James Butler Hickok was born in Troy Grove, Illinois, on May 27, 1837, and was shot dead in a saloon in Deadwood, Dakota Territory, on August 2, 1876. Famous for his lethal gun skills, as well as his professional gambling, he was a U.S. town marshal who unsuccessfully tried show business for a while after he got fired from his marshal job for shooting more than just bad guys.
As a boy in rural Illinois, young James was reliable enough, lean and wiry, and at the same time inordinately interested in guns, shooting, and combative bravado. For what it was worth in that context, he became recognized locally as an outstanding marksman with a pistol (at the initial mortal expense of indigenous squirrels and similar small creatures, and the chagrin of his family). His parents, Abner and Eunice Hickok, were God-fearing Baptists who obligated him to wear a stiff and uncomfortable suit to church on Sundays; a practice with which he wrestled considerably each and every week of his youth. He was not close to either of his parents, especially his father, who expressed little interest in anything young James did or aspired to as he considered him to be a lay-about dreamer. Nevertheless James did his chores correctly to maintain the family's sustenance farm, but this was not a life for a young man with romantic notions of the wild west frontier, and upon his eighteenth birthday he took his leave and migrated to Monticello, Kansas. There he got a job driving a stage coach on the Santa Fe and Oregon trails.
In 1855, highwaymen were real threats to stage coaches laden with relatively well-heeled travelers with cash in their pockets, and as a driver young James had many a violent encounter with ruffians of every stripe, thereby putting his marksman's skills to profitable use immediately. In his own mind it was instantly clear that he was rather good as a gunfighter, and he began to develop a ready belligerence which quickly earned him the nickname "Wild Bill." Where the "Bill" came from is not known, but it appears that he saw no need to correct the misnaming, so it stuck.
As a cross-country stage driver it was frequently necessary to spend the night camped under the stars when the unreliable coaches would break axles or other mishaps -- such as run-ins with Indians -- would destroy schedules which were dubious in any case. On one such occasion, to the west of Wetmore, Colorado, Wild Bill was asleep under some creosote bushes near his disabled but customer-filled coach. He was dressed in his one and only suit of clothes which, since he had been wearing them continuously for over eight months, had become rather saturated with various pungent odors, not the least of which was bacon grease from daily encounters. So, he gave a wandering local cinnamon bear the impression that he likely was delicious. Not one to ignore such an opportunity, the bear inspected Bill much more closely and then enthusiastically took a generous bite on what he judged to be the fleshiest part. Wild Bill awoke.
According to the later report by the coach patrons, who lit a kerosene lantern to illuminate the spectacle, the bear and Wild Bill were rather closely matched. Wild Bill had taken off his guns for the night, but still had a six-inch knife stuck in his belt, while the bear was equipped with numerous claws and a spectacular set of perfect teeth. The ruckus was tremendous, and when the dust finally settled Wild Bill was nearly fatally wounded, while the bear was fatally wounded by means of that knife and Wild Bill's single-handed efforts. While Bill was laid up for a while healing, all this did nothing to diminish Wild Bill's growing reputation as a very tough frontier customer in the most romantic contemporary version of the concept.
He was, after all, right for such a job given that he had all the proper traits: a sharpshooter's eye, a peerless appreciation of his own ferocity, and reasonably good looks as he estimated. Embellishing his image, he grew his hair to an inordinate length, largely, he said, as a (contemptuous) challenge to those scalp seeking Indians he had been fighting so often -- though others offered the opinion that the hair was more a vain and nugatory affectation than anything else.
But, having recovered from the altercation with the forlorn bear, the occupation of stage driver no longer seemed to have much gloss on it, and so Wild Bill applied for, and was given, the position of constable in a small town in Nebraska. Violent confrontations with various thieves and other ne'r-do-wells were the order of the day, but occasionally some real desperadoes would appear making the employment worth his meager pay. His job there also obliged him to collect overdue bills, and to keep the village idiot quiet on Sunday mornings -- which he usually did by throwing a cowhide over the man and pegging it to the ground until the church services were over.
The McCanles outlaw gang was wanted for train robbery, murder, bank robbery, cattle rustling, and horse theft. In 1861 word came to Wild Bill that they had set up a camp at Rock Creek Station, in Jefferson County -- just outside his limited jurisdiction. Now catching those jokers would be a task worthy of his considerable skills and sure to put another feather in his cap. The only small detail which could cause a bit of an annoyance was the fact that taking the gang outside the range of his authority might prove to be an embarrassment to his badge to the extent that he'd wind up in the hoosegow as quickly as the bad guys. He calculated he'd get them, nevertheless.
