Sunday, February 5, 2012

Texas Jack Omohundro (1846-1880)


 “Our friends, the Parisians, should see Jack, and their opinions of our men would be considerably modified. Here is a man old Dumas would have immortalized, and Ponson du Terrail made the hero of a series of novels in fifty-eight volumes.” -- A Chat with Texas Jack, Spirit of the Times, 14 April 1877


The “critic” of the Spirit of the Times would have found several dime novels of Texas Jack if he had taken the trouble to browse his local newsstands. The first was advertised as A Mate to Buffalo Bill under the title Texas Jack, the White King of the Pawnees authored by Ned Buntline in Street & Smith’s New York Weekly for 24 Mar 1872. Texas Jack, the Prairie Rattler; or, the Queen of the Wild Riders by “Buffalo Bill Cody” appeared in Beadle’s Weekly 18 Aug 1883. “Buffalo Bill” was also author of “The Phantom Spy” of 1876 which was possibly penned by Colonel Prentiss Ingraham although Don Russell believed that Buffalo Bill may have indeed been the author of this and a handful of other dime novels (Lives and Legends of Buffalo Bill 1979). Ingraham is known to have authored most of the Buffalo Bill stories in Beadle’s Weekly.

Buntline, Cody, Morlacchi, Omohundro
 Texas Jack was born John Baker Omohundro 27 July 1846 near Palmyra in Fluvanna County, Virginia. His middle name is often given as “Burwell,” probably a neat stage-piece of re-invention on his part since Burwell is considered an aristocratic name in Virginia. According to Jack his mother was a lovely French lady who died when he was young; his father “comes of a grand tribe, the Powhattan, to which belonged the famous heroine Pocahontas.” No doubt various stories about Texas Jack were showbiz exaggerations, when next we hear of little Jack he is seven years old, a runaway sailing as a “general utility boy” on a ship bound for Australia. He sailed around the world and circa 1858 was wrecked off the State of Texas near Corpus Christi. This may have been a story explaining how he gained the moniker “Texas Jack”.


Jack settled into the occupation of cattle-herder, guarding against Indian horse-thieves on the Texas pan-handle and made several cattle drives to Abilene. At the start of the Civil War he served as chief of scouts under Confederate Colonel J. B. Stuart. Post-war he became a guide working the ground between the Colorado and Rio Grande rivers. By 1872 he was working as a scout for General Sheridan and in charge of 400 Pawnees engaging the Cheyenne, which was where he encountered fellow scout Buffalo Bill. He also acted as a dispatch rider for the New York Herald.



 Edward Zane Carroll Judson (Ned Buntline) invited Buffalo Bill to Chicago to play himself in a melodrama called Scouts of the Prairie. The troupe belonging to the famous Italian dancer Signora Josephine Morlacchi was engaged under manager Major John M. Burke, who played “Arizona John” on the stage. Cody insisted on having Texas Jack accompany him to Chicago. The first performance was held at Nixon’s Ampitheater on 18 Dec 1872.



 Texas Jack deserted Buffalo Bill in April 1875 and secluded himself in Mrs. Morlacchi’s (his wife since 1873) house and estate in Boston. He started his own Texas Jack Combination with danseuse Mlle. Morlacchi, Miss Maud Oswald, Donald McKay, and a tribe of Indians. In April 1878 they were touring in the play “Texas Jack in the Black Hills,” written by Harry Haymour, and would tour though 1879.



 One newspaper dubbed him “Troubled Omohundro” for his troubles with the law. He was arrested more than once for defrauding his backers. When Omohundro played Oswego in 1877 “letters were received from parties in Ohio” that Texas Jack and another man in the company, named John Allen, “Long John” Allen in Scouts of the Prairie, had stiffed them for $200. The two men dodged service of papers by each claiming the other was the owner of the property sheriff’s sought to attach. Omohundro then “insulted the officer and the law by tearing the paper into pieces.” The whole troupe lit out to Auburn but the next day Texas Jack was arrested and held for trial.


 The Daily Graphic (29 Jun 1877) reported that Texas Jack “is the lion of the day at Sioux City. He is to conduct a few Englishmen into a portion of the Western wilderness where the white man has never set foot. This is all very well, provided “Texas Jack” doesn’t turn out a knave.”


Texas Jack was still performing in “The Trapper’s Daughter” 27 Dec 1879 then moved to Leadville and died there of pneumonia, 28 Jun 1880. One obituary said he “would be buried with military honors”. 


 In his 1877 “Chat” with the Spirit of the Times Jack, who was proud of his native ancestry, was asked what he thought would be the end of the American Indians.


“They’ll all be swept away, except for the Cherokees. That tribe intermarries with the whites, gets civilized, and forms the finest race of men and women in the world.”

He was not so sanguine about the prospects for the plains Indians, who, he imagined, would be extinct in a hundred years.


 Special Correspondent Edith Sessions Tupper visited Texas Jack’s grave at Leadville, Colorado, in 1894.


“In this same dreary, lonely cemetery, in a retired corner, among solemn pines, I found the neglected grave of Texas Jack. A simple pine slab painted white marks the spot and tells us that the place is

Sacred to the Memory
Of
Texas Jack

(J. B. Omohundro)

Died Jun 28th, 1880. Aged 39 years.

On the reverse side are two men’s hands emerging from painfully apparent shirt cuffs. These hands point stiffly upward to the legend, “Rest In Peace.”

Poor Texas Jack! His former headstone, which my driver and I discovered in a heap of rubbish near by was more in keeping with his character. It bore a horse’s head and a brace of pistols crossed. “Nice feller,” said my driver, with a sigh. “He was dyin’ when I come to Leadville. There wasn’t a squarer, nicer, sure enough feller than Omohundro.”

“I knew him,” I said.

My driver fell back a step or two and looked at me with awe. “No. Did you though? Shake.”

And we shook hands over Texas Jack’s lowly deserted grave.”











*Thanks to Joe Rainone and E. M. Sanchez-Saavedra for images.


5 comments:

  1. This is great stuff! Thanks so much for posting all the photos and info. Texas Jack is my second cousin three times removed. I'm interested in knowing more about his Powhatan ancestry. Thank you!
    -D. F.

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  2. Glad you liked it D. F. The best thing to do would be to inspect all the genealogical sites -- no doubt he was of native ancestry but I wondered if his real ancestry lay in his praise of the Cherokee, "the finest race of men and women in the world."

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  3. In your other entry for Texas Jack (http://john-adcock.blogspot.com/search/label/Texas%20Jack) you post that Texas Jack was at some point stabbed by Buffalo Bill. I'm writing a book about Omohundro, and I'm curious where this reference is from. The two seem to have been close for the first three-four dramatic tours Cody did, and then went their separate ways. Cody gave a speech and paid for a new gravestone for Jack in the late 1890s, and says in a letter to Buckskin Sam that he (Cody) had given Texas Jack some money to help him get on his feet in 1878 or 1879.

    I'm very curious as to why the two decided to part ways as business partners on the stage.

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  4. The reference may not be reliable - the story was one I remembered fom a 1960s article from Charlton's magazine REAL WEST. I don't recall any exact details since I read the magazine as a boy and the story stuck with me.

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    Replies
    1. Awesome. I'll look back through some of those and see if I can find anything. There's so much information scattered out there.

      Thanks!

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