Life of Texas Jack



One of the challenges to writing a biography of a man like Texas Jack is separating fact from fiction, the man from the folk hero. A lot of articles, books, and information written about Texas Jack in the years following his death were distilled from facts about his real life spun into wild dime-novel adventures. It starts as early as 1873 when Jack's friend Ned Buntline released Texas Jack, The White King of the Pawnees. It has Jack the noble scion of a family of French aristocrats, his long-lost cousin freshly arrived in the American West to tell him about his inheritance, his title, and the fine manor house waiting for him in the fields of France. The reality is that Jack wasn't French at all—his family had lived and farmed in Virginia from the early 1600s.


There is a long story in Herschel C. Logan's biography of Jack that recounts a time when Texas Jack infiltrated a notorious gang near North Platte, Nebraska, using the name Dave Hunter. That seemed like such an interesting detail that it surprised me when I couldn't find any newspaper accounts or historical documents indicating that it had ever happened. I believe the story originated in a book by E. G. Cattermole with the splendidly lengthy title Famous Frontiersmen, Pioneers, and Scouts; the Vanguards of American Civilization. The tome claims to be "Two Centuries of the Romance of America's History," and a "Thrilling Narrative of the Lives and Marvelous Exploits of the Most Renowned Heroes, Trappers, Explorers, Adventurers, Scouts, and Indian Fighters including Boone, Crawford, Girty, Molly Finney, the McCulloughs, Wetzel, Kenton, Clark, Brady, Crockett, Houston, Carson, California Joe, Wild Bill, Texas Jack, Captain Jack, and Buffalo Bill."


Another story here, about Texas Jack helping to stop a stage robbery near Leadville, actually is verified in other sources, though Cattermole's date and the specificity of the names he uses for others involved are fabrications as well.


Here is the chapter on Texas Jack, as much a fantasy romance of his life as actual biography, but entertaining nonetheless.


 


To begin with, Texas Jack’s heart was in the right place, from the time his eyes first opened to the light till the day they were closed in death, about three years ago; for we find him brave and courageous, honest and true, mindful of the rights of others, and always ready to lend a helping hand, or champion the defenseless.


How he imbibed the love of adventure to such an extent as to cause him to determine, even when a boy in one of the South Atlantic States, to enter upon the exciting life of the Southwest in Texas, we cannot conceive, though his surroundings at the date of his childhood were well adapted to fit him, as far as horsemanship, hunting, and trapping were concerned, for the new life he was to lead. He often, in those days, assisted in furnishing the family table with game of his own shooting. We find him very early determined to become the owner of large herds of cattle. He had heard of the immense ranches of Texas and their wealthy owners, and intended to use what means he had collected from the results of his sure aim with the rifle, to take him to that country, where he expected to realize the visions of wealth that inspired him to youthful endeavor. He owned a pony with many good points, to which he was much attached, a rifle, revolver, and knife, in the use of which he had become distinguished among his fellows. With these and a few necessary articles of clothing and camping utensils suited to the journey, he left his pleasant home and friends.


Imagine him now entertained in hospitable homes, sharing the good cheer within, and again cooking his simple meal over a forest fire, and lying down to sleep beneath the stars, with only his faithful horse to share his solitude. Yet the way was not all smooth. He found himself in the hands of unprincipled men, who were ready to rob him of the money he had hoarded so carefully, and must use so prudently, ere the long journey was accomplished. But Jack, ever on the alert, used his revolver with such good execution that they failed to gain their object, two of their number being killed instantly, and he continued on his way, trusting more and more to the protection of the friendly woods as night came on.


When the Texas border was reached, he found he could be of service to a family as “cow-boy”— a term given to those who follow the herding of cattle in that locality. He realized that with his scanty means the road to affluence must be slow, yet he meant it to be sure. He was a mere boy as yet, but he set himself to work in this capacity with the energy needed to make him thoroughly familiar with his duties and served so well that the owner of the ranch considered him indispensable to his success. At the same time, he was fitting himself to be the future master of a ranch of his own. In addition to this, he was still perfecting his skill in trailing, hunting, and trapping, and from the sale of skins increased the small sum that he received for his work to a considerable amount.



