STAGE STAR: "SCOUTS OF THE PRAIRE"

JackNNed (1)In 1872, Buffalo Bill and Texas Jack met in Chicago with dime novelist Ned Buntline and decided to accept his proposal to bring to the eastern stage a taste of the adventures which they experienced on the western prairies as scouts.

In his autobiography, Buffalo Bill described the opening night of the play as follows:

"The Scouts of the Prairie was an Indian drama, of course, and there were between forty and fifty "supers" dressed as Indians. In the fight with them, Jack and I were at home. We blazed away at each other with blank cartridges, and when the scene ended in a hand-to-hand encounter, a general knock-down and drag-out, the way Jack and I killed Indians was "a caution." We would kill them all off in one act, but they would come up again ready for business in the next. Finally, the curtain dropped, the play was ended, and I congratulated Jack and myself on having made such a brilliant and successful debut."

Their new western type drama, which they called Scouts of the Prairie, made a tremendous hit as evidenced by the newspaper reviews. Every place it was the same story: huge, cheering and enthusiastic audiences. Some excerpts from the newspaper reviews:

Boston Journal, March 4, 1872:

"...The play of itself is an extraordinary production with more wild Indians, scalping knives and gun powder to the square inch than any drama ever before heard of...The chief interest, however, settles in the performances of the Hon. W.F. Cody (Buffalo Bill) and Mr. J.B. Omohundro (Texas Jack). Two finer specimens of manly strength and beauty were never seen on the stage or off the stage."

Richmond Enquirer, May 15, 1873:

"Ned Buntline and his two confreres, Cody and Omohundro, better known as "Buffalo Bill" and "Texas Jack" with their "Live Indians," drew another good house...The way the Scouts handle their navy revolvers is the main secret of their success...the handsome appearance made by these two gentlemen.. represent in a measure, real scenes of which they have been the actual heroes..."

Norfolk Journal, May 18, 1873:

"Buffalo Bill, Texas Jack, Ned Buntline and their "Ingins" filled the Opera House last night with one of the largest audiences ever assembled within its walls. The crowning piece of the night, that which excited the juveniles to the wildest demonstrations of delight, was Ned Buntline's famous blood and thunder drama of The Scouts of the Prairie...whenever Texas Jack and Buffalo Bill appeared on the stage, the audience cheered and applauded lustily...Buffalo Bill and Texas Jack are fine looking men, and have that certain daredevil look and manner that we have always been led to attribute to the western hunters and scouts. The performance was in every way worthy of the fame of the gentlemen who conduct it."

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From left: Ned Buntline, Bill Cody, Josephine Morlacchi, Jack Omohundro

Jack thoroughly enjoyed his acting career, and in fact, it is thought by some that he held the act together. Herschel Logan states in his book, Buckskin and Satin:

"Had it not been for the steadying influence of Texas Jack upon Buffalo Bill during that first season, it is doubtful whether or not Cody would have kept on in the show business. It seems to be the consensus of students of history around North Platte, Cody's old home, that to Texas Jack should go a major share of the credit for Buffalo Bill's continuing on the stage. They base this belief on the fact that many times during the first year Cody was ready to throw the whole business of acting overboard, but was persuaded otherwise by his friend, Texas Jack, who was enjoying this new experience and who seemed to have had a leveling control upon the noted scout."

During the 1873-74 season, "Wild Bill" Hickok joined the scouts in a new play which they called Scouts of the Plain. Cody, in his autobiography, relates the following:

"Thinking that Wild Bill would be quite an acquisition to the troupe, we wrote him at Springfield, Missouri, offering him a large salary if he would play with us that winter. He was doing nothing at the time, and we thought that he would like to take at trip through the States, as he had never been east. Wild Bill accepted our offer, and came on to New York, though he told us from the start that we could never make an actor out of him."

Hickok was indeed rather unenthusiastic about life as an actor, and stayed with the play only one season. When he departed from the combination, Omohundro and Cody each gave him $500 and a fine pistol, biding him to "make good use of it among the Reds," and he headed back to where he really belonged - the west.