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  • Matthew Kerns

Texas Jack, the Prairie Rattler

The Papers For The People Dime Novel Symposium concludes tonight (November 5, 2020) at: https://dimenovels.lib.niu.edu/papers-for-the-people

My spotlight for this story is available at: https://dimenovels.lib.niu.edu/learn/spotlights/texasjack


Buffalo Bill Cody’s dime-novel story about Texas Jack appeared in 1883, along with another book titled Wild Bill, the Whirlwind of the West. 1883 was the year that Cody began his Wild West shows, and he may have been feeling particularly sentimental about his former partners and friends. His story about Omohundro begins with Texas Jack meeting a Mexican Don on the prairie, who claims that Jack, though he doesn’t recognize or remember him, saved the man’s daughter from an escaped bull some time before. Cody’s description of his friend belies his affection:


The Texan was also well mounted upon a clay-bank horse, with a long silver mane and tail, and every indication of speed and bottom, though he had a vicious look in his eyes as he glared at the animal ridden by the Mexican.


His saddle and bridle were of elegant workmanship, studded with silver, trimmed with the skins of wild animals, and with a long lariat coiled around the horn.

The rider was J. B. Omohundro—Texas Jack — a man whose life upon the southwest prairies and the northern plains has been one long scene of adventure, and of reality that casts romance in shadow.


A man of superb physique, wiry as an Indian and as untiring, he had a handsome face, full of light-heartedness, as though he looked ever upon the sunny side of life, and yet every feature was stamped with character, and the merry twinkle of his eyes could change in an instant into a deadly light, the smiling, reckless mouth become as firm as adamant.


He was dressed in buckskin leggings, stuck in cavalry boots, the heels of which were armed with massive spurs of solid gold which jingled at every movement of his feet; a velvet jacket, adorned with buttons innumerable, a la Mexican, a gray shirt with a black silk scarf knotted sailor fashion, and a broad-brimmed sombrero, the rim and crown encircled with an embroidered wreath in gold thread, and a large gold five-point star looping it up upon one side.


Certainly he was a striking-looking man, whether met on the prairie or in the town, and, with the repeating rifle slung at his back, and his belt of arms, a most formidable-looking adversary.


After ascertaining from the Don that his daughter has been kidnapped by a Comanche named Iron Arm, Texas Jack sets off with his Indian friend, a Tonkawa called Red Snake, and his stallion Yellow Chief to rescue the damsel. Jack manages to save the girl by roping her with his lasso but is captured by Iron Arm, leading to a fight between the two while the maiden hung over a cliff suspended by Omohundro’s lariat. When Jack manages to defeat Iron Arm, another Comanche drops on him from a tree, and another fight ensues, with the Comanche seeking to force Texas Jack over the cliff and to his death. Quick reactions by Jack save him as his enemy plunges over the precipice. Escaping with the girl, Jack is surprised by another Comanche, who grabs the maiden from her horse and races back towards Iron Arm, leaving Texas Jack to promise, “If I cannot save her I will kill her, rather than have her meet the fate that awaits her there!”


Racing in pursuit of the lady and Iron Arm, and away from a dozen Comanche that descended from the cliff to pursue him, Cody describes that:


Coming like a tornado in pursuit was Texas Jack, urging Yellow Chief to his utmost, and certainly gaining on the animal he pursued.


Bending forward in her saddle, as though all strength and hope had left her, was the maiden, clinging despairingly to the horse’s mane, and gazing upon the Indians in her front.


A few more bounds, and the flying horse reached the base of the cliff, and half a dozen strong arms seized the bridle, while others drew her from the saddle.

That instant Texas Jack dashed upon the scene, his revolvers in either hand.

Then he sprung to the ground and the rattle of his revolvers made deadly music, and he rushed directly upon the savages bearing the maiden away.



While Texas Jack confronts the Comanche, Red Snake sneaks in and leads Yellow Chief and Iron Arm’s horse away, to ensure their exit should Jack survive. Jack tells the maiden to make the Indians carry her to Iron Arm rather than walking, as he has devised a plan to escape. The two are taken back to the Comanche village, where they are locked in a cabin to await their fate. Soon after they arrive in the village, a scout comes in to report that the Indians that Jack had defeated earlier had been scalped. Jack knows that his Tonkawa friend is responsible, and Iron Arm sends his braves out to search for Jack’s associate.


