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Wild Bill Hickok

Wild Bill Hickok
Born James Butler Hickok
(1837-05-27)May 27, 1837
Troy Grove, Illinois, US
Died August 2, 1876(1876-08-02) (aged 39)
Deadwood, Dakota Territory, US
Cause of death Murdered by Jack McCall
Resting place Mount Moriah Cemetery
Occupation Lawman, gunfighter, gambler

James Butler Hickok (May 27, 1837 – August 2, 1876)—known as "Wild Bill" Hickok—was a folk character of the American Old West. Some of his exploits as reported at the time were fiction but his skill as a gunfighter and gambler provided the basis for his fame, along with his reputation as a lawman. Hickok was born and raised on a farm in rural Illinois. He went west at age 18 as a fugitive from justice, first working as a stagecoach driver, then as a lawman in the frontier territories of Kansas and Nebraska. He fought (and spied) for the Union Army during the American Civil War and gained publicity after the war as a scout, marksman, actor and professional gambler. Hickok was involved in several notable shootouts. He was shot from behind and killed while playing poker in a saloon in Deadwood, Dakota Territory (now South Dakota) by an unsuccessful gambler, Jack McCall. The card hand which he held at the time of his death (aces and eights) has come to be known as the "Dead Man's Hand".


  • Biography 1
    • Early life 1.1
    • Nicknames, aliases and noms de guerre 1.2
    • Early career 1.3
    • Civil War and scouting 1.4
  • Lawman, soldier, and gunfighter notoriety 2
    • McCanles incident 2.1
    • Hickok–Tutt shootout 2.2
      • Background and the duel 2.2.1
      • Aftermath of shootout 2.2.2
    • 1871 encounters with John Wesley Hardin 2.3
    • Shootout with Phil Coe 2.4
      • Background 2.4.1
      • The gunfight 2.4.2
  • Law enforcement, acting and politics 3
  • Later life 4
  • Death at Deadwood 5
    • Hickok's dead-man's hand 5.1
    • The killing's aftermath 5.2
    • Burial 5.3
  • Known pistols carried 6
  • In popular culture 7
  • Notes 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10


Early life

Hickok was born in Homer, Illinois (now Troy Grove, Illinois), on May 27, 1837, to William and Polly (Butler) Hickok.[1] He is a known descendant of Rev. John Robinson.[2] His birthplace is now the Wild Bill Hickok Memorial, and is a listed historic site under the supervision of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. Hickok was a good shot from a very young age and was recognized locally as an outstanding marksman with a pistol.[3] Photographs of Hickok indicate that he had dark hair, but all contemporaneous descriptions confirm that he was red-haired.[4]

In 1855, at age 18, Hickok moved to Leavenworth in the Kansas Territory, following a fight with Charles Hudson, during which both fell into a canal (each thought—mistakenly—that he had killed the other). Hickok fled the area and joined "General" Jim Lane's "Free State Army" (also known as the "Jayhawkers"), a vigilante group then active in the Kansas Territory.[5] While a Jayhawker, he met 12-year-old William Cody (later known as "Buffalo Bill") who, despite his age, was a scout for the U.S. Army during the Utah War.[6]

Nicknames, aliases and noms de guerre

While in Nebraska, Hickok was derisively referred to as "Duck Bill" (especially by business acquaintance David McCanles, and his associates).[7] He grew a moustache following the McCanles incident (see below) and in 1861 began calling himself "Wild Bill".[8][9] Another Hickok nickname before 1861 was "Shanghai Bill", given to him by the Jayhawkers because of his height and slim build.[10]

Hickok used the name William Hickok from 1858 and William Haycock during the Civil War and was arrested as Haycock in 1865. He afterward resumed using his real name of James Hickok. Most newspapers continued to use the name William Haycock when referring to "Wild Bill" until 1869. Military records after 1865 used his correct name, although acknowledging that he was also known as Haycock.[11][12]

Early career

In 1857, Hickok claimed a 160-acre (65 ha) tract in Johnson County, Kansas (in what is now Lenexa).[13] On March 22, 1858, he was elected as one of the first four constables of Monticello Township, Kansas. In 1859, he joined the Russell, Waddell, & Majors freight company, the parent company of the Pony Express. The following year, he was badly injured by a bear while driving a freight team from Independence, Missouri to Santa Fe, New Mexico. According to Hickok's account, he found the road blocked by a Cinnamon bear and its two cubs. Dismounting, he approached the bear and fired a shot into its head but the bullet ricocheted from its skull, infuriating it. The bear attacked, crushing Hickok with its body. Hickok managed to fire another shot, disabling the bear's paw. The bear then grabbed his arm in its mouth but Hickok was able to grab his knife and slash its throat, killing it. Badly injured with a crushed chest, shoulder and arm, Hickok was bedridden for four months, before being sent to the Rock Creek Station in Nebraska to work as a stable hand while he recovered. The station was built on land which the company had recently purchased from a local, David McCanles.[14]

Civil War and scouting

James Butler Hickok in 1860's.

