Main Menu
18th Century
19th Century
20th Century
21th Century
  | Home   | Index   | Info   | This Week   | Poker   | News   | Email

"Wild Bill" Hickok
b. May 27, 1837, Troy Grove, Ill., U.S.
d. Aug. 2, 1876, Deadwood, Dakota Territory [now in South Dakota, U.S.]

real name JAMES BUTLER HICKOK, an American frontiersman, army scout, marksman, and gambler who became an American legend. His reputation as a marksman gave rise to legends and tales about his life.

As a child in Illinois, he worked on neighbouring farms and helped his father in assisting escaped slaves. He left home in 1856 to farm in Kansas and there became involved in the Free State (antislavery) movement. He later served as a village constable in Monticello, Kan. While working as a teamster in 1861, he killed Dave McCanles at Rock Creek (Nebraska Territory), and legends about him probably began in the exaggerated tales of his role in this gunfight. "Wild Bill" Hickok also lived in Springfield and scouted for the Federals; he was acquitted there of the murder of Dave Tutt.

The man who became marshal of Abilene, Kan., on April 15, 1871, was a frontier dandy. He stood 6 foot 3 in his custom-made boots. His riveting gray eyes, set off by a drooping mustache, seemed to look right through people. Beneath the black hat with the sweeping brim, blond hair tumbled to his shoulders, and a Prince Albert frock coat showed off broad shoulders and a narrow waist.

During the American Civil War Hickok worked for the Union as a teamster, scout, and spy. After the war he was appointed deputy U.S. marshal, and he later became a scout for the army. Hickok is remembered particularly for his services in Kansas as sheriff of Hays City and marshal of Abilene, where his ironhanded rule helped to tame two of the most lawless towns on the frontier. From 1872 to 1874 Hickok traveled through New York state with Buffalo Bill's Wild West show, then drifted some more.

In 1876 he met and married a widowed actress, Mrs. Agnes Lake, née Mersman, but he soon left her (in Cincinnati) to visit the goldfields of the Black Hills in the Dakota Territory.

Tim Brady and Johnny Varnes, two leaders of the Deadwood underworld, initiated a plot to kill Hickok so he wouldn't be appointed marshal. Jim Levy and Charlie Storms, two noted gunmen, were offered the job but turned it down. Had they known about Hickok's bad eyesight, they might well have accepted.

August 2, at about 4 p.m., he joined a poker game in Carl Mann's Saloon No. 10. The other players were Charles Rich, a gunman in his own right, Con Stapleton, Carl Mann himself, and Captain Willie Massie, a Missouri steamboat pilot.

Hickok had a short conversation at the bar with Harry Young before he sat down. He was the last to be seated, and the only chair left for him put his back to the back door. Hickok, as a precaution, always sat with his back to the wall, and asked Charles Rich to change places with him. Rich just laughed and stayed in his chair. But Hickok's conspirators had finally found their man-Jack McCall.

A local bum who used several aliases, McCall entered the saloon unnoticed, as he often worked at menial jobs in the place. McCall began moving, quite casually, toward the back door behind Hickok's chair. Once there, he stopped and watched the game for a few minutes. Hickok and Massie were discussing the captain's habit of sneaking looks at his opponent's discards. The other players stared at their hands.

Nobody was paying any attention to McCall. Suddenly the air was shattered by a loud crash, as McCall pulled a .45-caliber revolver from his coat pocket and shot Hickok in the back of the head from three feet. Hickok hung suspended in time for a moment and then toppled over backward, the cards in his hand dropping to the floor. That hand, which included a pair of aces and a pair of eights, became known as the Dead Man's Hand. The suits of those cards is generally accepted to be clubs and spades, that is they were all black. What the fifth card was is still being disputed, it seems likely that nobody will ever know these details for sure.

Owing to the number of poker players who died during disputes, Dead man's hand was already established poker idiom for a number of a different hands long before Hickok died. In 1886, ten years after Hickok's death, the Dead man's hand was explained as being three Jacks and a pair of Tens in a North Dakota newspaper which attributed the term to a specific game held in Illinois 40 years earlier, indicating that Hickok's hand had yet to gain widespread popularity. Eventually, Hickok's "Aces and eights" became widely accepted as the "Dead Man's Hand. In 1979 Hickok was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame.

Jack McCall was tried by an illegal miner's court in Deadwood on August 3 and found not guilty. Later, he was tried in Yankton, Dakota Territory, and this time he was found guilty. He was hanged on March 1, 1877.
Home | Index | Links | Information | Glossary | Film Review | This Week | News | Email
Lotteries | Casino | Games | Betting | Spread Bet | Spotlight | Book Review | Advice | Archive | Columns


This document maintained by GGGwebmaster.
Material Copyright © 2000 - 2016

. Trade with Spreadex