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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

This image available for photographic prints and download HERE!






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.

Stage Coach RobberyIn 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.


In July of 1865 Hickok met up with a twenty-six-year-old gambler in Springfield, Missouri, to whom Hickok lost at the gaming table. When Bill couldn’t pay up, Dave Tutt took his pocket watch for security. Hickok growled that if Tutt so much as used the timepiece, he would kill him.

On July 21, 1865, the two met in the public square, Tutt proudly wearing the watch for all to see. Moments later, Tutt lay on the ground dead. Hickok was acquitted of any wrong doing.

GeorgeACuster2.jpgDuring his time in the Army, Hickok became good friends with General George Custer, working as one of his principal scouts. Custer was said to have admired Hickok, played poker with him, and would have known him better had it not been for the disaster at Little Big Horn.


Shortly after the war, in 1867, Hickok was tracked down by Henry M. Stanley, correspondent for the New York Herald who later went to Africa and "found” Dr. Livingstone. Hickok blithely told the gullible Stanley that he had personally slain over 100 men. Stanley immediately reported this claim as gospel fact and Wild Bill became a national legend.


On November 5, 1867, Wild Bill ran for sheriff of Ellsworth County, Kansas but lost. He returned to the army where he was lanced in the foot during a skirmish with an Indian in eastern Colorado. Returning to Kansas, he became the sheriff of Hays City, Kansas in 1869. On August 24, 1869, he shot and killed a man named Bill Mulrey. Just a month later on September 27, 1869, he killed a ruffian named Strawhan when he and several others were causing a disturbance in a local saloon.


On July 17, 1870, real trouble started for Hickok when several members of the 7th U.S. Cavalry caught him off guard in Drum’s Saloon, knocked him to the floor and began kicking him. Hickok drew his pistols, killing one private and seriously wounding another. After this skirmish, Bill resigned his position in Hays City, landing back in Ellsworth, Kansas for a time, then on to Abilene, Kansas.


On April 15, 1871, Hickok was appointed city marshal in Abilene, for $150 per month, plus one fourth of all fines assessed against the persons he arrested. At first Wild Bill tended to routine business.


John HardinWhen John Wesley Hardin, purportedly the worst killer in the Wild West, arrived in Abilene, Wild Bill took an indulgent and parent-like attitude toward the nasty little murderer. They drank together, visited the brothels together, and Hickok often gave Hardin advice. Hardin enjoyed being seen with the celebrated gunfighter, but he was also cautious around the city marshal, sure in the knowledge that if he got seriously out of line, Wild Bill would add him to his reputation.


However, it didn’t take long before Hardin crossed the line. Sleeping at the American House Hotel, he was awakened by the sound of snoring coming from the next room. Angry at having been awakened, Hardin fired two shots through the wall. In the deathly silence, Hardin knew that Marshal Hickok would waste no time in chasing him down.


Crawling out a window onto the roof dressed only in his undershirt, Hardin spotted Wild Bill approaching and dove from the roof into a hay stack, where he hid for the rest of the night. With the dawn, Hardin merged, stole a horse and high-tailed it out of town dressed only in his underclothes.


Hickok gradually spent more time at the gaming tables and with the ladies of the evening than he did taking care of his sheriff duties. One young man in Abilene, by the name of Samuel Henry, described Hickok’s gambling habits as:

"His whole bearing was like that of a hunted tiger---restless eyes, which nervously looked about him in all directions closely scrutinizing every stranger. When he played cards, which he did most of the time in the saloons, he sat in the corner of the room to prevent an enemy from stealing up behind him."

A local newspaper complained that Hickok allowed Abilene to be overrun with gamblers, con men, prostitutes and pimps.


However, Wild Bill did have some marshalling to do and the Bull’s Head Saloon gave him the most trouble. Phil Coe and Ben Thompson, gamblers and gunmen, were the owners of the saloon and what brought matters to a head was an oversize painting of a Texas Longhorn painted in full masculinity. Most Abilene townspeople were offended by the sign and demanding the animal’s anatomy be altered, Hickok stood by with a shotgun as the necessary deletions were made to the painting. Later, Thompson left town and Coe sold his interest in the saloon, although he remained on as a gambler. When Hickok and Coe began to court the same woman, rumors started to circulate that each planned to kill the other.


On October 5, 1871, the trouble finally came to a head. Many cowboys were in town, fighting, drinking, carousing, and only Deputy Mike Williams offered Hickok his assistance. Coe was celebrating the end of the cattle season and when he and his friends neared the Alamo Saloon, a vicious dog tried to bite him, prompting Coe to take a shot at the dog.


Though he missed the dog, Hickok appeared just minutes later to investigate the shots. Upon Coe’s explanation, Wild Bill explained to Coe that firearms were not allowed in the city, but for whatever reasons, all hell broke loose and Coe sent a bullet Hickok's way. Bill returned the fire and shot Coe twice in the stomach. Suddenly, Hickok heard footsteps coming up behind him and turning swiftly; he fired again and killed Deputy Mike Williams. Coe died three days later.


Abilene had had enough. The city fathers told the Texans there could be no more cattle drives through their town and dismissed Hickok as city marshal. At about this time the east coast was thriving on the Wild West stories in the dime novels that were being turned out and the exaggerated articles displayed in the press. Having had some luck at the gaming tables, Hickok decided to join the foray and put together a show called "The Daring Buffalo Chase of the Plains” in the early 1870’s. Making a thousand dollar investment, he packed up six buffalos, four Comanche, three cowboys, a bear and a monkey, and headed on a train to Niagara Falls. But the show was a disaster. The once frisky buffalo acted like Jersey cows, until Wild Bill fired a shot. Suddenly the buffalo ran circles with the Comanches screaming in pursuit, some stray dogs mixed into the fray, as well as several children chased by their parents, and all hell broke loose. Suddenly, the buffalo broke through a wire fence and stampeded the audience. Wild Bill made only a little over $100 for his show and had to sell the buffalos to a butcher shop to pay the expenses home for everybody.



Continued Next Page


Wild Bill Hickok

Wild Bill Hickok in 1869.

This image available for photographic prints and download HERE!


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