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Fans Seek Immortality for Cowboy : Texas Jack Takes Shot at Fame

January 10, 1985|PAUL FELDMAN | Times Staff Writer

Texas Jack is dead and gone (since 1880).

But his memory lingers on (in Palos Verdes?).

It's now 104 years since the little-remembered cowpoke J. B. (Texas Jack) Omohundro succumbed to pneumonia in Leadville, Colo., at the tender age of 33.

But that isn't preventing a Palos Verdes Estates couple, Julie and Dennis Greene, from trying to foster widespread interest in the one-time Indian scout, dime novel hero and Wild West Show actor (who never visited Palos Verdes but happens to have been Julie's great-uncle).

The Greenes, once the owners of an importing business, were recently elected to head the Texas Jack Assn., a diminutive national organization devoted to Jack's memory.

Based since September in the den of their ocean-view Palos Verdes home--on the Peninsula these days, horses are more apt to be broken by stockbrokers than by cowboys--the Texas Jack Assn. is but one of several national organizations with headquarters in the South Bay. For example, the 900-member Gullwing Group--composed of owners of Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing Coupes--is based in Palos Verdes Estates, while Torrance boasts Overeaters Anonymous, with 6,000 chapters spread across the nation.

However, the Texas Jack Assn., consisting of 25 members from all walks of life, may be the smallest and most obscure of them all.

"We're trying to get the word out," explained Julie Greene, who replaced Springfield, Ill., attorney Frank R. Sullivan as the association's president at a Cody, Wyo., confab. "It seems like everybody who hears about it becomes very interested."

And just why should folks be concerned enough to fork over $50 for a charter membership?

For starters, there are upcoming newsletters and the chance to someday purchase Olympic-style Texas Jack pins ("We could trade pins with . . . Buffalo Bill people," said Dennis Greene, the association's vice president).

But more important, the Greenes add, are the legend and lessons of the man himself.

To paraphrase Marlon Brando, Texas Jack could have been a contender. Or, to paraphrase many a grandmother, if you've got your health, you've got everything.

For the importance of Texas Jack's life, said Julie Greene, is "the fact that he sort of missed out."

Pioneer Spirit

"Really," she said, "if he had lived he would have become as famous, if not more so, than Buffalo Bill, probably. But he didn't, and a lot of people seem to be interested in it."

Texas Jack, moreover, was a moral man, says history buff Sullivan, a non-relative who founded the organization in 1980 to memorialize the centennial of Texas Jack's death in Leadville. ("Death was sort of prevalent there at the time," Dennis Greene noted.)

Sullivan, who became fascinated by the exploits of Texas Jack while reading historical memoirs of the Old West, said: "Texas Jack represented the old life, the independence, the pioneer spirit.

"On the stage where Buffalo Bill would shoot the Indians, Texas Jack would lasso them."

Indeed, Texas Jack is said to have been the first cowboy to display roping acts on stage--in such plays as "The Scouts of the Prairie," in which he co-starred with Buffalo Bill and Jack's wife-to-be, Josephine Morlacchi of Milan, Italy.

For a man of limited years, Texas Jack, born near Palmyra, Va., of French and Algonquin Indian heritage, seems to have been long on accomplishments.

According to the Greenes, he served in the Confederate Army, managed one of the first cattle drives out of Texas, tended bar in North Platte, Neb., taught school at Ft. McPherson nearby, served as an army scout, led summer hunts, acted on the stage back East and killed an undetermined number of Indians.

Dime Novels

In fact, Texas Jack was so popular that dime novels were written about him--in which he was referred to by such appellations as "the Lasso King," "the Prairie Rattler" and "the Mustang King."

After marrying Morlacchi, Jack moved to Massachusetts, where he traded his Western wear for silk hats and opera cloaks.

However, he kept touring in stage plays and it was while on the road in Leadville that he caught his death of cold.

So far, the Greenes (who describe their job status as being between businesses) have spent about $3,000 for photo reproductions, press kits and other expenses to publicize their hero. And in recent weeks, their part-time effort has borne fruit: They have received tentative invitations to address upcoming conventions of the Westerners and the International (Buffalo Bill) Cody Family Assn.

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