THE EARLY DAYS
Butler Hickok was born in Troy Grove, Illinois, on May 27, 1837, and
was shot dead in a saloon in Deadwood, Dakota Territory, on August 2,
1876. Famous for his lethal gun skills, as well as his professional
gambling, he was a U.S. town marshal who unsuccessfully tried show business
for a while after he got fired from his marshal job for shooting more
than just bad guys.
As a boy in rural Illinois, young James was reliable enough, lean and
wiry, and at the same time inordinately interested in guns, shooting,
and combative bravado. For what it was worth in that context, he became
recognized locally as an outstanding marksman with a pistol (at the
initial mortal expense of indigenous squirrels and similar small creatures,
and the chagrin of his family). His parents, Abner and Eunice Hickok,
were God-fearing Baptists who obligated him to wear a stiff and uncomfortable
suit to church on Sundays; a practice with which he wrestled considerably
each and every week of his youth. He was not close to either of his
parents, especially his father, who expressed little interest in anything
young James did or aspired to as he considered him to be a lay-about
dreamer. Nevertheless James did his chores correctly to maintain the
family's sustenance farm, but this was not a life for a young man with
romantic notions of the wild west frontier, and upon his eighteenth
birthday he took his leave and migrated to Monticello, Kansas. There
he got a job driving a stage coach on the Santa Fe and Oregon trails.
1855, highwaymen were real threats to stage coaches laden with relatively
well-heeled travelers with cash in their pockets, and as a driver young
James had many a violent encounter with ruffians of every stripe, thereby
putting his marksman's skills to profitable use immediately. In his
own mind it was instantly clear that he was rather good as a gunfighter,
and he began to develop a ready belligerence which quickly earned him
the nickname "Wild Bill." Where the "Bill" came
from is not known, but it appears that he saw no need to correct the
misnaming, so it stuck.
As a cross-country stage driver it was frequently necessary to spend
the night camped under the stars when the unreliable coaches would break
axles or other mishaps -- such as run-ins with Indians -- would destroy
schedules which were dubious in any case. On one such occasion, to the
west of Wetmore, Colorado, Wild Bill was asleep under some creosote
bushes near his disabled but customer-filled coach. He was dressed in
his one and only suit of clothes which, since he had been wearing them
continuously for over eight months, had become rather saturated with
various pungent odors, not the least of which was bacon grease from
daily encounters. So, he gave a wandering local cinnamon bear the impression
that he likely was delicious. Not one to ignore such an opportunity,
the bear inspected Bill much more closely and then enthusiastically
took a generous bite on what he judged to be the fleshiest part. Wild
According to the later report by the coach patrons, who lit a kerosene
lantern to illuminate the spectacle, the bear and Wild Bill were rather
closely matched. Wild Bill had taken off his guns for the night, but
still had a six-inch knife stuck in his belt, while the bear was equipped
with numerous claws and a spectacular set of perfect teeth. The ruckus
was tremendous, and when the dust finally settled Wild Bill was nearly
fatally wounded, while the bear was fatally wounded by means of that
knife and Wild Bill's single-handed efforts. While Bill was laid up
for a while healing, all this did nothing to diminish Wild Bill's growing
reputation as a very tough frontier customer in the most romantic contemporary
version of the concept.
He was, after all, right for such a job given that he had all the proper
traits: a sharpshooter's eye, a peerless appreciation of his own ferocity,
and reasonably good looks as he estimated. Embellishing his image, he
grew his hair to an inordinate length, largely, he said, as a (contemptuous)
challenge to those scalp seeking Indians he had been fighting so often
-- though others offered the opinion that the hair was more a vain and
nugatory affectation than anything else.
having recovered from the altercation with the forlorn bear, the occupation
of stage driver no longer seemed to have much gloss on it, and so Wild
Bill applied for, and was given, the position of constable in a small
town in Nebraska. Violent confrontations with various thieves and other
ne'r-do-wells were the order of the day, but occasionally some real
desperadoes would appear making the employment worth his meager pay.
