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  • Matthew Kerns

What's in a Name


In April of 1873, as Texas Jack and Buffalo Bill were playing to packed houses at Niblo's Garden on Broadway, a new play was announced at Baltimore's Front Street Theatre Comique. Subtitled The Pirates of the Prairie, the play bore the name Texas Jack. this was not incidental. The real Texas Jack, John B. Omohundro, had been widely known for his exploits as a cowboy, hunter, and Army scout before taking to the stage the previous December, and his presence in the play The Scouts of the Prairie, where he was the first to demonstrate the cowboy skill of precision lasso throwing, had only served to increase his reputation.

From The Baltimore Sun newspaper, an advertisement for the show Texas Jack; or, The Pirates of the Prairie.

Jack was frustrated that imitators were using his cognomen to increase ticket sales, and then presenting to audiences someone without his skill and experience on the western plains. With the help of Ned Buntline, and likely John M. Burke, Jack let both the Baltimore theatre, and the Baltimore Sun newspaper, know that he was performing on Broadway, and wouldn't appear in Baltimore for some weeks. Embarrassed at having been called out, the impostor play quickly changed its name.

A retraction in the Baltimore Sun, as the production changed its name to reflect the fact that the real Texas Jack was not a part of this production.

Sadly, this wasn't the last time that "The Scouts" would have to defend themselves from other actors pretending to be the authentic heroes. During the following season the troupe travelled to the South, only to find that a group had come through Savannah, Georgia, some months before, posing as Buffalo Bill and Texas Jack, and putting on a fake version of their show. In the age before widespread photography, any two men could have donned wigs and buckskins, pointed a stage rifle at a super dressed as an Indian, and called themselves a scout. These imitators may have earned a quick payout, but none had the staying power of the men who had done the things they now demonstrated for audiences on the American frontier. In the end, there was only one Buffalo Bill and one Texas Jack.

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