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Old West Legends IconOLD WEST LEGENDS

Wild Bill Hickok & the Deadman's Hand

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... Wild Bill had his faults, grievous ones, perhaps ... He would get drunk, gamble, and indulge in the general licentiousness characteristic of the border in the early days, yet even when full of the vile libel of the name of whiskey which was dealt over the bars at exorbitant prices, he was gentle as a child, unless aroused to anger by intended insults. ... He was loyal in his friendship, generous to a fault, and invariably espoused the cause of the weaker against the stronger one in a quarrel.

-- Captain Jack Crawford, who scouted with Wild Bill before they both followed the gold rush to Deadwood.

 

 

 

Wild Bill Hickok

Wild Bill Hickok

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Wild Bill Hickok was born James Butler Hickok in Troy Grove, Illinois on May 27, 1837 to William Alonzo Hickok and Polly Butler Hickok. Bill had four brothers and two sisters and his parents were God-fearing Baptists who expected Bill to keep up his chores on the farm and to attend church every Sunday. Bill's parents also operated a station along the Underground Railroad, where they smuggled slaves out of the South. It was during this time that the lean and wiry young man got his first taste of hostile gunfire when he and his father were chased by law officers who suspected them of carrying more than just hay in their wagon. Bill became enamored of guns and began target practice on the small wildlife around the farm. His romantic notions of the Wild West never sat very well with his father, but despite the protests, Bill became locally recognized as an outstanding marksman even in his youth.

At the age of 14, Bill's father was killed because of his stand on abolition.  Three years later, when Bill was 17, he went to work as a towpath driver on the Illinois and Michigan Canal. However, a year later he headed to Kansas getting a job in Monticello driving a stage coach on the Santa Fe and Oregon Trails. One of the first people he was to meet in Kansas was Bill Cody, who would later claim fame with his Buffalo Bill Wild West Show.

In 1855, stagecoaches were often subject to the threats of bandits and Indians along the trail and Bill quickly put his marksmanship to work, as well as developing a ready belligerence to the frequent attacks. On one such overland trip, the stage broke down near Wetmore, Colorado. As Wild Bill slept under some bushes outside, the customers stayed within the coach until they were awakened by a disturbance. One of the travelers lit a kerosene lantern to find Bill being attacked by a cinnamon bear. When the struggle between man and bear was over, Bill was severely wounded, but the bear lay dead on the ground from Hickok's six inch knife.

 

After recovering from the almost lethal attack, Wild Bill headed back to Monticello, Kansas where he accepted a position as a peace officer on March 22, 1858. Sometime after that he worked for the Pony Express and Overland Express station in Rock Creek, Nebraska, where he met David McCanles. McCanles teased Hickok unmercifully about his girlish build and feminine features. Perhaps in retaliation, Hickok began courting a woman by the name of Sarah Shull who McCanles had his eye on.

 

On July 12, 1861, McCanles, along with his young son and two friends by the names of James Woods and James Gordon came to the station, supposedly to collect a debt. However, profanities were exchanged which resulted in gunfire. McCanles was killed and both James Woods and James Gordon, who were seriously wounded, later died of their wounds. No charges were made against Hickok on the grounds of self-defense. Later, when Hickok's fame began to spread, writers looked back and began to call this gunfight the "McCanles Massacre”, embellishing the story to the point that Wild Bill had polished off a dozen of the West’s most dangerous desperados.

 

Hickok moved on again, landing in Sedalia, Missouri where he signed on with the Union Army as a wagon master and scout on October 30, 1861. The military records of his service give very little information regarding his services, but we do know that Hickok received the nickname "Wild Bill” while he was serving in the Union Army.  As the story goes, he was in Independence, Missouri when he encountered a drunken mob with intentions of hanging a bartender who had shot a hoodlum in a brawl. Hickok fired two shots over the heads of the men, staring them down with an angry glare until the mob dispersed. A grateful woman was allegedly heard to shout from the sidelines, "Good for you, Wild Bill!” She may have mistaken Hickok for someone else, but the name stuck.

 

 

Continued Next Page

 

Stage Coach Robbery

Stagecoach Robbery (re-enactment, 1902)

 

Also See:

 

Bill Hickok by Emerson Hough

Bill Hickok Photo Gallery & Timeline

Black Hills Historic Characters & Tales

Calamity Jane - Rowdy Woman of the West

Charlie Utter, Bill Hickok's Best Pard

Rock Creek Station & the McCanles Massacre

Wild Bill - 1867 Harper's Weekly Article

 

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Old West Lawmen, by Kathy Weiser-Alexander and Legends of AmericaOld West Lawmen -  By Kathy Weiser, Owner/Editor of Legends of America - Autographed - Marshals and sheriffs were in high demand in some of the most lawless settlements as well as the numerous mining camps that dotted the West. Though the vast majority of these lawmen were honorable and heroic figures, ironically, many of them rode both sides of the fence and were known as outlaws as well. 

Old West Lawmen is a collection of stories featuring 57 lawmen. Included are more than 70 vintage photographs plus articles about various organizations like the Texas Rangers, U.S. Marshals, and the Pinkerton Detective Agency. This is the first in a series of books to be published on
Legends of America's favorite topic -- The Old West. Soon, you'll see outlaws, lynchings, stagecoaches, and bunches more. Signed by the author. 7"x10" paperback -- 228 pages.

 

Made in the USA. Retail - $17.95 ~ Our Price - $14.95!  See HERE!   Buy Product

 

Also available for Kindle through Amazon for only $9.99 (Separate Shopping Cart) - Click HERE for Kindle

 

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