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James Butler "Wild Bill" Hickok | Links | Information Sources

James Butler "Wild Bill" HIckok
The original

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the HBO

James Butler Hickok, son, and fourth of six children, of William Alonzo and Polly (Butler) Hickok, was born in Homer ( Troy Grove), La Salle Co., Illinois on 27 May 1837.

Children of William Alonzo & Polly (Butler) Hickok [siblings of Wild Bill]
1) Oliver Hickok, born May 1830
2) Lorenzo Butler Hickok, b. 1831, died soon after
3) Lorenzo Butler Hickok (2), born November 1832
4) Horace Dewey Hickok, born October 1835
5) James Butler Hickok, born May 1837
6) Celinda Hickok, born September 1839
7) Lynda/Lydia Hickok, born October 1842

He was a gambler and gunman, and a veteran of the border wars. He was an Indian Scout in 1858, a driver for the Majors and Russell (stagecoach company) in 1859, a guide and scout for the Union Army in 1861, and Chief of Scouts under General George Custer in 1865.

He moved from Illinois to Springfield, Missouri about the close of the Civil War. He was involved in the McCanles Massacre, killing three men, afterwards moving to Julesburg, Colorado where he killed a man in a gambling dispute.

In 1869 he guided Henry Wilson and a party from from Hays City to the Rocky Mountains. In September of 1869 and 1871 he was elected Marshal of Hays City, Kansas. In 1870 he started a Wild West Show but it was a failure. He tried show business again in 1873 with "Scouts of the Prairie," but that also failed.

He was also a marshal in Fort Riley, and in Abilene, Texas (1871). He was on tour with Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show, displaying his marksmanship.

He married Mrs. Agnes Lake Thatcher [nee Agnes Mersman] on March 5, 1876 in Cheyenne, Wyoming. She was born in Alsatia in 1826 and had been a tightrope walker, dancer, lion-tamer and circus owner. She had married 1st, 1842 to William Lake [Thatcher], one of the famous circus performers of his time. William Lake [he dropped the Thatcher as a performer] was killed in August 1869 at Granby, Missouri by a desperado named Jake Killian. He wrote a loving letter to his wife on July 17th, a few weeks before his death.

He next headed to the Black Hills during the gold rush.
Wild Bill was murdered in the original Saloon No. 10 in Deadwood on August 2, 1876 by Jack McCall, during a poker game. The saloon owner stated that, at the time of his death, Hickok held a pair of aces and a pair of eights, all cards black, which has since been known as a dead man's hand.