It would be learned of Wild Bill Hickok in later years that he had a certain bent toward straining the truth now and then when it was to his advantage to do so. Of course in this situation he figured that it was right and proper to get creative in the service of upstanding justice, so he devised a little ruse in order to coax the McCanles boys just a smidgen over the line so he could constrain their freedom, or otherwise put them out of circulation with a reduced threat to his good name and future employment prospects.
Back in town as he enjoyed a second tumbler of Sam Gleason's best Rye and a respectable cigar in the Black Bull Saloon, Wild Bill found the inspiration which brought a most uncharacteristic grin across his mustachioed face to the confusion of the rest of the regular patrons who knew him by another form of presentation altogether. They thought he looked absolutely demonic, which may have been a reasonable assessment as the plot would later demonstrate.
Six-Toed Pete was a now-and-then gun slinger of no particular accomplishment, except that he made considerable contributions to the good fortunes of Sam Gleason whenever he had a coin in his pocket and a thirst to go with it. Pete's accomplishments were there, it's just that they were principally negatives rather than things other more normal people generally aspired to. For example, Pete had given up smoking for a while as his mustache and left eyebrow grew back after the incident on Easter when his breath ignited along with his cigar, and Joe Colbert had put out the blaze with the contents of one of the saloon's spittoons. He gained a little notoriety from that event, but it was not something he wanted to write home about, assuming that he would ever learn to write that is.
Anyway, Pete was one of the more obvious members of a large underclass of town drunks, and Wild Bill had occasionally bought him a shot or two during the odd moment when a generous impulse would overtake his better judgment. Wild Bill called Pete to his table and inquired if he would like a little employment, offering to pay him four dollars for barely a day's work to deliver a simple message over in Jefferson County. Disbelieving this exaggerated generosity, Pete immediately inquired about the state of Wild Bill's mental health, which almost blew the whole deal for him right there -- which could have been the least of it if Bill had lost his temper, which he did not.
Rather, Wild Bill told Pete that some old friends, the McCanles boys, who were hard working cowhands from the Pecos, had finished a cattle drive and were resting, but lonely, over at Rock Creek Station. Bill said that he would like to do a little favor for his old buddies, but he didn't want to reveal himself for fear that they would feel obligated to him and he didn't want them to spend their hard-earned money on some return gift which he likely had no need for anyway. No, he said, he'd rather send Pete as a messenger, to offer a small treat from an anonymous friend and admirer, to be enjoyed to their heart's content for as long as it pleased them. Pete, Wild Bill cautioned, would find it necessary to watch his back for the rest of his (very short) life if he ever breathed a word to anyone about this plan.
"My God", Pete thought, "Wild Bill is a saint right here on this earth." "Imagine such kindness." etc., etc. Pete, on his own, could not imagine much beyond the bottom of the shot glass which he stared into for such a large portion of his existence; and he had never heard of the McCanles gang, which is exactly what Wild Bill estimated.
Tell them, Bill said to Pete, that on Saturday night a whole wagon load -- six to be exact -- of "soiled doves" from the finest parlor house in town would be sent to the old Daisy Pearl Inn, just this side of the county line. Tell them that the doves will be perfumed and a little bit plump. Tell them that the piano is even getting tuned, and that enough bottles of decent whiskey will be there free for them to take as much as they like. Tell them that the ladies are seasoned pros who know how to show a man a good time, and that they will be there for the whole of the night, and that no other patrons will frequent the place to interrupt their celebrations. No need to bring guns, he said.
Wild Bill said to Pete that he'd pay him the four dollars when he learned that the message had caused the correct result.
So, off Pete rode on a borrowed mule, ecstatic in the understanding that he was doing a good deed for probably the first time in his life. He told the wide-eyed McCanles gang everything he was instructed to tell them, and they hooted in glee at this announcement of unexpected good fortune -- all except for Jeb McCanles that is, who wondered who in the hell this benefactor was anyway. Never mind, his crew said to him; let's slither up to the ladies and worry about such details later. And so they planned to do just that.
Wild Bill, in the mean time, bought all the .45 caliber cartridges that were available in the general store (see note at bottom), and he even bought a can of fancy patent oil to make sure that his Colt Peacemakers would function silkily when he needed them the most, which he judged would be about sundown on Saturday night. This precaution was probably more than was necessary, since the $17 mail order pistols were only a few months old, but he felt better when all small considerations had been tended to properly.
