James Butler Hickok was born in Troy Grove, Illinois, on May 27, 1837. He is better known as Wild Bill Hickok. Wild Bill was most famous for his lethal gun skills, but he was also known for his professional gambling, being a town marshal and even trying his hand at show business. As a boy in rural Illinois, James became recognized as an outstanding marksman with the pistol. His parents, Abner and Eunice Hickok, were very religious people. They would make James wear a stiff, uncomfortable suit to church on Sundays. This caused a huge fight every week at the Hickok home.
James was not close with his parents. His father believed him to be a dreamer with unreachable dreams. Nevertheless, James did his choirs so to keep the family happy. For many years Alonzo operated a station on the Underground Railroad. James and his two brothers and two sisters would often help with the work. It was during this time that James began to develop his courage that would be seen in his later years. Upon James eighteenth birthday he decided to migrate to Monticello, Kansas. Here he took a job driving a stagecoach on the Santa Fe and Oregon trails.
During this time James got to use his marksmanship often. He became well known for his courage and sharp shooting while making his trips. This is the period in time that some people believe he became known as Wild Bill. It is not known were the Bill came from, but Wild Bill did not do anything to correct it. After Wild Bill had a little altercation with a bear while working with the couch business, he decided to get into something else. While he was healing, his name was starting to get around as a very tough individual.
After full recovery, Wild Bill applied for, and was given the position of constable in a small Nebraska town. Most of the time Wild Bill was dealing with the normal drunks around the town, but every once and awhile the town would have its real desperadoes. The McCanles outlaw gang was wanted for train robbery, 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 of Wild Bills jurisdiction). Wild Bill had it set in his mind that he was going to get these guys.
If Wild Bill took the outlaws out of his jurisdiction, he himself could be put into jail. Wild Bill had derived a plain to get the outlaws just over the line so that he could take them in or take them out depending on how they reacted. Wild Bill had recruited a man they called Six-Toed Pete. Six-Toed Pete was not known for any gun slinging, but he was known for setting his face on fire. One night Pete had been drinking quite a bit when he decided to light a cigarette. Because of the amount of alcohol on his breath he caught his face on fire.
Anyway, Pete was one of the more obvious members of a large group of drunks in the town that was perfect for Will Bills plan. Wild Bill offered Pete four dollars for less than a half days work to deliver a message. Pete could not believe what Wild Bill was telling him and questioned his sanity. This about blows the whole deal and about lost Pete his life. Wild Bill finally settled down and told Pete what he wanted him to do. Wild Bill told Pete that some of his old friends were hard working cowhands from Pecos. They have just finished a cattle drive and were resting, but lonely, over at Rock Creek Station.
Wild Bill said that he would like to do a little favor for his old buddies, but he didnt want to reveal himself for fear that they would feel obligated to him and he didnt want them to spend their hard-earned money on some return gift which he likely had no need for. Pete was to tell the gang that on Saturday night there would be a wagonload of soiled doves waiting for them at the Daisy Pearl Inn. This was just on this side of his jurisdiction. While Pete was off telling the gang of their surprise, Wild Bill was getting set up. He went and bought all of the . 45 caliber cartridges the general store had.
He even bought some fancy oil to make sure his Colts were going to fire correctly. When Saturday arrived, Wild Bill went to the blacksmith and rented a wagon that seated at-least six people. He left early to head to the hotel. The hotel was empty and Wild Bill new this because he had just put the owner in jail for ripping off the clients. Bill parked the wagon in front of the hotel and went in and poured himself a glass of whiskey. When darkness began to fall Wild Bill heard the gang approaching. When the gang busted into the hotel they were surprised to see nothing.
They were over come with silence until Wild Bill stood up from the back of the bar with his guns blazing. In the shoot out Wild bill had killed Jeb McCanles and two of his men, and had taking the rest as prisoners. For the capture of the gang, Wild Bill was awarded $175. Meanwhile the Civil War had broken out and Wild Bill decided to volunteer his time in the Union as a scout. He figured that he would join the Union for a couple of different reasons. First he had some friends that were black and he thought the southern folks had not given them a chance.
The other reason was he did not like the southern accents and that most of the worlds flops had somehow drained down there by a form of natural selection. Wild Bill helped guide General William T. Sherman during the generals tour of the West. And during 1867-68, Bill scouted for both General Winfield Scott Hancock and Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer. Wild Bill did a lot of growing up during this time. This also helped him to prepare for his next phase in life, law enforcement. Wild Bill worked on and off as a deputy U. S. Marshall during 1868-70 in Hays City, Kansas. This is were he truly proved his worth as a law enforcer.
