|Slavery in the United States||American West||Civil Rights Movement|
Wild Bill Hickok
James Butler Hickok was born in Troy Grove, Illinois, in 1837. His father, Bill Hickok, played an active role in the Underground Railroad that helped slaves escape from the Deep South.
Hickok moved to Kansas in 1855 and at the age of 20 was elected constable of Monticello. In 1861 he was working as a wagon master in Montana. On 12th July, 1861, Hickok opened fire on three unarmed men. David McCanles was killed and James Woods and James Gordon were seriously wounded and later died of their injuries. Hickok was also employed as a guide on the Santa Fe Trail. Later he worked on the Oregon Trail.
During the American Civil War Hickok was employed as a scout for the Union Army. After the war came to an end Hickok became a professional gambler in Springfield, Missouri. Also, for a brief time he served under General George A. Custer in his 7th Cavalry.
Hickok's reputation as a gunfighter began when he killed David Tutt in the public square of Springfield on 21st July, 1865. The two men had quarrelled over cards and decided to have a gunfight. At 6pm Hickok and Tutt arranged to walk towards each other. When they were about 50 yards apart both men drew his gun. Tutt fired first but missed. Hickok's shot hit Tutt in the heart. This was the first recorded example of two men taking part in a quick-draw duel. The following month Hickok was acquitted after pleading self-defence.
Hickok returned to his life as a gambler and in 1866 gave an interview to a journalist, George Ward Nichols about his exploits as a gunfighter. The article appeared in the February, 1867, edition of Harper's New Monthly Magazine. Newspapers such as the Leavenworth Daily Conservative, Kansas Daily Commonwealth, Springfield Patriot and the Atchison Daily Champion quickly pointed out that the article was full of inaccuracies and that Hickok was lying when he claimed he had killed "hundreds of men".
Hickok responded to these articles by giving an interview to another journalist, Henry M. Stanley. The article appeared in the St. Louis Missouri Democrat in April 1867. It included the following dialogue: "I say, Mr. Hickok, how many white men have you killed to your certain knowledge?" After a little deliberation, he replied, "I suppose I have killed considerably over a hundred." "What made you kill all those men? Did you kill them without cause or provocation?" "No, by heaven I never killed one man without good cause."
In 1868 Hickok became sheriff of Hays City in Kansas. It was a rough city and Hickok was determined to use violence to keep the men under control. In August, 1869, Hickok killed Bill Mulvey in a gunfight. The following month he shot Samuel Strawhun dead after he caused trouble in a saloon. The people of Hays City became concerned by Hickok's behaviour and he was replaced by his deputy, Peter Lanihan.
In April 1871, Hickok was employed as marshal of Abilene. He was paid $150 a month plus a percentage of the fines. Hickok also received 50 cents for every unlicensed dog he shot. Hickok did not take his duties seriously and spent most of his time playing poker. In October 1871 he shot and killed two men, Phil Coe and a fellow officer, Mike Williams. This incident upset the city council and two months later Hickok lost his job.
Hickok now toured with Buffalo Bill Cody and his Wild West Show (1872-73) before teaming up with Calamity Jane in Deadwood, Dakota. He also married Agnes Lake and for a time tried gold mining. Hickok also spent a lot of time with John Wesley Hardin.
On 2nd August, 1876, Wild Bill Hickok was playing cards in Deadwood. Jack McCall, seeking revenge for the death of his brother, shot Hickok in the back of the head. At the time of his death, Hickok was holding a pair of black aces and a pair of eights, and this became known as "A Dead Man's Hand".
Wild Bill Hickok and Dave Tutt before their gunfight,
Harper's New Monthly Magazine (February, 1867)
(1) Brownville Advertiser (25th July, 1861)
Three wagon loads of arms and ammunition passed through the neighborhood below here last week, going westward. On Friday three men were killed at Rock Creek on the Military Road about 30 or 35 miles west of this. All we know is that the difficulty originated in the distribution or division of a wagon load of stuff from the Missouri river, and it is supposed it was one of the three wagons mentioned above. During the difficulty some secessionists put a rope around a Union Man's neck, and dragged him some distance toward a tree with the avowed purpose of hanging him. He (Hickok) managed to escape. They then gave him notice to leave in a certain time or be hung. At the end of the time five of them went to his house to see if he had gone, when he commenced firing upon them and killed three out of the five; the other two making a hasty retreat.