We next hear of him as hunter to one of the government forts. Here was afforded an ample opportunity for the display of his wonderful proficiency as a marksman. It suited well his taste, as, when mounted on a fleet steed, he rode at will over the immense prairies in the healthful excitement of the hunt, excelling all when the results of the chase were counted up. As long as he held the position the soldiers were never in want of venison, buffalo meat, wild turkey, and a great variety of game. Nothing could have better aided the full development of his already fine form than this free, wild life.


He was now 'nearly six feet in height, with an ease of carriage and self-possession of manner that betokened ease of mind. Jack Omohundro was not ashamed of his deeds. His hair fell in dark waves over his shoulders and gave a softened expression to the firm outlines of a face which showed the strength of character that afterward separated him from the ordinary frontiersman and gave him a place in history. He wore a buckskin frock, fringed and beaded, and leggings of the same material, tucked into high-topped cavalry boots armed with spurs. The indispensable belt, with weapons of the most approved make, and a gray sombrero, completed his attire.


He now comes to the front as an Indian-fighter. On one of his hunting excursions, while enjoying more than usually the delights of the chase, he was surprised by the appearance of some sixty Indians, and his desire for an opportunity to distinguish himself is satisfied. Being in possession of a repeating rifle, he immediately commenced an attack, instead of making any attempt at flight, as we would have supposed any one man would have done.


When one after another of the savages fell under the fire of the repeating rifle, the others became disconcerted, unaccustomed to such a weapon as they were then, and, though they did not retreat, hesitated to advance too near.


Jack was wounded by the arrows that fell thick and fast about him, and also his horse; but he withstood them a long time, until he saw a larger band of savages about to reinforce the first. Then he concluded to carry the four scalps already obtained from the bodies that had fallen near him, with all possible haste to the fort, as proof of the engagement, before death should rob him of the glory that would be attached to the achievement. Under a shower of arrows from the pursuing band, both his horse and himself suffering from their wounds, they sped swiftly on, and gained the fort and desired distinction.


From this time as long as he remained at the post, he acted as scout and guide, in which field he won new favor; since he counted not his own life dear in the service of humanity, saving many lives at the risk of his own.


Bands of robbers and horse thieves frequented many portions of the Western country, and nowhere were they more plentiful than in Texas at the time of which we write.


Now that Jack had become a scout, he longed in some way to show his appreciation of this recognition of his services, besides being naturally antagonistic to anything like a lawless element.


Being a close observer, he already had suspicions of a locality which might be the hiding-place of a noted band, and as it was near the time when supplies were expected for the fort, and he had on several occasions seen parties about who not only apparently wished to conceal themselves but their intentions, he determined to keep close watch in order to prevent any loss, and, if possible, to surprise and capture the men.


A small town nearby was a popular resort for loafers and gamblers, and afforded Jack an excellent opportunity to continue the scrutiny of those whom he suspected. He concluded to play the spy. Entering one of the noted gambling houses, in an offhand way he stepped up to the bar which invariably accompanies such places and ordered drinks for the crowd. For anyone to drink alone was considered almost an insult to the bystanders.


This opened the way to friendly conversation, which ended in his being invited to “take a hand for luck.” This would further his plans by giving him the chance of hearing whatever might throw light on the identity of suspicious individuals. He therefore consented; but luck went against him, since, for purposes of his own, he made no effort to win. He was soon on excellent terms with the set. Jack recognized one among the number as the same person whom he had seen lurking near a bluff on the traveled road to the fort, and who had hastily passed out of sight, seemingly with a view to concealment, when aware of his approach.


That he had the slightest suspicions that it was Texas Jack who surprised him, and who now was engaged in the friendly game with himself and friends, is not for a moment to be supposed.


The bluff to which we have referred was some distance from the road, and so situated as to afford easy concealment, if desired.


