Texas Jack in Dime Novels
Texas Jack, the living Scout, now performing with Buffalo Bill and Ned Buntline in the drama of the “Scouts of the Prairie,” is the hero of an exciting story just commenced in the New York Weekly.
The New York Times
March 18, 1873
The first Beadle & Adams dime novel, Malaeska: The Indian Wife of the White Hunter by Ann Sophia Stephens, sold 65,000 copies in a matter of months after its release in 1860. It was not original to Irwin Pedro Beadle’s publishing house but was a reprint of a prize-winning story in The Ladies’ Companion. Beadle offered Mrs. Stephens $250 dollars if she would allow him to reprint her work, and she accepted. Malaeska was an immediate success. This was no accident. The nation’s population had grown to over 30 million people, having increased by a staggering 1/3rd in the last decade, and they were largely literate.
Some scholars estimate that by the time the Civil War broke out, between 75 and 90% of adult white people were able to read. Dime novels were an early iteration of “pop fiction”, designed to be inexpensive, escapist, and easy to read. In this capacity, they were the first commercially successful mass literature in America. Consumers could briefly escape from the repetitive drudgery of urban life in tales of adventure on the western frontier. The dime novel format lasted through the turn of the century when it was replaced by pulp magazines, mass-market paperbacks, and comic books. The last dime novel serial to be published by New York’s Street & Smith publishing house was their New Buffalo Bill Weekly, in 1919.
The first Buffalo Bill dime novel by Ned Buntline was Buffalo Bill, The King of Border Men: the Wildest and Truest Story I Ever Wrote. It was not only an immediate, but also a long-lasting success and remained for sale in the Sears & Roebuck catalog until 1928 when it was offered for 22 cents. Its’ plot was a combination of events in the lives of both Cody and Hickok, combined and dramatized. Eager readers snatched up the serials as soon as they were released, and their popularity led to a shift in the subject of dime novels from colonial heroes and pirates to the men of the western frontier.
Buntline’s first Texas Jack dime novel, Texas Jack, The White King of the Pawnees, was also an immediate success. It was released just as Cody and Omohundro launched their stage careers and demand for western stories of the scouts reached a fever pitch. As the story was released to eager audiences, Buntline offered biographical information about Texas Jack to New York newspapers, and the Daily Graphic printed some of the details under the headline Ned Buntline’s Gold Mine:
Among the hunters of the Plains there is no name more familiar than that of ‘Texas Jack.’ This title has been assumed by many who had no right to it, and who have made money by trading on it, but it has now been ‘copyrighted’ according to the laws of the United States, so that ‘pirates’ must beware.
He was born in Western Virginia, and left seven years ago, and originally evinced a disposition for the sea. As a sailor he visited Australia, South America, the West Indies, etc., and was finally wrecked upon the coast of Texas. After this last misfortune he fell in with a herd of cattle-drovers, joined them, and became in short time the most successful cattle-driver Texas had ever known. He always made it a point to ‘lay out his own trails,’ and never follow those of other people.
In the late war he was a Confederate of the ‘deepest dye,’ during the first year serving as ‘headquarters courier’ to General Floyd, and afterwards acting as scout for the celebrated cavalry colonel, J.E.B. Stuart. In this latter capacity he was exposed to all manner of dangers, and had innumerable hair-breadth escapes.
After the war he was employed as guide from the Colorado to the Rio Grande River by parties in the cattle trade. He sometimes had the sole charge of 8000 head of cattle, and seldom met with any serious incident. As guide, he traversed the greater portion of the States of Kansas and Nebraska. He was at one time captured by the Indians, who kept him in confinement for nearly eight months, during which period he learned the Indian language perfectly, and became thoroughly acquainted with the Indian customs, especially their modes of fighting, which, in after times, he successfully employed against them.
He entered the service of the United States Government as a scout in 1872, and as such had command of about 4,000 Pawnee during their summer wanderings. About two years ago, while hunting in Nebraska, he made the acquaintance of ‘Buffalo Bill.’ The two men immediately became great friends, and in a short time entered into a partnership of buffalo skins and scalps. On one such occasion, when Buffalo Bill was at the mercy of a red-skinned marksman who had drawn a bead on him, Texas Jack discovered the fact just in time to make that noble red man bite the dust.
Along with the manuscript Buntline submitted to his publishers, Street & Smith, he included a letter describing his work:
Messrs. Street and Smith,
In furnishing to you the last page, it rejoices me to say, that in this story, "Texas Jack," I have given you the crowning effort of all my Western Series of Life-Pictures. Whether it is because I have had so much of the real history of the great original hero in my hands, or because I love him and his mate Buffalo Bill as if they were my own brothers, that I have succeeded so well, I cannot say. But I do say, and I know that your millions of intelligent readers will also say, that this is my VERY BEST story.
Edward Z. C. Judson
Eagle Lodge, in the Pines, Nov., 1872
Among the most prominent Texas Jack dime novels are the initial Texas Jack, the White King of the Pawnees and Texas Jack; or, Buffalo Bill’s Brother by Ned Buntline, his follow up, Texas Jack’s Chums; or, The Whirlwind of the West, and another story called Texas Jack, the Prairie Rattler; or, The Queen of the Wild Riders written by Bill Cody. Actually, the byline is “Told by Hon. Wm, F Cody — “Buffalo Bill”.
