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  • Matthew Kerns

Memorial Day 2019

Before they were legends of the Wild West, the three men who would be billed as "The Scouts of the Plains" were soldiers—veterans of the Civil War, or "the recent unpleasantness," as Texas Jack occasionally called it. The Bills—Wild and Buffalo—were Yankees, both involved in Free State Kansas activities and clad in Union blue throughout the war. Texas Jack was a Confederate, serving as a spy and scout in JEB Stuart's cavalry in his native Virginia, where his father owned a large plantation and as many as twenty-five slaves.


The grave of Buffalo Bill Cody and his wife Louisa on Lookout Mountain in Colorado.

Though these men served on opposite sides and fought on opposite sides of the battlefield, it didn't seem to matter on the trails, prairies, and plains of the West. When the Army refused to allow the former Confederate soldier Texas Jack to serve as a scout, Union veteran Buffalo Bill Cody wrote personally to the Secretary of War, vouching for his friend. Officers stationed at Fort McPherson did the same, one going so far as to say that Omohundro "is a very good trailer and a brave man, who knows the country well, and I respectfully recommend his employment as a guide should the service of one other than Mr. Cody be needed.” None other than General Phil Sheridan, who commanded the troops that fought against and seriously wounded Texas Jack at the Battle of Trevilian Station, would eventually recommend the cowboy to accompany and supervise the Pawnee on their annual buffalo hunt and to escort Grand Duke Alexis of Russia and the Earl of Dunraven on their own buffalo hunting excursions.

"Colorado" Charlie Utter at the grave of Wild Bill Hickok, in Deadwood, South Dakota.

Jack would go on to scout for the Army both in Nebraska, and in Montana and South Dakota following the death of General Custer (who also fought on the opposite side of the battlefield from Texas Jack) at the Little Bighorn. General Terry would come to respect in Texas Jack all of the same qualities that had made the former cowboy so valuable to JEB Stuart a decade earlier. Regardless of the flag that Jack fought under during the Civil War, he earned the Stars & Stripes that often adorns his gravesite today.

The grave of Texas Jack Omohundro, in Leadville, Colorado.

In some ways, the partnership of Buffalo Bill and Texas Jack—both on and off stage—can be seen as a simulacrum of reconstruction. To northern audiences, this was a reminder that the southern man was as vital and able as the northerner, and to southern crowds, it served as a sign that unity and even friendship were possible between the soldiers from both sides of the conflict. The Mason-Dixon line, with all that it implied, did not exist west of the Mississippi River.

Buffalo Bill Cody at the grave of Texas Jack in Leadville, Colorado, 1908.

The memorials for each man will be visited this Memorial Day, decorated with flowers, mementos, and coins left by veterans showing respect for those who went before. We can image what went through Texas Jack's head as he stood at the gravesite of his friend Wild Bill Hickok, or how Buffalo Bill felt as he spoke to his Wild West cast at the grave of Texas Jack. We're thankful to these men, and their service, as we are to all of those who served, before and since.

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