The Story Behind the Novel “Texas Jack”

‘Texas’ Jack Vermillion
‘Texas’ Jack Vermillion 1849-1893

I have been asked by people about the characters in the book… who they are based on? Is it about ‘Texas Jack’ Vermillion, ‘Texas Jack’ Reed, or ‘Texas Jack’ Omohundro? The truth is ‘yes’ and ‘no’. There is possibly a little of each character in the ‘Texas Jack’ of the novel but the story is not based on the life of any one historical character. The Texas Jack of my novel is a composite of many cowboys, outlaws, and soldiers of the era. There were many cowboys and outlaws who had nicknames associated with where they were from or believed to have been from. Some were simply an alias, while some were given to them by accident or just a moniker they attached to themselves allowing them to stand out from the crowd. There were several outlaws with the ‘Texas’ moniker.

‘Texas’ Jack Vermillion 1849-1893. When asked why he was called ‘Texas Jack’ he replied, “Because I’m from Virginia.” The fact is that he was from Virginia, not Texas. The moniker was from a wanted poster and it stuck. He was a friend of Doc Holiday, a fellow Southerner, and rode with Wyatt Earp and Holiday on the famous vendetta ride. He was later given the name of ‘shoot your eye out Jack’ after he killed a card cheat by shooting him in the eye.

Texas Jack Omohundro
Texas Jack Omohundro, 1846 – 1880

One of the best known Texas Jacks was John Baker ‘Texas Jack’ Omohundro 1846-1880. He was born in Virginia and at seventeen years old enlisted in Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia (much like the character in the novel). He served in Major General J.E.B. Stuart’s 5th Cavalry Corps. After the war he went to Texas where during a cattle drive he acquired the ‘Texas Jack’ addition to his name. He met Buffalo Bill Cody and they became lifelong friends. Both were scouts for the U. S. Cavalry. At about that time he also became friends with Wild Bill Hickok who at that time was the Acting Sheriff of Ellis County, Kansas. He later went into show business with Buffalo Bill in a production of “Scouts of the Prairie”. A year later Wild Bill Hickok joined the production and they changed the name to “Scouts of the Plains”. Texas Jack and Buffalo Bill were also the guides for Grand Duke Alexis of Russia on a buffalo hunt under the command of Lt. Colonel Custer. Texas Jack died at just thirty four years of age from pneumonia while escorting his beautiful actress/ballerina wife, Josephine Morlacchi, on a stage show tour. He was elected posthumously to the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City where he was honored for his skills as a working cowboy and stage actor.

Nathaniel 'Texas Jack' Reed
Nathanial ‘Texas Jack’ Reed 1862-1950

Nathaniel ‘Texas Jack’ Reed 1862-1950. This ‘Texas Jack’ was a stagecoach and train robber who started his life of crime at twenty one years old. He made $6000 on his first train robbery and that started a decade long criminal career. He was best known for the botched Blackstone Train Robbery in Oklahoma. He was shot while escaping but made it to Missouri where he healed up. He vowed to go straight after that and tried to cut a deal with Judge Isaac Parker to testify against his partners in exchange for probation. His partners were found and killed in a gunfight and the Judge went back on the deal and gave him five years in prison. He got religion while in jail and was paroled after a year. He then became an evangelist preacher.

There was also a ‘Texas Tom’. Michael ‘Texas Tom’ Mills 1866-1888 however I was unable to find any specifics about him.

Thomas ‘Black Jack’ Ketchum
Thomas ‘Black Jack’ Ketchum 1863-1901

Other outlaws had the ‘Jack’ part of the moniker, like Thomas ‘Black Jack’ Ketchum 1863-1901. He was born in Texas and robbed trains with the Hole in the Wall Gang.

Jack ‘Red Jack’ Almer 18??-1883 was a stage robber and the legend says he buried $8000 in gold coins somewhere near Prescott, Arizona… the gold has never been found.

William ‘Tulsa Jack’ Blake 1859-1895 rode with the Wild Bunch Gang robbing trains and banks. He was from the Oklahoma territory.

Some of the old west characters adapted names to give themselves a background. William ‘Russian Bill’ Tattenbaum 1853-1881 claimed to be the son of the wealthy Russian aristocrat, Countess Telfrin. He claimed he served in the Russian Army but fled while facing a court martial. Most believed he just was telling tall tales or an outright liar. He made his way to Tombstone Arizona and was an associate of the Clantons and ‘Curley Bill’ Brocious. ‘Russian Bill’ ended up being hung in a town near Tombstone for cattle rustling. Two years after his death a representative of Countess Telfrin arrived in Tombstone looking for the Countess’ son.

