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America's First Famous Cowboy

Updated: May 5, 2023

When this picture was taken, likely in early September of 1873, these three men were the most famous westerners alive. Seated on the right is Buffalo Bill Cody, who earned his name as the greatest buffalo hunter alive before rising to fame as a scout for the United States Army. Across the table sits Wild Bill Hickok, the deadliest gunslinger of his day and perhaps the most fabled lawman in American history. And behind these two men, with his right hand resting familiarly on Wild Bill's shoulder, stands Texas Jack Omohundro.

Omohundro hadn't been a buffalo hunter or a lawman in Kansas cow towns. Texas Jack was a cowboy. The Earl of Dunraven, who hunted with both Texas Jack and Buffalo Bill, wrote:

"Buffalo Bill had always been in Government employ as a scout, but Texas Jack had been a cowboy, one of the old-time breed of men who drove herds of cattle from way down South to Northern markets for weeks and months, through a country infested by Indians and white cattle thieves."

When these three men toured as The Scouts of the Plains, audiences who rushed to their local theaters to catch a glimpse of their heroes were gladly spending their hard-earned money to see the West's most famous scout, its most famous lawman, and its most famous cowboy together on stage. They were so famous that nearly 150 years after they posed for this picture they still shape our stories of the American West. Buffalo Bill became the most famous American, and perhaps the most famous person full stop, during his own lifetime. His Wild West show performed before thousands on both sides of the Atlantic, shaping forever the public perception of the West in his own image. Wild Bill was struck down by an assassin's bullet, but his name lives on, inspiring countless books, movies, television shows, and trips to the small South Dakota town of Deadwood where Hickok was killed and is buried.

Wild Bill Hickok (second from left), Buffalo Bill Cody (center), Texas Jack Omohundro (second from right)

Texas Jack didn't live long enough to ensure his name would be remembered forever and he didn't "die with his boots on" to go down in history. But his life and his legacy as America's first famous cowboy, the man who introduced the lasso act to the stage and rode with Pawnee warriors across the western prairie, has influenced every cowboy story that followed. From Owen Wister's The Virginian to Louis L'amour's Hondo, from Tom Mix to Cary Grant, from Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name to John Wayne's Ethan Edwardsevery cowboy has been cast in the mold of Texas Jack.

Texas Jack's story has never been fully told. Until now. Texas Jack: America's First Cowboy Star by Matthew Kerns tells the true story of the Virginia boy who became a Texas cattleman, of the Confederate spy who scouted for the US Army, of the cowboy who became a star. Texas Jack: America's First Cowboy Star is available in hardcover and ebook. Julia Bricklin, author of The Notorious Life of Ned Buntline, calls it a "groundbreaking work [that] brings to light a lesser-known but vitally important figure in any history of American pop culture...Kerns meticulously reconstructs the fascinating—if sadly shortened—life of Texas Jack Omohundro. What emerges is the story of the man who actually was the driving force behind Buffalo Bill's decision to go into show business, and perhaps was too authentic to shine as brightly as Cody through the ages. Until now."

Signed and inscribed first edition copies are available at:

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