It was a quiet Monday afternoon at the Printing House Square offices of the New York Sun newspaper in late October of 1877. An editor sat working at his desk when he heard the heavy footsteps of a pair of leather cavalry boots approaching. As he looked up from his work, the editor saw a tall man in a fringed buckskin jacket and a large Stetson hat approaching with a folded newspaper in his hand. The man's eyes were focused on the editor and his lips were drawn into a frown beneath his mustache.
The man removed his hat and flung it on the editor's desk before dragging a nearby chair over, unfolding the copy of the paper he was carrying and placing it in front of the editor, and pointing to an article with a scarred finger.
"That's the most outrageous lie I ever read," said the man.
The editor quickly scanned the article in question, an extract from the prior day's edition of the Sun, reprinted from the Sioux City Weekly Journal. The article was about a British Army Captain and his aristocratic guest who had recently visited Sioux City after a long trek through the wildest parts of Wyoming.
"B. T. Birmingham has returned to this city from Rawlins, Wyoming, where he has been collecting specimens to send to England. He and Captain Bayley will be remembered as the two Englishmen who left this city in the early summer for the great unknown country of our Northwestern frontier, under the guidance of the notorious Texas Jack. If they should ever go again, they would not go under the guidance of Texas Jack.
When they employed him it was with the understanding that he had been all through Yellowstone Park and the adjacent regions, but it was discovered that, instead of his having explored even the Park, he had simply gone on the ordinary wagon road as far as the Mud Volcano, and then returned the same way. He professed full information in regard to the Geysers, but the only knowledge he exhibited was what he had probably collected from books and magazines. The result is that he was no guide whatever for the party, either in the Park or in the surrounding country—in fact, he had them lost for three weeks.
Jack is a fair shot when he has his gun leveled at clawless game; but when it comes to attacking anything which is able to fight, he prefers to let it alone. By some correspondences forwarded to Eastern papers, he sought to make it appear that in a contest with two grizzlies he gave the Englishman a sample of what real courage is. The real circumstances were that he didn’t want to stir the bears up, but Birmingham told him that it was for just such fun he had taken the trip; and so while Jack held his horse the Englishman slipped up and killed one of the animals, wounded the other, and pursued it into the sagebrush. This and other episodes knocked the stilts from under Jack’s pretensions of being a hunter.
Fortunately for the party, there was not much difficulty with the Indians during the trip. When within about thirty miles of Bozeman, it was feared that there was some danger, and Jack then wanted to leave the party. He was told that right then was the time he was most needed because every man counted when it came to such a conflict as appeared to be imminent. He replied that he could look out for himself, and the rest might do the same for themselves, and he quit the party abruptly in the very contingency for which he had been engaged as guide and guard.
From this, his employers came to the conclusion that the stories about Texas Jack being such a terrific Indian fighter are rather on the dime novel order. They met two other guides, who exhibited real bravery and acquaintance with their surroundings. These were Boney Earnest and Tom Sun, both of whom make their headquarters at Fort Fred Steele. These old hunters made no boast of their prowess, but were on hand in every difficulty, while Jack’s chief glories were won with his tongue. He is now in the East displaying them on the stage, where there is no chance to disprove his claims in actual service."
The editor finished reading and looked back to Texas Jack, who had put his feet up on the corner of the desk while waiting, but now stood up and leaned over to tap the headline of the article, in bold black letters of the Sunday edition, that read "Dime Novel Jack - A Stage Indian Fighter Accused of Cowardice on the Plains."
“It’s a lie from beginning to end," exclaimed Jack, "and I can’t see how any man could have the cheek to write it.” The editor mildly suggested that perhaps the language in the article was a little strong, but was interrupted by Jack pointing again to one word in the article—six letters that he could not abide. Coward. Jack pounded the editor's desk with his fist as he expressed his rage at such an outrageous insult. When the editor asked how he could help correct the record, Jack's temper cooled and he sat back down.
“I ain’t much of a newspaper man,” Jack said, “but I can tell the story and you can take it down and fix it just as you want to. That’s what I say—that’s a lie. I would be willing to wager a year’s salary that I know that country of which this thing speaks better than any living man, and yet this thing makes it out that I don’t know anything at all about it.
“I’ll tell you my connection with that party of Englishmen, and of that trip. I told ’em when we started that no man knew definitely the route to the Geysers; but I could and would take them safely through to the Yellowstone Park; and I did it. I can’t understand how any person could get up such a tissue of barefaced lies, for all their statements I can prove to be untrue.