(2) Atchison Daily Champion (5th February, 1862)
The McCandlas gang consisted of only the leader and three others, and not of fourteen as stated in the magazine. Of these "Wild Bill," in the fight referred to, shot McKandlas through the heart with a rifle, and then stepping out of doors, revolver in hand, shot another of the gang dead; severely wounded a third, who ran off to a ravine near by, and was found there dead, and slightly wounded the fourth, who ran away and was not heard of afterwards. There was no grudge existing between the McKandles gang and "Wild Bill," but the former had a quarrel with the Stage Company, and had come to burn the station "Bill" was in charge of.
(3) Missouri Weekly Patriot (27th July, 1865)
David Tutt, of Yellville, Arkansas, was shot on the public square, at 6 o'clock on Friday last, by James B. Hickok, better known in Southwest Missouri as "Wild Bill." The difficulty occurred from a game of cards. Hickok is a native of Homer, Lasalle County. Illinois, and is about twenty-six years of age. He has been engaged since his sixteenth year, with the exception of about two years, with Russell, Majors & Waddill, in Government service, as scout, guide, or with exploring parties, and has rendered most efficient and signal service to the Union cause, as numerous acknowledgments from the different commanding officers with whom he has served will testify.
(4) Missouri Weekly Patriot (10th August, 1865)
The trial of William Hickok for the killing of Davis Tutt, in the streets in this city week before last, was concluded on Saturday last, by a verdict of not guilty, rendered by the jury in about ten minutes after they retired to the jury room. The general dissatisfaction felt by the citizens of this place with the verdict in no way attaches to our able and efficient Circuit Attorney, nor to the Court. It is universally conceded that the prosecution was conducted in an able, efficient and vigorous manner.
(5) Colonel George Ward Nichols, Harper's New Monthly Magazine (February, 1867)
Let me at once describe the personal appearance of the famous Scout of the Plains, William Hitchcock, called "Wild Bill," who now advanced toward me, fixing his clear gray eyes on mine in a quick, interrogative way, as if to take "my measure."
The result seemed favorable, for he held forth a small, muscular hand in a frank, open manner. As I looked at him I thought his the handsomest physique I had ever seen.
Bill stood six feet and an inch in his bright yellow moccasins. A deer-skin shirt, or frock it might be called, hung jauntily over his shoulders and revealed a chest whose breadth and depth were remarkable. These lungs had had growth in some twenty years of the free air of the Rocky Mountains. His small, round waist was girthed by a belt which held two of Colt's navy revolvers. His legs sloped gradually from the compact thigh to the feet, which were small and turned inward as he walked. There was a singular grace and dignity of carriage about that figure which would have called your attention meet it where you would. The head which crowned it was now covered by a large sombrero, underneath which there shone out a quiet, manly face; so gentle is its expression as he greets you as utterly to belie the history of its owner; yet it is not a face to be trifled with. The lips thin and sensitive, the jaw not too square, the cheek bones slightly prominent, a mass of fine dark hair falls below the neck to the shoulders. The eyes, now that you are in friendly intercourse, are as gentle as a woman's. In truth, the woman nature seems prominent throughout, and you would not believe that you were looking into eyes that have pointed the way to death to hundreds of men. Yes, Wild Bill with his own hands has killed hundreds of men. Of that I have not a doubt. "He shoots to kill," they say on the border.
In vain did I examine the scout's face for some evidence of murderous propensity. It was a gentle face, and singular only in the sharp angle of the eye, and without any physiognomic reason for the opinion, I have thought his wonderful accuracy of aim was indicated by this peculiarity. He told me, however, to use his own words:
"I allers shot well; but I come ter be perfect in the mountains by shootin at a dime for a mark, at best of half a dollar a shot. And then until the war I never drank liquor nor smoked," he continued, with a melancholy expression; "war is demoralizing it is."
Captain Honesty was right. I was very curious to see "Wild Bill, the Scout," who, a few days before my arrival in Springfield, in a duel at noonday in the public square, at fifty paces, had sent one of Colt's pistol-balls through the heart of a returned Confederate soldier....
"To tell you the truth, Kernel," responded the scout with a certain solemnity in his grave face, "I don't talk about sich things ter the people round here, but I allers feel sort of thankful when I get out of a bad scrape."
"In all your wild, perilous adventures," I asked him, "have you ever been afraid? Do you know what the sensation is? I am sure you will not misunderstand the question, for I take it we soldiers comprehend justly that there is no higher courage than that which shows itself when the consciousness of danger is keen but where moral strength overcomes the weakness of the body."
