“Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam,
Where the deer and the antelope play
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word
And the skies are not cloudy all day”
Home on the Range
The last history article was about Indians and this one is about cowboys – one in particular: a homegrown Fluvanna cowboy.
Remember the Saturday matinees with Roy and Gene riding across the silver screen? Our heros have always been cowboys. How many of you know that Fluvanna produced a cowboy hero?
We know him as “Texas Jack” Omohundro. He was born in Fluvanna County in 1846. There is a marker on Route 15 that memorializes this famous son of our county. As with so many other central Virginians, his ancestors migrated here from Virginia’s Westmoreland County. A man named Richard is the first Omohundro recorded in Fluvanna and he moved here circa 1775.
The man who would become known as Texas Jack was born John Baker Omohundro, the fourth of ten children born to John Burwell Omohundro and Catherine S. Baker. He was born at Pleasure Hill, the family plantation, in July 1846. The younger John, “Jack,” did not care much for school but rather preferred to go fishing and hunting. In 1860, at the age of 14, he set out for Texas. There he learned the arts of cowpunching. The outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 brought him back to Virginia to serve the Confederacy. At first, he was rejected for service because of his age but eventually he served under J.E.B. Stuart as a courier and scout. After Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, the lure of the west pulled Jack back to Texas.
He again made his living as a cowboy but on one of the cattle drives he met up with another legend of the West, William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody. Jack and Cody became army scouts at Fort McPherson. They also hunted buffalo together and eventually conducted hunting trips for visiting European royalty, including the Irish Earl of Dunraven and the crown prince of Russia (Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich) who celebrated his 22nd birthday on a hunt.
Their rise to national fame began when they teamed up with Col. E.Z.C. Judson, better known as dime novelist Ned Buntline. Together with Buntline, they went to Chicago and began their acting careers in a show called “The Scouts of the Prairie.” The play was a melodrama about the Wild West and featured beautiful maidens, rampaging Indians, and dangerous renegades. Of course, Texas Jack and Buffalo Bill saved the maidens and shot the Indians and renegades. For a brief time, their old pal Wild Bill Hickok performed with them.
One of the beautiful maidens in the show was a famous ballerina, Giuseppina “Josephine” Morlacchi, with whom Jack fell in love. Josephine had been born in Milan Italy in 1846 and had a successful career in the theatre. She and Jack were married in Rochester, New York in 1873.
Jack and Buffalo Bill dissolved their partnership with Buntline, but continued to perform together. Jack was the first performer to bring roping acts to the American stage and critics described him as physically impressive and magnetic in personality.
Even though he was enjoying a successful career in the theater and the joys of married life, the lure of the West was too strong and he would return to take visiting dignitaries on hunting trips. In 1876, General Custer and his troops were massacred at the Little Big Horn and Texas Jack once again served as an army scout as well as a news dispatcher for the New York Herald. His untimely death came in 1880 when he died of consumption in Leadville, Colorado at the age of 33.
His fame lived on as he was immortalized in the ‘dime novels’ popular at the time. Eventually he fell into obscurity but he is remembered today both in Fluvanna, his home county, and by the Texas Jack Association. This Association has over 200 members from all over the U.S. and several foreign countries.
On July 16, 2004, the Fluvanna County Historical Society hosted the Texas Jack Association. The Association held a dedication ceremony at Pleasant Hill cemetery and visited the Texas Jack marker on Rt. 15. They also visited the Old Stone Jail. Come to Fluvanna to learn more about one of its famous sons – a real life Western hero.
(Much of the information in this article was found in Fluvanna County Historical Society Bulletin #44. This Bulletin is available at the bookstore at Maggie’s house).
Bill Jones – Fluvanna County Historical Society
Note from the author: On behalf of the Historical Society, I assisted in the visit of the Texas Jack Association and found it exciting to meet people from all over the country who had come here to pay homage to Texas Jack.