Guest Author - Vance R. Rowe
James Butler Hickok, better known as Wild Bill Hickok, was a notorious lawman and reputed gunfighter in the old west. Before Wild Bill became known as the Prince of Pistoleers, before his stint in the Civil War and before he joined Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, he and his family helped slaves escape. Their family home in Troy Grove, Illinois was a stop for the underground railroad.
Wild Bill entered the Civil War as a civilian scout and a spy for the Union Army. After the war ended, it was Springfield, Missouri where his legend began. He ran into a former Confederate soldier there named Dave Tutt. They both served their respective armies in the same area and knew of each other and each one disliked the other. Trouble came to a head at a card game that the two men were a part of. Tutt allegedly took Hickok's watch after the game to cover a debt that was said Hickok owed him. Hickok denied this debt but let Tutt leave with the watch.
Tutt then bragged about taking the watch and said that he was going to wear it proudly and parade up and down the street with it on his lapel. When Hickok found out about this, he warned Tutt not to do it. Tutt did just as he said he would and was confronted by Hickok in the town square. Allegedly Wild Bill Hickok warned him not to cross the town square with the watch on. However, Tutt refused to yield and began to cross. Hickok walked into the square as well. The two men then drew their pistols and Hickok shot Tutt in his heart from a distance of between 75 and 100 feet.
Until his untimely death in 1876 in Deadwood, South Dakota, Bill Hickok was a lawman in such famous western towns as Hays City and Abilene, Kansas. As I wrote, it was Deadwood, South Dakota where Wild Bill Hickok met his death. It was during a card game in the Nutall Saloon. He always liked to sit with his back to the wall but on that day, it was unavailable and the only seat available was with his back to the door. A man named Jack McCall walked into the saloon, a man with whom Hickok had heated words with during a previous card game. McCall pulled his pistol, walked up behind Hickok and shot him in the back of the head. McCall said he shot Hickok for revenge for Hickok shooting his brother some years back.
McCall was arrested, tried and in less than two hours the jury returned a not guilty verdict. It was a month later when McCall moved to Laramie, Wyoming where he bragged non-stop of killing Hickok. The marshal arrested him and said that Deadwood had no legal authority to conduct a judicial trial as it was unincorporated and existed in Indian Territory. McCall was taken to Yankton, South Dakota where he faced trial again and this time was found guilty and hanged for it.
Legend has it that Hickok was holding a pair of black Aces and a pair of black Eights in his poker hand when he was killed and this particular hand came to be known as the Deadman's Hand.