the several men known to history as Texas Jack, Jack Omohundro
is the most well-known, though he comes to us now as little more than
a footnote. The public celebrated the life he lived on the frontier,
hunting buffalo and battling various hostile tribes even as that era
faded into history.
Like his good friend Buffalo
Bill Cody, Texas Jack was a superstar of early 20th century American
culture. Both men were tall, handsome and not opposed to a little
self-promotion. While Buffalo Bill went on to personify the frontiersman
as a mythic hero in America's popular culture, Texas Jack died too
young to cash in on the fame and fortune of being a rootin' tootin'
product and myth-maker of the Old West.
Born in Virginia, Omohundro first came to Texas as a teenager to work
as a cowboy. Still just a kid when the Civil War started, he served
the Confederacy as a courier and scout. His fellow soldiers called
him the "Boy Scout of the Confederacy." When the war ended he returned
to cowboy life and got the nickname Texas Jack during a cattle drive
to Tennessee. Then he went and got famous.
Both Texas Jack and Buffalo Bill served as hunting guides on several
well-publicized hunts, including one featuring Russian grand duke
Alexis. These events, covered by news organizations and dime novelists
the world over, helped create a market for tall and handsome men named
Buffalo Bill and Texas Jack.
Beyond Texas Jack's celebrity façade, however, was a bona-fide frontier
scout who was good enough at what he did that armies put their collective
fate in his hands. By all accounts he was an expert guide, tracker
other Texas Jack spent part of the year on the East Coast, playing
himself on stage. Yes, he was a great pretender, but Texas Jack was
also the genuine article. He introduced roping acts to the American
stage, a contribution that Will Rogers and others would exploit for
years to come. He starred with Buffalo Bill in the Ned Buntline production
of Scouts of the Prairie in 1872 and the next year in a renamed
Scouts of the Plains. Cody and Texas Jack remained close friends
but relations with Buntline were not so cordial. Cody never worked
with him again
"Texas Jack was on old friend of mine," Cody said of Omohundro in
1908. "I learned to know him and respect his bravery and ability…he
was a whole-souled, brave and good-hearted man."
Omohundro had to contend with several other people who billed themselves
as Texas Jack, either on stage or in real life. Some did not bring
credit to the name, such as one man who may have never stepped foot
in Texas. Asked why he called himself Texas Jack, he replied, "Because
I'm from Virginia." But there was really only one Texas Jack.
We can also say that Texas Jack married well when he wed his costar,
Giuseppina (Josephine) Morlacchi, known to stage audiences as the
"peerless Morlacchi." Just as Texas Jack brought roping acts to the
theater, Morlacchi introduced Americans to the cancan.
Omohundro led a storybook life in many ways, but the script ended
too soon. He died suddenly in 1880 after coming down with pneumonia
following a performance in Leadville, Colorado. A series of dime novels
with titles like Texas Jack: The Lasso King kept him in the public
eye until the dime novels went out of print.
The National Cowboy Hall of Fame admitted Omohundro to the Hall of
Great Western Performers in 1994. Unlike some others in the same hall,
Texas Jack also played his roles in real life.