BRAZOS — John Baker Omohundro was 19 when he returned here and resumed a life as a cowboy on the Taylor Ranch after serving in the Civil War.

Brazos was located in Palo Pinto County, which was created in 1856 from Bosque and Navarro Counties.

Omohundro was born July 26, 1846, at Pleasure Hill, Virginia to John Burwell and Catherine Salome Baker Omohundro. He was the fourth of 12 children. Although he received some formal education, he left home in his early teens and made his way to Texas alone.

Young John’s age kept him from joining his older brother, Orville Calhoun Omohundro, in the Confederate Army in 1861, but he later became a courier and scout and was known as the “Boy Scout of the Confederacy.” He later enlisted in General J.E.B. Stuart’s command as a runner and spy in 1864. At the war’s end, he went to Florida and became a school teacher.

It was in 1866 when Omohundro returned to Texas. He was a drover in several cattle drives across Indian Territory including the Chisholm and Goodnight-Loving trails to Kansas, California and Nebraska. On a drive across Arkansas to drouth-stricken Tennessee, where there was a meat shortage, he was given the nickname “Texas Jack” by grateful folks who welcomed the prospect of a beef steak.

On another cattle drive, Texas Jack chanced upon a number of ransacked wagons with an escort of soldiers dead and scalped nearby. He rescued a five-year-old boy and two small girls whose parents had been killed in the Indian raid. He later adopted the boy who took the name Texas Jack, Jr., according to Handbook of Texas.

“My parents are unknown, since my birth I have always been known and called by my name of Texas Jack Jr. I have no other Christian or surname whatever; as when a child my parents were killed by the Indians in Texas who carried me off to their camp where I lived until I was recovered from them by the United States of America’s troops about 1868,” he said years later.

Texas Jack moved to Fort Hays, Kansas in 1869 where he was introduced to Ellis County sheriff James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok. Later the same year, Omohundro moved to Cottonwood Springs, Nebraska near Fort McPherson, where he worked as a scout for the U.S. government and also became a buffalo hunter. Meanwhile, he met William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody. Together they took part in Indian skirmishes and buffalo hunts.

In 1872, Buffalo Bill and Texas Jack served as guides in the royal hunt of Russian grand duke Alexis and a group of American military figures including General Philip Sheridan, General George Armstrong Custer and Colonel James W. Forsyth. In 1874, Texas Jack guided the Earl of Dunraven through Yellowstone and Geyserland.

In December 1872, Texas Jack and Buffalo Bill went to Chicago where they debuted “The Scouts of the Prairie,” one of the original Wild West shows. He was credited with introducing roping acts to the American stage.

Omohundro and Giuseppina Antonia Morlacchi were married August 31, 1873. She was a dancer and actress from Milan, Italy who starred with him in the Scouts of the Prairie and other shows.

During the 1870s, Texas Jack divided his time between the Eastern stage circuit and the hunting ranges of the Great Plains, where he guided hunting parties that included European nobility.

By 1877, Texas Jack headed his own acting troupe from St. Louis with “Texas Jack in the Black Hills,” written by Harry Seymour. Other plays they performed included “The Trappers Daughter,” “Life on the Border” and “The French Spy.” About the same time, he started writing articles about his hunting and scouting adventures for popular magazines and eastern newspapers.

In the late 19th century, Texas Jack was a popular subject in “Dime novels,” which were published weekly and monthly, printed on inexpensive wood pulp paper and costing five to 10 cents each. According to Wikipedia, one of the first novels carried the story: “Texas Jack; or The White King of the Pawnees,” written by Ned Buntline and first appeared in 1872.

“On the Wing of Occasions,” written by Joel Chandler Harris was a series for the Saturday Evening Post in 1900. It featured Texas Jack and the Confederate Service in a fictional plot to kidnap President Lincoln.

Around early 1880, Texas Jack and Morlacchi Omohundro moved to Lowell, Massachusetts and operated a farm in nearby Billerica. After several performances in the region, the couple decided to move to the silver-mining town of Leadville, Colorado where he joined Horace Tabor’s Light Cavalry to keep order in the town.

A month before his 34th birthday, Texas Jack contracted a cold, which developed into pneumonia and died June 28, 1880. His funeral was well-attended, and he was given full military honors with several military companies in attendance firing a three-volley salute as his flag-draped coffin was lowered into the ground at Evergreen Cemetery in Leadville.

After Texas Jack’s death, Morlacchi returned to their home in Lowell and never toured again. She died from cancer at 39 years of age in 1886.

Texas Jack’s grave fell into disrepair after several years when a traveling group of comedians raised funds to provide for its upkeep. In 1908, Buffalo Bill Cody visited the cemetery and commissioned a granite grave marker for his old friend.

The Texas Jack Association was formed in 1980 to preserve and promote Texas Jack’s memory and in 1994, he was posthumously elected to the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City. He also received the Wrangler Award in the Hall of Great Western Performers for his career as both a working cowboy and actor.

Texas Jack Jr. became a sharpshooter and trick rider. He took over the Wild West shows after his father’s death. When he started performing outside the United States, he dropped the “junior” from his name.

On March 25, 1891, Texas Jack Jr. married fellow performer Lily Dunbar. They had one child, named Hazel Jack, born in November 1892.

The couple was living in London, England by early 1897. In November 1897, Jack filed for divorce from Lily stating she had an affair. It is unknown if the divorce was granted but Lily Dunbar Jack died shortly afterward in April 1902, at age 31.

In Kroonstad, South Africa, Texas Jack Jr. was approached by a young fellow named Will Rogers in 1902. He asked Rogers if he could do a rope trick and after a demonstration, he was hired on the spot.

Texas Jack Jr. died on October 25, 1905, while in Kroonstad. He left his entire estate to his 14-year-old daughter who was living in Prahran, Melbourne, Australia. — jlackey@wcc.net

 

 

800-284-5268
325-949-4611

PO Box 3306
San Angelo TX 76902

800-284-5268
325-949-4611

PO Box 3306
San Angelo TX 76902