Saturday arrived, and Wild Bill rented a horse and wagon from the blacksmith; one with seats for at least six people. He left early, and alone, for the old Daisy Pearl Inn, which he knew to be empty since the proprietor was in jail for robbing patrons he had drugged, and Wild Bill had put him there. Parking the wagon directly in front of the place, Bill shot the lock off the door and helped himself to a generous whiskey as he sat down to load his six-shooters and mark time.
Though darkness had begun to fall, there was no question that the McCanles gang had arrived, for they let out a whooping shout as they spotted the wagon out front which proved the truth of Six-Toed Pete's story and invitation to exotic pleasures. Bursting through the door with no customary care, the lot of them halted in puzzled silence as they found an empty saloon, lit but abandoned. Before the hapless bunch could form an appraisal of the meaning of this peculiar situation, Wild Bill rose from behind the bar with a broad smile on his face and both pistols blazing.
The story which circulated later said that Wild Bill Hickok had confronted the entire McCanles gang single-handedly, and in the shoot-out which followed had killed Jeb McCanles and two of his men, and had taken the rest as prisoners. The bare bones of this story is true, but Wild Bill made no effort to add any more details to it. When he collected the $175 reward, he paid the $4 he owed to Six-Toed Pete, reminded him once again to keep his mouth shut, and added the whole affair to his expanding reputation as a paradigm of the ruthless western lawman: fearless, tough, skilled, cunning.
Meanwhile the Civil War had broken out, and although Nebraska didn't immediately leap into the fray to provide any form of inspiration, Wild Bill was somehow smitten by a sense of patriotic duty and volunteered his services to the Union as a scout. At the same time, since a disproportionate percentage of cowhands and others in the wild west were Blacks, he knew and respected a fair number of them, and considered that the South had never given them any semblance of a fair break, to say the least. Besides, he never liked those funny Southern accents anyway, figuring that most of the world's affected fops had somehow drained down there by a form of natural selection.
So, Wild Bill engaged himself in the war efforts with an enthusiastic dedication and courageousness which some say occasionally came close in performance to the claims he made about his own deeds, but others weren't so sure. For example, in response to some eastern journalists (who sought him out later) he said that he had shot 50 Confederates with exactly 50 bullets while using a miracle rifle of some specious description, which must have been able to fire faster than any of those confined by the conventional technology of the day. He also said that he had out-shot one man in front of him with the pistol in his left hand, and plugged a second man behind him by shooting over his shoulder with his right hand, both at the same time.
It is true that he made some daring forays behind the Confederate lines, but no monumental accomplishments of actual record -- that is, confirmed by the objective observation of others -- have been accredited to him in the war. Perhaps he did solid work in the interest of the Union, however his descriptions of the activities dilute acceptance of the reality of the enterprise.
Shortly after the war, in 1867, he was tracked down by Henry M. Stanley, a journalist and adventurous reporter, and that same Stanley who later, when in Africa, uttered the famous declaration, "Dr. Livingstone, I presume." It seems that Wild Bill had a fully developed and somewhat intimidating presence about him, and the normally unflappable Stanley became absolutely flustered as he met Wild Bill, and perspiring, asked wide-eyed questions which immediately offered the poker-faced Wild Bill an opportunity to employ poetic license.
"Mr. Bill, that is Mr. Wild, or rather Mr. Hickok, are you willing to mention how many men you have killed, to your precise and certain knowledge?" Flatly, Wild Bill said, "I assume you mean white men, after all nobody counts Indians, or Mexicans and so forth. Well, I am perfectly willing to swear a solemn oath on the Bible, tomorrow, that I have killed substantially over a hundred."
Abandoning every vestige of journalistic skepticism and impartial judgment in the face of such inflation, Stanley immediately reported this claim as gospel fact, and added the comment that, "[Mr. Hickok] is endowed with extraordinary power and agility. He seems naturally suited to perform daring actions." Wallowing in hero worship of the most lurid dimension actually did not contribute much to the reputation of Wild Bill among more jaded students of the affairs of the West, but this is unfortunate, because there are some instances of true heroic deeds on the part of Wild Bill.
