In a captivating series of photographs from November 1872, one can glimpse a moment in time, just before two iconic figures of the American West, Texas Jack Omohundro and Buffalo Bill Cody, transitioned from the untamed prairies of Nebraska to the theatrical limelight.
Texas Jack, the first cowboy to rise to national prominence in American history, stands out with his unmistakable cowboy bravado, the silhouette in buckskin and Stetson that would soon become iconic. Alongside him in these images are the Earl of Dunraven and his personal physician, Dr. George Kingsley, both captured in the distinct attire of the period.
Intriguingly, a third image presents Texas Jack with a woman whose identity is believed to be Ena Palmer. Hailing from Savannah, Ena's tragic past—a heart-wrenching tale of her brother fatally shooting her fiancé—brought her westward to Nebraska. Together, these photographs provide a rare window into the intersections of fame, nobility, and personal stories on the American frontier.
Earlier this summer, I visited the Lincoln County Museum in North Platte, Nebraska. While there, I saw an image of the Earl of Dunraven's trip to Fort McPherson in the fall of 1872, and immediately recognized one of the men in the picture as Texas Jack. More information about that picture can be found at https://www.dimelibrary.com/post/texas-jack-at-fort-mcpherson, but I pointed out the similarities I saw between that image and a picture of Jack taken just over a month later when the Scouts of the Prairie premiered in Chicago.
Recently, I discovered that the image I saw at the Lincoln County Museum is part of a series of photographs taken at Fort McPherson during the Earl's visit. The other images are in the archive of the Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming.
Here is the version of the above image at the Center.
This version of the image has a handwritten caption reading "Lord Dunraven and Lord Parker," likely written years after the picture was taken. Lord Parker (Earl of Macclesfield) wasn't in Nebraska, or the United States, when Dunraven visited Nebraska. The actual Lord Parker, Thomas Augustus Wolstenholme Parker, was 61 years old at the time. His son, Viscount George Augustus Parker, was the right age, but was in England for a highly publicized bankruptcy trial during Dunraven's hunt. The Viscount died before his father and never assumed the title of Lord Parker. George Augustus' son, George Loveden William Henry Parker, assumed the title after his grandfather's death, but he wasn't born until 16 years after Texas Jack and Dunraven hunted together.
The handwritten caption on this second picture says "Lord Dunraven's Quarters," the building where Dunraven and his friend Dr. George Kingsley stayed while they were at Ft. McPherson. I believe that's Dunraven on the right and Kingsley on the left, with Texas Jack pictured second from left. The man standing second from the right is very clearly the man standing on the left in the first photograph. The man sitting in the middle looks to be the same man on horseback on the right side of the first picture.
The third photo is labeled as "Lord and Lady Dunraven." This is incorrect. Dunraven's wife did not accompany him in 1872, when this picture was taken. There are now newspaper listings in America from the period that mention her presence at any of Lord Dunraven's stops, and Kingsley does not mention her presence in any of his letters home to his own wife during the trip Also, this is clearly the same man in both the other photos, and it very much, to me at least, looks like Texas Jack.
I believe that the woman in the picture is Ena Palmer. In a letter home to his wife, George Kinglsey mentions that "[Texas Jack] has his love and his longings out here, the pale maiden who lives down on the Median [Medicine] River, who rides like a chipney, writes poetry by the yard, shoots pistols as well as Jack himself—and he is the best shot in the territory—and is altogether the proudest, tenderest, coldest, lovingest, most inscrutable darling to be found on " God-a-Mighty's footstool. " I thought also that this wild huntress of the plains lived only in the romances of Mayne Reid and the "dime" novels, but here she is, warm flesh and blood, as wild and as strange and as full of contradictions as the most Bourbon-inspired novelist ever dreamt of."
In her diaries, Ena mentions getting to meet the Earl while he and Texas Jack were hunting, so it stands to reason that she and Jack were close enough to get their picture taken together at Fort McPherson around the time that Dunraven was there. It is hard to tell much in a photo of this age/quality, but here's a picture of Ena for comparison.
The rich tapestry of the American West is woven with tales of legendary figures, untamed landscapes, and stories that teeter between fact and fiction. These photographs from 1872, a tumultuous period teeming with change and adventure, capture just a sliver of this expansive narrative. Texas Jack Omohundro, with his characteristic cowboy flair, epitomizes the spirit of the frontier, and his association with figures like the Earl of Dunraven and Ena Palmer offers a complex intersection of aristocracy, tragedy, and rugged individualism. However, as with any historical exploration, deciphering the truths concealed within these images demands a discerning eye. The inconsistencies in handwritten captions, coupled with cross-references from contemporary accounts, demonstrate that history is not always a straightforward chronicle. Rather, it's a mosaic of memories, sometimes mislabeled and misremembered. Yet, through meticulous research and a passion for uncovering the past, we can attempt to piece together the enigma that is the American frontier, appreciating its nuanced characters and their indelible imprint on the nation's legacy.