Charles ‘Colorado Charlie’ Utter was Wild Bill Hickok’s best friend and born in New York. He migrated to Colorado and added that to his name before his time in Deadwood, South Dakota.

Roy Daugherty 'Arkansas Tom Jones'
Roy Daugherty ‘Arkansas Tom Jones’ 1870-1924

And then there are the outlaws who just completely reinvented themselves. Roy Daugherty known as ‘Arkansas Tom Jones’ 1870-1924 was born in Missouri and moved to Oklahoma, but claimed he was from Arkansas. He rode with the Wild Bunch Gang and killed a deputy marshal during a shootout. He was captured by James Masterson (Bat’s brother) and got sentenced to fifty years in jail. He was paroled in 1910 and went to Hollywood to get into the movies but when that failed he went back to robbing banks. He was finally shot and killed during a bank robbery.

The American West created a myth, culture, and excitement unique in history. It was an untamed, uncivilized wildness where disputes were often settled with violence. The time period just before the Civil War and the years that followed provide an interesting dichotomy in views. On one hand you have a nation divided against itself over, in large part, the issue of slavery… men going to war, fighting and dying to free an enslaved race but only giving them partial freedom after winning. As soon as that war was over, those same men launched a campaign to either enslave on reservations or eradicate the Native Americans.

Unless we study history we are doomed to make the mistakes of past generations. We are no better than those who came before us. We may have more technology but we are as human as our forefathers and prone to the same passions, prejudices, good, or evil. We can’t change the past but we can learn and be entertained by it.

Writing historical fiction allows me to create a fictional character based on historical facts and place him in a historical timeline. I can use characteristics of the many colorful characters of the time and infuse actual historical facts into the story. In addition, I also base many of the characters in my writing on people I know or have meet through my travels.

Mayan Ruins

Part of the inspiration for the book, Lizard Key, came from my travels to the Yucatan Region of Mexico many years ago. This was before the region became as large a tourist destination as it is today… before the cruise ships came! Back then the large hotels and resorts didn’t exist… only a handful of hotels and lots more jungle around them. It’s still a great place to visit with a great deal of history. Just a couple of photos to see where the book started. There are many books written on the history of the region but the two I like the best are; Incidents of Travel in Yucatan by John L. Stephens and The Americas Before Columbus by Dewey Farnsworth (the old photos in this book are great). The Stephens book is the classic. It documents his archaeological exploration of the region between 1839-1842. Since photography wasn’t available all the pictures are illustrations. There is some level of controversy around the Farnsworth book (primarily involving his religious beliefs) but that withstanding, it is interesting and has lots of old photos.

Chichen Itza
Chichen Itza

This is the famous pyramid in Chichen Itza.

Mayan Ruins
Mayan Ruins

As I would travel through the jungle in the region you could see many sites of unexcavated ruins. Most were taken over by jungle growth and almost unrecognizable as sites of ancient buildings… certainly not as easily seen as this.

Island Golf

When ever I travel I try to find a golf course. Some of your more remote islands don’t have the most well groomed courses but island golf combined with island cocktails can’t be beat! Sometimes the beauty of the tropical settings provides a good excuse when your game sucks… I was just over come with the scenery and couldn’t concentrate (always a good excuse!).

Moorea Green Pearl Golf Course French Polynesia
Moorea Green Pearl Golf Course

This is the Moorea Green Pearl course in French Polynesia. It was a quiet day and we had the place to ourselves.

"Old Course" St Andrew's, Scotland
“Old Course” St Andrew’s, Scotland

St. Andrews, Scotland… the “Old Course”. We played there for three days and the weather was PERFECT… no rain, no wind. I’m told they get weather like this about once every fifty years or so. It’s the birth place of golf and still island golf!

Catalina Island Golf Course, Catalina, California, USA
Catalina Island Golf Course

Catalina Island is what I consider my “home course” since I live there a good part of the year. It is one of the oldest courses in the western US, established in 1892. Catalina is a small island off the California coast. It’s one of the few places in America where the most common form of transportation is a golf cart. The courses in Hawaii, Jamaica, the Florida Keys, etc. may be more dramatic, but your home course is always your favorite

Garibaldi Fish

Garabaldi Fish
Garabaldi Fish

The Garibaldi is a brightly colored orange fish of the damselfish family that is native to the North-Eastern subtropical parts of the Pacific Ocean, ranging from Monterey Bay, California, to Baja California. The name is a reference to the Italian military and political figure Giuseppe Garibaldi who wore a trademark red shirt.

Not only is this fish a regular sight whilst diving off Santa Catalina, it is also the official marine state fish of California.