A Pair of Jacks
One of the first things that happens when I talk about Texas Jack is that someone in inevitably asks “Didn’t he ride with Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday on their Vendetta ride?”
No, Texas Jack Omohundro didn’t fight side by side with the Earp brothers, Wyatt and Warren, and their friends Doc Holiday, Sherman McMaster, and Turkey Creek Jack Johnson in Tombstone, because Omohundro had been dead for over a year before the shootout at the O.K. Corral and subsequent vendetta ride ever started. The man that rode with Earp was another, later, Texas Jack, a man by the name of John Vermillion, perhaps best remembered as portrayed by Peter Sherayko in the movie Tombstone.
Even if we accept that the Tombstone, Arizona, based Texas Jack was John Vermillion, there has been some argument as to which John Vermillion he was. For years, western aficionados believed the man to be John Wilson Vermillion—a Confederate Civil War veteran who fought under the commands of General Joseph Wheeler and Nathan Bedford Forrest before migrating first to Missouri, then Kansas, and finally to the silver boom-town of Tombstone, Arizona.
More recently, author Peter Brand’s book Wyatt Earp’s Vendetta Posse Rider: The Story of Texas Jack Vermillion (www.tombstonevendetta.com) has put forth John Oberland Vermillion,—who fought for the Union in the Civil War before drifting to Texas, Louisiana, and on to Tombstone—as a perhaps more likely candidate. Brand makes a pretty convincing argument that the man known as Texas Jack Vermillion, and later Shoot-Your-Eye-Out Vermillion, was John O. rather than John W. Vermillion, a retiring Methodist preacher who died in 1911.
In Tombstone, when a reporter asked Vermillion why his friends called him “Texas Jack,” he responded simply, “Because I’m from Virginia.” What might seem like a simple joke makes more sense when we place Vermillion, Texas Jack Omohundro, and Tombstone, Arizona, in context.
By the time of the O.K. Corral shootout in 1881 and the following year’s vendetta ride, Texas Jack Omohundro had been dead for a year, but he was far from forgotten. Over the preceding decade not only had Omohundro become one of the most famous men in America, but his cognomen had become a kind of shorthand for a certain kind of wide-brimmed wearing, six-shooter wielding, whiskey-drinking western man. Newspapers were filled with stories of wannabe Texas Jacks—including “A Texas Jack of Thirteen” in a Washington DC paper of 1878 and a “Texas Jack of South Boston” in that city's papers a few years earlier. Thousands had seen Omohundro on stage, whether with Buffalo Bill Cody and Wild Bill Hickok, or in his own combination with his famous wife Giuseppina Morlacchi. Many more had read about “the real Texas Jack” in newspaper stories from his time on the frontier up to his death, or in the hundreds of Texas Jack dime novels written by Ned Buntline, Prentiss Ingraham, and later by Bill Cody himself. So Vermillion’s joke might be best understood as “They call me Texas Jack, because like Texas Jack, I’m from Virginia.”
Other Texas Jacks would soon follow, including Dick Broadwell, alias John Moore, alias Texas Jack who rode with and died with most of the rest of the Dalton Gang when they tried to rob two banks at once on October 5th, 1892. Later came Nathaniel “Texas Jack” Reed, a reformed bank robber and desperado who left his life of crime after being shot and turning himself over to a judge in 1894. Reed wrote a book called “The Life of Texas Jack, Eight Years a Criminal – 41 Years Trusting in God” and spent much of his later life touring with various carnivals and wild west shows as “Texas Jack, the famous bandit and train robber.” He tried to interest Hollywood studios in his story unsuccessfully up until his death in 1950. While he failed to capture the ears of studio execs during his lifetime, a movie about Reed, starring Trace Adkins and called Stagecoach: The Texas Jack Story, was released in 2016.