When the Civil War broke out in April 1861, Hickok signed on as a teamster (an outfitter or packer) for the Union Army in Sedalia, Missouri. By the end of the year, he was a wagon-master but in September 1862 he was discharged for an undisclosed reason. Hickok joined General James Henry Lane Kansas Brigade and served there for a time and re-encountered Buffalo Bill Cody who was serving as a scout. There are no known records of his whereabouts for over a year, though at least one source claims that Hickok was operating as a Union spy in Confederate territory during this time.[15] In late 1863 he was openly employed by the provost marshal of south-west Missouri as a member of the Springfield, Missouri detective police.

Hickok's duties as a police detective were mostly mundane and included counting the number of troops in uniform found drinking while on duty, checking hotel liquor licenses and tracking down individuals in debt to the cash-strapped Union Army. In 1864, Hickok, along with several other detective police, had not been paid for some time. He either resigned or was reassigned, as he was hired by General John B. Sanborn that year as a scout (at five dollars a day plus a horse and equipment). In June 1865, Hickok was mustered out and afterwards spent his time in and around Springfield, gambling.[15] According to the History of Greene County, Missouri published in 1883, Hickok at this time was "by nature a ruffian... a drunken, swaggering fellow, who delighted when 'on a spree' to frighten nervous men and timid women."[16]

Lawman, soldier, and gunfighter notoriety

Wild Bill Hickok in 1869 – since a knife would not have been worn unsheathed, it is likely a photographer's prop

McCanles incident

In 1861, Hickok was involved in a deadly shootout with David McCanles at the Rock Creek Station, near Fairbury, Nebraska.[17] The course of the events of that day is still subject to debate. On July 12, 1861 40-year-old David McCanles, his 12-year-old son William Monroe McCanles and two farmhands, James Woods and James Gordon, called at the station's office to demand payment of the overdue second instalment on the property. David McCanles was allegedly threatening the station manager, Horace Wellman, when he was shot by either Hickok (who was hiding behind a curtain) or Wellman.

Hickok, Wellman and an employee, J. W. Brink, were tried for murder but judged to have acted in self-defense.[6][18][19] McCanles was the first man whom Hickok was reputed to have killed in a fight.[20]

Hickok–Tutt shootout

On July 21, 1865, in the town square of Springfield, Missouri, Hickok met and killed Davis Tutt in a "quick draw duel" –the first of its kind. Fiction later popularized Hickok's "quick draw gunfight" as typical but Hickok's is the first one on record to fit the portrayal. During the duel, rather than the face-to-face fast-draw as is commonly shown in movies, the two men faced each other sideways in the historic dueling stance (presenting a smaller target), drawing and aiming their weapons before firing.[21]

Background and the duel

Hickok first met former Confederate Army soldier Davis Tutt in early 1865, while both were gambling in Springfield. Hickok often borrowed money from Tutt and they were originally friends but they had a falling out over a woman. (It was also rumored that Hickok once had an affair with Tutt's sister, perhaps fathering a child.)[22] There was also a long-standing dispute over Hickok's girlfriend, Susannah Moore. Hickok refused to play cards with Tutt, who retaliated by financing other players in an attempt to bankrupt him.[6]

The dispute came to a head when Tutt was coaching an opponent of Hickok's during a card game. Hickok was on a winning streak and the frustrated Tutt requested that he repay a $40 loan, which Hickok immediately did. Tutt then demanded another $35 owed from a previous card game. Hickok refused, as he had a "memorandum" proving it to be for $25. Tutt then took Hickok's watch, which was lying on the table, as collateral for the $35, at which point Hickok warned him not to wear it or he would shoot him. The next day, Tutt appeared in the square wearing the watch prominently and Hickok tried to negotiate the watch's return. Tutt stated that he would now accept no less than $45 but both agreed that they would not fight over it and went for a drink together. Tutt left the saloon but returned to the square at 6 p.m., while Hickok arrived on the other side and warned him not to approach him while wearing the watch. Both men faced each other and fired almost simultaneously. Tutt's shot missed but Hickok's did not, piercing Tutt through the heart from about 75 yards away. Tutt called out, "Boys, I'm killed" before he collapsed and died.[23]

Aftermath of shootout

An illustration to the article by Nichols

Two days later Hickok was arrested for murder (the charge was later reduced to manslaughter). He was released on $2,000 bail and stood trial on August 3, 1865. At the end of the trial, Judge Sempronius H. Boyd gave the jury two contradictory instructions. He first instructed the jury that a conviction was its only option under the law.[24] He then instructed them that they could apply the unwritten law of the "fair fight" and acquit.[25] The jury voted for acquittal—a verdict that was not popular at the time.[26]

