the now-famous cancan dance to Boston before setting off for San Francisco, California for a command performance. On the return trip, her ballet company stopped for a set of shows in Omaha, Nebraska. If her manager at the time, John M. Burke, is to be believed, this is the first time he met Buffalo Bill Cody, who was scouting out of nearby Fort McPherson with his friend Texas Jack. Perhaps Jack and Bill stopped to see the most famous dancer on the continent when she was so near their haunts. If so, one can understand how taken with the beautiful dancer Omohundro might have been when one reads descriptions of Morlacchi like this one from the Courrier des États-Unis:

"Mlle. Giuseppina Morlacchi sparkles among them all, buoyant, audacious, vigorous and original, made to delight and making marvelous use of her marvelous legs. Her performance is bewitching, and she hits upon fortunate results at every moment through her gracefulness, flexibility, ease, and delicacy. In her pas de deux...she has some of that languidness, then some of those sudden quivers, that send an involuntary shiver through the entire hall...Mlle Morlacchi isn’t only a dancer with passion and elegance; she’s a dancer with style."

And this one from Boston's Daily Evening Transcript:

"In form she is the ideal of a danseuse: slender in figure graceful in movement, and with a bright and fascinating countenance which always expresses the poetic emotions illustrated by her artistic achievements. She is, perhaps, as nearly perfect as any danseuse who has ever visited Boston. It is seldom that the performances of any one cause, literally, continuous applause, but in Mile Morlacchi's case it may be said that her presence seems to have a magical influence and there is uninterrupted clapping of hands by half or two-thirds of the spectators while she is on stage."

Sheet music cover for music used during performances by the Morlacchi Ballet Troupe.

During the fall of 1872, Morlacchi was ending a run of performances at Nixon's Amphitheatre in Chicago, where Ned Buntline's play The Scouts of the Prairie would premiere mere days later. Buntline convinced Morlacchi and her manager John M. Burke, to join the play as Dove Eye, the female lead, and advance press agent.

It went without saying that the Peerless Morlacchi was both the stage expert and the show's star. As taken as the theatre-goers were with the real western heroes, it was the great ballerina that ensured press coverage and full houses, as she had throughout her career. After Buffalo Bill and Texas Jack forgot all of their lines during their first performance, Buntline decided that his two scouts needed some additional help if they were to become successful actors. He took Cody aside and enlisted the lovely ballerina to work with Texas Jack. Buffalo Bill’s wife Louisa wrote that when Ned Buntline introduced the buckskin-clad cowboy to the satin slippered ballerina,

“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 Scouts of the Prairie cast. From left: Ned Buntline as Cale Durg, Buffalo Bill Cody, Giuseppina Morlacchi as Dove Eye, Texas Jack Omohundro.

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