His job there also obliged him to collect overdue bills, and to keep
the village idiot quiet on Sunday mornings -- which he usually did by
throwing a cowhide over the man and pegging it to the ground until the
church services were over.
The McCanles outlaw gang was wanted for train robbery, murder, bank
robbery, cattle rustling, and horse theft. In 1861 word came to Wild
Bill that they had set up a camp at Rock Creek Station, in Jefferson
County -- just outside his limited jurisdiction. Now catching those
jokers would be a task worthy of his considerable skills and sure to
put another feather in his cap. The only small detail which could cause
a bit of an annoyance was the fact that taking the gang outside the
range of his authority might prove to be an embarrassment to his badge
to the extent that he'd wind up in the hoosegow as quickly as the bad
guys. He calculated he'd get them, nevertheless.
It would be learned of Wild Bill Hickok in later years that he had a
certain bent toward straining the truth now and then when it was to
his advantage to do so. Of course in this situation he figured that
it was right and proper to get creative in the service of upstanding
justice, so he devised a little ruse in order to coax the McCanles boys
just a smidgen over the line so he could constrain their freedom, or
otherwise put them out of circulation with a reduced threat to his good
name and future employment prospects.
Back in town as he enjoyed a second tumbler of Sam Gleason's best Rye
and a respectable cigar in the Black Bull Saloon, Wild Bill found the
inspiration which brought a most uncharacteristic grin across his mustachioed
face to the confusion of the rest of the regular patrons who knew him
by another form of presentation altogether. They thought he looked absolutely
demonic, which may have been a reasonable assessment as the plot would
Six-Toed Pete was a now-and-then gun slinger of no particular accomplishment,
except that he made considerable contributions to the good fortunes
of Sam Gleason whenever he had a coin in his pocket and a thirst to
go with it. Pete's accomplishments were there, it's just that they were
principally negatives rather than things other more normal people generally
aspired to. For example, Pete had given up smoking for a while as his
mustache and left eyebrow grew back after the incident on Easter when
his breath ignited along with his cigar, and Joe Colbert had put out
the blaze with the contents of one of the saloon's spittoons. He gained
a little notoriety from that event, but it was not something he wanted
to write home about, assuming that he would ever learn to write that
Anyway, Pete was one of the more obvious members of a large underclass
of town drunks, and Wild Bill had occasionally bought him a shot or
two during the odd moment when a generous impulse would overtake his
better judgment. Wild Bill called Pete to his table and inquired if
he would like a little employment, offering to pay him four dollars
for barely a day's work to deliver a simple message over in Jefferson
County. Disbelieving this exaggerated generosity, Pete immediately inquired
about the state of Wild Bill's mental health, which almost blew the
whole deal for him right there -- which could have been the least of
it if Bill had lost his temper, which he did not.
Rather, Wild Bill told Pete that some old friends, the McCanles boys,
who were hard working cowhands from the Pecos, had finished a cattle
drive and were resting, but lonely, over at Rock Creek Station. Bill
said that he would like to do a little favor for his old buddies, but
he didn't want to reveal himself for fear that they would feel obligated
to him and he didn't want them to spend their hard-earned money on some
return gift which he likely had no need for anyway. No, he said, he'd
rather send Pete as a messenger, to offer a small treat from an anonymous
friend and admirer, to be enjoyed to their heart's content for as long
as it pleased them. Pete, Wild Bill cautioned, would find it necessary
to watch his back for the rest of his (very short) life if he ever breathed
a word to anyone about this plan.
"My God", Pete thought, "Wild Bill is a saint right here
on this earth." "Imagine such kindness." etc., etc. Pete,
on his own, could not imagine much beyond the bottom of the shot glass
which he stared into for such a large portion of his existence; and
he had never heard of the McCanles gang, which is exactly what Wild
Tell them, Bill said to Pete, that on Saturday night a whole wagon load
-- six to be exact -- of "soiled doves" from the finest parlor
house in town would be sent to the old Daisy Pearl Inn, just this side
of the county line. Tell them that the doves will be perfumed and a
little bit plump. Tell them that the piano is even getting tuned, and
that enough bottles of decent whiskey will be there free for them to
take as much as they like. Tell them that the ladies are seasoned pros
who know how to show a man a good time, and that they will be there
for the whole of the night, and that no other patrons will frequent
the place to interrupt their celebrations. No need to bring guns, he
Wild Bill said to Pete that he'd pay him the four dollars when he learned
that the message had caused the correct result.