Several weeks later, Hickok was interviewed by Colonel Harper's New Monthly Magazine. Using the name "Wild Bill Hitchcock" [sic], the article recounted the "hundreds" of men whom Hickok had personally killed and other exaggerated exploits. The article was controversial wherever Hickok was known and it led to several frontier newspapers writing rebuttals.[27]

1871 encounters with John Wesley Hardin

Outlaw John Wesley Hardin arrived in Abilene after completing a cattle drive in early 1871. Hardin was a well known gunfighter and is known to have killed more than 27 men in his lifetime.[28] In his 1895 autobiography—published after his death—Hardin claimed to have been befriended by Hickok, the newly elected town marshal, after he had disarmed the marshal using the famous road agent's spin. This was purportedly during a failed attempt by Hickok to arrest him for wearing his pistols in town. This story is considered to be at the very least an exaggeration, as Hardin claimed this at a time when Hickok could not defend himself.[29] It does appear, however, that Hardin idolized Hickok and identified on some level with him.[6][30]

As for Hickok's part, it is reported that he didn't even know that "Wesley Clemmons" (Hardin's alias at the time) was in fact a wanted outlaw, simply advising Hardin to avoid problems while in Abilene. When Hardin was confronted by Hickok and told to hand over his guns, he did.[31] It was alleged by Hardin that when his cousin, Mannen Clements, was jailed for the killing of two cowhands, Hickok – at Hardin's request – arranged for his escape.[32] Hickok's next encounter with the outlaw, in August of that same year, had quite a different ending. This time, Hickok was in pursuit of Hardin after he had killed Charles Couger in an Abilene Hotel "for snoring too loud". Hardin quickly left Kansas, never to return, thereby avoiding a confrontation with Hickok.

Shootout with Phil Coe


Hickok and Phil Coe, a saloon owner and acquaintance of Hardin's, had a dispute that resulted in a shootout. The Bull's Head Tavern in Abilene had been established by gambler Ben Thompson and his partner, businessman and fellow gambler Coe. The two entrepreneurs had painted a picture of a bull with a large erect penis on the side of their establishment as an advertisement. Citizens of the town complained to Hickok, who requested that Thompson and Coe remove the bull. They refused, so Hickok altered it himself. Infuriated, Thompson tried to incite John Wesley Hardin to kill Hickok, by exclaiming to Hardin that, "He's (Hickok) a damn Yankee. Picks on rebels, especially Texans, to kill." Hardin was in town under his assumed name "Wesley Clemmons" but was better known to the townspeople by the alias "Little Arkansas." He seemed to have respect for Hickok's abilities and replied, "If Bill needs killing why don't you kill him yourself?"[33] Wishing to intimidate Hickok, Coe had supposedly stated that he could "kill a crow on the wing". Hickok's retort is one of the West's most famous sayings (though possibly apocryphal): "Did the crow have a pistol? Was he shooting back? I will be."

The gunfight

On October 5, 1871, Hickok was standing off a crowd during a street brawl, during which time Coe fired two shots. Hickok ordered him to be arrested for firing a pistol within the city limits. Coe claimed that he was shooting at a stray dog but suddenly turned his gun on Hickok, who fired first and killed Coe.[34] Hickok caught a glimpse of movement of someone running toward him and quickly fired two more shots in reaction, accidentally shooting and killing Abilene Special Deputy Marshal Mike Williams, who was coming to his aid.[35] This event haunted Hickok for the remainder of his life.[36] There is another account of the Coe shootout: Theophilus Little, mayor of Abilene and owner of the town's lumber yard, recorded his time in Abilene by writing in a notebook which was ultimately given to the Abilene Historical Society. Writing in 1911, he detailed his admiration of Hickok and included a paragraph on the shooting that differs considerably from the reported account:

"Phil" Coe was from Texas, ran the "Bull’s Head" a saloon and gambling den, sold whiskey and men’s souls. A vile a character as I ever met for some cause Wild Bill incurred Coe’s hatred and he vowed to secure the death of the Marshall. Not having the courage to do it himself, he one day filled about 200 cowboys with whiskey intending to get them into trouble with Wild Bill, hoping that they would get to shooting and in the melee shoot the marshal. But Coe "reckoned without his host". Wild Bill had learned of the scheme and cornered Coe, had his two pistols drawn on Coe. Just as he pulled the trigger one of the policemen rushed around the corner between Coe and the pistols and both balls entered his body, killing him instantly. In an instant, he pulled the triggers again sending two bullets into Coe's abdomen (Coe lived a day or two) and whirling with his two guns drawn on the drunken crowd of cowboys, "and now do any of you fellows want the rest of these bullets?" Not a word was uttered.[37]

