How the Russo-Turkish War Shaped the American West
What does the Russo-Turkish War have to do with the Wild West? History is a series of inter-connected events, and sometimes things which seem far apart and unrelated are tied together with an invisible thread. Discovering that thread can cast a new light on the way we view history, allowing for a better understanding of the many ways in which our world is incredibly small and interconnected.
Perhaps no event raised Texas Jack and Buffalo Bill to national prominence like Grand Duke Alexis Alexandrovich's Buffalo Hunt. In early 1872, the son of the Tsar had travelled to American and on to Nebraska to hunt the massive creatures, and his group was managed by General Custer. Custer, under orders from General Sheridan, had reached out to the two highest regarded scouts at Fort McPherson to manage the hunt: Buffalo Bill Cody and Texas Jack Omohundro. Though Cody, by virtue of his lasting fame, is most commonly associated with the venture, he tells in his autobiography that, "“When the whole party was mounted, they started south, Texas Jack acting as their guide until I could over take them.”
The cowboy must have made a good impression upon the Grand Duke, because when he planned a return visit to America in 1877, he again reached out to Texas Jack. Likely, the Grand Duke had read the Earl of Dunraven's book about exploring the new Yellowstone Park with Omohundro, and desired a similar experience.
Jack spent the winter of 1876 hunting with Sir John R. Reid in the Wind River range of Wyoming, and then returned to New York to await the Grand Duke's arrival. Unfortunately, rising tensions in Europe lead to an escalation between Russia and the Ottoman Empire. Alexis was appointed commander of the Russian Naval Forces on the Danube River, and never made the planned trip to New York, where newspapers humorously noted that:
"Texas Jack stands in no awe of Alexis, and that he speaks of him as a hail fellow well met, and not as a royal personage...Texas Jack is discovered standing on Broadway, his handsome face clouded as though an unpleasant thought were in his mind: "I wonder," said he at last, turning a quid of tobacco around his tongue and looking contemplatively up and down the street, "I wonder what in hell in the matter with 'Lexis! I writ him, but hain't got no answer.""
While Jack was likely frustrated when the planned hunt was indefinitely postponed, he quickly came up with a new plan; The Texas Jack Combination. A few months later Jack would launch his own dramatic company, for the first time appearing on stage without his friend and partner Buffalo Bill. Without the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878, perhaps the cowboy wouldn't have starred in his own show, and perhaps his former career would never have risen to the position of veneration it enjoys today.
Strange to think that without a conflict on the other side of the world, we might not think of cowboys the way we do today, because Texas Jack might not have shown us who cowboys were and what they did. So the next time you watch a John Wayne movie or read a Louis L'amour book, remember not to take or granted the threads that tie together disparate events in history.