So, off Pete rode on a borrowed mule, ecstatic in the understanding
that he was doing a good deed for probably the first time in his life.
He told the wide-eyed McCanles gang everything he was instructed to
tell them, and they hooted in glee at this announcement of unexpected
good fortune -- all except for Jeb McCanles that is, who wondered who
in the hell this benefactor was anyway. Never mind, his crew said to
him; let's slither up to the ladies and worry about such details later.
And so they planned to do just that.
Wild Bill, in the mean time, bought all the .45 caliber cartridges that
were available in the general store (see note at bottom), and he even
bought a can of fancy patent oil to make sure that his Colt Peacemakers
would function silkily when he needed them the most, which he judged
would be about sundown on Saturday night. This precaution was probably
more than was necessary, since the $17 mail order pistols were only
a few months old, but he felt better when all small considerations had
been tended to properly.
Saturday arrived, and Wild Bill rented a horse and wagon from the blacksmith;
one with seats for at least six people. He left early, and alone, for
the old Daisy Pearl Inn, which he knew to be empty since the proprietor
was in jail for robbing patrons he had drugged, and Wild Bill had put
him there. Parking the wagon directly in front of the place, Bill shot
the lock off the door and helped himself to a generous whiskey as he
sat down to load his six-shooters and mark time.
Though darkness had begun to fall, there was no question that the McCanles
gang had arrived, for they let out a whooping shout as they spotted
the wagon out front which proved the truth of Six-Toed Pete's story
and invitation to exotic pleasures. Bursting through the door with no
customary care, the lot of them halted in puzzled silence as they found
an empty saloon, lit but abandoned. Before the hapless bunch could form
an appraisal of the meaning of this peculiar situation, Wild Bill rose
from behind the bar with a broad smile on his face and both pistols
The story which circulated later said that Wild Bill Hickok had confronted
the entire McCanles gang single-handedly, and in the shoot-out which
followed had killed Jeb McCanles and two of his men, and had taken the
rest as prisoners. The bare bones of this story is true, but Wild Bill
made no effort to add any more details to it. When he collected the
$175 reward, he paid the $4 he owed to Six-Toed Pete, reminded him once
again to keep his mouth shut, and added the whole affair to his expanding
reputation as a paradigm of the ruthless western lawman: fearless, tough,
the Civil War had broken out, and although Nebraska didn't immediately
leap into the fray to provide any form of inspiration, Wild Bill was
somehow smitten by a sense of patriotic duty and volunteered his services
to the Union as a scout. At the same time, since a disproportionate
percentage of cowhands and others in the wild west were Blacks, he knew
and respected a fair number of them, and considered that the South had
never given them any semblance of a fair break, to say the least. Besides,
he never liked those funny Southern accents anyway, figuring that most
of the world's affected fops had somehow drained down there by a form
of natural selection.
So, Wild Bill engaged himself in the war efforts with an enthusiastic
dedication and courageousness which some say occasionally came close
in performance to the claims he made about his own deeds, but others
weren't so sure. For example, in response to some eastern journalists
(who sought him out later) he said that he had shot 50 Confederates
with exactly 50 bullets while using a miracle rifle of some specious
description, which must have been able to fire faster than any of those
confined by the conventional technology of the day. He also said that
he had out-shot one man in front of him with the pistol in his left
hand, and plugged a second man behind him by shooting over his shoulder
with his right hand, both at the same time.
It is true that he made some daring forays behind the Confederate lines,
but no monumental accomplishments of actual record -- that is, confirmed
by the objective observation of others -- have been accredited to him
in the war. Perhaps he did solid work in the interest of the Union,
however his descriptions of the activities dilute acceptance of the
reality of the enterprise.
