Wild Bill Hickok

Wild Bill’s body was buried at Deadwood, and his grave, surrounded by a neat railing and marked by a monument, long remained one of the features of Deadwood. The monument and fence were disfigured by vandals who sought some memento of the greatest bad man ever in all likelihood seen upon the earth. His tally of eighty-five men seems large, but in fair, probability it is not large enough.   His main encounters are known historically. He killed a great many Indians at different times, but of these no accurate estimate can be claimed. Nor is his list of victims as a sharpshooter in the army legitimately to be added to his record.   Cutting out all doubtful instances, however, there remains no doubt that he killed between twenty and thirty men in personal combat in the open, and that never once was he tried in any court on a charge even of manslaughter.

This record is not approached by that of any other known bad man. Many of them are credited with twenty men, a dozen men, and so forth; but when the records are sifted the list dwindles. It is doubted whether any other bad man in America ever actually killed twenty men in fair personal combat. Bill was not killed in fair fight, nor could McCall have hurt him had Bill suspected his intent.
Hickok was about thirty-nine years old when killed, and he had averaged a little more than two men for each year of his entire life. He was well-known among army officers, and esteemed as a scout and a man, never regarded as a tough in any sense. He was a man of singular personal beauty. Of him General Custer, soon thereafter to fall a victim himself upon the plains, said: “He was a plainsman in every sense of the word, yet unlike any other of his class. Whether on foot or on horseback, he was one of the most perfect types of physical manhood I ever saw. His manner was entirely free from all bluster and bravado. He never spoke of himself unless requested to do so. His influence among the frontiersmen was unbounded; his word was law. Wild Bill was anything but a quarrelsome man, yet none but himself could enumerate the many conflicts in which he had been engaged.”
These are the words of one fighting man about another, and both men are entitled to good rank in the annals of the West. The praise of an army general for a man of no rank or wealth leaves us feeling that, after all, it was a possible thing for a bad man to be a good man, and worthy of respect and admiration, utterly unmingled with maudlin sentiment or weak love for the melodramatic.


Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated June, 2017.

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Notes & Author:  Excerpted from the book The Story of the Outlaw – A Study of the Western Desperado, by Emerson Hough; Outing Publishing Company, New York, 1907. This story is not verbatim as it has been edited for clerical errors and updated for the modern reader. Emerson Hough (1857–1923).was an author and journalist who wrote factional accounts and historical novels of life in the American West. His works helped establish the Western as a popular genre in literature and motion pictures.  For years, Hough wrote the feature “Out-of-Doors” for the Saturday Evening Post and contributed to other major magazines.

Also See:

Wild Bill Hickok & the Deadman’s Hand

Other Works by Emerson Hough:

The Story of the Outlaw – A Study of the Western Desperado – Entire Text

The Cattle Kings

The Cattle Trails

Cowboys on the American Frontier

The Frontier In History

The Indian Wars

Mines of Idaho & Montana

Pathways To the West

The Range of the American West


Bill Hickok Slideshow:


Most images available for photo prints & editorial downloads HERE.

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