Texas Jack: America’s First Cowboy Star

by Peter Barnes

Ena Palmer consoled herself by teaching Doctor Carver how to shoot as she read about Texas Jack’s marriage to the beautiful, and by all accounts incredibly sophisticated, Italian ballerina Giuseppina Morlacchi. She was able to hold her own against even the best male marksmen on the frontier after months of Texas Jack’s instruction. She passed on the lessons she learned from Jack and his friend Buffalo Bill Cody to her dentist friend, who was staying with her on Medicine Creek while constructing his own home. Carver almost killed her when his pistol accidentally discharged in the house, she wrote in her journal, adding simply, “I trust it will be a lesson for him; he is too careless with firearms.”

The Doctor continued to pursue his proficiency with firearms with far greater zeal than his relationship with Ena over time. Though she was every bit as capable a sharpshooter as he would become, the relationship seemed doomed from the start—he desired fame, while she desired a life of quiet domesticity. He desired medals and recognition, while she desired a home filled with children’s laughter. He begged her to accompany him to California to compete in a series of shooting exhibitions. She flatly refused. He pleaded with her to come along. She refused.

She met David Coulter Ballantine not long after. Ballantine was a successful businessman who could compete with the titans of ranching and industry, but he melted in the presence of the lovely southern belle. He was too shy to court her, so she set up camp in a tent overlooking the river, just in case he happened to pass by. They talked late into the night on the bluff, looking down into the valley. Their futures were secure when Mr. Ballantine rode away the next morning. In early October 1875, they married.

Texas Jack: America’s First Cowboy Star

Doctor Carver was convinced he was being lied to when he learned Ena Palmer had married David Ballantine. He boarded a train back to Nebraska after purchasing an expensive locket with a jewel to match her eyes. “One look into Ena’s eyes told him that this Coulter Ballantine had satisfied the ‘great want and asking of her heart,'” he said when he arrived at Medicine Creek. He left the locket on her desk, next to a pistol that Texas Jack had given her as a gift.

Ena’s husband was soon elected state senator, and David and Ena Ballantine’s fortunes seemed secure. Ena was heartbroken when she learned of Texas Jack’s death in the summer of 1880. According to D. Jean Smith, “As she drew the picture of Jack in his stage costume from her trunk, Ena reflected on the man she had once loved. She’d put her broken dreams of a life with the dashing scout to rest long ago, but she’d never forget his buoyancy, his quick, easy laugh, and flashing dark eyes. Yes, she could close her eyes and recall the gentle touch of strong hands on her waist as he lifted her off Falcon, her fiery little pony.”

She kept a clipping from the Leadville Daily Chronicle in her chest, noting the cowboy’s death as follows:

“He was known as a calm, brave Indian fighter, government scout, and ranchman, but he was never a desperado or even a quarrelsome man, and it is believed that he never had white man’s blood on his hands unless it was drawn in legitimate warfare. In fact, his closest friends praise his friendly demeanor as well as his impressive muscular strength.”

Before tragedy struck, Ena and her husband welcomed two children into their lives. Her husband attempted to board a moving train while returning from his duties as a state senator and was thrown beneath the cars. At the age of 39, he died of his injuries on October 2nd, 1882. Ena was 33 years old, with a six-year-old son and a two-year-old daughter. Ena remained convinced that she had made the right decision in marrying Mr. Ballantine despite her loss and grief.

She wrote when Doctor Carver and Buffalo Bill teamed up to start the Wild West show in 1883 “Carver has arrived in America to join Buffalo Bill in his ‘play.’ What a blessing it is that I am who I am. My quiet dignity in my own home is worth a world like that.”

Ena handed over control of her husband’s ranch to a local rancher named Washington McClary, unaware that Mr. McClary had been secretly in love with the lovely southern belle for years. They became close and married in early July 1884, with Ena expecting their first child. On their way back from their honeymoon, Ena’s wagon hit a rut in the road and overturned, breaking her neck and killing her unborn child. Ena died a few days later and was laid to rest alongside her parents.

Ena’s life was tragically cut short, just like Texas Jack’s. Jack died in Leadville at the age of 33. Ena’s age was 35. Despite the shortness of her life, which was often tragic, the words she recorded in her journals have survived, providing historians and researchers with an intimate look at life on the Nebraska frontier after the Civil War. Ena’s journals and mementos are part of the Ballantine Family Collection at History Nebraska. Annie Palmer was her given name. Ena Raymonde was a nickname she used on occasion. Ena was dubbed “Pa-he-minny-minnsh,” or “Little Curly Hair,” by a Pawnee friend of the scout while riding with Texas Jack. Mrs. David Coulter Ballantine when she married for the first time, and Mrs. McClary for just over two weeks before her death. But Ena of the Plains is the name that history remembers her by, not the names she was given.

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