BEGINS THE IMMORTAL LEGEND
after the war, in 1867, he was tracked down by Henry M. Stanley, a journalist
and adventurous reporter, and that same Stanley who later, when in Africa,
uttered the famous declaration, "Dr. Livingstone, I presume."
It seems that Wild Bill had a fully developed and somewhat intimidating
presence about him, and the normally unflappable Stanley became absolutely
flustered as he met Wild Bill, and perspiring, asked wide-eyed questions
which immediately offered the poker-faced Wild Bill an opportunity to
employ poetic license.
"Mr. Bill, that is Mr. Wild, or rather Mr. Hickok, are you willing
to mention how many men you have killed, to your precise and certain
knowledge?" Flatly, Wild Bill said, "I assume you mean white
men, after all nobody counts Indians, or Mexicans and so forth. Well,
I am perfectly willing to swear a solemn oath on the Bible, tomorrow,
that I have killed substantially over a hundred."
Abandoning every vestige of journalistic skepticism and impartial judgment
in the face of such inflation, Stanley immediately reported this claim
as gospel fact, and added the comment that, "[Mr. Hickok] is endowed
with extraordinary power and agility. He seems naturally suited to perform
daring actions." Wallowing in hero worship of the most lurid dimension
actually did not contribute much to the reputation of Wild Bill among
more jaded students of the affairs of the West, but this is unfortunate,
because there are some instances of true heroic deeds on the part of
Employed as a U.S. Army scout in 1868, in Colorado, Wild Bill and 40
men from the 3rd infantry battalion out of Fort Russell were surrounded
by over 350 braves of the Kiowa Indian tribe, led by Chief Tilgha-ma
and his son, Moh-ka-na. After a two day siege of the soldiers' solid
position, army ammunition was running low, and six of the soldiers had
been killed; two by arrows, three by rifle fire, one by a spear. Reinforcement
was not far afield, but how to summon help before all was lost?
A lull in the battle supervened as the afternoon of the second day began
to develop long shadows, but the parched troops knew that they could
not last the approaching night with the resources at hand, and that
desperate measures needed to be explored more than promptly. True to
form, the soldiers commenced a conventional examination of their battle
strategies, but Wild Bill understood that a more immediate action was
the only deed which could hope to rescue them from certain death, scalping,
and God knows what else. Mounting his very fast horse, an Appaloosa,
Hickok surprised the troops as well as the Indians as he broke into
a full racing gallop, directly into the midst of the not quite wary
Kiowa fighters, who were in repose, regaining their wind for the final
Before the disbelieving Kiowas could regain their equipoise, Wild Bill
had blasted through their ranks and was high-tailing it back to the
fort, where he successfully summoned overwhelming aid which drove the
Indians from this encounter, and permanently removed them as an obstacle
to further White expansionism in Colorado.
Hickok's career as an Army scout did not last very long, however. The
requirement of the job that he be on location in remote and dusty reaches
of the territories necessitated the man's removal from any proper saloon,
or innocent moment's gambling, which constituted hardship beyond what
little reward the occasional notoriety could offer as a balance. He
Always interested, especially, in an engaging game of cards on the side,
Wild Bill surmised that a little money could be found if he were to
perfect his skills just a bit, as he also honed his ability to size
up a mark while keeping a distant cool. As a professional gambler --
cardsharp is a negative term and we have no solid proof -- Wild Bill
operated on the very edge of propriety, doubtless taking a sucker when
the pot was worth the effort. There were many competitors in this shifty
and nefarious trade, and the bulk of them operated on the wrong side
of any form of law. Such a man was one James "Dog" Kennedy,
a cardsharp of the slickest description who, since he knew what he was
talking about, could spot a cheat from across the room. Ignorant of
whom he was accusing, he fingered Wild Bill as playing a bad fast game,
thereby anticipating getting rid of some competition; he got more than
he guessed he would.
The confrontation escalated as accusations passed back and forth, the
result being that a classic duel with six-guns was demanded in the public
square of Springfield, Missouri, on September 21, 1869. At high noon,
as was romantically dictated in such events, the two of them faced each
other from a distance of 50 paces. Hickok had his pair of Colts, while
Kennedy had a single Smith & Wesson double-action. Though it was
dangerous, Hickok had cocked both his single-action revolvers as they
sat in their holsters.