Meanwhile, Jack and the maiden manage to untie each other and retrieve Jack’s belt with his revolvers and knives. Red Snake, disguised as a Comanche chief, kills the guard on the house, and the three prepare to escape the village after Jack and the maiden follow the Tonkawa’s example and feign Comanche dress. A harrowing horse chase later, and the trio arrive at Mission San Juan, the hacienda of Don Castro Rivera, the girl’s father. The Don is overjoyed at the return of his daughter, but everyone is shocked when it is revealed that despite the fact that the maiden looks and sounds like Rena Rivera, the daughter of the Don, she isn’t his child after all.



After a brief discussion, Jack and his native friend immediately set off on the trail of the real Rena Rivera. The two decide that if she wasn’t taken by the Comanche, the Don’s daughter must have ended up with the Tigers of the Chaparral, a notorious group of Mexican renegades and outlaws that has been the scourge of the plains for many months. Arriving at the bandits camp, the pair discover that there has already been a fight, and deduce from the signs of struggle that Senorita Rivera must have been taken from the Tigers by another group of men, the Wild Riders of the Staked Plain. The duo is then attacked by an actual chaparral tiger, a mountain lion that springs upon them from a nearby tree. After taking care of the beast, they discover a pair of Mexican guards who tell them that the maiden was indeed taken by the Wild Rider Chief. Suddenly, the King of the Tigers arrives and lassos Texas Jack, who quickly asks to be taken to their camp, knowing that Red Snake will return and walk into their trap if they remain. At the Tigers’ camp, Jack offers to trade for Donna Rivera, and the men inform their leader that she has been taken from them by the Wild Riders. Texas Jack is surprised to discover that his old foe Dick Turpin is among the bandits.


Red Snake, having ascertained what happened to Texas Jack, follows the trail to the Tigers’ hideout, and ambushes their guards before approaching the cave they are holding Jack in. There, discovering that Dick Turbin, who the Tigers’ call Lone Star, is guarding Jack, Red Snake readies his bow to dispatch the bandit. Inside, Jack hears the commotion and hopes that it is his friend here to rescue him. When Red Snake comes through the door, Texas Jack is surprised again to discover that the Tonkawa has brought Jack’s weapons and horses for them to ride. Red Snake tells Texas Jack that they will not be pursued by the Tigers, as he has killed their ponies. Jack is devastated by the loss of the horses’ lives, but happy to escape. The two take their Mexican prisoner and set off toward the Staked Plains to track down the Wild Riders.


That night, Jack, Red Snake, and their captive are awakened by the sound of horses and discover that the Wild Riders are nearby and that a woman rider is a part of their group. The captive confirms that he had heard a rumor that one of the deadly Wild Riders was indeed a woman. Jack wonders if this woman is Rena Rivera, but decides to press on towards the Wild Riders’ camp rather than follow the group that rode by in the night. Jack frees the captive, who has come to respect him, saying “Thank you senor, for your advice, and believe me, I no longer look upon Texas Jack as a foe, and if luck goes hard with you, and the Tigers again get their claws upon you, you will find me your friend; yes, and the friend of the Tonkawa too.”



Jack and Red Snake head into the desolate Staked Plain, following the trail left by the band that passed them the night before. Making a shelter from the harsh sun, the two crest the hill behind their camp to scout when they are shocked to see a white horse and a woman dressed in white astride it. This is Donna Rivera, and Jack yells to her, explaining that they are friends, but the lady takes off, and Jack and Red Snake are forced to pursue. As they chase her, Jack and the Tonkawa are surprised when she leaves the trail, and they set off across the uncharted plain to follow her. When her beautiful white horse speeds up, the pair realize that they have no hope of catching her. She stops before cresting a hill and waves at them before disappearing, confounding Jack.


After resting their horses, the pair continue to pursue the maiden, only to find that they have lost not only her trail but their own leading back the way they had come. Settling in for the night, the two are miserable in the heat, and spend a sleepless night before giving the horses the last of their water and once again setting forth to look for the senorita. Just when it seems that they will never find their way out of the desert, they hear the sound of approaching hoofs. It is Donna Rivera once again, and this time she beckons for the weary men to follow her, leading them into a thick copse of trees. A crystal clear pool bubbles in the midst of the trees, and the men and their horses drink deeply from it, only to discover that the maiden has again disappeared. Nearby, they find two horses with full gear and a note addressed to Señor Omohundro, ‘Texas Jack, the Prairie Rattler,’ explaining that she had saved them from the desert and that they must now keep her secret. Just as the pair question what this might mean, they see her riding away from them and into the distant horizon. Just as she begins to crest the hill, she is lassoed by two horsemen. Quickly pulling a revolver, she manages to kill one of the men, but the other man binds her and flees on his own horse.


