Western Lawman: Wild Bill Hickok Part 1

About the western lawman and cowboy Wild Bill Hickok, his biography and history in the United States of America.

"Wild Bill" HICKOK (1837-1876). Legendary

western lawman.

He was born James Butler Hickok on a farm in La Salle County, III. After distinguished service as an Indian scout for the Army, he turned up at Fort Riley, Kans., where he was appointed a U.S. deputy marshal in 1866. His major responsibility was rounding up army deserters and horse thieves, but the record of his service is not clear. In August, 1869, Wild Bill was elected sheriff of Ellis County, Kans., and he soon developed the reputation of being one of the best gunmen--and most colorful characters--in all of Kansas Territory.

Bill's physical appearance contributed significantly to his fame. While most of his fellow lawmen favored rough-and-ready dress, Wild Bill was a notorious dandy. He was fond of elegantly tailored European-style suits with fancy satin lapels, and liked to show off his collection of colorful silk ties. Along with 2 6-guns he carried on his hips, he also sported a knife thrust into a bright red sash. His most striking feature was his hair. This he wore below shoulder length, carefully formed into little ringlets that were kept in place by the use of fragrant hair oil. His long, drooping moustache was waxed, and it twirled up at the ends.

As early as 1866, Wild Bill boasted to a reporter that he had personally killed "considerably over 100 men" (not counting Indians, of course) and as sheriff of Ellis County, Hickok had a chance to improve upon his record. Once, in Solomon, Kans., a pair of murderers fled from him--one running up the street and the other running down the street in the opposite direction. Wild Bill fired at the 2 men simultaneously and killed them both. During a visit to Topeka in 1870, Wild Bill boasted so loud and so long about his abilities with a 6-gun, that no less a man than Buffalo Bill Cody decided to put him to the test. Cody threw his hat into the air, taunting his rival to hit it more than once. Wild Bill drew his 6-gun and, before the hat hit the ground, had shot a row of evenly spaced holes along the edge of the brim.

In 1871, Wild Bill arrived in Abilene, one of the most celebrated cow towns in American history. This was the peak year for Abilene. More than 600,000 cattle would pass through its yards on the way to eastern markets, and all summer long, hundreds of cowboys, weary from months on the trail would squander a full year's wages in the brothels, saloons, gambling houses, and other amusements to be found in the bustling little metropolis. Wild Bill, already a legendary figure, was appointed marshal of Abilene and ordered to "clean up" the town. But even though Wild Bill continued to indulge in brawls and gunfights, he found it easier to accept protection money from pimps and gamblers than to interfere in their business. Wild Bill had originally come to Abilene to earn his living playing cards at the Alamo saloon. After he was appointed marshal, he continued this activity at the Alamo most afternoons, and could be found in the town's red light district nearly every night.

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