John "Texas Jack" Baker - Misc. Characters

John "Texas Jack" Baker 1846-1880

John Baker "Texas Jack" Omohundro was born at Pleasure Hill, Virginia, on July 26, 1846. He was one of thirteen children born to J. B. and Catherine Baker Omohundro. His father descended from the Powhatan tribe, and Jack was always proud of his Indian heritage. He entered school at the usual time, but like many boys of that era, he preferred hunting and fishing to book learning. At a young age he became an expert rider and marksman.
At 15, he headed to Texas, where he wanted to become a cattleman. He got a job at a ranch, where he became very skilled with a rope. But then the Civil War broke out and Jack wanted to fight. He returned to Virginia to enlist in the army but he was too young. So he hired on as a civilian courier for the Virginia Militia, working for Major General John Buchanan Floyd. He eventually took on scouting duties as well.
When Major Floyd died, Jack was able to formally enlist in Company G, 5th Regiment Virginia Cavalry, under General J. E. B. Stuart. He acted as a scout and performed admirably. He was present at the battles of Todd’s Tavern and Mitchell’s Shop. He was injured in the Battle of Trevilian Station.
After the war was over, Jack returned home. But he was restless and soon left again for Texas. He was sidetracked for a year, when the ship he was sailing across the Gulf of Mexico got caught up in a storm. The ship grounded on the Florida coast. Jack stayed there and hunted and fished and taught school. He struck out again for Texas, but this time on land.
When he arrived he got a job on a large ranch. It was about this time that people started calling him Texas Jack. It was when he drove a herd of cattle to a meat market in Tennessee. When asked where he was from and what his name was, the grateful crowd there put Texas and Jack together and called him Texas Jack. The name stuck with him the rest of his short life.
Jack often found himself defending the ranch from Indians and rustlers. Some Comanches attacked the ranch one day and tried to drive off some horses and cattle. Jack shot several of them before they gave up. One time he rescued a small boy, whose parents had been killed by Indians. He also drove several herds of cattle up the famous Chisholm Trail.
In 1869, he happened to be in Fort Hays, Kansas where he met California Joe Milner, who was General Custer’s chief of scouts. He also met Wild Bill Hickok and Buffalo Bill Cody there. On the same trip, Jack found himself at Fort McPherson at Cottonwood Springs. There was plenty of work there for him, as the Indians constantly harassed the fort. There were also buffalo hunts. He liked the area so well, he moved there. The army hired him as a hunter, guide, and scout.
One time, some bandits were regularly sneaking into the fort and making off with various goods. The army had tried to track them but never had any luck. Jack decided he would take it upon himself to discover who they were. He noticed some men that hung around a nearby town that spent a lot of time gambling. He assumed the costume of a gambler and hung around the saloons and became friendly with the suspects. They trusted Jack and told them of their plans to rob a supply train that was coming to the fort. They asked Jack if he would like to join them. Jack agreed. Then under the pretense of going hunting for them, he rode off to warn the fort. On the way back, he shot a deer for their dinner.
On the planned day, the bandits rode to the fort. Soldiers had been stationed in hidden places around it. They waited for a prearranged signal from Jack. Jack raised his hat and scratched his forehead. That was it! The soldiers fired into the crowd. The bandits scrambled for cover and fired back. The battle only lasted for a few minutes since the soldiers outnumbered them. Some of them were killed, including the leader. The rest were taken captive. Jack was given a fat bonus for his help in stopping the robberies.
Buffalo Bill and Texas Jack were engaged in a number of scouting and guiding opportunities before the event that would change Buffalo Bill’s life. Writer Ned Buntline, the dime novelist, arrived at the fort. He wanted Buffalo Bill to come back East with him to perform. Cody accepted his offer and asked Texas Jack to go with him.
In Chicago, Buffalo Bill and Texas Jack rehearsed the lines they would say in their first play. While there, Jack met Josephine Morlacci, the famous ballerina. She had introduced the Can Can to America. She was also hired to be in the play and helped Jack with his lines. He fell instantly in love with her.
The play opened on December 16, 1872. The play was enormously successful even though Buffalo Bill and Texas Jack continuously flubbed their lines. The play had Indians, outlaws, beautiful girls, horses, and the two famous scouts. From Chicago, the play went on to St. Louis, Cincinnati, Rochester, Albany, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Richmond, Norfolk, Harrisburg, and finally Port Jervis, New York.
At the end of the season, Buffalo Bill and Texas Jack parted company with Ned Buntline, as they felt he had skimmed off too much of the profits. The two went back to guiding hunting trips. But the following year they returned to New York, where they signed up with a Major Burke to put together another Wild West show. They also convinced Wild Bill Hickok to join them. While planning the new show, Texas Jack married Josephine in Rochester, New York.
The next three years were enormously successful. The show called “Scouts of the Plains” did well everywhere it went. Jack began writing articles for the magazine “Spirit of the Times,” about his various adventures. By that time Ned Buntline had also wrote several dime novels about both Buffalo Bill and Texas Jack and the two were becoming famous.
In 1880, Jack and his wife journeyed to Leadville, Colorado. Supposedly he went there because the high altitude and dry climate would be good for his failing health. Soon after his arrival, Jack joined forces with the Tabor Light Cavalry. Tabor was the leading citizen of the town and a wealthy mine owner. The cavalry was the local law enforcement. Josephine opened up a dance studio for children.
But their happy life there didn’t last long. In May, Jack caught a severe cold. It grew worse and turned into pneumonia, then consumption. Finally he died on June 28, 1880. The Tabor Opera House was used for his funeral. He was given a military send-off by the Tabor Light Cavalry. His friends erected a simple wooden marker. In 1908, Buffalo Bill visited Leadville and replaced the wooden marker with a permanent granite one.

-copyright 2001 by Beth Gibson