"I think I know what you mean, Sir, and I'm not ashamed to say that I have been so frightened that it 'peared is if all the strength and blood had gone out of my body, and my face was as white as chalk. It was at the Wilme Creek fight. I had fired more than fifty cartridges, and I think fetched my man every time. I was on the skirmish line, and was working up closer to the rebs, when all of a sudden a battery opened fire right in front of me, and it sounded as if forty thousand guns were firing, and every shot and shell screeched within six inches of my head. It was the first time I was ever under artillery fire, and I was so frightened that I couldn't move for a minute or so, and when I did go back the boys asked me if I had seen a ghost? They may shoot bullets at me by the dozen, and it's rather exciting if I can shoot back, but I am always sort of nervous when the big guns go off."
"I would like to see you shoot."
"Would yer?" replied the scout, drawing his revolver; and approaching the window, he pointed to a letter O in a sign-board which was fixed to the stone-wall of a building on the other side of the way.
"That sign is more than fifty yards away. I will put these six balls into the inside of the circle, which isn't bigger than a man's heart."
In an off-hand way, and without sighting the pistol with his eye, he discharged the six shots of his revolver. I afterwards saw that all the bullets had entered the circle.
As Bill proceeded to reload his pistol, he said to me with a naiveté of manner which was meant to be assuring:
"Whenever you get into a row be sure and not shoot too quick. Take time. I've known many a feller slip up for shootin' in a hurry,"
It would be easy to fill a volume with the adventures of that remarkable man. My object here has been to make a slight record of one who is one of the best - perhaps the very best - example of a class who more than any other encountered perils and privations in defense of our nationality.
One afternoon as General Smith and I mounted our horses to start upon our journey toward the East, Wild Bill came to shake hands good-bye, and I said to him:
"If you have no objection I will write out for publication an account of a few of your adventures."
"Certainly you may," he replied. "I'm sort of public property. But, Kernel," he continued, leaning upon my saddle bow, while there was a tremulous softness in his voice and a strange moisture in his averted eyes, "I have a mother back there in Illinois who is old and feeble. I haven't seen her this many a year, and haven't been a good son to her, yet I love her better than any thing in this life. It don't matter much what they say about me here. But I'm not a cut-throat and vagabond, and I'd like the old woman to know what'll make her proud. I'd like her to hear that her runaway boy has fought through the war for the Union like a true man."
(6) Leavenworth Daily Conservative (30th January, 1867)
The story of "Wild Bill," as told in Harper's for February is not easily credited hereabouts. To those of us who were engaged in the campaign it sounds mythical; and whether Harry York, Buckskin Joe or Ben Nugget is meant in the life sketches of Harper we are not prepared to say. The scout services were so mixed that we are unable to give precedence to any. "Wild Bill's" exploits at Springfield have not as yet been heard of here, and if under that cognomen such brave deeds occurred we have not been given the relation. There are many of the rough riders of the rebellion now in this city whose record would compare very favorably with that of "Wild Bill," and if another account is wanted we might refer to Walt Sinclair.
(7) Springfield Patriot (31st January, 1867)
Springfield is excited. It has been so ever since the mail of the 25th brought Harper's Monthly to its numerous subscribers here. The excitement, curiously enough, manifests itself in very opposite effects upon our citizens. Some are excessively indignant, but the great majority are in convulsions of laughter, which seem interminable as yet. The cause of both abnormal moods, in our usually placid and quiet city, is the first article in Harper for February, which all agree, if published at all, should have had its place in the "Editor's Drawer," with the other fabricated more or less funnyisms; and not where it is, in the leading "illustrated" place. But, upon reflection, as Harper has given the same prominence to "Heroic Deeds of Heroic Men," by Rev. J. T. Headley, which, generally, are of about the same character as its article "Wild Bill," we will not question the good taste of its "make up."
We are importuned by the angry ones to review it. "For," say they, "it slanders our city and citizens so outrageously by its caricatures, that it will deter some from immigrating here, who believe its representations of our people."
"Are there any so ignorant?" we asked.
"Plenty of them in New England; and especially about the Hub, just as ready to swallow it all as Gospel truth, as a Johnny Chinaman or Japanese would be to believe that England, France and America are inhabited by cannibals."
"Don't touch it," cries the hilarious party, "don't spoil a richer morceaux than ever was printed in Gulliver's Travels, or Baron Munchausen! If it prevents any consummate fools from coming to Southwest Missouri, that's no loss."
So we compromise between the two demands, and give the article but brief and inadequate criticism. Indeed, we do not imagine that we could do it justice, if we made ever so serious and studied an attempt to do so.
