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The Star of the Show

Because we know how famous Buffalo Bill and Texas Jack would become, it's easy for us to forget that they were relatively unknown to theater audiences before their debut on December 16, 1872. In fact, they weren't even the stars of their own show. As Texas Jack Omohundro and Buffalo Bill Cody wrapped up their affairs and made their final preparations to leave the Nebraska frontier and head to Chicago, the most famous ballerina in the world, Giuseppina Morlacchi, was in that city at the end of a run of shows at Nixon's Amphitheatre.

Morlacchi as Dove Eye

Though Morlacchi and her troupe had met great acclaim from New York to California, her run in Chicago had not been a particularly successful one. The city's critics praised Morlacchi's talents but noted that the local musicians in the orchestra were inadequate to support such a star.

Frustrated, Morlacchi and her manager and agent John M. Burke were urged by theatre owner Jim Nixon to accept a meeting with Ned Buntline, who was in talks with Nixon to premier his play at the Amphitheatre later in December. Though she was in demand as a ballerina at every opera house in the country, Morlacchi was intrigued at the chance to act on stage outside of the confines of the ballet—to engage the audience in a speaking part as an actor and not just as a dancer. She agreed to the meeting and eventually accepted the role of Dove Eye, the Indian maiden with a fondness for handsome scouts at the center of Buntline's play.

Chicago Tribune, December 15, 1872

Early newspaper notices for the show don't even mention Buffalo Bill and Texas Jack. They simply note that the Morlacchi Troupe will be appearing in a play called "The Scout" at Nixon's Amphitheatre. And as the day got closer and Buffalo Bill and Texas Jack's names were added to advertisements, it was still "the great Star Danseuses, Pantomimist, and Actress Morlacchi" whose name was prominently displayed in every major Chicago newspaper. Little was she to know just how much the role would change her life and how much life would imitate art as she fell in love with the handsome cowboy turned scout Texas Jack.

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