Kennedy drew first and fired, but he missed Hickok and his bullet hit
the dust 30 yards beyond Hickok's left shoulder. At almost the same
moment Hickok drew both his guns at once and fired them simultaneously.
One hit Kennedy just above the right knee, but the other shot struck
his upper chest, killing him instantly. Since it was seen that Kennedy
had drawn first, Hickok was judged by those present (who were sober
enough to take notice) to have acted in self-defense and no charges
were laid. Actually, he was congratulated.
Such employment was not very steady however, and so in taking an appointment
as U.S. marshal in Hays City, Kansas, Hickok's life returned to the
normal routine of keeping the peace and pursuing reasonable diversions
in the local saloon, which was the main point.
the same time, nearby Abilene, Kansas was developing as the earliest
of the great staging places for the eastern rail shipment of Texas longhorn
cattle. The growth had begun in 1867, in the summer, as the first animals
arrived for shipment. Before that, Abilene had been a dusty and slow
little "town" consisting of about a dozen log huts, and three
or four sod shelters on the edges. But soon the village's streets were
swarming with cow pokes and cattle dealers -- and with gamblers who
were ready and willing to relieve them of their hard-earned cash. Within
four years Abilene had reached its peak of prosperity, notoriety, and
infamy. A fast town for a fast clientele, it was wide open; in walked
U.S. Marshal Wild Bill Hickok to a home in which he belonged. He was
not to call it home for long.
At first Wild Bill tended to routine business. For example, John Wesley
Hardin, who was the worst killer the wild west produced, arrived in
Abilene, where, of course, he sought out the most agreeable saloon.
Hardin met Wild Bill Hickok there, and for some reason Wild Bill took
an indulgent and parent-like attitude toward the nasty little murderer.
They drank together, they whored together. Hickok gave him advice and
even helped Hardin's friends out of trouble. Hardin enjoyed being seen
with the celebrated gunfighter, but he knew at the same time that Wild
Bill would add him to his reputation if he got seriously out of line.
Hardin took a room at the American House Hotel in Abilene. At about
one o'clock in the morning, Hardin was awakened by snoring coming from
some stranger in the next room. Incensed that his rest was being disturbed,
Hardin took his pistol and fired a shot through the wall, then he fired
a second. The man in the next room lay slain, and the deathly silence
told Hardin that he was about to come into deep trouble with Marshal
Guessing that a quick exit was the most prudent, Hardin crawled out
of his window and onto the roof above the hotel's promenade. Dressed
only in his undershirt, Hardin spotted Wild Bill approaching from the
Alamo Saloon, so he dove from the roof into a hay stack, where he hid
for the rest of the night. As dawn was breaking, Hardin emerged, stole
a horse and rode wildly out of town still dressed only in his undershirt.
Wild Bill had not added Hardin to his reputation, but he had caused
him to get out of Abilene.
The Alamo Saloon was the most posh place in town, with etched glass
swinging doors, shining brass, polished mahogany, ferns, waiters in
actual uniforms with gold braiding on them, and every gambling device
a person could imagine. It was Wild Bill's favorite. The second most
popular spot was the Bull's Head Saloon, which was expensive beyond
belief. It did an excellent profitable business for its two Texas gambler
owners, Phil Coe and Ben Thompson, but this was soon to end, as was
The trouble seems to have started when Marshal Hickok demanded that
the sign outside the Bull's Head be modified to eliminate certain portions
of the bull's portrait which Hickok considered to be "indelicate."
This was an interesting perspective in a rough gambling town, especially
taking into account that Wild Bill preferred to hold court in the Alamo
Saloon, which was filled with paintings of naked women -- the largest
of which was a portrait of a local Jezebel, named Lucy, done up as Cleopatra
with a huge Peacock standing at each side of her.
Thompson refused the demand, and Hickok then hired a couple painters
to cover up the offending parts of the bull.
