His Favorite Horse
Updated: Feb 4, 2021
Making an entrance. During the tours he did with Buffalo Bill Cody, whether they were joined by Ned Buntline, Wild Bill Hickok, Kit Carson Jr., or any number of actors and actresses from 1872 through 1876, Texas Jack always knew how to make an entrance. For that first show, Ned Buntline told the audience about the warriors lurking in the shadows as he waited for his friends to show up. When he banged his rifle but on the stage, that was the cue, and the audience roared as the famous scouts made their way out from behind the curtains. That was the template. Someone talks up the scouts, and then the audience cheers when they finally arrive.
After that first show, in which neither Texas Jack or Buffalo Bill remembered a single one of their written lines, theater owner Jim Nixon encouraged them to act more natural. "When you go on stage and see Buntline," he told Jack, "greet him just like you would out on the prairie, if you came upon him after not having seen him for several years." Omohundro took the advice to heart, and the next night walked onto the stage yelling, "Jesus Christ old man! How in the hell are you?" Buntline just stared at his cowboy friend while the audience cheered and laughed.
When Texas Jack started his own theatrical combination in 1877, he wanted to give the audience something new—something they hadn't seen before. The New York Sun newspaper from April 5, 1877 shares how the new show opened:
He made his entree upon the stage mounted upon an Indian pony whose real-live Simon-pure Indian-pony performance put to shame all previous attempts to make a horse a dramatic animal. Ordinarily this noble beast falls off most miserably in his theatric exploits. He balks at the orchestra, backs up against the scenes, and if he is slaying the role of the blooded Arab barb has to be pricked from the wings to make him go.
The noble pony of Texas Jack crosses the back of the stage on a wood bridge at full speed, carrying his master, and, bounding into view, circles the ample stage, and is pulled up suddenly at the footlights with his mouth agape and one fiery eye looking down sideways at the frightened double bass, while the sinewy rider bows under the storm of applause.
Other New York City newspapers were equally glowing in their praise of Texas Jack's command of his animal from the saddle. "The horse has always been a failure on stage until introduced by Texas Jack," said one reporter. The New York Herald agreed, adding that "The handling of a horse upon the stage by Texas Jack is a sight worth double the price of admission."
By 1877, when Texas Jack rode his horse across that stage at the Bowery Theatre, he had spent a lifetime on horseback. He learned to ride on the fields of his father's Virginia plantation and soon was exploring the fields, streams, and forests of his home state from the back of his horse. According to his friend, dime novel writer Prentiss Ingraham, Jack rode his horse from Palmyra, Virginia, to Texas when he was just fourteen years old. When he signed up to join his brother's regiment in the Confederate army, it was as a scout and spy for J.E.B. Stuart, perhaps the finest cavalry officer in the country. After the war, Jack made for Texas where he became a cowboy. He was entrusted with the horses of rancher John Taylor, and spent days, weeks, and months in the saddle.
We know surprisingly little about Texas Jack's horses. The pair that he used as part of his stage show, reviewed so well above, were called Modoc and Firefly. Before that, he had a mare named Bluebell. In Nebraska, Texas Jack's horse was the famous Tall Bull, supposedly captured after the death of the Cheyenne warrior after the Battle of Summit Springs. One of the temporary markers over Jack's grave in Leadville bore a picture of Yellow Chief, noted as one of Jack's favorite stallions.
In the European Texas Jack stories, Texas Jack is very attached to his horse Jumper. "A wiser and more obedient animal," the reader is told, "surely does not exist." No man but Texas Jack can ride this incredible horse. When a soldier named Clarence Miltontries to escape on Jumper in one of the books, he is soon returned to Texas Jack. But after the cowboy tells Jumper that Milton is his friend, the ride succeeds better. Texas Jack also tests Jumper on the racetrack with the result that his horse in book no. 36 is named "America's fastest". But the victory turns out to be expensive when a sore loser enlists a nearby Indian to help kill Jumper with a poison arrow from his bow. Texas Jack soon has his revenge and then buries Jumper. "Never had the great scout been more depressed and sad on his return from the wilderness, for this time he had left his best friend there."
The Lone Ranger had Silver, Roy Rogers had Trigger, and John Wayne had Dollor. In all cases, the idea of a western cowboy on his favorite horse was informed by Texas Jack, from his real-world exploits on the back of Tall Bull on the Nebraska prairies to stage performances at the Bowery with Modoc and Firefly to riding through the pages of yellowed dime novels on Jumper and Yellow Chief on his grave marker. Every cowboy in books or movies was influenced by Texas Jack.