Recognizing the men who took the senorita as Tigers, Jack and Red Snake return to the Tigers’ hideout to rescue her. Waiting in hiding, the pair gets the drop on the Tiger King and three of his men, but just as Jack is releasing his lariat to capture the leader, the maiden’s white horse knocks him down, allowing the King and one of his men to escape. As Jack and Red Snake pursue, the Tonkawa warrior releases a war cry, only to be answered by the war-whoops of six Comanche that are now pursuing Donna Rivera. A flash of revolver fire reveals to Texas Jack that one of the Comanche in front of him is Iron Arm, who quickly warns his men that “Yes, that is Texas Jack, and the other is his Tonkawa pard, and no two men in Texas are to be more dreaded.” The double race continued, with Senorita Rivera on her horse with the Tiger King being pursued by Iron Arm and his Comanche, who were in turn chased by Texas Jack and Red Snake. As they sped along, Jack picked off Comanche with his repeating rifle, causing Iron Arm to halt and face him:


With deafening yells the Comanche charged, firing as they came, while their chief fired his rifle, also a repeater, and it seemed as though in their headlong flight they must sweep over the two men who stood at bay.


But Texas Jack was as cool as an icicle, and aimed with deadly effect, dropping two ponies and a warrior dead, and wounding another, while the Tonkawa also brought down a horse.


Seeing that his warriors didn’t stand a chance against Texas Jack, Iron Arm fled in pursuit of the maiden. Jack is forced to shoot his horse which was wounded beyond aid in the firefight, and on a Comanche steed sets off to pursue Iron Arm. He quickly decides that they have lost Iron Arm and won’t be able to find him in the dark. After a few hours’ rest, the pair again follow the double trail of Iron Arm and the Tigers. The pair is amazed by the endurance of the Senorita’s white horse, which has apparently outrun Iron Arm without rest.


Eventually, the duo catches up with the white horse but fear that the senorita, slumped upon his back, must have died. As they approach they find that she is indeed alive, but has fainted and needs desperate attention. The two ride with her to her father’s hacienda. There they discovered to their amazement that the Don’s daughter, Rena Rivera, is with him, and the Don believes that the woman in white that they have brought to his hacienda is the same maiden they had brought to him some days before.


Rena claims that she was captured by the Tigers, and then taken by the Wild Riders, who returned her to her father’s home unharmed and demanding no ransom. The Don explains that the maiden that Texas Jack had brought to the hacienda disappeared that same night without a trace. Rena refuses to explain where the Wild Riders took her, and the men decide that the next time the maiden leaves the hacienda, they will follow her to see where this trail ends.


When the maiden finally awakes, she introduces herself to Rena as Camila, and as they talk Camila decides that the Don’s daughter is keeping some secret from her. Jack and Red Snake spend the day in relaxation, recovering from the ordeals of the previous days, only to discover at night that the woman in white has once again departed from the hacienda under the cover of darkness. Reunited with his own horse, Yellow Chief, Jack departs with Red Snake to trail Camila and discover the truth about her. At the hacienda, Rena discovers a note left for her by the departed Camila, thanking her and her father for their hospitality and apologizing that she could not explain the mystery of who she is.


A mysterious guest arrives at the gates of the Don’s home, and when Don Rivera greets him, he is surprised to see Mark Melton, a man who had been in the Don’s good graces until a falling out sometime before. When the man explains himself and apologizes for his transgressions, the Don forgives him. We learn that Mr. Melton had at one time asked for the hand of the Don’s daughter, who respected him as her father’s friend but never loved him. Rena expresses to her father her feeling that Melton has come to their home with a sinister motive. The Don worries that if Melton has spent time in Mexico, as he claims, he may have learned the truth about who Don Castro Rivera really is. Melton overhears the Don speaking to his daughter about his concerns and admits that he has come with an offer for him.