Coe escalated the argument by claiming that Hickok was exhibiting a
brash prejudice against Texans (so as to spoil their business, and promote
that of his friends). To this Hickok responded that Coe was running
rigged games at the Bull's Head. Coe was not amused.
Seeking to drown these sorrows, Coe went out on the town with a batch
of fellow Texans who were about to hit the long trail back home. Although
they had been relieved of a good portion of their money through gambling,
the men still had enough left to whoop it up and raise a little hell,
and Coe was in the mood to raise hell. Drunk, the Texans, plus Coe,
roared up and down the street, oblivious to all obstacles, breaking
windows, knocking people about, and otherwise creating a general ruckus.
Coe, who was no gunslinger and didn't even carry a gun usually, pulled
out a pistol and fired a wobbly shot as the bunch approached the Alamo
Marshal Wild Bill Hickok, who was drinking at another bar down the street
with his friend and fellow lawman, Mike Williams, rushed over to the
Alamo and entered it through its back door. Emerging at the front, he
confronted the mob of Texans, asking, "Who fired that shot?"
Coe, pistol still in hand, replied that he had fired at a stray dog.
Hickok leveled his Colts at Coe, demanding that he cease and desist,
but instead Coe drew a bead on Hickok.
Who fired the first shot there in the darkness is not known, but when
the powder smoke cleared, Mike Williams -- who had run to Hickok's aid
-- lay dead, and Coe was mortally wounded. Both were shot by Hickok.
Considering pressures from local farmers, real estate speculators, townspeople
who were fed up with rowdyism, churchgoers and other groups, the mayor
and his council told Wild Bill that they were no longer in need of his
services, and that they no longer needed all this gaming either. Hickok
was fired, and Abilene was dead as a gambling town. The business moved
Wild Bill was a bit relieved, in a way, because while he enjoyed being
a lawman, he decided that he liked being a gambler just as much, and
so now he had an opportunity to follow that bliss. He packed up his
reputation and a couple decks of "special" cards, and headed
off toward Deadwood, Dakota Territory. There was a gold rush going on
there and, likely, miners ready to relinquish their money. Besides,
in Abilene Hickok had been obliged to keep the streets free of litter
as well as rowdy cowboys, but he did get 50¢ for every unlicensed
dog he shot within the city limits.
It wasn't a quick trip. On the way there were too many saloons with
too much whiskey; too many sweet smelling soiled doves; too many suckers
with ready cash in their sweaty hands. Journalists had become interested
in Wild Bill's adventures, but were hard pressed to pin down just where
he was, so some began to guess.
In 1873, the Kansas City Examiner/Herald reported that Wild Bill had
been killed in Galveston, Texas. The next day, it reported that he was
visiting relatives in Springfield, Missouri. A week later the paper
reported that Hickok was "airing his long hair" in New York
City. The following Tuesday they reported that he had killed three Indians
somewhere west of Omaha, Nebraska. In the following week it was written
that he was shot to death in a gun duel, but this time at Fort Dodge,
Taking an appraisal of all this, Hickok sent a curt note to the paper,
pointing out that he remained in sound health and was leading the life
of a solid citizen. The paper responded with this promise, "Wild
Bill, or any other man killed by mistake in our columns, will be promptly
resuscitated upon application by mail."
some resuscitation would have been useful. In his escapades as a "professional
gambler," what Wild Bill had really accomplished was to become
a profound drunk, for he turned out to be unremarkable as a cardsharp.
There was a bit of romance however. In Deadwood Wild Bill met a bartender
who shared a good number of his traits: brash; vain; fiercely individual;
alcoholic; and available for hire as a woman of relaxed virtue when
times were lean. Her name was Calamity Jane.
The two of them hit it off marvelously, for basically they were much
alike. Both were liars; both were outrageous; neither had any moral
scruples, etc. They carried on in a grand fashion, and Calamity Jane
(Martha Jane Cannary) even announced that they were married -- although
no one had noticed any ceremony taking place. In this alcohol sodden,
but celebratory state, Wild Bill became optimistic for a change, which
was not a disposition he had ever displayed before. Having a caring
relationship with another human being was an experience absolutely unknown
to him previously. He decided to take a proper job, instead of just
shooting and swindling people; it was a painful change of pace.