Employed as a U.S. Army scout in 1868, in Colorado, Wild Bill and 40 men from the 3rd infantry battalion out of Fort Russell were surrounded by over 350 braves of the Kiowa Indian tribe, led by Chief Tilgha-ma and his son, Moh-ka-na. After a two day siege of the soldiers' solid position, army ammunition was running low, and six of the soldiers had been killed; two by arrows, three by rifle fire, one by a spear. Reinforcement was not far afield, but how to summon help before all was lost?
A lull in the battle supervened as the afternoon of the second day began to develop long shadows, but the parched troops knew that they could not last the approaching night with the resources at hand, and that desperate measures needed to be explored more than promptly. True to form, the soldiers commenced a conventional examination of their battle strategies, but Wild Bill understood that a more immediate action was the only deed which could hope to rescue them from certain death, scalping, and God knows what else. Mounting his very fast horse, an Appaloosa, Hickok surprised the troops as well as the Indians as he broke into a full racing gallop, directly into the midst of the not quite wary Kiowa fighters, who were in repose, regaining their wind for the final suffocating action.
Before the disbelieving Kiowas could regain their equipoise, Wild Bill had blasted through their ranks and was high-tailing it back to the fort, where he successfully summoned overwhelming aid which drove the Indians from this encounter, and permanently removed them as an obstacle to further White expansionism in Colorado.
Hickok's career as an Army scout did not last very long, however. The requirement of the job that he be on location in remote and dusty reaches of the territories necessitated the man's removal from any proper saloon, or innocent moment's gambling, which constituted hardship beyond what little reward the occasional notoriety could offer as a balance. He quit.
Always interested, especially, in an engaging game of cards on the side, Wild Bill surmised that a little money could be found if he were to perfect his skills just a bit, as he also honed his ability to size up a mark while keeping a distant cool. As a professional gambler -- cardsharp is a negative term and we have no solid proof -- Wild Bill operated on the very edge of propriety, doubtless taking a sucker when the pot was worth the effort. There were many competitors in this shifty and nefarious trade, and the bulk of them operated on the wrong side of any form of law. Such a man was one James "Dog" Kennedy, a cardsharp of the slickest description who, since he knew what he was talking about, could spot a cheat from across the room. Ignorant of whom he was accusing, he fingered Wild Bill as playing a bad fast game, thereby anticipating getting rid of some competition; he got more than he guessed he would.
The confrontation escalated as accusations passed back and forth, the result being that a classic duel with six-guns was demanded in the public square of Springfield, Missouri, on September 21, 1869. At high noon, as was romantically dictated in such events, the two of them faced each other from a distance of 50 paces. Hickok had his pair of Colts, while Kennedy had a single Smith & Wesson double-action. Though it was dangerous, Hickok had cocked both his single-action revolvers as they sat in their holsters.
Kennedy drew first and fired, but he missed Hickok and his bullet hit the dust 30 yards beyond Hickok's left shoulder. At almost the same moment Hickok drew both his guns at once and fired them simultaneously. One hit Kennedy just above the right knee, but the other shot struck his upper chest, killing him instantly. Since it was seen that Kennedy had drawn first, Hickok was judged by those present (who were sober enough to take notice) to have acted in self-defense and no charges were laid. Actually, he was congratulated.
Such employment was not very steady however, and so in taking an appointment as U.S. marshal in Hays City, Kansas, Hickok's life returned to the normal routine of keeping the peace and pursuing reasonable diversions in the local saloon, which was the main point.
At the same time, nearby Abilene, Kansas was developing as the earliest of the great staging places for the eastern rail shipment of Texas longhorn cattle. The growth had begun in 1867, in the summer, as the first animals arrived for shipment. Before that, Abilene had been a dusty and slow little "town" consisting of about a dozen log huts, and three or four sod shelters on the edges. But soon the village's streets were swarming with cow pokes and cattle dealers -- and with gamblers who were ready and willing to relieve them of their hard-earned cash. Within four years Abilene had reached its peak of prosperity, notoriety, and infamy. A fast town for a fast clientele, it was wide open; in walked U.S. Marshal Wild Bill Hickok to a home in which he belonged. He was not to call it home for long.
At first Wild Bill tended to routine business. For example, John Wesley Hardin, who was the worst killer the wild west produced, arrived in Abilene, where, of course, he sought out the most agreeable saloon. Hardin met Wild Bill Hickok there, and for some reason Wild Bill took an indulgent and parent-like attitude toward the nasty little murderer. They drank together, they whored together. Hickok gave him advice and even helped Hardin's friends out of trouble. Hardin enjoyed being seen with the celebrated gunfighter, but he knew at the same time that Wild Bill would add him to his reputation if he got seriously out of line.
