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Monday, October 14, 2013

Book Review: The Story of Texas Jack Vermillion


When writing my book Tombstone - Wyatt Earp, the O.K. Corral, and the Vendetta Ride 1881-82, I sadly didn't have much room for some of Wyatt's colorful friends like Turkey Creek Jack Johnson and Texas Jack Vermillion. I only had 25,000 words to play with!

Luckily Australian researcher Peter Brand has been hard at work researching the lives of these lesser-known Vendetta Riders and has come out with a great book on Texas Jack Vermillion. For many years it was thought that this little-known friend of Wyatt Earp was Confederate veteran John Wilson Vermillion. Brand proves conclusively that the real "Texas Jack" was John Oberland Vermillion, a Union veteran. Brand goes into detail about both men's lives so you're really getting two biographies here.

Of course Texas Jack is the focus and he's an interesting character. He ran away from home in 1864 to join the Union army, serving in the 122nd Ohio Infantry. He saw action in some of the toughest battles of the Overland Campaign such as the Battle of the Wilderness and Cold Harbor and was left traumatized by his wartime experience, unable to speak above a whisper for two years.

After the war he got restless and headed west. Like many people seeking to reinvent themselves, Vermillion left his relatives and never wrote home. He worked as a carpenter in various spots and also earned a reputation as a gunman. At some point he earned the nickname "Shoot-your-eye-out" Vermillion.

In Tombstone he was squarly on the side of the law and order Earp faction, but he did his share of nefarious deeds as well, such as hooking up with the famous gang of conmen run by “Soapy” Smith. All these coming and going are hard to document because Vermillion occasionally used aliases. Even as careful a researcher as Brand has to admit that he simply doesn't know where Vemillion was or what he was doing for large periods of his life.

What we do know, however, is fascinating, and Brand plugs in the gaps with details about Tombstone, the Arizona War, and Soapy Smith. While the book's subject may seem obscure and only of interest to specialists, Brand tells some fascinating tales that anyone interested in the Old West will enjoy.

My only complaint with this seemingly self-published volume is its poor distribution. I had to order direct from the author's American representative. These days it's quite easy to get onto all major online outlets by simply uploading your book to Amazon and Smashword's Premium Catalog. I hope Mr. Brand does this with this and any future books. I think he'll get the wider readership he deserves.

4 comments:

  1. Great review and I'm glad to see Peter has another book out. It is too bad he doesn't get more exposure.

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    1. You know Peter? I've chatted with him via email and he's very approachable and enthusiastic!

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  2. I imagine tracking down most people during that time period would be a challenge. So few records.

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  3. This was great! I love reading books about that time period.

    www.modernworld4.blogspot.com

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