A description of James Butler Hickok, as related by Leander P. Richardson, in his article "A Trip to the Black Hills," in 1877:
      " I had been in town only a few moments when I met Charley Utter, better known in the West as "Colorado Charley," to whom I had a letter of introduction, and who at once invited me to share his camp while I remained in the region. On our way to his tent, we met J.B. Hickock, "Wild Bill," the hero of a hundred battles. Bill was Utter's "pardner," and I was introduced at once. Of course I had heard of him, the greatest scout in the West, but I was not prepared to find such a man as he proved to be. Most of the Western scouts do not amount to much. They do a great deal in the personal reminiscence way, but otherwise they are generally of the class described as "frauds." In "Wild Bill," I found a man who talked little and had done a great deal. He was about six-feet two inches in height, and very powerfully built; his face was intelligent, his hair blonde, and falling in long ringlets upon his broad shoulders; his eyes, blue and pleasant looked one straight in the face when he talked; and his lips, thin and compressed, were only partly hidden by a straw-colored moustache. His costume was a curiously blended union of the habiliments of the borderman and the drapery of the fashionable dandy. Beneath the skirts of his elaborately embroidered buckskin coat gleamed the handles of two silver-mounted revolvers, which were his constant companions. His voice was low and musical, but through its hesitation I could catch a ring of self-reliance and consciousness of strength. Yet he was the most courteous man I had met on the plains. On the following day I asked to see him use a pistol and he assented. At his request I tossed a tomato can about 15 feet into the air, both his pistols being in his belt when it left my hand. He drew one of them, and fired two bullets through the tin can before it struck the ground. Then he followed it along, firing as he went, until both weapons were empty. You have heard the expression "quick as lightning?" Well, that will describe "Wild Bill." He was noted all over the country for rapidity of motion, courage, and certainty of aim. Wherever he went he controlled the people around him, and many a quarrel has been ended by his simple announcement "This has gone far enough." Early in the forenoon of my third day in Deadwood, word was brought over to camp that he had been killed. We went immediately to the scene, and found that the report was true. He had been sitting at a table playing cards, when a dastardly assassin came up behind, put a revolver to his head and fired, killing his victim instantly. That night a miner's meeting was called, the prisoner was brought before it, his statement was heard, and he was discharged, put on a fleet horse, supplied with arms, and guarded out of town.* The next day, "Colorado Charley" took charge of the remains of the great scout, and announced that the funeral would occur at his camp. The body was clothed in a full suit of broad cloth, the hair brushed back from the pallid cheek. Beside the dead hero lay his rifle, which was buried with him. The funeral ceremony was brief and touching, hundreds of rough miners standing around the bier with bowed heads and tear-dimmed eyes, -- for with the better class "Wild Bill" had been a great favorite. At the close of the ceremony the coffin was lowered into a new made grave on the hill-side -- the first in Deadwood. And so ended the life of "Wild Bill," -- a man whose supreme physical courage had endeared him to nearly all with whom he came in contact, and made his name a terror to every Indian west of the Missouri." *He added this footnote: As I write the closing lines of this brief sketch, word reaches me that the slayer of Wild Bill has been re-arrested by the United State authorities, and after trail has been sentenced to death for willful murder. He is now at Yankton, D.T. awaiting execution. At the trial it was proved that the murdered was hired to do his work by gamblers who feared the time when better citizens should appoint Bill the champion of law and order--a post which he formerly sustained in Kansas border life, with credit to his manhood and his courage.

Wild Bill's original tombstone read: "A brave man, the victim of an assassin / J.B. Hickok (Wild Bill), age 39 years / Murdered by Jack McCall, Aug. 2, 1876." The pall bearers at his funeral were William Hillman, John Oyster, Charlie Rich, Jerry Lewis, Charles Young and Tom Dosier.

Within three years Deadwood had grown so quickly that the cemetery needed to be moved. On August 3, 1879, Charley Utter and Lewis Shoenfield removed the remains to Mt. Morian Cemetery, where a marble headstone was placed at the head of the grave:

"Wild Bill / J.B. Hickok / killed by the Assassin / Jack McCall / Deadwood City / Black Hills / August 2, 1876 / Pard, we will meet again in the happy / Hunting Grounds to part no more.

During his trial in Deadwood, McCall was found not guilty by a "miner's court" after telling his judges that Hickok had killed his brother in Kansas (though later it was discovered that McCall had no brother).

NOTE: Jack McCall was later re-tried in Yankton, found guilty, hung and buried in an unmarked grave. [See burial place of Jack McCall].
What else is Yankton, S.D. famous for? Interestingly its also the birthplace of newsman Tom Brokaw .

[See additional photographs of Wild Bill Hickok]


Wild Bill Hickock and the Deadman's Hand - from Legends of America

Wild Bill Hickok - from American Western History Museum

Wild Bill Hickok - from Adams Museum & House


See biography of Keith Carradine, actor who plays "Wild Bill" Hickok on HBO's "Deadwood" series - from HBO

Wild Bill's guns come to the Adams Museum (2006) - movie

Information Sources:
1. Doane Robinson's encyclopedia of South Dakota; Pierre: The author, 1925
2. "A Trip to the Black Hills," by Leander P. Richardson: pp. 748-756; Scribners monthly, an illustrated magazine for the people; Volume 13, Issue 6; publisher, Scribner and son, published April 1877; New York

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