At least something interesting presented itself. Buffalo Bill's Wild
West Show was in Nebraska seeking new recruits for its repertoire of
performers, and a scout had been sent to inquire if Wild Bill had an
interest in joining the show as a sharpshooter, plus he was offered
the princely sum of $192 per month and accommodations. Absolutely, Wild
Bill said, and he accepted the job.
Unfortunately, this didn't last for very long either. Since the bulk
of Wild Bill's deeds were fabrications cooked up in his head, and since
copious alcohol had softened his sharp edge (such as it ever was), and
since he still had a taste for a "medicinal" bottle of spirits
each day, his performance in the Wild West Show was dismal on its better
days, and nonexistent when he was "under the weather." He
was fired, again.
BILL'S FINAL CHAPTER
the downward spiral which overtook him then, he tried vainly to resume
a career as a gambler, but no longer possessed the requisite skills
and just barely was able to keep himself properly suited and situated
so as to hold on to the reputation and the illusion. He was repeatedly
arrested for vagrancy; he was seldom sober; he was 39. He reportedly
suffered from glaucoma which impaired his vision...bit of a hazard for
On the afternoon of August 2nd, 1876...in Deadwood, Wild Bill was playing
a game of low stakes poker at Lewis & Mann's No. 10 Saloon. He had
apparently played a game of poker the night before with a saddle tramp
called Jack McCall and cleaned him out. Flat broke, he offered McCall
enough to buy himself dinner but was refused.
sat in on a friendly game with three friends; Charlie Rich, Capt Massie
(a Missouri river pilot) and Carl Mann, one of the owners of the saloon.
Wild Bill had always made a practice of positioning himself with his
back to the wall. Arriving late to the game, the "wall seat"
had been taken so he reluctantly sat with his back to the door....a
afternoon, Jack McCall made an appearance. He quietly entered the saloon,
circled the table then went over to the bar.
Under his coat, McCall's hand was on his pistol. He came up slowly behind
Hickok, attempting to create the impression that he was a casual observer
of the game. Just as Hickok called, McCall withdrew his revolver and
shot Wild Bill Hickok in the back of the head, killing him instantly.
The bullet passed through the base of his skull, exited through his
lower jaw and lodged in the hand of Captain Massie.
Wild Bill held a pair of eights, and a pair of Aces, which ever since
that day have been known as a "dead man's" hand. The fifth
card has always been a matter of great speculation...a Jack, a Queen,
a deuce or a nine...take your pick!
Butler Hickok was buried in the Deadwood cemetery. Three years later,
the cemetery was moved further up the hill to Mount Moriah where it
rests today. For a man who had only spent three weeks in Deadwood prior
to his demise, he has certainly done a lot for the town's fabulous history!
colorful character of the period was Calamity Jane (aka: Martha Jane
Canary). While she told the dime novel writers that she was his lover
and later his wife, none of this is true.
prior to coming to the Black Hills, Bill had married Agnes Lake. Shortly
after they were married, Bill went to Deadwood to make his fortune.
Calamity Jane was more man than woman! She could shoot, cuss and drink
any man under the table. Eventually the 2 1/2 quarts (per day) caught
up with her and she died of 'ailments of the liver'. Destined to be
buried in Potters Field, a local gentleman put up the funds to have
her buried with dignity....beside Wild Bill Hickok...whom she barely
knew, but obviously had great affection for.
top of that little encircling stone wall was placed a 3' fence which
had fancy cast iron filigree on top, and a small American flag was stuck
into the ground in front of Wild Bill's tombstone in honor of his service
in the War. Today, the grave is visited by thousands of tourists every
summer....as is the beautiful town of Deadwood.
Note: Wild Bill
did not use a .45 caliber pistol. This and other details of little consequence
differ from the actual facts, but none of these variations alter Bill's
character in any way, so please consider them as expressions of artistic
license. Remember that this is not academic history.
© Jerome C. Krause