Hickok was relieved of his duties as marshal less than two months after accidentally killing Deputy Williams, this incident being only one of a series of questionable shootings and claims of misconduct.[3]

Law enforcement, acting and politics

Hickok's star on the Texas Trail of Fame in the Fort Worth Stockyards, Texas

Hickok was reported to be "an inveterate hater of Indians" but it is difficult to separate fact from fiction. Witnesses confirm that while working as a scout at Fort Harker, Kansas on May 11, 1867, Hickok was attacked by a large group of Indians, who fled after Hickok shot and killed two. In July, Hickok told a newspaper reporter that he had led several soldiers in pursuit of Indians who had killed four men near the fort on July 2. He reported returning with five prisoners after killing ten. Witnesses confirm that the story was true in part; the party did set out to find those who had killed the four men but the group returned to the fort "without nary a dead Indian, [never] even seeing a live one".[38]

In September 1865, Hickok came in second in the election for city marshal of Springfield. Leaving Springfield, he was recommended for the position of deputy United States marshal at 7th Cavalry.[6]

In 1867, Hickok moved to Niagara Falls, where he tried acting in a stage play called The Daring Buffalo Chasers of the Plains.[39] He proved to be a terrible actor and returned to the West, where he ran for sheriff in Ellsworth County, Kansas, on November 5, 1867. He was defeated by a former soldier, E. W. Kingsbury.

In December 1867, newspapers reported Hickok's arrival in Hays City, Kansas. On March 28, 1868, he was again in Hays as a deputy U.S. Marshal, picking up eleven Union deserters charged with stealing government property, who were to be transferred to Topeka for trial. He requested a military escort from Fort Hays and was assigned William F. Cody, along with a sergeant and five privates. The group arrived in Topeka on April 2. Hickok was still in Hays in August 1868, when he brought 200 Cheyenne Indians to Hays to be viewed by "excursionists". On September 1, Hickok was in Lincoln County, Kansas, where he was hired as a scout by the 10th Cavalry Regiment, a segregated African American unit. On September 4, Hickok was wounded in the foot, while rescuing several cattlemen in the Bijou Creek Basin who had been surrounded by Indians. The 10th arrived at Fort Lyon in Colorado in October and remained there for the rest of 1868.[40]

In July 1869, Hickok was back in Hays and was elected city marshal of Hays and sheriff of Ellis County, Kansas, in a special election held on August 23, 1869.[41] The county was having particular difficulty holding sheriffs and three had quit over the previous 18 months. Hickok likely was already acting sheriff when elected, as a newspaper reported him arresting offenders on August 18 and the commander of Fort Hays praised Hickok for his work in apprehending deserters in a letter that he wrote to the assistant adjutant general on August 21.[42] Regularly scheduled county elections were held on November 2, 1869 and Hickok (Independent) lost to his deputy, Peter Lanihan (Democrat) but Hickok and Lanihan remained sheriff and deputy, respectively. Hickok accused a J. V. Macintosh of irregularities and misconduct during the election. On 9 December, Hickok and Lanihan both served legal papers on Macintosh and local newspapers acknowledged that Hickok had guardianship of Hays City.[43]

In his first month as sheriff in Hays, he killed two men in gunfights. The first was Bill Mulvey, who "got the drop" on Hickok. Hickok looked past him and yelled, "Don't shoot him in the back; he is drunk," which was enough of a distraction to allow him to win the gunfight.[44][6] The second was a cowboy named Samuel Strawhun who encountered Hickok and Deputy Sheriff Lanihan at 1 a.m. on September 27 when they had been called to a saloon where Strawhun was causing a disturbance.[45] After Strawhun "made remarks against Hickok", Strawhun died instantly from a bullet through the head as Hickok "tried to restore order". At Strawhun's inquest, despite "very contradictory" evidence from witnesses, the jury found the shooting justifiable.[46]

Wild Bill Hickok, Texas Jack Omohundro, and Buffalo Bill Cody in 1873

On July 17, 1870, in Hays, he was involved in a gunfight with disorderly soldiers of the 7th U.S. Cavalry. Two troopers, Jeremiah Lonergan and John Kyle (sometimes Kile), attacked Hickok in a saloon. Lonergan pinned Hickok to the ground while Kyle put his gun to Hickok's ear. Kyle's gun misfired, which allowed Hickok to reach his own guns. Lonergan was wounded in the knee, while Kyle, shot twice, died the next day.[47][48] In the next election, Hickok failed to win re-election.

On April 15, 1871, Hickok became marshal of Abilene, Kansas. He replaced former marshal Tom "Bear River" Smith, who had been killed on November 2, 1870.[49] It was here that his confrontations took place with John Wesley Hardin and Phil Coe.

