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Texas Jack (John) Burwell Omohundro

Wild West Show Star
1846-1880
BP: Palmyra, VA
LKL: Leadville, CO

John Burwell (Texas Jack) Omohundro, Jr., frontier scout, actor, and cowboy, was born on July 26, 1846, to J. B. and Catherine (Baker) Omohundro at Pleasure Hill, near Palmyra, Virginia, the fourth of twelve children. He received some formal elementary education. In his early teens he left home, made his way alone to Texas, and became a skilled cowboy. Unable to join the Confederate Army in 1861 because of his youth, he nevertheless entered Confederate service as a courier and scout. In 1864 he enlisted in Gen. J. E. B. Stuart's command as a runner, scout, and spy. After the Civil War he spent several months in Florida and worked briefly as a schoolteacher. In 1866 Omohundro resumed his life as a Texas cowboy. He participated in several early cattle drives, including a drive across Arkansas to meat-short Tennessee. Grateful citizens of Tennessee nicknamed him "Texas Jack." On one of his drives he rescued a small boy whose parents had been killed in an Indian raid. The boy took the name Texas Jack, Jr., and went on to lead Texas Jack's Wild West Show and Circus in 1903. Omohundro may also have served for a time as a Texas Ranger. In 1869 he moved to Cottonwood Springs, Nebraska, near Fort McPherson and became a scout and buffalo hunter. Here he met William F. (Buffalo Bill) Cody. Together they participated in Indian skirmishes and buffalo hunts, including acting as guides in the royal hunt of 1872, a highly publicized excursion with Russian grand duke Alexis and a group of prominent American military figures. Omohundro and Cody traveled to Chicago in December 1872 to debut in The Scouts of the Prairie, one of the original Wild West shows. Critics described him as physically impressive and magnetic in personality. He was credited with introducing roping acts to the American stage. During the 1870s Texas Jack divided his time between the Eastern stage circuit and the hunting ranges of the Great Plains. He guided hunting parties that included European nobility. He headed his own acting troupe in St. Louis in 1877. That year he also wrote articles about his hunting experiences, published in the Spirit of the Times, a popular magazine. The Texas Jack legend grew in many "dime novels," particularly those written by Col. Prentiss Ingraham. In 1900 Joel Chandler Harris featured Texas Jack in a series of fictional accounts of the Confederacy for the Saturday Evening Post. Thereafter, the legend faded. On August 31, 1873, Omohundro married Giuseppina Morlacchi, a dancer-actress from Milan, Italy, who starred with him in the Scouts of the Prairie and other shows. Texas Jack died on June 28, 1880, of pneumonia, in Leadville, Colorado, and was buried in Evergreen Cemetery in that town.

 

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