Heroes of Texan Fiction

As if actual events in early Texas history didn’t provide ample material for thrilling tales, there have been a number of fictional characters from Texas portrayed in dime novels, comic strips, radio, television, and just about every other media imaginable. Among the best known of these fictional (or semi-fictional) characters are The Lone Ranger and Texas Jack. The facts about these fictions are summarized below.

The Lone Ranger

The Lone Ranger was conceived in the depths of the Great Depression. The first episode aired on Detroit radio station WXYZ and seven other Michigan affiliates on January 30, 1933. After gaining steadily in popularity among radio listeners for a decade and a half, the first of a 221-episode Lone Ranger TV series was aired on September 15, 1949. The legend of the Lone Ranger is best summarized in the inaugural of this made-for-TV series.

As the episode opened, a wagon train of westbound settlers was attacked by a gang of outlaws. In response, a group of six Texas Rangers decided to go after the gang. After riding for miles, the rangers were ambushed by the outlaws in a canyon. One by one, the rangers were struck down, until it appeared that all were dead. Hours later, after the outlaws had long since skedaddled, one of the rangers regained consciousness. He was found by an Indian who, by chance, had ridden into the canyon.

As the sole survivor of the ambush, the ranger took on the name of the Lone Ranger. Day after day, the Indian (named Tonto) nursed the ranger back to health. When his health was restored, the ranger declared that he was going to devote his life to ridding the west of outlaws. “But I’ll need a disguise of some kind,” the ranger told Tonto. “I don’t want anyone to know who I am.” Tonto vowed to help the ranger in his new endeavor and promptly fashioned a mask to be used by the Lone Ranger.

In the second episode, the Lone Ranger and Tonto tamed a wild horse for use by the ranger. They named it Silver. Among their first of their many deeds in taming the west was to bring the outlaws to justice–a task which they had completed by the end of the second episode.

Although several actors have played the parts of the Lone Ranger and Tonto throughout the radio, TV, and movie serials, the most remembered are Clayton Moore (as the Lone Ranger) and Jay Silverheels (as Tonto). Both are shown in the image above, along with Silver, the Lone Ranger’s trusted horse.

The legend of the Lone Ranger served not only as regular entertainment for the youth of the 1930s, 40s, 50s, and beyond but provided a positive cultural influence. The inspirational Lone Ranger theme song (i.e., Rossini’s William Tell Overture) and The Lone Ranger Creed (e.g., “to have a friend, a man must be one,” “God put the firewood there but every man must gather and light it himself,” “all things change but truth, and truth alone lives on forever,” etc.) are but a few examples.

Texas Jack

Texas Jack preceded The Lone Ranger as a “Robin Hood” of the west, defender of women, and subduer of bullies. Unlike The Lone Ranger, however, Texas Jack was more than a fictional character. He actually lived–in the person of John Burwell Omohundro, born July 26, 1846, near Palmyra, Virginia.

Omohundro’s association with dime-novelist Ned Buntline secured for him a place of immortality in frontier fiction. Along with his close friends Buffalo Bill and Wild Bill Hickok, Texas Jack became a central character in many of Buntline’s more than four hundred adventures.

As a young teen in Virginia at the opening of the Civil War, Omohundro made several attempts to join the Confederacy. He was finally accepted into the army at the age of sixteen. Almost immediately, he gained renown as a scout of ability and bravery in the command of Colonel J. E. B. Stuart, and became known as the “Boy Scout of the Confederacy.”

After the war, Omohundro heard about the great ranches in Texas and decided that this was the place for him! Starting out with the clothes on his back and with only his horse for company, he headed west. After working as a cowboy for some time, Texas Jack, as he came to be known, soon signed up to work on the trails driving cattle from Texas to Nebraska and Missouri. On one of these trips to Nebraska, Jack met William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody and the two became best of friends. Through Cody, Jack secured a position as an army scout.

In 1872, Buntline convinced Jack and Cody to take to the eastern theater a taste of the adventures which the two had experienced as scouts on the western prairies. Over the next several years, Jack and Cody gained considerable fame with their stage performances in “The Scouts of the Prairie” in Boston, Richmond, and numerous eastern cities.

Jack’s acting fame, however, was short-lived. By 1880 back in Leadville, Colorado, Jack succumbed to pneumonia at the age of only 33 years. But his legend continues to live in the form of the dime novels written by Ned Buntline.

[Note: the above image depicts (from left) Ned Buntline, William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, and John Burwell “Texas Jack” Omohundro. The watercolor by Irving R. Bacon is based on a photo taken in 1876. Courtesy Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Cody, Wyoming]

About Lyman

Lyman Hardeman has held a deep interest in Texas history. He spent his youth in College Station, Texas and received a degree in Electrical Engineering at Texas A&M in 1966. In 1995, Lyman created Lone Star Junction, a popular Texas history website that later merged with TexasProud.com. Lyman is a life member of the Texas State Historical Association and the author of Texas A&M The First 25 Years.