Whether Cody wrote all of the dime novels that were attributed to him is a matter of some conjecture. It seems likely that many were written by ghostwriters, but Cody biographer Don Russell, in his book The Lives and Legends of Buffalo Bill, writes that:
Absolute proof that Cody did write some of the material appearing under his name lies in the fact that at least one manuscript in his own handwriting has been preserved. It shows no sign of editing, and only a little of the improved spelling and punctuation his sister recorded; yet, it was a clean manuscript that an editor could have used with a minimum of editing. It is headed Grand Duke Alexis Buffalo Hunt, and it starts thus:
‘Probably if I have been asked once I have been asked twenty thousand times. What kind of a time did the Grand Duke have on the plains hunting buffalo was he a good rider. Was he a nice fellow socially. Could he speak good english. How many buffalo did he kill did you have to hold the buffalo for him was he a good horseman. Could he shoot well. And thousand of other questions…’
Russell points out Cody’s introduction to ask, “What is wrong with that beginning that a few capitals and question marks will not repair?” Reading through Cody’s later correspondence reveals a man that, while he might never have gained a full command of the hyphens, commas, question marks, and other of what Texas Jack laughingly referred to as ‘hiogliphicks,’ was literate enough to write down for editors the same kinds of stories he and Texas Jack shared around the campfire on hunting trips and scouts during their days at Fort McPherson.
The Texas Jack dime novels, along with later stories about Buck Taylor, a cowboy in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, provided the blueprint for the cowboy hero in books and movies that would come later. In Prentiss Ingraham’s The Wild Steer Riders; or, Texas Jack’s Steers, the hero is introduced as the ruffians first see him:
They beheld a man six feet in height, hardly over twenty-five or six, and with broad shoulders and a form as erect as a soldier's. He was dressed in fringed buckskin leggings, stuck into top-boots, and a gray merino shirt and hunting-jacket completed his attire, while a black sombrero sheltered his head.
His face was one to command respect, cast as it was with a perfection of feature that was striking. Darkly-bronzed was his complexion, and his brown hair, worn long upon his shoulders, and a dark mustache made up a face at once handsome, resolute and commanding. He carried a Colt's repeating-rifle and a pair of revolvers in his belt.
Only one dime novel laid claim to Texas Jack Omohundro as the author, Ned Wylde, the Boy Scout. Most dime novel scholars (yes, they exist) believe that this was actually written by Colonel Prentiss Ingraham. Gilbert Patten, another prolific dime novelist, wrote that Ingraham told him that he was the author of the story. Prentiss Ingraham, who was a colonel in the Confederacy, was born in Natchez, Mississippi in 1843. He initially wanted to become a doctor and had entered medical college in Mobile, Alabama before joining a Mississippi light artillery regiment when the Civil War broke out. He later joined a cavalry brigade in Texas, where he was captured by Union troops at the siege of Port Hudson. Ingraham escaped from the train that was carrying him to the prison camp and continued to fight with the cavalry until the end of the war.
Afterward, Ingraham joined Juarez’s forces in Mexico to fight against the French and then participated in various conflicts in South America, Austria, Crete, and Egypt. He eventually traveled to London where he took his first job as a writer, contributing stories of these conflicts to various newspapers. When he returned to the United States he was convinced to join Cuban rebels fighting against the Spanish, becoming a blockade runner. Aboard the ship Hornet, he broke the blockade several times before it was surrendered to the United States Navy. He achieved the rank of colonel in the Cuban navy, and captain in the Cuban army, and when he was captured by Spanish troops, a quick trial resulted in a death sentence. Once again, he escaped and returned to New York where he again took up writing, this time for Beadle and Adams. Between 1872 and his death in 1904, Ingraham published between 600 and 1,000 dime novels.
Omohundro and Ingraham were friends, and Texas Jack visited the writer's Gettysburg, Pennsylvania home on multiple occasions. It is also apparent that Cody recounted some of his friend’s adventures to the man while he was working for and traveling with the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show. The cowboy was central to the veneration of western life perpetuated by Cody’s traveling exhibition and central to Cody’s understanding of what a cowboy was and what he did was Bill’s friendship and partnership with Texas Jack. When Cody hired a cowboy to show to audiences in America and later in Europe, he was deliberately introducing the world to his old best friend and earliest stage partner, John Omohundro.
Another notable dime novel featuring Omohundro is Prentiss Ingraham’s Arizona Joe, the Boy Pard of Texas Jack, which tells the story of a scout that Texas Jack takes under his wing. Notable in this and other stories of Texas Jack is his treatment of the Indian and black men in his company. Traveling with Texas Jack in this story is Ebony, who Cody had earlier written about as Texas Jack’s friend and majordomo, a freed slave. Cody has Omohundro taking Ebony with him on adventures after the man has grown weary of “his lonely life on the ranch.” This character, named in some stories as Ebony Star, is included in several later Texas Jack stories. Lillian Schlissel, professor emerita and director of American studies at Brooklyn College-CUNY, wrote in her book Black Frontiers: A History of African American Heroes in The Old West that “Not many other books before 1900 showed friendships between a white man and a black man...The story of Arizona Joe is unusual because in it a black man, Star, rescues the hero, Joe Bruce, and saves his life. As with the Lone Ranger and Tonto, the Ebony Star is Texas Jack’s powerful friend and ally...Star has a place in the legends of the Old West.” Cody wrote his friend as he saw him, magnanimous to his friends, good-natured until challenged, and merciful to his enemies.
