Notable Black Hills People-Wild Bill Hickok
Written by Dolsee Davenport
April 30, 2018

James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok was a frontiersman and law officer whose exploits — and murder — became part of that era’s lore. Originally from Illinois, Hickok became a stagecoach driver and travelled both the Santa Fe and Oregon Trails. When the Civil War broke out, Hickok joined the Union Army in Kansas as a wagon master and scout. After the war ended in 1865, “Wild Bill” Hickok served as a marshal in the Kansas towns of Hays City and Abilene (1869-71), then toured briefly with Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show (1872-73). He was known to be an expert marksman, with a reputation for having only killed in self-defense.

Hickok later accompanied Charlie Utter's wagon train to Deadwood, South Dakota.  Initially, he attempted to lead a quiet, reasonably respectable life in the wild mining camp, but his two greatest failings – gambling and liquor, led him into the rough saloons lining the main street.

Along the wagon train trail to Deadwood, Hickok met Calamity Jane in Laramie, Wyoming. Being very much alike with their outrageous tales and heavy drinking habits, the two hit if off immediately. Later, Calamity Jane would tell everyone that they were a “couple,” but this has been much disputed.

On August 2, 1876, Hickok was playing poker in a saloon when a local gunslinger named Jack McCall shot him in the back of the head, killing him instantly. The legend of “Wild Bill” Hickok says he was holding a pair of aces and a pair of eights, which has ever since been known as the “Dead Man’s Hand.”

The day after Hickok was killed a jury 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.

McCall hung about Deadwood for several days before heading 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. 

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