A good many of our people - those especially who frequent the bar rooms and lager-beer saloons, will remember the author of the article, when we mention one "Colonel" G. W. Nichols, who was here for a few days in the summer of 1865, splurging around among our "strange, half-civilized people," seriously endangering the supply of lager and corn whisky, and putting on more airs than a spotted stud-horse in the ring of a county fair. He's the author! And if the illustrious holder of one of the "Brevet" commissions which Fremont issued to his wagon-masters, will come back to Springfield, two-thirds of all the people he meets will invite him "to pis'n hisself with suth'n" for the fun he unwittingly furnished them in his article - the remaining one-third will kick him wherever met, for lying like a dog upon the city and people of Springfield.
James B Hickok, (not "William Hitchcock," as the "Colonel" mis-names his hero,) is a remarkable man, and is as well known here as Horace Greely in New York, or Henry Wilson in "the Hub." The portrait of him on the first page of Harper for February, is a most faithful and striking likeness - features, shape, posture and dress - in all it is a faithful reproduction of one of Charley Scholten's photographs of "Wild Bill," as he is generally called. No finer physique, no greater strength, no more personal courage, no steadier nerves, no superior skill with the pistol, no better horsemanship than his, could any man of the million Federal soldiers of the war, boast of; and few did better or more loyal service as a soldier throughout the war. But Nichols "cuts it very fat" when he describes Bill's teats in arms. We think his hero only claims to have sent a few dozen rebs to the farther side of Jordan; and we never, before reading the "Colonel's" article, suspected he had dispatched "several hundreds with his own hands." But it must be so, for the "Colonel" asserts it with a parenthesis of genuine flavorous Bostonian piety, to assure us of his incapacity to utter an untruth.
(8) Atchinson Daily Champion (5th February, 1867)
'Wild Bill' is, as stated in the Magazine, a splendid specimen of physical manhood, and is a dead shot with a pistol. He is a very quiet man, rarely talking to any one, and not of a quarrelsome disposition, although reckless and desperate when once involved in a fight. There are a number of citizens of this city who know him well.
Nichols' sketch of 'Wild Bill' is a very readable paper, but the fine descriptive powers of the writer have been drawn upon as largely as facts, in producing it. There are dozens of men on the Overland Line who are probably more desperate characters than Hickok, and are the heroes of quite as many and as desperate adventures. The wild West is fertile in 'Wild Bills.' Charley Slade, formerly one of the division Superintendents on the O. S. Line, was probably a more desperate, as well as a cooler man than the hero of Harper's, and his fight at his own ranch was a much more terrible encounter than that of 'Wild Bill' with the McKandles gang.
(9) Henry M. Stanley, St. Louis Missouri Democrat (4th April, 1867)
James Butler Hickok, commonly called "Wild Bill," is one of the finest examples of that peculiar class known as frontiersman, ranger, hunter, and Indian scout. He is now thirty-eight years old, and since he was thirteen the prairie has been his home. He stands six feet one inch in his moccasins, and is as handsome a specimen of a man as could be found. We were prepared, on hearing of "Wild Bill's" presence in the camp, to see a person who might prove to be a coarse and illiterate bully. We were agreeably disappointed however. He was dressed in fancy shirt and leathern leggings. He held himself straight, and had broad, compact shoulders, was large chested, with small waist, and well-formed muscular limbs. A fine, handsome face, free from blemish, a light moustache, a thin pointed nose, bluish-grey eyes, with a calm look, a magnificent forehead, hair parted from the centre of the forehead, and hanging down behind the ears in wavy, silken curls, made up the most picturesque figure. He is more inclined to be sociable than otherwise; is enthusiastic in his love for his country and Illinois, his native State; and is endowed with extraordinary power and agility, whose match in these respects it would be difficult to find. Having left his home and native State when young, he is a thorough child of the prairie, and inured to fatigue. He has none of the swaggering gait, or the barbaric jargon ascribed to the pioneer by the Beadle penny-liners. On the contrary, his language is as good as many a one that boasts "college laming." He seems naturally fitted to perform daring actions. He regards with the greatest contempt a man that could stoop low enough to perform "a mean action." He is generous, even to extravagance. He formerly belonged to the 8th Missouri Cavalry.