On August 23, 1869, Wild Bill won a special election to complete the vacancy of the Ellis County sheriff. Shortly after his election he shot a hellraiser from St. Joseph, MO named Bill Mulvey. Mulvey had been hitting the town all day and was pretty drunk. He began shooting out lights and windows when Wild Bill came across him. Mulvey holstered his guns and then tried to draw them again. He never got them out and Wild Bill put two bullets into his chest. Wild Bill had really cleaned up the town, but the people of the county did not like the style and he lost the election to his deputy the next November.
The summer after Wild Bill left his final mark on the town of Hays. Bill was no longer a peacekeeper. One night in the bar a couple of drunken Cavalry troopers started a fight with Bill. The one officer drew his pistol and the cap failed. Wild Bill then drew and shot one in the leg and the other in the stomach. The one that was shot in the stomach died in the next couple of days. This is when Wild Bill decided it was time to move on. At this 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 streets were swarming with cattle dealers, and gamblers ready to take their hard-earned money. This was becoming a fast town and it fit Wild Bill perfect. In the first few months, Wild Bill just tended to routine business. Then there was John Wesley Hardin that showed up in the town. He was the worst killer the Wild West had produced in this time frame.
Hardin meet Wild Bill there and for some reason Wild Bill became friends with him. They would drink together and exstange stories. Wild Bill even helped get one of Hardins friends go free, but Hardin also knew that if he messed up that he would be added to Wild Bills reputation. One night Hardin took a room at the American House Hotel in town. At about one oclock in the morning, snoring in the room next door awakened Hardin. After awhile he was so irritated that he picked up his pistol and shoot twice through he wall. It was now dead silent and Hardin knew that he was going to have trouble with Bill.
One of the problems that Wild Bill ran into, in Abilene was a guy named Coe. Wild Bill did not really like this Coe fellow. At one time Wild Bill ordered him to take off some revealing figures off of his sign in front of his business. Coe refused to do this. Wild Bill then hired someone to do it. This infuriated Coe and he went on a drunken rampage that nigh with some of his Texan friends. Now Coe rarely ever carried a pistol, but this night he was caring one. The men were heading to the Alamo Saloon were Coe shoot off a couple of rounds.
Wild Bill and his friend, and fellow lawman, Mike Williams were down the street in another saloon. They both heard the shoots and headed that way. Wild Bill went in through the back door while Williams went to the front. Wild Bill went into the bar and asked who shot the weapon. Coe answered that he was shooting at a stray dog. Wild Bill had his gun drawn on coe and asked him to put his weapon down, but instead Coe pointed his weapon at Wild Bill. They are not sure who pulled the trigger first, but Coe went down and Wild Bill was still standing.
As that happened Williams was running up from behind the Texans with his pistols out. Wild Bill thought that it was another one of Coes friends and Bill shot him to his death. It is thought to be that this was the last man Wild Bill ever shot. The town decided that after all of this that it was time to clean the town up. They banished all of the gambling bars, which took care of most of the problem people. And because of the banning of the bars, Wild Bill was no longer needed. So once again Bill was unemployed. In the following spring many rumors flied around that Wild Bill had been murdered in Fort Dodge, Kansas.
Wild Bill mailed out many letters during this time making sure people did not think he was dead. September of 1873 Wild Bill was still unemployed, but had a job offer. Despite his dislike for the stage, Buffalo Bill Cody persuaded him to join his theatrical group in the East. Wild Bill toured with Cody for about five months and then left for the West. At this time Wild Bill had begun wearing dark glasses, which he said, was because of the stage lights. It was thought of later that he may have bee suffering from glaucoma or trachoma. During 1874 and 1875, Wild Bill spent some of his time in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
It was there he meet Agnes Lake, a lady that he had spent a lot of time with back in Abilene. Lake had become a widow in 1869. She enjoyed international fame as a horsewomen, tightrope walker, dancer and lion tamer. On March 5, 1876 Wild Bill and Agnes were married. The ceremony took place at the Cheyenne home of S. L. Moyer. Following was a two-week honeymoon in Cincinnati, at the home of Anges Lakes son-in-law, Gilbert Robinson. After the honeymoon, Wild Bill left for the Black Hills to put his marriage on a sound financial base. This would be the last time the newlyweds would ever see each other.
Wild Bill headed for a town called Deadwood. He had never been to this town but he knew many people in the town and it was going to cause quite a commotion when he arrives. On arrival, he ran into an old friend by the name of Carl Mann. Mann had his own saloon in the town and asked Bill if he would make this his headquarters. Wild Bill agreed to make it his place to play cards. Wild Bill set up camp on the outskirts of town with his good friends California Joe Anderson, Colorado Charlie Utter and Steve Utter. He spent some time with them prospecting, but, as usual, the allure of the gaming tables proved stronger.