In 1873, Buffalo Bill Cody and Texas Jack Omohundro invited Hickok to join them in a new play called Scouts of the Plains after their earlier success.[50] Hickok and Texas Jack eventually left the show, before Cody formed his Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show in 1882.[51]

Later life

In 1876, Hickok was diagnosed by a doctor in Kansas City, Missouri, with glaucoma and ophthalmia. His marksmanship and health were apparently in decline, as he had been arrested several times for vagrancy,[52] despite earning a good income from gambling and displays of showmanship only a few years earlier.

On March 5, 1876, Hickok married Agnes Thatcher Lake, a 50-year-old circus proprietor in Cheyenne, Wyoming Territory. Hickok left his new bride a few months later, joining Charlie Utter's wagon train to seek his fortune in the gold fields of South Dakota.[6] Martha Jane Cannary, known popularly as Calamity Jane, claimed in her autobiography that she was married to Hickok and had divorced him so he could be free to marry Agnes Lake, but no records have been found that support Jane's account.[53] The two were believed to have met for the first time after Jane was released from the guardhouse in Fort Laramie and joined the wagon train in which Hickok was traveling. The wagon train arrived in Deadwood in July, 1876.[54] Jane herself confirmed this account in an 1896 newspaper interview, although she claimed she had been hospitalized with illness rather than in the guardhouse.

Shortly before Hickok's death, he wrote a letter to his new wife, which read in part, "Agnes Darling, if such should be we never meet again, while firing my last shot, I will gently breathe the name of my wife—Agnes—and with wishes even for my enemies I will make the plunge and try to swim to the other shore."[55]

Death at Deadwood

It is reported that Hickok had a premonition that Deadwood would be his last camp, and expressed this belief to his friend Charlie Utter (also known as Colorado Charlie) and the others who were traveling with them at the time.[56] On August 2, 1876, Hickok was playing poker at Nuttal & Mann's Saloon in Deadwood, in the Black Hills of the Dakota Territory. Hickok usually sat with his back to a wall. The only seat available when he joined the poker game that afternoon was a chair that put his back to a door. Twice he asked another player, Charles Rich, to change seats with him, and on both occasions Rich refused.[57]

A former buffalo hunter, Jack McCall (better known as "Crooked Nose Jack"), entered the saloon unnoticed by Hickok. McCall walked to within a few feet of Hickok, drew a pistol and shouted, "Damn you! Take that!" before firing at Hickok point blank.[58] McCall's bullet hit Hickok in the back of the head, killing him instantly. The bullet emerged through Hickok's right cheek, striking another player, Captain Massie, in the left wrist.

Hickok's dead-man's hand

When shot, Hickok was playing five card draw, and was holding a pair of aces and a pair of eights (the final card had been discarded and its replacement had possibly not yet been dealt). The fifth card's identity remains the subject of debate.[59] In 1979, Hickok was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame.

The killing's aftermath

The motive for the killing is unknown. McCall may have been paid for the deed, but more likely McCall became enraged over what he perceived as a condescending offer from Hickok to let him have enough money for breakfast after he had lost all his money playing poker the previous day.[60][61] At the resulting two-hour trial by a "miners' jury" (an ad hoc local group of assembled miners and businessmen), McCall claimed he was avenging Hickok's earlier slaying of his brother, which may have been true. A Lew McCall is known to have been killed by a lawman in Abilene, but it is unknown if he was related, and the name of the lawman was not recorded.[61] McCall was acquitted of the murder, resulting in the Black Hills Pioneer editorializing: "Should it ever be our misfortune to kill a man ... we would simply ask that our trial may take place in some of the mining camps of these hills." Calamity Jane was reputed to have led a mob that threatened McCall with lynching, but at the time of Wild Bill’s death, Jane was being held by military authorities.[62] McCall left the area soon after, and headed into Wyoming.

McCall was subsequently re-arrested after bragging about his deed, and a new trial was held. The authorities did not consider this to be double jeopardy because, at the time, Deadwood was not recognized by the U.S. as a legitimately incorporated town, as it was in Indian country and the jury was irregular. The new trial was held in Yankton, capital of the territory. Hickok's brother, Lorenzo Butler, traveled from Illinois to attend the retrial and spoke to McCall after the trial, noting he showed no remorse. This time, McCall was found guilty and sentenced to death. Reporter Leander Richardson interviewed McCall shortly before his death and helped bury him. Richardson wrote of the encounter for the April 1877 issue of Scribner's Monthly, in which he mentions McCall's second trial.[63]

As I write the closing lines of this brief sketch, word reaches me that the slayer of Wild Bill has been rearrested by the United State authorities, and after trial has been sentenced to death for willful murder. He is now at Yankton, D.T. awaiting execution. At the [second] trial it was suggested that [McCall] was hired to do his work by gamblers[64] who feared the time when better citizens should appoint Bill the champion of law and order – a post which he formerly sustained in Kansas border life, with credit to his manhood and his courage.

