Western Lawman: Wild Bill Hickok Part 2

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.

While the "respectable elements" in Abilene complained about their marshal's behavior, Bill continued to pose as a defender of righteousness. But finally, he overplayed his hand. On the night of October 5, 1871, a bunch of drunken cowboys were hurrahing the town of Abilene in their time-honored fashion--forcing clothing merchants to outfit poorly clad strangers, obliging passersby to stand drinks for all regulars. Wild Bill left the poker table at the Alamo long enough to ask the drunks to quiet down. No sooner had the marshal returned to the saloon and picked up his cards, than he heard someone fire a shot. He ran out into the darkness and killed a harmless Texan named Phil Coe, and then, hearing someone running up behind him, he turned around in time to plug his own deputy, one Mike Williams. For the good citizens of Abilene, this incident was the last straw. Wild Bill was relieved of official duties a few weeks later and forced to leave town.

Lacking the capital needed to pursue his career as a professional gambler, he decided to trade on his notoriety. He joined the Wild West Show organized by his old friend Buffalo Bill Cody. Before long, however, Wild Bill found this work not only tiresome but degrading, and he quit the show to strike out on his own. In June, 1876, a Kansas newspaper reported a story just in from Fort Laramie, Wyo. The great Wild Bill Hickok had been "arrested on several occasions as a vagrant, having no visible means of support."

Later that same month, Bill came riding into Deadwood, S. Dak., accompanied by Calamity Jane, the notorious alcoholic Amazon of Western legend. It is possible that Calamity was Wild Bill's mistress, but considering contemporary descriptions of her mannish body and strikingly homely face, it seems more likely that they were only trail companions. In any event, while Calamity settled down to her customary full-time drinking, Bill established himself at the poker table in "Saloon Number 10" along the main street. On the afternoon of August 2, 1876, a young man named Jack McCall came into the saloon and interrupted Wild Bill's card game by shooting him in the back of the head. The bullet passed straight through Bill's brain, exited from his cheek, and struck and left forearm of one Captain Massey, a river boat pilot who had been sitting across the table from Bill. Wild Bill held onto his cards as he died. He had 2 pairs, aces and 8s, a combination known ever since as "the dead man's hand."

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