Yesterday, August 2, 1876, James Butler Hickok, also known to
friend and foe as Wild Bill, was brutally assaulted and murdered
in the Black Hills mining town of Deadwood, South Dakota.
At 4:15 on that horrendous day Hickoks attacker, the notorious
gunslinger known as Jack McCall, and also referred to as Broken
Nose Jack, entered the No. 10, or possibly the No. 66, Saloon
where the now-deceased was innocently enjoying a friendly game
of poker with friends.
Unbeknown to one of Americans most famous heroes of the
west the bloodthirsty McCall, with no known provocation, entered
the saloon where the peaceable Hickok sat with his back to the
saloon door. McCall then slipped up behind Hickok and shot him
in the back of the head with a heavy .45-caliber Colt, serial
no. 2079, killing Wild Bill instantly.
After having murdered James Hickok, gunslinger McCall then attempted
to assassin others in the saloon. Ironically, the remainder of
the cartridges in McCalls pistol were reported to be duds,
however it is believed that one other man was hit.
At the time of his murder, Hickok, who never had a chance to
defend himself nor see his assailant, was holding a draw-poker
hand consisting of an ace of diamonds, an ace of clubs, one eight
of clubs and an eight of spades. In addition, Hickok also held
the Queen of Hearts.
At this writing a hand consisting of these same cards is already
being referred to as the Dead Man's Hand. This hand was witnessed
and verified by a Mr. Christy, a friend of Hickoks who was
present at the time of the murder. Also ironic, in view of reputation
and past heroic deeds of the deceased, James Hickok died with
his Smith and Wesson revolver secure in its holster.
Hickok first graced the fair city of Deadwood, South Dakota in
the spring of 1876. Shortly thereafter he became a welcomed regular
at the poker tables of various Deadwood saloons. It is believed
that at the time of his death Hickok, who had only reached his
39th year, was a full time-employed card player.
James Butler Hickok was born in Troy Grove, Ill., on May 27,
1837. In 1855, after some disturbance, he left Illinois. For a
time, thereafter, he turned his hand to farming. Sometime later,
Bill joined General James Lane's Kansas free-state force.
Hickok became a law officer for the first time at Monticello,
Kansas. He also served as an Indian scout and drove a stagecoach
on the Santa Fe and Oregon trails. During the Civil War he served
his country as a Union scout. In 1866, Hickok became deputy marshal
of Fort Riley, then marshal of Hays City in 1869. His law-enforcing
career continued in Abilene in 1869 where he also served.
In 1872 Hickok had a two-year stint in the entertainment business
as a performer with the famed Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show.
However, in 1876 he left the show to seek his fortune in the Black
Hills in Dakota Territory during the gold rush there.
Mr. Hickok will certainly be mourned by his many friends and
associates. Among them, and famed in her own right, is Martha
Jane Canary. Better known as Calamity Jane, Miss Canary is an
expert horsewoman and sharpshooter. Though notorious for the wearing
of mens clothing it is often speculated that Calamity utilizes
her often hidden feminine charms to support her various, and sometime
liquid, necessities. However, the town of Deadwood still gives
thanks to Miss Canary for her unfaltering assistance during the
smallpox epidemic that devastated that mining community.
At the time of this writing, it is assured that gunslinger Jack
McCall will stand trial for the murder of James Butler Wild
Bill Hickok. There is little doubt that the results of McCalls
trial will be a sentence of death by hanging.
Though our artist, Mary Trotter Kion, was not present at the
shooting, the Great Plains Gazette would like to present the above
ink and pencil sketch of how the murder of Wild Bill Hickok may
have taken place. Kion says all you pardoners out there are welcome
to use her sketch, just as long as you let folks know who drew
it. Better fess up if you use it, she can be pretty quick on the
draw herself. Mary also says she's sorry the sketch
is so small and guesses she'll have to use a bigger pencil next
The major printed sources for this article are:
Edwards, Shane. Heroes and Outlaws of the Old West. Published
by Santa Monica Press, Santa Monica, California, 1993.
Breihan, Carl W. Great Gunfighters of the West. Published by Signet
Reiter, Joan Swallow. The Old West: The Women. Published by Time-Life
Books, Alexandria, Virginia, 1978.