McCall was hanged on March 1, 1877, and buried in the Roman Catholic cemetery. The cemetery was moved in 1881, and his body was exhumed and the noose was found still around his neck. The killing of Hickok and the capture of McCall is reenacted every summer evening in Deadwood.[65]


Charlie Utter, Hickok's friend and companion, claimed Hickok's body and placed a notice in the local newspaper, the Black Hills Pioneer, which read:

Died in Deadwood, Black Hills, August 2, 1876, from the effects of a pistol shot, J. B. Hickock [sic] (Wild Bill) formerly of Cheyenne, Wyoming. Funeral services will be held at Charlie Utter's Camp, on Thursday afternoon, August 3, 1876, at 3 o'clock P. M. All are respectfully invited to attend.

Almost the entire town attended the funeral, and Utter had Hickok buried with a wooden grave marker reading:

Wild Bill, J. B. Hickock [sic] killed by the assassin Jack McCall in Deadwood, Black Hills, August 2, 1876. Pard, we will meet again in the happy hunting ground to part no more. Good bye, Colorado Charlie, C. H. Utter.
Steve and Charlie Utter at the grave of Wild Bill Hickok.

At the time of his death, Hickok is known to have fatally shot at least six men (and is suspected responsible for a seventh—McCanles), despite his 'reputation.'[66] Hickok was buried in the Ingelside Cemetery, Deadwood's original graveyard. This cemetery filled quickly, preventing further use, and in 1879, on the third anniversary of his original burial, Utter paid to move Hickok to the new Mount Moriah cemetery.[67] Utter supervised the move and noted that, while perfectly preserved, Hickok had been imperfectly embalmed. As a result, calcium carbonate from the surrounding soil had replaced the flesh, leading to petrifaction. One of the workers, Joseph McLintock, wrote a detailed description of the re-interment. McLintock used a cane to tap the body, face, and head, finding no soft tissue anywhere. He noted that the sound was similar to tapping a brick wall, and believed the remains to now weigh more than 400 lb (180 kg). William Austin, the cemetery caretaker, estimated 500 lb (230 kg), which made it difficult for the men to carry them to the new site. The original wooden grave marker was moved to the new site, but by 1891 had been destroyed by souvenir hunters whittling pieces from it, and it was replaced with a statue. This, in turn, was destroyed by relic hunters and replaced in 1902 by a life-sized sandstone sculpture of Hickok. This, too, was badly defaced, which led to its complete enclosure in a cage for protection. This was cut open by relic hunters in the 1950s, and the statue was removed.[68]

Hickok is currently interred in a ten foot (3 m) square plot at the Mount Moriah Cemetery, surrounded by a cast-iron fence with a U.S. flag flying nearby. A monument has since been built there. It has been reported that Calamity Jane was buried next to him because that was her dying wish. However, four of the men on the self-appointed committee who planned Calamity's funeral (Albert Malter, Frank Ankeney, Jim Carson, and Anson Higby) later stated that, since Bill had “absolutely no use” for Jane in this life, they decided to play a posthumous joke on Hickok by laying her to rest by his side.[69] Potato Creek Johnny, a local Deadwood celebrity from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, is also buried next to Wild Bill.[70]

Known pistols carried

Hickok's favorite guns were a pair of Colt 1851 Navy Model (.36 caliber) cap-and-ball revolvers. They had ivory grips and silver plating, and were ornately engraved with "J.B. Hickok-1869" on the backstrap.[71] He wore his revolvers butt-forward in a belt or sash (when donning city clothes or buckskins, respectively), and seldom used holsters per se; he drew the pistols using a "reverse", "twist" or cavalry draw, as would a cavalryman.[6]

At the time of his death Hickok was wearing a Smith & Wesson Model 2 Army Revolver. Bonhams auction company offered this very pistol on November 18, 2013, at its San Francisco, California auction,[72] described as Hickok's Smith & Wesson No. 2, Serial No. 29963, a .32 rimfire with a 6 inch barrel, blued finish and varnished rosewood grips. However, the gun did not sell because the high bid ($220,000) did not meet the reserve price set by the gun's owners.[73]

In popular culture

It is difficult to separate the truth from fiction about Hickok, the first "dime novel" hero of the Western era and in many ways one of the first comic book heroes. He kept company with others who achieved fame in this way. In the dime novels, Hickok's exploits were presented in heroic form, making him seem larger than life. In truth, most of the stories were greatly exaggerated or fabricated by both the writers and himself.


