Updated: Jul 7, 2020
My parents love antique malls. I grew up following them down the dusty aisles of shops in small towns around the South with names like Wartburg or Bell Buckle or Bugscuffle, and in stops along our biannual trips "out West." The first time I remember seeing the name Texas Jack Omohundro, it was in a print my dad picked up at an antique mall in northeast Tennessee. When he showed it to me, I thought "Oh yeah, Texas Jack was part of Wyatt Earp's crew." It turned out I had the wrong Texas Jack. Mr. Vermillion came later, and came nowhere near matching the fame of Mr. Omohundro during their lifetimes.
This print is titled Dawn Patrol and is by an artist who was related to Texas Jack, a man named James F. Omohundro. The inscription on the photo reads: "Texas Jack Omohundro leads a Confederate scouting party into the early morning mist of the Wilderness."
That particular print is the second part of a three-piece series. The print my father found all those years ago at that antique mall is hanging on the wall of my study, between its two brothers, The Chase and The Charge.
The depiction of this one says "John Burwell Omohundro, Jr. (Texas Jack) a Scout for JEB Stuart's Confederate Cavalry shown fleeing Federal horsemen after reconnoitering Union positions in Northern Virginia."
"General JEB Stuart and "Texas Jack" Omohundro head a cavalry charge on a Union artillery position."
Jack, who served under the Confederacy's foremost cavalry commander, JEB Stuart, gave that general his final battlefield dispatch before he was fatally shot at the battle of Yellow Tavern in May of 1864.
The artist included with these fine prints a short piece he wrote about his life:
James F. Omohundro
Since the first Jim Omohundro fought in the Revolutionary War, the men in our family leaned toward the military service. It was only natural that my father should be a regular Army man. Dad decided in the spring of 1937, when I was born, that he’d just as soon I didn’t become “An Army Brat.” So my grandparents [on my mother’s side] were given a Missouri boy to raise in their Eastern Kentucky home.
Grandma and Grand-dad were strong, independent people who believed in teaching young ones the fundamentals, but were ordinarily too busy to spend time in frivolous activities. I can remember learning how to fish, hunt, farm, as a matter of fact, I remember raising a pig when I was about nine. The pig was sold and I bought my first rifle. Why I could pick a squirrel from the highest branch with that gun. If a low flying buzzard came into my sights, nine times out of ten he was no longer airborne after the trigger pullin’. My Grand-dad was quite a hunter, too. One time during his absence I coaxed his prize hound into going rabbit hunting with me. He did his job well. When my great bear of a grand-dad discovered our escapade, he scolded the dog, he gave me a good tanning with a willow switch and had my grandmother fry the rabbit--which he devoured with gusto!
Those were pleasant times (although I didn’t recognize them as such then) and now I realize they enabled me to develop as an artist. When I had free time, I had little else to do except read Saturday Evening Post, draw, or quietly listen to the proverb ridden conversations of my elders. I chose the middle option.
Although at the time their methods of rearing me seemed rather harsh, I now realize my grandparents were conditioning me for the harsh realities of life they expected me to encounter. I encountered that life at the tender age of seventeen. I donned the Navy blue and served for three years in the sunny Mediterranean area. That particular period I’ve always considered to be my real education. Everything before or since was “just schoolin’.”
One look at the ageless beauty of Europe, its elegance and grace and I was captivated. Love at first sight! I was also surprised to see how well art and those people responsible for its creation were received. Why, back home it was considered some strange abnormality (or subnormality) if you wasted your time painting. I’m sure my family had hoped that I would enter a respectable profession such as diesel mechanics. The strong desire I had to use my hands to create “a masterpiece” disappointed that hope.
Immediately after my discharge from the Navy (honorable I should mention) I entered the Central Academy of Commercial Art in Cincinnati, Ohio. The school is owned and directed by Jackson Gray Storey (of the famed Storey Ranch in Texas) and for two magical years I was under his wise and watchful eyes. “Pop” Storey and I (both having somewhat strong wills) clashed on numerous occasions during my tenure at the academy. We both rejoiced on the morning of my graduation. Yet, I look back with thankfulness at his professional and personal encouragement.
For the next ten years it was touch and go. Contrary to what the “draw me” correspondence ads say, it is a very demanding profession and there are times when love for your work is the only compensation for it. I spent my days doing newspaper layouts, architectural renderings, and political cartoons and my nights painting. Ten years was ten too long so I finally got off the merry-go-round and devoted days and nights to my painting. I feel so strongly that art should be more than a “pretty picture.” It should be mankind’s mirror, a reflection of life, a composite of good and evil, ugliness and beauty.
As humans have consistently repeated some of the sordid moments of history, I am fascinated as to why man seems unable to learn from past mistakes. Sometimes I even kid myself into thinking that as an artist I should see the world about me differently, that I should have a higher social conscience, that I should be more tolerant and forgiving than others. Yet, I find myself falling short of this expectation. Just the other day my young son marched in proudly displaying a fat cottontail. There was nothing for me to do but scold the pooch, spank the boy, and fry the rabbit. History repeats itself, the mistakes are made, and we humans must be content with remaining terribly imperfect.