Even when he wasn’t the title character in dime novels, Texas Jack was often featured in the subtitle of works such as Buffalo Bill’s Red Skin Ruse; or, Texas Jack’s Dead Shot, The Wild Steer Riders; or, Texas Jack’s Terrors, The Ranch King Deadshot; or, Texas Jack’s Proxy, and Buffalo Bill’s Flush Hand; or, Texas Jack’s Bravos. Omohundro also appeared in many stories that don’t list his name in the title at all. Often Jack appears in Buffalo Bill stories, ever there to encourage and assist his pard in his darkest hours. Notably, Omohundro appears in the majority of the stories penned by his old friend Bill Cody, a lasting testament to the friendship of the two fellow scouts and showmen.
The appeal of Texas Jack in literature was not limited to American audiences. A German dime novel series named after Omohundro began in 1906 and published a total of 215 issues before ceasing publication in 1911. The appeal of the scout saw the entire run of the series reprinted under the title Die Grosse Kundschafter (The Big Scout) in 1911, Texas Jack, Der Grosse Kundschafter between 1930 and 1932, and finally as Texas Jack Der Grosse Kundschafter Neue Folge (New Edition) in 1934. In the German books, Texas Jack’s adventures take him to Mexico to fight the French soldiers, an enemy the readers of a post-World War I Germany could easily appreciate.
The French had their own Texas Jack series, titled Texas Jack, la Terreur Des Indiens (Texas Jack, the Terror of the Indians) which ran for 100 issues from 1911 to 1912. A Swedish series of 29 issues was titled Texas Jack, Amerikas mest berömde indianbekämpare (Texas Jack, America’s Most Famous Indian Fighter). Similar series existed in Finland, Denmark, Poland, Holland, Portugal, and Italy. In Sweden, Texas Jack stories were published as late as 1955.
The appeal of Texas Jack in literature is not limited to his appearance in dime novels. Joel Chandler Harris, the famed author of the Uncle Remus stories, wrote in his story Why the Confederacy Failed, published in the Saturday Evening Post in December of 1899, that Omohundro was with John Wilkes Booth shortly before the actor assassinated President Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre on April 14th, 1865.
Harris describes an encounter during the Civil War when the young Omohundro, disguised as a chicken merchant, approaches a soldier named Captain Larry McCarthy in Washington D.C. Omohundro comments to the soldier, “I reckon you’re a new man to these parts. I’ve been tradin’ an traffickin’ roun’ here fer some time, but I ain’t never saw you before. What might your name be?”
The Captain responds that his name might be anything, but that it was McCarthy. Verifying the name, Omohundro gives the man a container full of chickens resting on bits of old string, insisting that a woman he had met made him promise to give it to the Captain when he arrived. Telling the man to keep the longest string, Jack departs, leaving the soldier alone with a container full of chicken and string.
In Harris’ story, the longest string that Jack had advised the Captain to keep is wrapped with a small piece of tissue paper containing a message from General Stuart. The message mentions that it was carried by, “the brightest, bravest, and most trustworthy scout in the army.” The Captain recalled laughing at this, for he “no more believed that the person who delivered me the message was John Omahundro [sic] of whom I had heard a great deal, than I believed that I, myself, was Secretary (of War Edwin) Stanton.”
Harris also has Jack warning a friend that, “We are going to have trouble, sure; that fellow Booth is getting ready to do something desperate. I tell you he’s crazy. I’ve been talking to him, and he’s wild on the subject of ridding the country of tyrants and oppressors.” Omohundro then locks Booth in a hotel room, only to return to find the actor has escaped through the window to proceed to his regicidal appointment with fate.
A neighbor of the Omohundro family in Palmyra wrote a letter to the editor of the publication outraged that Chandler had connected Jack with the slayer of Lincoln and stating that, “On the day of Lincoln’s assassination and all that week, Jack was at work on his farm, in sight of the window from which I write...This fact can be vouched for by several persons here.”
Texas Jack’s popularity as a fictional character extends well past the dime novels and Civil War stories of his day. Larry McMurtry included Omohundro, as well as Josephine Morlacchi, as characters in his 2006 novel Telegraph Days. Johnny D Boggs’ book East of the Border is a fictionalized telling of Cody, Omohundro, and Hickok’s season on the dramatic stage. Peter Bowen includes him as a character in his own novel, Yellowstone Kelly: Gentleman and Scout, about that other real life scout and associate Omohundro. A 2016 supernatural thriller by Robin D. Owens, Ghost Talker, has the ghost of Texas Jack assisting a pair of investigators in an adventure that takes them to the graves of both Bill Cody and Texas Jack himself.