The following dialogue took place between us; "I say, Mr. Hickok, how many white men have you killed to your certain knowledge?" After a little deliberation, he replied, "I suppose I have killed considerably over a hundred." "What made you kill all those men? Did you kill them without cause or provocation?" "No, by heaven I never killed one man without good cause." "How old were you when you killed the first white man, and for what cause?" "I was twenty-eight years old when I killed the first white man, and if ever a man deserved lolling he did. He was a gambler and counterfeiter, and I was then in an hotel in Leavenworth City, and seeing some loose characters around, I ordered a room, and as I had some money about me, I thought I would retire to it. I had lain some thirty minutes on the bed when I heard men at my door. I pulled out my revolver and bowie knife, and held them ready, but half concealed, and pretended to be asleep. The door was opened, and five men entered the room. They whispered together, and one said, "Let us kill the son of a bitch; I'll bet he has got money." "Gentlemen," said he, "that was a time - an awful time. I kept perfectly still until just as the knife touched my breast; I sprang aside and buried mine in his heart, and then used my revolver on the others right and left. One was killed, and another was wounded; and then, gentlemen, I dashed through the room and rushed to the fort, where I procured a lot of soldiers, and returning to the hotel, captured the whole gang of them, fifteen in all. We searched the cellar, and found eleven bodies buried in it - the remains of those who had been murdered by those villains." Turning to us, he asked: "Would you not have done the same? That was the first man I killed, and I never was sorry for that yet."
(10) Henry M. Stanley, St. Louis Missouri Democrat (11th May, 1867)
"Wild Bill," who is an inveterate hater of the Indians, was chased by six Indians lately, and had quite a little adventure with them. It is his custom to be always armed with a brace of ivory-handled revolvers, with which weapons he is remarkably dexterous; but when bound on a long and lonely ride across the plains, he goes armed to the teeth. He was on one of these lonely missions, due to his profession as scout, when he was seen by a group of the red men, who immediately gave chase. They soon discovered that they were pursuing one of the most famous men of the prairie, and commenced to retrace their steps, but two of them were shot, after which Wild Bill was left to ride on his way. The little adventure is verified by a scout named Thomas Kincaid.
(11) Manhattan Independent (26th October, 1867)
Wild Bill is naturally a fine looking fellow, not much over 30 years of age, over 6 feet in height, muscular & athletic, possessing a fine figure, as lithe and agile as the Borneo Boys. His complexion is very clear, cheek bones high, and his fine auburn hair, which he parts in the middle hangs in ringlets down upon his shoulders, giving him a girlish look in spite of his great stature. He wore a richly embroidered sash with a pair of ivory hilted and silver mounted pistol stuck in it. Doubtless this man and his companions have killed more men than any other persons who took part in the late war. What a pity that young men so brave and daring should lack the discretion to sheath their daggers forever when the war terminated! But such is the demoralizing effect of war upon those who engage in it and certainly upon all who love the vocation.
We learn from a gentleman who has frequently met these wild and reckless young men, that they live in a constant state of excitement, one continual round of gambling drinking and swearing, interspersed at brief intervals with pistol practice upon each other. At a word any of the gang draws his pistol and blazes away as freely as if all mankind were Arkansas Rebels, and had a bounty offered for their scalpes.
How long these Athletes will be able to stand such a mode of life; eating, drinking, sleeping (if they can be said to sleep) and playing cards with their pistols at half cock, remains to be seen. For ourself, we are willing to risk them in an Indian campaign for which their cruelty and utter recklessness of life particularly fit them.
(12) Leavenworth Times (4th May, 1869)
A man named Sam Stranghan was shot and instantly killed by "Wild Bill" (J B. Hickok) Sheriff, at one o'clock this morning. It appears that Stranghan and a number of his companions being "wolfing" all night, wished to conclude by cleaning out a beer saloon and breaking things generally. "Wild Bill" was called upon to quiet them. In the melee that followed Stranghan was killed. The Coroner s verdict this morning was justifiable homicide. Stranghan was buried this afternoon.
(13) Leavenworth Commercial (27th September, 1869)
About twelve o'clock last night a difficulty occurred in this place at the house of John Bittles, between a party of roughs and the proprietor. Policemen Hickok and Lanihan, interfered to keep order, when remarks were made against Hickok - Wild Bill. In his efforts to preserve order, Samuel Stringham was shot through the head by him, and instantly killed. Justice Joyce held an inquest on the body today, six well-known citizens being selected for the jurymen. The evidence in one or two instances was very contradictory. The jury returned a verdict to the effect that Samuel Stringham came to his death from a pistol wound at the hands of J. B. Hickok, and that the shooting of said Stringham was justifiable.