The stranger, for such we will call him till we prove his name and character, was now in very different costume from the previous occasion, yet this was only a confirmation of the truth of Jack’s suspicions. Jack himself had so altered his appearance as to be hardly recognized.


The next day, and the next, he sought opportunity for carrying out his plans by adding to the intimacy already existing between himself and the stranger. Finally, at urgent solicitation, he accompanied him to his home in the mountains, about thirty miles away.


One and then another joined them there, until there were twelve strong, robust men, well-armed. It was nearly a week before any of their plans were disclosed. The time was spent in feasting, drinking, and card playing, with an occasional hunt to relieve the monotony. Cautiously they revealed a plot for obtaining stores, and asked Dave Hunter’s assistance, as Jack was now called. The work was planned for the following Friday; it was now Monday.


Jack must have time to warn the soldiers to prepare for an attack and get back without exciting doubts as to his loyalty. It was a difficult thing to do, as these sharp, fierce men kept strict watch, on account of their short acquaintance.


He must plan some excuse for absence. On plea of hunting to break up the feeling of lassitude that he averred was beginning to possess him, he made preparations for departure, purposely in the absence of the larger number of those who shared the retreat, as less explanation would then be required.


How he sped over the ground when once at liberty! but not in the direction of the fort. He made his way there by a circuitous route, and by ways as little frequented as any.


No time was lost in revealing the plot and getting back to the stronghold of the robbers, except to obtain game with which to satisfy the impression he had given, that hunting was the object of his going. He loaded a fine two-year-old buck, which he had easily taken, upon his horse, sure that this when dressed and served in true mountaineer style would not only gratify their appetites, but dispel their doubts as to his loyalty, if any existed.


They eyed him sharply, as he sprang to the ground, and relieved his restless horse from the unaccustomed burden of the deer.


“Where runs the herd from which that buck was taken, hunter?” said one.


“In these mountains, in the small canyon to the west, — fine feed there,” replied Jack, or Dave, as he was known there.


“Too fine, I fear, to warrant the finding of much game, my friend,” answered another.


“You’re right, boys. So scanty have I found game in these parts for the past two days, it’s a wonder how you exist.”


“Trust me, the government is back of the deer, Dave, and besides, our friends often share with us; — sabe ?” said a third.


“Aye, lads, It’s a poor town that has only one road leading to it.’ But I’m as hungry as a gaunt wolf on a desert island. What can you set out?”


Dave followed the three and was soon cheered by a plentiful amount of provisions, no less than drinks of different kinds, for these were not the men to do things by halves.


After partaking freely of the food set before him, cautious in indulging in the tempting beverages, lest they might, from the stupidity they were likely to cause, unfit him for the task he had undertaken, he lay down to rest from the fatigue of the journey.


Only two days would intervene before he would be needed in the full strength of his manhood, and Texas Jack would serve his country as never before. But how could this band of lawless men be taken? It would be an easy thing, now that the soldiery were warned, to protect the stores, but these desperadoes were a terror not to be despised. It would need a clear head to plan, and strong arm to execute.


Let us leave him to his dreams, while we return to the fort and note the preparations for going out to meet and defend the train coming with supplies.


The bustle has already begun. The soldiers are eager to be engaged, weary of the dullness of camp life. Orders to march are given, and soon is heard the tramp, tramp, of the boys in blue. A portion of the command was to proceed to a distance beyond the supposed point of attack, to make sure of success, while the remainder were to be stationed at the bluff, in accordance with Jack’s suggestion.


Long before these were on their way, another and a strange cavalcade made its way down the mountainside, and Jack was with it. The direction in which they were moving indicated that the two bodies might meet at some point.


At the head rode the chief in his showy and elegant uniform of velvet and gold with the emblem of his rank, the gold star, on his front. Long and gracefully waving plumes adorned his hat. His followers were scarcely less richly attired, except Jack, who had not yet been formally adopted into the order, “The Lone Star Knights.”


