Jack was born at Pleasure Hill, Virginia on July 26, 1846, to John B. and Catherine Omohundro. From an early age, he became a proficient hunter, horseman and skilled gunman and was known to have loved adventure. In his early teens, he made his way to Texas where he worked as a cowboy. Though he would have liked to have joined the Confederate Army as a soldier when the Civil War broke out, he was too young. Later, in 1864, he enlisted as a courier and scout under General J.E.B. Stuart.
At war’s end, he returned to working as a cowboy and on a cattle drive to Tennessee, he received the nickname “Texas Jack.” On one of his cattle drives to Nebraska, he met William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, who was then working as a scout for the U.S. Army at Fort McPherson.
Cody admired Jack’s skills as a horseman and marksman and the two quickly became friends. Talking Jack into also staying in Nebraska and working as an army scout, the former cowboy soon made his home in Cottonwood Springs, where he also spent considerable time as a buffalo hunter. Together, he and Cody acted as guides for the army and were involved in several Indian skirmishes together.
In December 1872, Jack appeared in Buffalo Bill’s debut of The Scouts of the Prairie, in Chicago, Illinois produced by Ned Buntline. Jack continued to work in the shows and was the first performer to introduce roping acts. The next year, “Wild Bill” Hickok joined the show. That same year, he also married a dancer and actress named Josephine Morlacchi, who also was a performer in the Wild West Shows. Throughout the rest of the decade, Texas Jack divided his time between performances and guiding hunting parties on the Great Plains. By 1877, he was heading his own acting troupe in St. Louis, Missouri, as well as writing articles about his hunting and scouting experiences. He and his wife, Josephine, settled in Leadville, Colorado, but, for Texas Jack, the thrills of adventure, marriage, and performing would be brief. When he was just 33 years old, he died of pneumonia in Leadville on June 28, 1880. Buffalo Bill donated his headstone and he was buried in Leadville’s Evergreen Cemetery. His wife, Josephine never recovered from her grief and didn’t appear on the stage again. She retired in seclusion in Massachusetts, where she died at age 39 of cancer.
During his life and after his death, his legend grew in many dime novels and magazine articles. In 1910, Buffalo Bill described him:
“He was an expert trailer and scout. I soon recognized this and… secured his appointment in the United States service…In this capacity I learned to know him and to respect his bravery and ability. He was a whole-souled, brave, generous, good-hearted man…who was one of my dearest and most intimate friends.”
In 1994, Texas Jack Omohundro was inducted into the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
By Kathy Weiser-Alexander, updated February 2020.