  1. ^ They Called Him Wild Bill: The Life and Adventures of James Butler Hickok; p. 4–5.
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b
  4. ^ Rosa, Joseph G.; 1979; They Called Him Wild Bill; University Press of Oklahoma; p. 306; Note: reddish shades of hair appear black in early photographic processes because of their sensitivity primarily to blue light.
  5. ^ Note: "Jayhawkers" were also often referred to as the "Red Legs" due to that distinctive feature of their uniforms.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h
  7. ^ They Called Him Wild Bill: The Life and Adventures of James Butler Hickok; quote: because of his "...sweeping nose and protruding upper lip..." p. 51.
  8. ^ "Wild Bill" Hickok Court Documents Nebraska State Historical Society 1861 Subpoena issued to Monroe McCanles to testify against Duck Bill.
  9. ^ Martin Fido, The Chronicle of Crime, 1993, p. 24. ISBN 1-84442-623-8 (from an 1861 newspaper article reporting the McCanles shooting).
  10. ^
  11. ^ Nyle H. Miller, 2003, Why the West was Wild, University Press of Oklahoma, ISBN 0-8061-3530-1 pp. 184–91
  12. ^ Joseph G. Rosa, 2003, Wild Bill Hickok, gunfighter: an account of Hickok's gunfights, University Press of Oklahoma, ISBN 0-8061-3535-2
  13. ^ "The Lenexa Police Department History" at the Wayback Machine (archived June 24, 2009).
  14. ^ D. M. Kelsey, Our Pioneer Heroes and Their Daring Deeds, Kessinger Publishing, 2004 [1883] pp. 355–91 ISBN 1-4179-6305-0
  15. ^ a b Joseph G. Rosa, "James 'Wild Bill' Hickok"
  16. ^ The Killing of David Tutt, 1865, Springfield, Greene County, Missouri History of Greene County, Missouri. Western Historical Company 1983 USGenWeb
  17. ^ Joseph G. Rosa, They Called Him Wild Bill: The Life and Adventures of James Butler Hickok; pp 45–51; calling it a "gang" may well be a misnomer.
  18. ^ According to Joseph G. Rosa, a Hickok biographer, the shot that felled the elder McCanles came from inside the house, a tale that Wild Bill's friends may have invented to protect Hickok from both the law and McCanles's extended family. It remains unknown who actually fired the shot.
  19. ^ Rosa conjectured that Wellman had far more motive to kill McCanles, a belief supported by McCanles's son's own account. There were also women in the house, conceivably armed with shotguns.
  20. ^ Joseph C. Rosa. 1996. Wild Bill Hickok: the Man and His Myth, University Press of Kansas.
  21. ^
  22. ^ Joseph G. Rosa, 1996, Wild Bill Hickok: the man and his myth, University Press of Kansas, p. 116.
  23. ^ Joseph G. Rosa, 1996, pp. 116–23.
  24. ^ "The defendant cannot set up justification that he acted in self-defense if he was willing to engage in a fight with the deceased. To be entitled to acquittal on the ground of self-defense, he must have been anxious to avoid a conflict, and must have used all reasonable means to avoid it. If the deceased and defendant engaged in a fight or conflict willingly on the part of each, and the defendant killed the deceased, he is guilty of the offense charged, although the deceased may have fired the first shot."
  25. ^ "That when danger is threatened and impending a man is not compelled to stand with his arms folded until it is too late to offer successful resistance and if the jury believe from the evidence that Tutt was a fighting character and a dangerous man and that [Defendant] was aware such was his character and that Tutt at the time he was shot by the Deft. was advancing on him with a drawn pistol and that Tutt had previously made threats of personal injury to Deft. ... and that Deft. shot Tutt to prevent the threatened impending injury [then] the jury will acquit."
  26. ^ Legal Culture, Wild Bill Hickok and the Gunslinger Myth Steven Lubet UCLA Law Review Volume 48, Number 6 (2001). Archived February 13, 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  27. ^ NOTE: (Hickok is known to have killed five men (one by accident); was an accessory in the deaths of three more and wounded one more.)
  28. ^ "Hardin credited with 27 killings"; The Wichita City Eagle; August 30, 1877; p. 2 col 6 (in which his arrest was reported).
  29. ^ Border Roll claims it was Hickok who disarmed Hardin!
  30. ^ Joseph G. Rosa, 1996, Wild Bill Hickok: the man and his myth, University Press of Kansas, p. 110.
  31. ^ August 30, 1877Dallas Daily Statesman
  32. ^ John Wesley Hardin Collection Texas State University.
  33. ^
  34. ^ Shooting stray dogs within city limits was legal, and a 50-cent bounty was paid by the city for each one shot.
  35. ^ Officer Down Memorial Page: Mike Williams
  36. ^ Who was Wild Bill Hickok?.
  37. ^ Page #21 in a loose leaf notebook titled "Early Days In Abilene" by Theophilus Little.
