Wild Bill Hickok & the Deadman’s Hand

McCall slowly walked around to the corner of the saloon where Hickok was playing his game. From under his coat, McCall pulled a double-action .45 pistol, shouted “Take that!” and shot Wild Bill Hickok in the back of the head, killing him instantly. Hickok had been holding a pair of eights, and a pair of Aces, which has ever since been known as the “dead man’s hand.”

Hickok’s good friend, Charlie Utter, claimed the body, made the funeral arrangements, and bought the burial plot.  He was buried in the cemetery outside Deadwood on August 3, 1876. Calamity Jane insisted that a proper grave be built in honor of the man she loved, and an 10’x10′ enclosure was built around his burial plot encircled by a 3′ fence with fancy cast iron filigree on top.  A small American flag was stuck into the ground in front of the tombstone in honor of his service in the War.

The entire population of the gulch, prospectors to prostitutes, followed his funeral procession to “boot hill.” Charlie Utter placed a wooden marker on the grave inscribed:

Bill Hickok Grave in Deadwood, South Dakota

Bill Hickok Grave in Deadwood, South Dakota

Wild Bill

B. Hickok

Killed by the assassin Jack McCall

Deadwood, Black Hills

August 2, 1876

Pard we will meet again in the

Happy Hunting Grounds to part no more

Good bye

Colorado Charlie, C. H. Utter

Soon, his new bride would receive a letter that Bill had penned just one day before his death.  Seemingly, it appears that he had a premonition of his rapidly approaching demise:

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.”

The day after Hickok was killed a jury panel was selected to try Jack McCall.  McCall claimed he had shot Wild Bill in revenge for killing his brother back in Abilene, Kansas and maintained that he would do it all over again given the chance.

In less than two hours the jury returned a “not guilty” verdict that evoked this comment in the local newspaper: “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.”

McCall hung about Deadwood for several days, until a man called California Joe strongly suggested the air might be bad for McCall’s health. McCall got the message and believing he’d escaped punishment for his crime, headed to Wyoming bragging to anyone who would listen that he had killed the famous Wild Bill Hickok.

Less than a month later, the trial held in Deadwood was found to have had no legal basis, Deadwood being located in Indian Territory. McCall was arrested in Laramie, Wyoming  on August 29, 1876, charged with the murder, and  taken to Yankton, South Dakota to stand trial.

Lorenzo Butler Hickok traveled from Illinois to attend the trial of his brother’s murderer and was gratified by the guilty verdict. On March 1, 1877, Jack McCall was put to death by hanging. As to McCall’s earlier claim of having shot Hickok out of revenge for his brother, it was later discovered that Jack McCall never had a brother.

Years after Hickok’s death, in 1900, an aging Calamity Jane arranged to be photographed next to his overgrown burial site. Elderly, thin and poor, her clothes were ragged and held together with safety pins.  Holding a flower in her hand, she said that when she died she wanted to be buried next to the man she loved. Three years later, she was.

 

© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated June, 2017.

Also See:

Calamity Jane at Bill Hickok's grave in 1903

Calamity Jane at Bill Hickok’s grave in 1903

Bill Hickok by Emerson Hough

Black Hills Historic Characters & Tales

Calamity Jane – Rowdy Woman of the West

Charlie Utter, Bill Hickok’s Best Pard

Deadwood – Rough & Tumble Mining Camp

Deadwood, South Dakota Timeline

Deadwood Photo Print Gallery

HBO’s Deadwood – Facts & Fiction

McCanles Massacre – A WPA Interview

Rock Creek Station & the McCanles Massacre

Wild Bill – 1867 Harper’s Weekly Article

 

 

2 thoughts on “Wild Bill Hickok & the Deadman’s Hand”

  1. Hi – I was wondering if you had old western actors that do scene reenactments or just dress-up for social events to play a particular part? This is a serious inquiry, I apologize if it catches you off guard. If I am in the wrong place could you possibly direct me to a contact you have that could help me?

    1. Chad – I’m sorry we don’t. Finding them would be more of a local thing in my opinion. Try Visitor’s Bureaus or local historic societies. Good luck.

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