(14) Junction City Union (23rd July, 1870)
Two soldiers of the Seventh cavalry were shot at Hays City last Tuesday night by Wild Bill. The names of the men were Langan and Kelly. The greatest excitement prevails in the town owing to the outrage. After the shooting was over Wild Bill made for the prairie and has not been heard of since. The citizens were out en masse looking for Bill, so that he might be summarily dealt with. The parties were all under the influence of liquor at the time.
(15) Abilene Chronicle (8th June, 1871)
The Chief of Police (Bill Hickok) has posted up printed notices, informing all persons that the ordinance against carrying fire arms or other weapons in Abilene, will be enforced. That's right. There's no bravery in carrying revolvers in a civilized community. Such a practice is well enough and perhaps necessary when among Indians or other barbarians, but among white people it ought to be discountenanced.
(16) Abilene Chronicle (22nd June, 1871)
A shooting affray occurred this morning on First Street, between two men. It seems that hard words passed between them, when one drew his revolver and No 2 remarked "you know you have got the advantage of me." No. 1 then put back his weapon, whereupon No. 2 drew a Derringer and fired at No 1 who also managed to draw his six-shooter. Each fired two shots; one was hit in the wrist and the other in the shoulder. The police were promptly on hand and arrested the parties in time to prevent one or both from being killed The men are, at this writing, having a hearing before Judge Barber. Each party violated the law by carrying weapons while in town. As to which one is to blame for the shooting we are not advised - but the slight value that some men place upon human life is a sad commentary upon the custom of carrying firearms among people who claim to be civilized. And the cowardly custom of shooting at a man when he is not prepared to defend himself is far from being in accordance with the "code of honor" observed by all men who lay claim
to bravery or chivalry. To stand up and shoot at a man who has an equal chance with you, indicates that you are not a coward, but to fire at a man when you know that he is defenceless and can't return the compliment, is next to the lowest species of cowardice known among men.
(17) Junction City Union (7th October, 1871)
Two men were shot at Abilene, Thursday evening. The circumstances were about as follows, so our informant says: Early in the evening a party of men began a spree, going from one bar to another, forcing their acquaintances to treat, and making things howl generally. About 8 o'clock, shots were heard in the "Alamo," a gambling hell; whereupon the City Marshal, Hickok, better known as "Wild Bill," made his appearance. It is said that the leader of the party had threatened to kill Bill, "before frost." As a reply to the Marshal's demand that order should be preserved, some of the party fired upon him when, drawing his pistols "he fired with marvelous rapidity and characteristic accuracy," as our informant expressed it, shooting a Texan, named Coe, the keeper of the saloon, we believe, through the abdomen, and grazing one or two more. In the midst of the firing, a policeman rushed in to assist Bill, but unfortunately got in the line of his fire. It being dark. Bill did not recognize him, and supposed him to be one of the party. He was instantly killed. Bill greatly regrets the shooting of his friend. Coe will die. The verdict of the citizens seemed to be unanimously in support of the Marshal, who bravely did his duty.
(18) John Wesley Hardin, Life of John Wesley Hardin as Written by Himself (1896)
I have seen many fast towns, but I think Abilene beat them all. The town was filled with sporting men and women, gamblers, cowboys, desperadoes, and the like. It was well supplied with bar rooms, hotels, barber shops, and gambling houses, and everything was open.
Before I got to Abilene, I had heard much talk of Wild Bill, who was then marshal of Abilene. He had a reputation as a killer. I knew Ben Thompson and Phil Coe were there and had met both these men in Texas. Besides these, I learned that there were many other Texans there, and so, although there was a reward offered for me, I concluded to stay some time.
Jim Clements took the train and went back to Texas. Phil Coe and Ben Thompson at that time were running the Bull's Head saloon and gambling hall. They had a big bull painted outside the saloon as a sign, and the city council objected to this for some special reason. Wild Bill, the marshal, notified Ben Thompson and Phil Coe to take the sign down or change it somewhat. Phil Coe thought the ordinance all right, but it made Thompson mad. Wild Bill, however, sent up some painters and materially changed the offending bovine.
For a long time everybody expected trouble between Thompson and Wild Bill, and I soon found out that they were deadly enemies. Thompson tried to prejudice me every way he could against Bill, and told me how Bill, being a Yankee, always picked out Southern men to kill, and especially Texans. I told him, "I am not doing anybody's fighting just now except my own, but I know how to stick to a friend. If Bill needs killing, why don't you kill him yourself?"
He said, "I would rather get someone else to do it."