“A right royal procession in outward semblance,

Would that their deeds were kingly.”


They moved toward the bluff, thinking to be in readiness when the wagon train, loaded with provisions and ammunition, approached. Then it could be easily despoiled.


Everything was quiet as death until the turn that led to the place of concealment was made. Then shots came in quick succession and were almost as quickly returned. These cool, determined men were accustomed to surprises, and not easily unnerved. The fight grew fierce and desperate. Men were engaged who knew neither retreat nor surrender. Jack fought bravely, and hand to hand. But numbers were against the robber band, and one after another they fell, either wounded or dead.


The wounded were carried as prisoners to the fort, and the dead were buried by the bluff. Among the dead was Leon Hartley, chief of “The Lone Star Knights,” who would fight to the death, but never be taken alive.


Jack returned to the fort, but shortly after, though the officers were sorry to part with so valuable a scout, he determined to make a beginning toward the stocking of the cattle ranch which had been his ambition. Herds of wild horses roamed the Texan plains, and having found a companion, they started in pursuit. Experts in the use of the lariat, it was not long before quite a large number were herded and driven to the place where he determined to settle. The means he had accumulated enabled him to purchase a ranch and begin a substantial business, and one that proved lucrative. Later he is induced to engage with “The Buffalo Bill Combination,” in the capacity of an actor, with what success we are not informed. But frontier life had sufficient attractions to recall him, and we find him again at his ranch. Mining also claimed his attention in Colorado, this State having become celebrated for its gold ore.


The region about Leadville exerted a magnetic influence, and thither Jack was drawn, seeking a competence that would harmonize with the independent spirit within him. Strong, not only in himself but his material resources, he would then be able to gratify at will the promptings he could never silence, to aid his fellows whenever occasion offered. In this he was only moderately successful. His ranch still held the precedence as a substantial dependence. But like a “will-o’-the-wisp ” in the distance, he ever beheld the glowing treasures he would possess, and expecting to approach and grasp them, he continued the pursuit for gold. His time was not all occupied in mining. He took as usual a general interest in the affairs of the town, which, mushroom-like, had suddenly grown to astonishing proportions, and in which had congregated a medley of human beings that would afford study for an ethnographer. There was enough to engage one of Jack’s temperament far more than his leisure hours. Many a night, as well as day, was spent in searching out the well-laid schemes of treacherous men, and thwarting their designs for robbery and murder, or whatever wickedness might be disclosed. In not a few instances life paid the penalty of their crime.


On the evening stage from the mountains, June 27, 187—, was a jolly trio of men. That their coming would result in mischief was only too evident. Partially intoxicated, they incautiously allowed words to escape that gave Jack, who had come to witness the arrivals with many others, the key to their plans. They knew of the presence in town of a wealthy capitalist having interests in that vicinity, and believing that he would have a considerable amount of ready means about him, they purposed awaiting his departure, with the intention of attacking the stage, and obtaining it. To frustrate their movements, Jack had asked the assistance of two of his friends, and after finding out the time set by the gentleman for his trip to the mine he desired to visit, they made their way to the spot they thought best suited to the object of the desperadoes. They had some time to wait before the rumbling of wheels told the approach of the six-in-hand held by Jake Timberlake. They could hear from their elevated position, a slight rustling below, and suppressed tones. Just as the team turned the sharp point of rocks where both parties were concealed, “Hands up!” rang out upon the air, and the stage was brought to a sudden halt; but only for a moment, ere Texas Jack with his friends, sprang forward. Completely surprised, the robbers could do nothing but submit to the same terms they had exacted; since the same invincible weapons stared them in the face with which they had compelled obedience. The stage-driver and passengers were only too glad to assist in securing the criminals, who were firmly bound and taken to the nearest place to await the demands of justice. Jack and his comrades returned to their labors, not the richer in money — this they would not accept — but happy in the consciousness of another victory won.


Soon after this occurrence he became afflicted with a lung difficulty, which grew more and more serious, and terminated in death.




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