Hardin took a room at the American House Hotel in Abilene. At about one o'clock in the morning, Hardin was awakened by snoring coming from some stranger in the next room. Incensed that his rest was being disturbed, Hardin took his pistol and fired a shot through the wall, then he fired a second. The man in the next room lay slain, and the deathly silence told Hardin that he was about to come into deep trouble with Marshal Hickok.
Guessing that a quick exit was the most prudent, Hardin crawled out of his window and onto the roof above the hotel's promenade. Dressed only in his undershirt, Hardin spotted Wild Bill approaching from the Alamo Saloon, so he dove from the roof into a hay stack, where he hid for the rest of the night. As dawn was breaking, Hardin emerged, stole a horse and rode wildly out of town still dressed only in his undershirt. Wild Bill had not added Hardin to his reputation, but he had caused him to get out of Abilene.
The Alamo Saloon was the most posh place in town, with etched glass swinging doors, shining brass, polished mahogany, ferns, waiters in actual uniforms with gold braiding on them, and every gambling device a person could imagine. It was Wild Bill's favorite. The second most popular spot was the Bull's Head Saloon, which was expensive beyond belief. It did an excellent profitable business for its two Texas gambler owners, Phil Coe and Ben Thompson, but this was soon to end, as was Abilene.
The trouble seems to have started when Marshal Hickok demanded that the sign outside the Bull's Head be modified to eliminate certain portions of the bull's portrait which Hickok considered to be "indelicate." This was an interesting perspective in a rough gambling town, especially taking into account that Wild Bill preferred to hold court in the Alamo Saloon, which was filled with paintings of naked women -- the largest of which was a portrait of a local Jezebel, named Lucy, done up as Cleopatra with a huge Peacock standing at each side of her.
Thompson refused the demand, and Hickok then hired a couple painters to cover up the offending parts of the bull.
Coe escalated the argument by claiming that Hickok was exhibiting a brash prejudice against Texans (so as to spoil their business, and promote that of his friends). To this Hickok responded that Coe was running rigged games at the Bull's Head. Coe was not amused.
Seeking to drown these sorrows, Coe went out on the town with a batch of fellow Texans who were about to hit the long trail back home. Although they had been relieved of a good portion of their money through gambling, the men still had enough left to whoop it up and raise a little hell, and Coe was in the mood to raise hell. Drunk, the Texans, plus Coe, roared up and down the street, oblivious to all obstacles, breaking windows, knocking people about, and otherwise creating a general ruckus. Coe, who was no gunslinger and didn't even carry a gun usually, pulled out a pistol and fired a wobbly shot as the bunch approached the Alamo Saloon.
Marshal Wild Bill Hickok, who was drinking at another bar down the street with his friend and fellow lawman, Mike Williams, rushed over to the Alamo and entered it through its back door. Emerging at the front, he confronted the mob of Texans, asking, "Who fired that shot?" Coe, pistol still in hand, replied that he had fired at a stray dog. Hickok leveled his Colts at Coe, demanding that he cease and desist, but instead Coe drew a bead on Hickok.
Who fired the first shot there in the darkness is not known, but when the powder smoke cleared, Mike Williams -- who had run to Hickok's aid -- lay dead, and Coe was mortally wounded. Both were shot by Hickok.
Considering pressures from local farmers, real estate speculators, townspeople who were fed up with rowdyism, churchgoers and other groups, the mayor and his council told Wild Bill that they were no longer in need of his services, and that they no longer needed all this gaming either. Hickok was fired, and Abilene was dead as a gambling town. The business moved elsewhere.
Unemployed, Wild Bill was a bit relieved, in a way, because while he enjoyed being a lawman, he decided that he liked being a gambler just as much, and so now he had an opportunity to follow that bliss. He packed up his reputation and a couple decks of "special" cards, and headed off toward Deadwood, Dakota Territory. There was a gold rush going on there and, likely, miners ready to relinquish their money. Besides, in Abilene Hickok had been obliged to keep the streets free of litter as well as rowdy cowboys, but he did get 50¢ for every unlicensed dog he shot within the city limits.
It wasn't a quick trip. On the way there were too many saloons with too much whiskey; too many sweet smelling soiled doves; too many suckers with ready cash in their sweaty hands. Journalists had become interested in Wild Bill's adventures, but were hard pressed to pin down just where he was, so some began to guess.