Wild Bills presence in the various saloons threatened the towns lawless elements. Deadwood, like Abilene several years earlier, was dominated by gunman, and gamblers. They were feasting on the gold dust from the local miners and they did not need Wild Bill coming in to clean it up. Tim Brady and Johnny Varnes, two leaders of the Dearwood underworld, initiated a plot to kill Wild Bill so he wouldnt be appointed marshal. Jim Levy and Charlie Storms, two noted gunmen, were offered the job but turned it down. Had they known about Wild Bills bad eyesight, they might have accepted.
Just a few months before, Wild Bill had committed to an acquaintance; My eyes are getting real bad. My shooting days are over. Wild Bill therefore relied on his reputation to see him through the danger he must have sensed was all around him in Dearwood. Wild Bill reputation stymied Levy and Storms, and it worked on the six Montana gunman who spoke of killing him. Wild Bill backed by his twin Colts, spoke to them with his usual directness before disarming them: I understand that you cheap, would-be gunfighters from Montana have been making remarks about me.
I want you to understand unless they are stopped there will shortly be a number of cheap funerals in Dearwood. I have come to this town not to court notoriety, but to live in peace and do not propose to stand for insult. After most of this had been settled it was back to his gambling. Wild Bill wanted to get enough money so that him and his wife could live comfortable for the remainder of their lives. Bill would send many letters to his wife explaining this same thing and that he missed her very much. Then all of a sudden the letters stopped.
Wild Bill had met someone that shared a number of his traits: brash, vain, fiercely, individual, alcoholic, and available hire when times are lean. Her name was Calamity Jane. The two of them hit it off because they were just like each other. They carried on with out a care in the world and Calamity even announced at a bar one night that they were married, even though no one had notice any ceremonies taking place for the two of them. Because of his interest for Calamity, he decided that it was time for him to give up the gambling and try and get a real job. Again Buffalo Bills West Show came calling again.
They were in Nebraska seeking new recruits for its show, and a scout had been sent to inquire if Wild Bill had an interest in joining the show as a sharpshooter. They offered him $192 a month and accommodations. Wild Bill accepted the job and was excited about the opportunity. Wild Bill once again did not last long on the show circuit. His skills had diminished a great deal. Some do to the eyesight and some do the whisky. He was not allowed to drink on the tour and that was not something he could handle. He lasted a very short time with the show and it was back to the gambling again.
As he returned back to the gambling tables he wanted to try to work things out with his wife Agnes. There is an anonymous letter that was sent around the first of August that proves this. If such should be we never meet again, while firing my last shot, I will gently breathe the name of my wife-Agnes-and with wishes even for my enemies I will make the plunge and try to swim to the other shore. This letter proved to be prophetic. The next day, August 2nd, at about 4pm, he joined a poker game in Carl Manns Saloon. The other players were Charles Rich, a gunman, Con Stapleton, Carl Mann and Captain Willie Massie, a Missouri steamboat pilot.
Wild Bill 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 the back door. Wild Bill always sat with his back to the wall. So he asked Charles Rich to change places with him. Rich just laughed and stayed in his chair. But Wild Bill haters had finally found there man-Jack McCall. McCall believed that Wild Bill had killed his brother back in Kansas. This was probably correct considering Lew McCall was a thief and a loudmouth. Remaining quiet McCall slowly walked around to the corner of the saloon where Wild Bill was seated.
Under his coat, McCalls hand was on his pistol that ironically was a colt 45. He came up slowly behind Wild Bill, trying to make it look like he was observing the game. As everyones attention was focused on the player opposite of Wild Bill, McCall withdrew his revolver and shot Wild Bill in the back of the head, killing hi instantly. Wild Bill was holding a pair of eights and a pair of aces. This is now known as the dead mans hand. Jack McCall was tried by an illegal miners court in Dearwood an Aug. 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. Kickok family was devastated with the news. His wife stated that she still sees him everyday and night. The one sister wished that he would have been killed beside Custer rather than on a barroom floor. And the mother suffered a lung hemorrhage when she heard the news. She maid it two more years and then passed on. 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 was in love with.
An enclosure 10×10 was built around his burial plot. On top of that encircling stone wall was placed a 3 fence which had fancy cast iron filigree on top, and a small American Flag was struck 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 said that when she dies that she wants to be bared next to the man she loved. Three years later she was.