I told him then that he had struck the wrong man. I had not yet met Bill Hickok, but really wished for a chance to have a set-to with him just to try his luck.
(19) Abilene Chronicle (12th October, 1871)
On last Thursday evening a number of men on a "spree" and compelled several citizens and others to stand treat, catching them on the street and carrying them upon their shoulders into the saloons. The crowd served the Marshal, commonly called "Wild Bill," in this manner. He treated, but told them that they must keep within the bounds of order or he would stop them. They kept on, until finally one of the crowd, named Phil Coe, fired a revolver. The Marshal heard the report and knew at once the leading spirits in the crowd numbering probably fifty men, intended to get up a "fight." He immediately started to quell the affair and when he reached the Alamo saloon, in front of which the crowd had gathered, he was confronted by Coe, who said that he had fired the shot at a dog. Coe had his revolver in his hand, as had also other parties in the crowd. As quick as thought the Marshal drew two revolvers and both men fired almost simultaneously. Several shots were fired, during which Mike Williams, a policeman, came around the corner for the purpose of assisting the Marshal, and rushing between him and Coe received two of the shots intended for Coe. The whole affair was the work of an instant. The Marshal, surrounded by the crowd, and standing in the light, did not recognize Williams whose death he deeply regrets. Coe was shot through the stomach the ball coming out through his back; he lived in great agony until Sunday evening; he was a gambler, but a man of natural good impulses in his better moments. It is said that he had a spite at Wild Bill and had threatened to kill him - which Bill believed he would do if he gave him the opportunity. One of Coe's shots went through Bill's coat and another passed between his legs striking the floor behind him. The fact is Wild Bill's escape was truly marvelous. The two men were not over eight feet apart, and both of them large stout men. One or two others in the crowd were hit, but none seriously.
We had hoped that the season would pass without any row. The Marshal has, with his assistants, maintained quietness and good order - and this in face of the fact that at one time during the season there was a larger number of cut-throats and desperadoes in Abilene than in any other town of its size on the continent. Most of them were from Kansas City, St. Louis, New Orleans, Chicago, and from the Mountains.
We hope no further disturbances will take place. There is no use in trying to override Wild Bill, the Marshal. His arrangements for policeing the city are complete, and attempts to kill police officers or in any way create disturbance, must result in loss of life on the part of violators of the law. We hope that all strangers as well as citizens, will aid by word and deed in maintaining peace and quietness.
(20) Kansas Daily Commonwealth (11th May, 1873)
It is disgusting to see the eastern papers crowding in everything they can get hold of about "Wild Bill." If they only knew the real character of the men they so want to worship, we doubt if their names would ever appear again. "Wild Bill," or Bill Hickok, is nothing more than a drunken, reckless, murderous coward, who is treated with contempt by true border men, and who should have been hung years ago for the murder of innocent men. The shooting of the "old teamster" in the back for a small provocation, while crossing the plains in 1859, is one fact that Harpers correspondent failed to mention, and being booted out of a Leavenworth saloon by a boy bar tender is another; and we might name many other similar examples of his bravery. In one or two instances he did the U. S. government good service, but his shameful and cowardly conduct more than overbalances the good.
(21) O. W. Coursey, Wild Bill (1924)
Wild Bill, facing the desperate character who entered the front door, had shot him with a revolver in his left hand, while with his right hand he had thrown the other gun back over his left shoulder and shot the man coming from the rear. History does not record a more dare-devil act, a more astute piece of gun-work, or a cleaner fight.
(22) J. W. Buel, The Life and Marvellous Adventures of Wild Bill (1880)
Wild Bill, as a frontier character of the daring, cunning and honorable class, stands alone, without a prototype; his originality is as conspicuous as his remarkable escapades... Wild Bill was a necessary character in the Far West during the period which marked his career. He was essentially a civilizer, in the sense of a vigilance posse... When Bill drew his pistol there was always one less desperado to harass the law-abiding, and his presence served to allay the hunger of cut-throats and rapacious plunderers.
(23) William Connelley, Wild Bill and his Era (1933)
Any plan who by his own force and fearlessness beats the dark forces of savagery and crime, so that civilization may be free to take another step forward on her march to progress - is he not the greatest and truest type of the frontiersman? Such a man was Wild Bill. He typified the pioneer, enduring danger and hardship that in his wake might follow peaceful farmers and merchants; that where he had passed might spring up villages and towns.