Following the maiden Camila, Jack and Red Snake are pursued by the Tigers and are again forced to head into the Staked Plain. The Tigers have the advantage of well-rested and watered horses and pursue the duo as they head into the desert. Eventually, the Tigers break off their pursuit, but by now Texas Jack, Red Snake, and their horses are exhausted. They collapse behind a sandhill and wait until night, when they set off at a snail’s pace towards the prairie, seeking to escape the confines of the brutally hot Staked Plain. Red Snake is exhibiting the signs of heatstroke and eventually gives out, telling Jack that he is dying and that Jack has to go on and save himself. Though he sees the wisdom in his friend’s words, Jack is unwilling to leave Red Snake body without a burial, so he uses the last of his energy reserves to dig a grave for his dead friend.


“Farewell, brave, noble Tonkawa, and may your body rest in peace, and your dream of joy in the happy hunting-grounds be realized,” Jack mutters and sets off, in his despair over losing his friend and no longer paying attention to where he is going. As the sun begins to rise, Jack collapses, unable to continue. Just before he falls from his saddle, he hears the sound of a horse's hooves. He looks to see the Wild Riders, and prepares to meet his death at the hands of his foes when a rider dashes to the front and shouts, “Ah senor, once more we meet and thank Heaven I am just in the nick of time to save you, for you have the Plain fever upon you, I see.”


We flash to the maiden Camila, who after leaving the hacienda rode her white horse deep into the Staked Plain, arriving at a ghastly monument made of the bones and skulls of humans, cattle, deer, buffalo, and other wild animals. Passing this, she rode towards a wagon, abandoned in the middle of the desert many years hence. She also rides past this, eventually coming to a sandy ridge where she is joined by first one lone rider, and then a series of mounted men. Eventually, a man on an ebony stallion rides forth, dressed immaculately and wearing a white sombrero. He welcomes Camila back to the Desert Island.



The Desert Island, fortress of the Wild Riders, is a natural depression in the sandhills of the Staked Plain that the Riders have improved by digging wells and trucking in fertile soil, making a home for themselves deep in the Staked Plain. Camila, the Queen of the Wild Riders, rests as she explains to the others where she has been. Ronaldo, the leader of the Wild Riders and Camila’s brother, tells her that he had seen the Tigers with a woman he assumed to be her and had sought to rescue her, only to discover that she was Donna Rena Rivera. Realizing the truth, he had returned her to her father’s home, and she had sworn to keep his and Camila’s identities as Wild Riders secret in appreciation.


It is Camila who has come now to the rescue of Texas Jack, and after providing water for the thirsty man and his horse, she introduces him to Don Ronaldo Rivas, Captain of the Wild Riders of the Staked Plain. Returning to the Rider’s camp, Jack rests and learns that the Riders, far from being a band of mercenaries and bandits, are part of a secret mission for the Mexican army, tasked with seeking out sixty conspirators against the Mexican government. Ronaldo tells Jack that he has executed or sent back to Mexico fifty-nine of his targets and that only John Melton, also known as Juan Meltos, King of the Man Tigers, remains. One other man, Don Valdos Gomez, was found to be innocent of his crimes and has had his ban of exile lifted. This man is currently living under the assumed named Don Castro Rivera.


The Wild Riders agree to ride with Texas Jack to capture the Tiger King, and Ronaldo tells him that they expect the Man Tigers to attempt to rob Don Rivera the next night when the Don’s daughter is married to the renegade Iron Arm. At the hacienda, Mr. Melton is joined by his childhood friend Captain Elberon, an American army officer. The captain’s soldiers are quartered at the hacienda. When the priest calls for the doors to be opened for the servants, Texas Jack walks in at the head of a group of Wild Riders. Iron Arm the renegade and Melton the conspirator are captured, along with the Tiger King, While the others celebrate, Jack mutters “Poor Tonkawa! I wish you still lived to enjoy the triumph.”



Don Rivera is overjoyed to learn that he has been found not guilty of conspiring against his government, but tells Ronaldo Rivas that he has come to love Texas and the Americans and that he will not return to Mexico. Rivas agrees, saying that he also would like to stay, especially if Rena will agree to marry him. Rena agrees, and Rivas informs the Don that when he fled Mexico after the birth of his daughter and death of his wife, he had not realized that the woman had carried twins. The nurse had escaped with Camila, who had been raised as Ronaldo’s sister but was actually the daughter of the Don. When Camila’s lover, Captain Vincent arrives, all agree to a spectacular double wedding, and “in spite of the numerous American officers, and Mexican dignitaries present, the most honored guest of the occasion was Texas Jack, the Prairie Rattler.”



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