“In the first place—in the first place it is stated that I had never gone to the Mud Volcanoes, as a guide, through the wilderness, but simply by the ordinary wagon road. Now I can prove beyond all question that there isn’t a wagon road within twenty miles of the Mud Geysers. Again, I can prove that I took the men without trouble right to the Mud Volcanoes, and then we were jumped by the Nez Perce Indians. I took them safely out of the basin just in time, for we had barely left the region when the Cowan and Carpenter party were massacred. The very day, in fact, on which we left the basin the other party were shot down. We made a long march that day of twenty-six miles, and went into camp after I had gone out and killed a deer for our supper.
"The article says that I was afraid to tackle a grizzly bar. That is the biggest lie of all. I’ll take my Bible oath that of all the bars killed on the trip, I killed more than half single-handed.”
“How many were killed?” asked the editor.
“About twenty-two, and I’ll bet I killed nearly twenty. Now, on the day when they said I refused to go out with Birmingham to tackle a grizzie, I was sick in camp, and I had also had a row with him in the morning on account of words he had given me. That same day I was attacked by a bar, the biggest I ever saw—must have weighed over 2,200 pounds. I wounded him, and he clawed me, and I just escaped with my life.
“About my wishing to leave the party, it is just here. On the very day when I was expected to be on a Chicago stage practicing with imitation Indians in my play, I was in the heart of the wilderness surrounded with Nez Perces. With our repeating rifles we kept them at bay from a rampart of the rocks, and I took them safely, with all my pack horses, twelve in number, out of the reach of the redskins. Every other party in the region either lost their lives or had their stock stampeded.
“And yet this article says that as an Indian fighter I am no good? I telegraphed my wife that I had escaped the massacre, as it was reported that I had been killed together with my party. I also sent word to my manager in Chicago that I would be in that city on a certain day, and then I told my party that I must go back to the settlement at once. On the strength of this, it is asserted that I wanted to desert my party.”
“Where did you leave them?” the editor probed.
“I saw my party safe in Bozeman before I left them. On the way to that place, I escorted Mrs. Cowan and Miss Ida Carpenter, who had escaped the massacre. I protected the rear, and several times we were fired on by Nez Perces Indians. I had my stirrup shot away and a ball shot through my hand. Right here, see. It isn’t healed yet.”
Texas Jack showed the editor the fresh bullet wound on his hand before he left, and the editor assured the cowboy-turned-actor that he would print Jack's story verbatim in the next day's edition. Jack returned to his hotel and wrote a letter to the Sioux City Journal, which had printed the original story.
Though I may not lay all actual blame to you for the publication of the cowardly and scandalous article about me which appeared in your paper some time since, I ask you to do me the justice to contradict it. If you do not see fit to do this, at least do me the justice to give me the name of your informant. I suspect that the information was given by B. T. Birmingham, whom I consider to be a renegade Englishman, and because I did not give him credit for acts of bravery that he never performed, he has taken a mean advantage of my absence, which he never would have dared to have done had I been in his neighborhood.
Birmingham wanted me to put his name in the papers some time since and I refused, but now I will oblige him, and when he sees it in the different papers throughout the United States he will regret the fact that he ever tried to injure me. Let me further add that I regard Capt. Bayley as a perfect gentleman, and I greatly wonder that he should ever have been mixed up with such a blot upon the western frontier as Birmingham.
If you will take the trouble to interview Boney Earnest and Tom Sun, they will vouch for the fact that I have always proved myself what I represented myself—a man, a gentleman, and a scout. And let me further add that I denounce all of Birmingham’s statements as a tissue of lies. In regard to all Indian difficulties, I refer to Mr. Frank Carpenter and his two sisters, Mrs. Emma Cowan and Miss Ida Carpenter. If they do not say that I aided them during the Nez Perces [sic] trouble, then I am willing that I should not be considered what I now am.
Permit me to state further that my character can and will be vouched for by any of the old frontiersmen, or any of the army officers with whom I have served as guide.
J. B. Omohundro
Boney Earnest, the other scout who had joined Texas Jack on the expedition, was later interviewed by another paper and his story backed up Texas Jack's, as did the story of Frank Carpenter, whose brother-in-law was shot by the Nez Perce and who escaped with his sisters under the watchful guidance of Omohundro.
The vast majority of news articles were not attributed to their authors, and this allowed reporters the option of penning damning and libelous reports without fear of reprisal. It was not often that the subject of such pieces walked into the editorial room, flung his Stetson down, pounded his fist on the desk, and demanded that his version of events be given column space in order to clear his name. It seems that Texas Jack took questions of his integrity personally and saw anything that damaged his public reputation as a threat to his livelihood, both in the wilderness and on the stage.