(24) Colonel Norton, Kansas Daily Commonwealth (11th May, 1873)
It is disgusting to see the eastern papers crowding in everything they can get hold of about "Wild Bill." If they only knew the real character of the men they so want to worship, we doubt if their names would ever appear again. "Wild Bill," or Bill Hickok, is nothing more than a drunken, reckless, murderous coward, who is treated with contempt by true border men, and who should have been hung years ago for the murder of innocent men. The shooting of the "old teamster" in the back, for small provocation, while crossing the plains in 1859, is one fact that Harper's correspondent failed to mention, and being booted out of a Leavenworth saloon by a boy bar tender is another; and we might name many other similar examples of his bravery. In one or two instances he did the U.S. government good service, but his shameful and cowardly conduct more than overbalances the good.
(25) Buffalo Bill Cody, The Autobiography of Buffalo Bill (1920)
During the winter at Fort Bridger I had frequently talked with Wild Bill (Hickok) about my family, and as I had become greatly attached to him I asked him to come and make a visit at our house, which he promised to do. So one day, shortly after our return from Fort Bridger, he accompanied me home from Leavenworth. My mother and sisters, who had heard so much about him from me, were delighted to see him and he spent several weeks at our place. They did everything possible to repay him for his kindness to me. Ever afterwards, when he was at or near Leavenworth, Wild Bill came out to our house to see the family, whether I was at home or not, and he always received a most cordial reception.
(26) Percy Ebbutt, Emigrant Life in Kansas (1886)
One day we saw "Wild Bill," a noted desperado or "border ruffian," shooting quails in a stable yard in the city (they were
so plentiful and tame). Wild Bill was a fine-looking fellow, with long curly hair hanging down his back, and was dressed in a rather dandified fashion. He was said to have twenty-seven nicks cut on the handle of his revolver, each signifying a man whose life had been taken by him. And yet he walked the streets as free as any man, and perhaps with more security than a less desperate criminal would, for he would have to be a plucky man to arrest "Wild Bill." He was afterwards actually elected "sheriff" of Wichita, a town down south, which was frequented by the Texas "cowboys," and he was killed at last in some saloon brawl.
(27) Ellis County Star (11th May, 1873)
We learn from recent dispatches that Mr. J. B. Hickok, (Wild Bill), well known to the older citizens of Hays City, was shot in the head and instantly killed, by a man named Bill Sutherland, while playing cards in a saloon in Deadwood Gulch, Wyoming. From the report it seems that Bill had killed a brother of Sutherland's in this city, several years ago, and in revenge the latter shot Bill, taking him unawares.
This is the long-looked for ending of the career of one who deserved a better fate. For nearly his whole life time Bill was on the frontier, a portion of the time acting as scout, and then as an officer of the law in some frontier town. He was elected Sheriff of this county in 1868, and did good service in keeping order. While here he killed several men; but all their acquaintances agreed that he was justified in so doing. He never provoked a quarrel, and was a generous, gentlemanly fellow. In person he was over six feet tall, broad-shouldered, and a specimen of perfect manhood throughout.
He was a dead shot, wonderfully quick in drawing and shooting, the latter faculty filling his enemies with a very wholesome respect, when in his presence.
Living as he did in constant fear of his life, he always kept his revolvers with him, and had the fellow that shot him given him a fair fight, and not taken the cowardly advantage that he did. Wild Bill would not have been killed.
(28) Martha Jane Cannary, Life and Adventures of Calamity Jane (1897)
My friend, Wild Bill Hickok, remained in Deadwood during the summer with the exception of occasional visits to the camps. On the 2nd of August, while setting at a gambling table in the Bell Union saloon, in Deadwood, he was shot in the back of the head by the notorious Jack McCall, a desperado. I was in Deadwood at the time and on hearing of the killing made my way at once to the scene of the shooting and found that my friend had been killed by McCall. I at once started to look for the assassian and found him at Shurdy's butcher shop and grabbed a meat cleaver and made him throw up his hands; through the excitement on hearing of Bill's death, having left my weapons on the post of my bed. He was then taken to a log cabin and locked up, well secured as every one thought, but he got away and was afterwards caught at Fagan's ranch on Horse Creek, on the old Cheyenne road and was then taken to Yankton, Dak., where he was tried, sentenced and hung.
(29) Hays City Sentinel (16th August, 1876)
During his residence in Hays, Hickok was one of the best citizens of the town... All concede that he was a kindhearted, gentle mannered gentleman, and only when aroused was he dangerous. Many of his old friends now reside in Hays, and all express great sorrow at his untimely end.