In the style of my Frontierado Sagas here’s a thoroughly tongue- in-cheek biography of the most famous Spaghetti Western hero of them all.
The Wild West gunfighter known to the world as Django blazed his way into the annals of history first as a Jayhawker, then as a Union soldier in the Civil War and finally as a bounty hunter.
His blood-feud with the former Confederate officer Major Edward F Jackson over the death of Django’s first wife is as well-known as the clash between the Clantons and the Earps in Tombstone, AZ. Movies have distorted many of the facts of this legendary gunman’s life just as they have with other western figures like Doc Holliday, Billy the Kid and many others. The many films about Django feature wildly contradictory information and part of the purpose of this biography will be to illustrate the true events underlying the cinematic myths about this operatic figure.
The real name of the man eventually known as Django was Frank Black. In one of those incredible historical coincidences which prove that truth is stranger than fiction “Frank Black” is the English equivalent of Franco Nero, the name of the actor who played Django onscreen for the first time in the age of talking films. He was born in the year 1841 in the town of Rome, Kansas, a Jayhawk (anti-slavery) stronghold second only to Lawrence, the Kansas hometown of Jim Lane himself.
The parents of the future Django were ardently on the anti-slavery side in the days of Bleeding Kansas and the young Django experienced his first taste of gunplay in his teens, from 1856 to 1858, the most violent years of that conflict. ( For the uninitiated “Bleeding Kansas” refers to the 1850’s battle to decide if Kansas Territory would enter the Union as a slave state or a free state. With popular sovereignty in effect, pro-slavery citizens of Missouri swarmed into Kansas to vote in the upcoming referendum on the issue. Massive bloodshed resulted over the controversial referendum and suspected voter fraud and for a time Kansas even had two separate governments, one Jayhawk and one Pro-Slavery, each claiming to be legitimate.)
Frank made a name for himself with firearms during the days of Bleeding Kansas. Sergio Corbucci, an Italian immigrant who was also fighting on the anti- slavery side was so impressed with the young man that he nicknamed him Il Django, an archaic and obscure Italian term meaning “lightning-hand” or “fast-hand” and originally referring to swordsmen. Future Confederate Major Edward F Jackson from Missouri fought on the pro-slavery side against Django and his Jayhawk allies.
THE CIVIL WAR YEARS
By the time the U.S. Civil War started in April of 1861 Django had been married for more than a year to Vanessa Scarlet Graves. Despite his strong anti-slavery opinions the young man felt an intense obligation to his wife and their infant daughter, so he did not enlist in the Union Army until December of 1861. The unit Django served in was the 7th Kansas Cavalry AKA “Jennison’s Jayhawkers”.
After the regiment was stationed throughout Missouri and Kansas, by early June of 1862 the 7th found itself in Corinth, MS, acting as security for work parties constructing the Mobile & Ohio Railroad. Django and several other action- hungry soldiers were recruited for a Top Secret Mission: serving as escorts for Richard J Gatling and six prototypes of the new crank-type machine guns (AKA Gatling Guns) he had just invented for the Union Army.
Django and his comrades were to escort Gatling and the prototypes eastward for one final demonstration for President Lincoln and various cabinet members to ensure a contract to mass- produce the Gatling Guns; weapons deadly enough to possibly change the course of the war. A group of conspirators led by northern Copperheads (pro- slavery Democrats who worked to undermine the Union war effort against the south) ambushed the detail with the help of two traitors among the cavalrymen.
The conspirators, including the two traitors, made off with Gatling and the six prototypes and headed west. Django was left for dead along with the other loyal cavalrymen the conspirators had slain, but had miraculously escaped with his life. Suspected of collaboration with the other traitors among the cavalry escort Django set off on the trail of the conspirators and their plunder, human and otherwise.
Django trailed his quarry all the way to the conspirators’ headquarters in Confederate Arizona, from where they planned to ransom off the Gatling Gun prototypes to the Confederate Army and the inventor himself back to the Union Army for a staggering million dollars in 1860’s money. During this adventure Django received clandestine aide from Alan Pinkerton’s Union intelligence agents and encountered (possibly romantically) Belle Boyd, the famous female spy for the Confederacy.
The incident ended with our hero shooting down all of the conspirators and recovering Richard Gatling AND all six prototype weapons. During the long journey back east from Confederate Arizona, Django buried three of the prototypes (with ammo) in coffins in three separate and scattered graveyards to ensure that, even if he and Gatling fell back into Confederate hands some of the prototypes could be recovered by the Union. A greatly distorted account of this historical incident was presented in the film With Django It’s Blood.
After all this drama the ultimate fate of the Gatling Guns came as sort of an anticlimax: due to the Lincoln administration’s suspicion that Richard Gatling might actually be a Confederate spy the remaining three prototypes languished in storage in the Gatling Company’s warehouse in Indianapolis, where a fire destroyed them in December of 1862. Gatling manufactured more and the Union Army did belatedly employ them a few years later, but it is believed that if the weapon had been used in the field beginning in 1862 it could have shortened the Civil War by a year or two.
FOR PART 2, INCLUDING DJANGO’S TRAGIC HOMECOMING, CLICK HERE: http://glitternight.com/2012/11/23/django-the-definitive-biography-part-2/
© Edward Wozniak and Balladeer’s Blog, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Edward Wozniak and Balladeer’s Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.