Colorado Desperados (Part 2) – The Two Texas Jacks
As a matter of coincidence, two interesting characters of the Old West were nicknamed “Texas Jack.” They might have even crossed paths during the Civil War. Both were from Virginia, and both fought under General J.E.B. Stuart.
Texas Jack Vermillion
When John Wilson Vermillion (1842–1911) was asked why he was called “Texas Jack,” he said, “Because I’m from Virginia.” Jack was born in Russell County. He served in the Civil War, and fought for the Confederacy under J.E.B. Stuart. In 1865, he married an Indiana girl. They moved to Missouri, where he accepted a position as a territorial marshal. His wife, young son, and daughter all died in a diphtheria epidemic while Jack was away.
Jack floated around the country, first to Dodge City, Kansas in the late 1870’s, and then to Tombstone, Arizona. He became friends with Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. On March 21, 1882, he participated in the Vendetta Posse that chased after members of the Cowboys following the death of Frank Stilwell.
In 1882, he was back in Dodge City, where he killed a card cheat. Between 1883 and 1889, he acquired the nickname “Shoot-Your-Eye-Out Jack” Vermillion. In 1888, he joined the Soapy Smith gang in Denver, Colorado. He was involved in a train depot shootout in Pocatello, Idaho in August, 1889. Around 1890, Jack returned to Virginia, remarried, and had another son and daughter.
There is confusion as to how Jack died. One source says he drowned in a lake near Chicago, but another says he died peacefully in his sleep. Family history records indicate that he killed a man in a shootout in 1890, and that he lived until 1911.
Texas Jack Omohoudro
John Baker Omohoudro (July 26, 1846 – June 28, 1880) had a completely different, but just as fascinating, story. He was also born in Virginia (near Palmyra). In his early teens, he traveled to Texas and became a cowboy. When the Civil War broke out, he was unable to join the Confederate Army because he was too young, so he enlisted as a courier and scout. Ironically, in 1864, he also enlisted under J.E.B. Stuart, and served as a courier and scout.
After the war, Jack returned to Texas and resumed his life as a cowboy. He participated in the Chisholm Trail cattle drive, among others. It was during one of these drives that he acquired the nickname “Texas Jack.” He adopted a five-year-old boy whose parents had been killed by Indians, and named him Texas Jack Jr.
In 1869, Jack moved to Cottonwood Springs, Nebraska. It was there that he met William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody. The two participated in buffalo hunts and Indian skirmishes. They also acted as guides, and in 1872, Jack led a highly publicized royal hunt for the Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich of Russia. In December, 1872, Cody and Jack went to Chicago, where they premiered their show The Scouts of the Prairie. This was the very first Wild West show, and Jack was the first person to demonstrate roping techniques on the American Stage. During the 1873-74 season, Jack and Cody invited their friend, James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok, to join them in a stage presentation titled The Scouts of the Plains.
When he wasn’t performing, Jack spent his time hunting on the Great Plains, and guided hunting parties for political figures and European nobility. In August, 1873, he married one of his co-stars, Giuseppina Morlacchi, from Italy. In 1877, he headed his own acting troupe in St. Louis. He also wrote articles for eastern newspapers and popular magazines, describing his adventures as a hunter and scout. His legend grew and was popularized in dime novels. In 1900, Jack was featured in a fictional series about the Confederacy, which was published in the Saturday Evening Post. Jack died of pneumonia in 1880. He is buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Leadville, Colorado.
His son, Texas Jack Jr., carried on his father’s legacy by appearing in Wild West shows around the world. In 1980, the Texas Jack Association was established to promote and preserve his memory, and in 1994, he was inducted into the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in the Hall of Great Western Performers.
(Ned Buntline, Buffalo Bill Cody, Giuseppina Morlacchi, Texas Jack Omohundro)