Decoration Day


Buffalo Bill Cody lays a wreath at the grave of his friend and partner Texas Jack.

Before it was made a federal holiday, the day we celebrate as "Memorial Day" was called "Decoration Day," and was a chance for towns across the United States to remember those who had fallen in the Civil War, as well as those veterans who had passed in the years since. The tradition began on June 3, 1861, with the decoration of the grave of Captain John Quincy Marr, the first Confederate officer killed during the war, but traditions soon became established across both the North and South. The assassination of Abraham Lincoln and his subsequent burial, combined with the deaths of more than 600,000 soldiers during the war, left a lasting impact on the country and the way it viewed those who had sacrificed fighting for it.


Texas Jack was one of the most famous men buried in Leadville, and his grave was often visited in the pioneer days of that city. Jack had fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War, but had scouted for the United States Army both in Nebraska from 1869 to 1872, and in Montana and Wyoming for General Alfred Terry following the defeat of George Armstrong Custer at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. This article from the St. Louis Globe-Democrat talks about Leadville and the grave of Texas Jack.


Leadville Decoration Day parade, 1884.

LEADVILLE'S DEAD


LEADVILLE, COL - The Rio Grande train climbs a long hill and steams into Leadville upon a ridge. To the east of the track is spread out the city of the living. On the slope to the west is the city of the dead. Leadville started a graveyard early, and patronized it well. For a time the headboards were planted almost as rapidly on one side of the hill as the claim stakes were driven on the other. There are 33,000 restless money-seekers up here among the clouds and the snow-drifts of mid-July. There are 3.300 graves in the gravel, among the bright green pines.


The mortality of the early history of this ten-years old city was frightful. Men lay down at night to sleep off a drunk and never awoke. Nature plays queer freaks with vital organs at an altitude of 10,055 feet. Health was neglected in the wild mad rush for carbonates. Men ate when they could get time, slept anywhere, and never refused an invitation to drink. Under such conditions Leadville acquired the name of "The Pneumonia City," and graves were in great demand.


More people between the ages of 20 and 35 are buried here than in any other cemetery in the world, that is in proportion to the whole number, and such a strange assortment of histories the sod nowhere else covers. In what other burial place can the visitor stand and moralize beside the grave of a man who was given twenty hours by the Vigilance Committee to leave town, and who died of pneumonia before the time was up?


To the credit of Leadville, let it be said, her dead are not forgotten. Decoration Day means more here than the remembrance of those who fell in battle. This city did not come into existence until twelve years after the war was over, but there are few places where Decoration Day is so generally observed in a literal sense.


TEXAS JACK


The most striking monument of all is that which marks the resting place of Texas Jack, as he was better known than by his name of J. B. omohundro. Texas Jack entered the show business about the same time that Buffalo Bill did, and he was only second to Cody in promise. He had married a famous ballet dancer, and was filling an engagement here when peumonia carried him off. His grave is in a well-cared-for lot, and is marked by a slab bearing the inscription:


Sacred to the Memory of

TEXAS JACK

(J.B. Omohundro)

Died June 29, 1880.

33. Pneumonia.


The inscription occupies but a small place on the slab, which is fairly covered with artistic work. First there is a good representation of a cartridge belt, with pistols crossed and bowie-knife sheathed. Below is sketched the trusty Winchester, and then the head of Texas Jack's favorite horse, Yellow Chief.


On the reverse of the slab are fingers pointing heavenward, and the inscription, "Rest in peace. Remembered by his young friends, J.J. Levy and M.C. Levy" If Texas Jack had designed his own head-board he could not have done better. His wife, in respect for his memory, retired from the stage.


Unfortunately, this grave marker, like the one that his wife inscribed by hand in Italian that preceded it, was eventually taken by some passing collector. Eventually, only a plain white board with Jack's name and dates of his birth and death marked the spot. In 1908. Buffalo Bill and John M. Burke brought the Wild West to Leadville. Seeing Jack's grave in a sad state of disrepair, they immediately offered to fun a new permanent marker that still marks their friend's final resting place.


Buffalo Bill and others at the grave of Texas Jack




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