  38. ^ Nyle H. Miller, 2003, Why the West was wild, University Press of Oklahoma, ISBN 0-8061-3530-1 p. 185
  39. ^ James Butler Hickok/"Wild Bill" Margaret Odrowaz-Sypniewska B.F.A.
  40. ^ Nyle H. Miller, 2003, Why the West was wild, University Press of Oklahoma, ISBN 0-8061-3530-1 pp. 186–89
  41. ^
  42. ^ The "special election" may not have been legal, as a letter dated September 17 to the Governor of Kansas noted that Hickok had presented a warrant for an arrest which was rejected by the Fort Hays commander because, when asked to produce his commission, Hickok admitted that he had never received one.
  43. ^ Nyle H. Miller, 2003, Why the West was wild, University Press of Oklahoma, ISBN 0-8061-3530-1 p. 196
  44. ^ "I was standing near Wild Bill on Main Street, when someone 'began shooting up the town' at the eastern end of the street. It was Bill Mulvey, a notorious murderer from Missouri, known as a handy man with a gun... Mulvey appeared on the scene, tearing toward us on his iron grey horse, rifle in hand, full cocked. When Wild Bill saw Mulvey, he walked out to meet him, apparently waving his hand to some fellows behind Mulvey and calling to them: 'Don't shoot him in the back; he is drunk'. Mulvey stopped his horse and, wheeling the animal about, drew a bead on his rifle in the direction of the imaginary man he thought Wild Bill was addressing. But before he realized the ruse that had been played upon him, Wild Bill had aimed his six-shooter and fired, just once. Mulvey dropped from his horse dead, the bullet having penetrated his temple and then passed through his head."
    —Eyewitness account of Miguel Otero from his book, My Life on the Frontier, 1864–1882 (1936)
  45. ^
  46. ^ Nyle H. Miller, 2003, Why the West was wild, University Press of Oklahoma, ISBN 0-8061-3530-1 p. 192
  47. ^ John Kyle had earned the Medal of Honor for heroism on July 8, 1869 at Republican River, Kansas during the Indian campaigns. Home of Heroes website.
  48. ^ [On 9 September 1873 a drunken row among 6th cavalrymen in Hays Kansas resulted in two troopers being killed. See [1] Photographs were taken of the 2 dead men; ironically one version was sold as a result of a gunfight between Wild Bill Hickcock and two troopers of the 7th Cavalry-which happened in 1870!]
  49. ^ Officer Down Memorial Page: Thomas J. Smith.
  50. ^ The life of Hon. William F. Cody, known as Buffalo Bill, the famous hunter, scout and guide. An autobiography, F. E. BLISS. HARTFORD, CONN, 1879, p. 329.
  51. ^ Buffalo Bill Museum & Grave – Golden, Colorado.
  52. ^ The Jefferson City Missouri "The state journal"., August 18, 1876, Image 3
  53. ^
  54. ^ Charlie Utter, Early Deadwood Black Hills Visitor Magazine
  55. ^ Famous Last Words: The Ultimate Collection of Finales and Farewells, pg. 182
  56. ^ "Pioneer Days in the Black Hills" by John S. McClintock
  57. ^ Hickok's death chair.
  58. ^
  59. ^ The "dead man's hand" was already an established poker idiom for a number of different hands long before Hickok died. In 1886, ten years after Hickok's death, the "dead man's hand" was explained as being "three Jacks and a pair of Tens" in a North Dakota newspaper, which attributed the term to a specific game held in Illinois 40 years earlier, indicating Hickok's hand had yet to gain widespread popularity. Eventually, Hickok's "Aces and Eights" became widely accepted as the "dead man's hand". History: The history of the dead man's hand explained
  60. ^
  61. ^ a b
  62. ^ Griske, 2005, p. 87.
  63. ^ A Trip to the Black Hills Leander P. Richardson Scribner's (April 1877) The New York Times August 13, 1877.
  64. ^ McCall alleged that John Varnes, a Deadwood gambler, had paid him to murder Wild Bill. When Varnes could not be found, McCall then implicated Tim Brady in the plot. Brady, like Varnes, had disappeared from Deadwood and could not be found.
  65. ^ "Jack McCall & The Murder of Wild Bill Hickok" at the Wayback Machine (archived March 13, 2012). Black Hills Visitor.
  66. ^ Wild Bill Hickok: Pistoleer, Peace Officer and Folk Hero; History net; accessed September 2015; text: This article was written by Joseph G. Rosa and originally appeared in Wild West.
  67. ^ NOTE: The old cemetery was in an area that was better suited for the constant influx of new settlers to live on, so the remaining bodies there were also moved up the hill to the Mount Moriah Cemetery in the 1880s.
  68. ^ Joseph G. Rosa, 1979, They Called Him Wild Bill, University Press of Oklahoma, p. 305.
  69. ^ Griske, 2005, p. 89.
  70. ^
  71. ^ Photograph of Wild Bill Hickok's Colt Model 1851 Navys Connecticut State Library, State Archives
  72. ^
  73. ^


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