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  • Matthew Kerns

Worth a Thousand Words

One of the most satisfying parts of my research is uncovering rare or unique images of Texas Jack and the cast of characters that surrounded him. When Doctor John Lehman sent me this unpublished Carte de Visite of Texas Jack, we were possibly the first two people to recognize the man in the image for over one hundred a forty years.

Images like this aren't important just because they show us what Texas Jack looked like, but because of the information we can glean from them. Based on the name and address of the photographer at the bottom, we can tell that this picture was most likely taken between June 12th and 14th, 1873 when Texas Jack, along with his friend Buffalo Bill Cody and their stage partner Ned Buntline, played three nights of shows in Buffalo, New York. By this point in the tour, leading lady Giusepinna Morlacchi had departed to fill a prior engagement, performing "Humpty Dumpty" at the Olympic Theatre in New York.


Notable in this image is Jack's gold watch chain and diamond pendant, both purchased by the scout at Tiffany's when the tour had played at Niblo's Garden in New York City during the first two weeks of April, 1873. The Earl of Dunraven, who had first met Jack in his buckskin hunting gear, wrote that when he rode to Denver to meet Jack for their next hunt, "I became aware of a great coruscation, which I took to proceed from a comet or some other meteorological eccentricity, but which on approaching nearer resolved itself into the diamond shirt-studs and breast-pin shining in the snowy ‘bosom’ of my friend Texas Jack." The picture confirms the details in other sources. But some of the best and most important images aren't as clear and well-preserved as Dr. Lehman's CdV above. Take, for example, the only known photograph of the main cast of The Scouts of the Prairie:


Not a bad picture, if somewhat grainy. But modern technology allows us to significantly improve the quality of this image. This is the same image, run through an artificial intelligence protocol for image enhancement:


It's easy to tell right away from looking at the background that the noise has been significantly reduced in the second image. But the real magic happens up close, when we take a look at the faces:



These AI routines are incredibly powerful...but not perfect. Take a look at poor Ned Buntline. The AI has done something wonky with the shadowing around his left eye. Also, look at Buffalo Bill's chin. The AI has interpreted the shadows and shading on the left side of his face as a beard while leaving his right cheek clean-shaven. The results are much better for Texas Jack and Giuseppina Morlacchi. The program used on these is called Remini, and is available as a downloadable app for iOS and Android devices. Another powerful AI imaging tool isn't for enhancement, but for color. DeOldify takes black and white images and tries to determine what color they might have been. Sounds like magic, and looks pretty magical in practice. Take my favorite image of Texas Jack and his wife, the Peerless Morlacchi:



A great photograph. And here it is recolored by DeOldify's AI:


As this technology improves, even the little things in images like this (like the pink tint near Jack's knees or the lightness of the right side of his mustache) will be corrected for. This technology also makes it harder to tell what's genuine. Photoshopping and "deep fakes" means that photographs exist that may have been altered in ways that obfuscate, rather than clarify, the nature and the personalities of these people. The images below have been altered, some more drastically than others.


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