In 1873, the Kansas City Examiner/Herald reported that Wild Bill had been killed in Galveston, Texas. The next day, it reported that he was visiting relatives in Springfield, Missouri. A week later the paper reported that Hickok was "airing his long hair" in New York City. The following Tuesday they reported that he had killed three Indians somewhere west of Omaha, Nebraska. In the following week it was written that he was shot to death in a gun duel, but this time at Fort Dodge, Kansas.
Taking an appraisal of all this, Hickok sent a curt note to the paper, pointing out that he remained in sound health and was leading the life of a solid citizen. The paper responded with this promise, "Wild Bill, or any other man killed by mistake in our columns, will be promptly resuscitated upon application by mail."
Actually, some resuscitation would have been useful. In his escapades as a "professional gambler," what Wild Bill had really accomplished was to become a profound drunk, for he turned out to be unremarkable as a cardsharp. There was a bit of romance however. In Deadwood Wild Bill met a bartender who shared a good number of his traits: brash; vain; fiercely individual; alcoholic; and available for hire as a woman of relaxed virtue when times were lean. Her name was Calamity Jane.
The two of them hit it off marvelously, for basically they were much alike. Both were liars; both were outrageous; neither had any moral scruples, etc. They carried on in a grand fashion, and Calamity Jane (Martha Jane Cannary) even announced that they were married -- although no one had noticed any ceremony taking place. In this alcohol sodden, but celebratory state, Wild Bill became optimistic for a change, which was not a disposition he had ever displayed before. Having a caring relationship with another human being was an experience absolutely unknown to him previously. He decided to take a proper job, instead of just shooting and swindling people; it was a painful change of pace.
At least something interesting presented itself. Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show was in Nebraska seeking new recruits for its repertoire of performers, and a scout had been sent to inquire if Wild Bill had an interest in joining the show as a sharpshooter, plus he was offered the princely sum of $192 per month and accommodations. Absolutely, Wild Bill said, and he accepted the job.
Unfortunately, this didn't last for very long either. Since the bulk of Wild Bill's deeds were fabrications cooked up in his head, and since copious alcohol had softened his sharp edge (such as it ever was), and since he still had a taste for a "medicinal" bottle of spirits each day, his performance in the Wild West Show was dismal on its better days, and nonexistent when he was "under the weather." He was fired, again.
In the downward spiral which overtook him then, he tried vainly to resume a career as a gambler, but no longer possessed the requisite skills and just barely was able to keep himself properly suited and situated so as to hold on to the reputation and the illusion. He was repeatedly arrested for vagrancy; he was seldom sober; he was 39.
Back in Deadwood, at Sweeney's Silver Dollar Saloon, Wild Bill was playing a game of low stakes poker at his usual table in the corner near the door. Jack McCall, who was drinking heavily at the bar, saw him there and his face turned a deep crimson, but he said nothing.
McCall believed that Hickok had killed his brother back in Kansas. This probably was correct, considering that Lew McCall was a thief and a loud-mouth, and had met his end in Abilene in a gunfight with a "lawman." Remaining quiet and unobtrusive, McCall slowly walked around to the corner of the saloon where Hickok was playing his game. Under his coat, McCall's hand was on his double-action pistol, a .45. He came up slowly behind Hickok, attempting to create the impression that he was a casual observer of the game, and in this attempt watched several hands being played. As everyone's attention was focused on the player opposite Hickok, as that man placed his bet, McCall withdrew his revolver and shot Wild Bill Hickok in the back of the head, killing him instantly.
Wild Bill held a pair of eights, and a pair of Aces, which ever since that moment have been known as a "dead man's hand."
James Butler Hickok was buried in the cemetery outside Deadwood. Calamity Jane insisted that a proper grave be built in honor of the man she still loved, and an enclosure 10'x10' was built around his burial plot. On top of that little encircling stone wall was placed a 3' fence which had fancy cast iron filigree on top, and a small American flag was stuck into the ground in front of the tombstone in honor of his service in the War.
14 years later, in 1900, an aging Calamity Jane arranged to be photographed next to this now overgrown burial site. Elderly, thin and poor, her clothes were held together with safety pins and were ragged. She still had a spunky style to her as she posed with a flower in her hand, and she said that when she died she wanted to be buried next to the man she loved. Three years later, she was.
Note: Wild Bill did not use a .45 caliber pistol. This and other details of little consequence differ from the actual facts, but none of these variations alter Bill's character in any way, so please consider them as expressions of artistic license. Remember that this is not academic history.
© Jerome C. Krause