Updated: Dec 8, 2020
It is one of the most recognizable images of western men in existence. Three legends of the Wild West, dressed the part, together in the same picture.
In the middle is Buffalo Bill Cody. To his left is Texas Jack Omohundro. To Cody's right is Wild Bill Hickok. The most famous scout, the most famous cowboy, and the most famous lawman of the West, together in one image.
But who are those other men?
Consider this image, taken soon after:
Buffalo Bill Cody sits front right with Texas Jack Omohundro at his left. The same man is on the right side of this image as the image above, as is the man to the left. The man standing behind Buffalo Bill and Texas Jack was not in the first image, and Wild Bill Hickok is no where in sight.
These pictures were both taken in 1873, at the end of Texas Jack and Buffalo Bill's first theatrical tour as the Scouts of the Prairie. After the tour wrapped up, they headed West toward their old haunts near North Platte and Fort McPherson, Nebraska. They'd spent the last six months—half a year—in theaters, hotels, cities, and train cars. Both men longed for the wide open spaces of the plains, and they invited some of the friends they had made back east to join them out west.
Wild Bill Hickok had known Buffalo Bill from Cody's youth and met Texas Jack when he was leading cattle herds up the Chisholm Trail to Kansas cow towns like Abilene and Hays City, where Hickok was a lawman. He was no fan of Ned Buntline, the dime novel author who had convinced his friends to start a theatrical combination and tell theater-goers what life was like in the West. But when Jack and Bill told him about the money they were making, claimed they were going to go out again the next year without Buntline, and invited him to join them for some fun and a share in the wealth, Hickok listened. He had recently ended his last run as a law enforcement officer, and with no other prospects for immediate employment, joining two of his friends for what sounded like an easy gig must have appealed to the Prince of Pistoleers.
The other men in the first image are Eugene B. Overton, to the right, and Elijah P. Greene to the left. Overton was a hotel manager and restauranteur in New York City. Texas Jack and Buffalo Bill rented a room just above his during their long stay in the city during their dramatic tour, and both liked the man enough to invite him along for a buffalo hunt. Greene's family owned a large knitting mill in Amsterdam, New York. His wife was the daughter of another upstate New York manufacturing giant, Philo Remington, president of E. Remington & Sons. Greene likely met the scouts for the first time when they visited the Remington factory during the tour, or perhaps just after when the company presented them with a pair of their finest firearms. The gold-embossed breech-loader they presented Texas Jack would become his favorite gun on and off-stage for years to come.
The third man, standing behind Cody and Omohundro in the second picture, is James A. Scott. An Irish immigrant, Scott opened, owned, and operated the finest hat store in the city of Chicago when The Scouts of the Prairie debuted there on December 16, 1872. Scott's store was right next to the Sherman House, across from City Hall, just over half a mile from the Barnes House where the cast of the show kept rooms for the duration of their time in Chicago. If you can't tell from the pictures above, or any other images you find of Texas Jack and Buffalo Bill, they were fans of a good hat, and there is no doubt that they visited Scott's establishment while they were in Chicago.
After their last show in Port Jervis, Buffalo Bill and Texas Jack were joined by Mr. Overton and Mr. Greene before they traveled west. They met up with Hickok later, but the gunslinger left before Mr. Scott joined the party. At some point, after all of these images were taken, Doctor Carver, dentist turned marksman and later showman, joined up with the group to hunt buffalo, elk, and deer near Fort McPherson, Nebraska.
I wondered what happened to these forgotten men, immortalized in these photos but now forgotten. Over the next week or two, I'll share my research on Eugene B. Overton, Elijah P. Greene, and James A. Scott.