This is the biography we desperately needed to tell Texas Jack Omohundro's story. I first encountered Texas Jack's name while binge-reading everything I could find on Wild Bill Hickok, where Texas Jack's story is told only tangentially as part of his friendship with Wild Bill and Buffalo Bill Cody. Although Texas Jack's name isn't as prominent as it once was, his influence continues to permeate American culture, most especially (for good or for bad) in our perceptions of cowboys, the West, the astonishing changes that happened to the Great Plains and Western landscapes during the mid-to-late 1800s, and relationships between white and Native American populations.
Kerns deftly shows Texas Jack to be a complex human being--smart, strong, sunny, forward-thinking and adventurous, but also struggling with an ever-changing landscape, trying to find his footing in entertainment, and suffering from serious health issues and personal demons. Kerns uncovers many aspects of Texas Jack's history that I've not encountered in anything else I've read, creating a rich timeline for a man who managed to be part of some of the most pivotal moments in 19th Century American history. We also learn more about the people around Texas Jack, including his amazing wife, ballerina Guissippa Morlacchi, who, frankly, deserves her own book.
Although this book is a real treat for those of us who are already interested in the era and have encountered Texas Jack in other histories, it will also appeal to the general history or biography reader interested in understanding how one man's essence continues to shape our perceptions of American history.