Apr 23, 2015

Old West: Texas Jack Omohundro

Not as well known as Buffalo Bill Cody, John Baker Omohundro, known as Texas Jack, rode as tall in the saddle and a colorful figure of the Old West, 1846-1880.
John Wilson Vermillion, 1860
While this article is about Texas Jack Omohundro, an Old West hero, there were two men named “Texas Jack”, the other being John Wilson Vermillion (1842-1911) who was an outlaw and later a reformed Methodist preacher, who never lived in Texas. Born in Russell County, Virginia he also fought under the command of General J.E.B. Stuart. After the Civil War, Jack Vermillion went to Indiana where he married Margaret Horton in 1865. They moved to Missouri where Jack Vermillion became a Territorial Marshal for the eastern part of the Missouri Territory. Jack's wife, daughter and son died of diphtheria while Jack was away and he left for Kansas in the late 1870s. During that time he went to Tombstone, Arizona from Dodge City, after hearing the Earp brothers were there. It is thought Jack also knew Doc Holliday. He was enlisted by Virgil Earp as a deputy city policeman on 22ndJune 1881, the day of the Tombstone fire, when Virgil was acting city marshal. Jack was hired to help keep law and order and prevent looting during and after the disaster. It is unknown how Jack Vermillion became known as Texas Jack because he had not been to Texas. Once he was asked why folks called him 'Texas Jack' and he replied: “Because I'm from Virginia”.
Jack Vermillion joined the famous vendetta posse on 21st March 1882 in Tombstone, one day after the killing of Frank Stilwell in Tucson. His horse was shot out from under him during the fight at Iron Springs (24 March 1822) where “Curly Bill” Brocius was killed. While trying to free his rifle, wedged under his dying horse, Doc Holliday picked him up while the cowboy gang fired upon them. It is believed that Jack Vermillion was more of a friend with Doc than Wyatt Earp, although he was mentioned several times in the 1926 John H. Flood Jr. Wyatt Earp biography, where it was said that Jack was not a close friend of the Earps.
In 1883, Vermillion was involved in the Dodge City War, where he killed a gambler cheating at cards. It was then that Jack's face appeared on a wanted poster as 'Texas Jack'. As the poster circulated, his nick name was changed to “Shoot-Your-Eye-Out-Jack” because he had shot the cheating gambler in the eye.
In 1888, Vermillion joined the Soapy Smith gang in Denver, Colorado and became involved in a shootout at the Pocatello, Idaho train depot. In 1890, Vermillion returned to Virginia and settled near Big Stone Gap, working as a Methodist preacher, married to a second wife, Nannie Fleenor, parents of a son (Opie Vermillion) and daughter (Minnie Bell Vermillion). Jack Vermillion died in his sleep in 1911.

Texas Jack Omohundro
Texas Jack Omohundro was born John Baker Omohundro at Pleasure Hill, Virginia, on 26th July 1846 and one of thirteen children of J.B. and Catherine Baker Omohundro. His father was of the Powhatan tribe. As a boy he preferred hunting and fishing over education, becoming an expert rider and marksman at an early age.
At 15, he went to Texas to become a cattleman, procuring a job at a ranch and become skilled with a rope. When the US Civil War began, Jack joined the fight, returning to Virginia to enlist in the Confederate Army but was told he was too young. Instead he was hired as a civilian courier for the Virginia Militia for Major General John Buchanan Floyd. Later he would assume scouting duties. When Major Floyd was killed, Jack formally enlisted in Company G, 5th Regiment Virginia Cavalry under General J.E.B. Stuart, where he was valued as a scout. Jack participated at the battle of Todd's Tavern. He was injured in the Battle of Trevilian Station.
When the war ended, Jack returned to Virginia, but soon left for Texas via sailing ship that got caught in a storm in the Gulf of Mexico. The ship ran aground on the Florida coast, where he stayed for a time, hunting, fishing, and as a school teacher. After about a year, Jack headed to Texas and got a job on a large ranch. It was there that folks began calling him Texas Jack during a cattle drive to market in Tennessee. When he was asked his name and where he was from, the folks called him Texas Jack; a name he became known as the rest of his life.
Texas Jack 'Dime Novel' Stories
Jack defended the ranch from local renegade natives and rustlers. One day, a group of Comanche attacked the ranch, trying to drive off horses and cattle. Jack shot several of them until they finally gave up. Another time, Jack rescued a five-year-old boy whose parents had been killed by Comanche and adopted him, giving him the name of Texas Jack Jr. He drove several herds of cattle on the famous Chisholm Trail.
In 1869, Texas Jack moved to Cottonwood Springs, Nebraska where he became a scout for Fort McPherson and making money as a buffalo hunter. It was there that he met William F. Cody who would become known as Buffalo Bill. Together they hunted buffalo and fought Indians, acting as guides for people like the Earl of Dunraven. The most publicized hunt was in 1872 for the Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich of Russia.
L-R: Ned Buntline, Bill Cody, Josephine, Texas Jack
In December of 1872, Texas Jack and Buffalo Bill went to Chicago to participate in one of the original Wild West shows produced by Ned Buntline as one of The Scouts of the Prairie. Jack was the first performer to introduce roping acts on stage. Between 1873 and 1874, James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok joined Texas Jack and Buffalo Bill to perform in the pay: Scouts of the Plains.
On 31 August 1873, Jack married Giuseppina (Josephine) Moriacchi, a dancer and actress from Milan, Italy, who also starred in the Scouts of the Prairie and other shows. He led his own acting troupe in St. Louis in 1877. During that period he wrote several articles about his experiences that were published in eastern newspapers and popular magazines. He became a famous character in Dime Novels, especially those written by Colonel Prentiss Ingraham. He was also featured in fictional tales in the Saturday Evening Post.
Texas Jack Jr carried on the Wild West show around the globe, mostly in South Africa. In 1980, the Texas Jack Association was founded to preserve Texas Jack's memory; and in 1994, he was inducted into the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in the Hall of Great Western Performers.
In 1880, Texas Jack fell ill with pneumonia and died on 28 June. He left behind his wife, Giuseppina, who was a stage show actress and ballerina. In 1908, his friend, Buffalo Bill Cody paid tribute to Texas Jack and commissioned a new headstone to be erected on Jack's gravesite.
Deadwood, South Dakota still honors Texas Jack to this day. The Texas Jack Association has an annual roundup in his honor. He even has a Facebook page. A room is named for him at the Sheridan Inn Hotel, Sheridan, Wyoming. A prestigious business uses his name: Texas Jack Wild West Outfitter.
America Remembers: Texas Jack S&W Schofield Model #3

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