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The Texas Jack Combination

In June of 1876, after four seasons of touring together as The Scouts, Buffalo Bill Cody and Texas Jack Omohundro split up their show.

In some ways, their parting was inevitable. For Bill Cody, he was splitting the lion's share of the revenue three ways—one part for himself, one part for Texas Jack, and one part for Jack's wife, the Peerless Morlacchi. Texas Jack wanted to spend more of his time out West, leading parties of aristocratic and wealthy Europeans into the American wilderness. In 1874, Jack had skipped the beginning of his tour with Cody to trek across the newly formed Yellowstone Park with the Earl of Dunraven. Dunraven's book about the adventure was being read by other parties who wanted to hire Jack to guide them on their own expeditions, and Jack wanted to accommodate them.

So in 1877, Texas Jack got a late start to his dramatic season compared to his best friend, and now friendly business rival, Buffalo Bill. Bill had launched his tour in October of 1876 in his adopted hometown of Rochester, New York, and played a continuous string of performances while Texas Jack hunted and explored in Wyoming's Sweetwater, Wind River, and Bighorn ranges with Sir John Rae Reid, Chas. P. Eaton, and Samuel Ralson, son of wealthy San Francisco banker William C. Ralston. Jack didn't return to the stage until April of 1877.

Ads for the Buffalo Bill (top) and Texas Jack (bottom) shows.

Buffalo Bill had recruited as a replacement for Texas Jack a fellow scout named Captain Jack Crawford, sometimes called "The Poet Scout." On stage, Captain Jack was cast very much in the mold of Texas Jack, though his role was much more subordinate to Buffalo Bill than Texas Jack had ever been. Cody's new show was a highly sensationalized version of Cody's own encounter the previous summer with a Cheyenne warrior named Yellow Hair, who Cody had killed and scalped in an act of retribution for the defeat of General Custer at the Little Bighorn. Yellow Hair's scalp was used as a part of the act and featured heavily in the advertising of his show.

Jack Crawford

Texas Jack decided to go a different direction and change the cast of his show entirely. Larry McMurtry wrote in his book The Colonel and Little Missie that "When it came to organizing a modern theatrical troupe, Texas Jack for a time pulled ahead. He had, for one thing, his charming wife." He also had the marketing and publicity talents of John Burke, who had previously done the same job for Cody and Omohundro's combined troupe. Beyond that, Texas Jack innovated his show in ways that would ripple throughout other western shows, including Buffalo Bill's.

The first call Texas Jack made wasn't to another white frontier scout like Jack Crawford, but to a half-Cayuse "Indian scout" named Donald McKay. McKay rose to prominence during the Modoc War, where he led a group of Warm Springs scouts and proved instrumental in the eventual surrender of Kintpuash. Having a prominent Native American standing by his side proved to be a huge draw for Jack's shows. Jack also hired a trick-rider from P.T. Barnum's Great Hippodrome named Maud Oswald. Ms. Oswald met Texas Jack during the Philadelphia Centennial, where she impressed him along with a huge crowd demonstrating tricks and feats of endurance on horseback.

Texas Jack's new cast was diverse, and its diversity proved to be a winning formula. Consider the later success of Buffalo Bill's Wild West, also managed by John Burke after Texas Jack's death. Omohundro had employed the best female rider he could find—Buffalo Bill would later do the same with female shooters like Annie Oakley and Lillian Frances Smith. Texas Jack hired the most prominent Native American to stand beside him on stage—Cody would later do the same with Sioux warriors like Sitting Bull.

The Cincinnati Enquirer May 6, 1877

The response to Jack's shows couldn't be ignored, even by Buffalo Bill. When the Texas Jack combination premiered in Chicago, newspapers noted that the capacity crowd was filled not just with dime novel readers and lovers of blood-and-thunder drama, but with military brass. The highest-ranking military officials in the American West were on hand to catch Texas Jack's new show, including a grand total of 11 generals. General Phil Sheridan, General George Crook, and General George Forsyth were among this group and the presence of so much military brass rang out like an implicit endorsement as newspapers covered Texas Jack's new show. Buffalo Bill would later adopt a similar tactic, utilizing a poster showing all of the generals he had scouted for or served with, their endorsement of his show heavily implied if not made explicit.

Buffalo Bill's headstart during the dramatic season didn't seem to hurt Texas Jack's box office receipts at all. One reviewer, echoing the sentiments of the boys who came out to see the show, said "Texas Jack's play beats Buffalo Bill's play all hollow."

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