Wild Bill

By  | March 9, 2018 | Filed under: News

People these days relate to the movie “Tombstone” as one of the best modern westerns. The adventures of the Earps and Doc Holliday as portrayed in the movie, moved audiences who have seen it. Recently, I watched a movie called “Wild Bill”, starring Jeff Bridges. The movie wasn’t bad, but I began to think more toward the legend of Wild Bill Hickok. To me, Hickok was more of a Gunslinger hero than the Earps. Let’s look at Hickok’s life.

James Butler Hickok was born on March 27, 1837, in Homer, Illinois. He was raised on a farm in Northern Illinois. Lawlessness and Civil Unrest was rampant in the area as Hickok grew up. Hickok’s Father, William, was said to use his property as part of the Underground Railroad to smuggle Slaves from the Southern States. William died in 1852 when James was 15 years old. James Hickok was described as a great marksman in his youth.
At the age of 18, James moved to the Kansas Territory where he met William Cody, later to be known as Buffalo Bill Cody. James Hickok would later become known as “Wild Bill” during his escapades throughout the Nebraska and Kansas area.
Hickok began working for a Pony Express Company in 1859. In 1860, while on a trip to Santa Fe, Hickok came across a bear in the road. He dismounted the stage and approached the bear, firing a shot at the bear’s head. The wounded bear attacked Hickok, who was able to get off another shot into the bear’s paw. Luckily, Hickok was able to get to his knife, killing the bear. Hickok was seriously injured and recuperated in the Nebraska Territory.

When the Civil War broke out in April of 1861, Hickok was a Teamster for the Union Army in Missouri. He later joined General James Henry Lane’s Kansas Brigade. He met up with Buffalo Bill Cody again and served as a scout. Rumors state that Hickok served as a Union Spy for the next year. In 1864, Hickok joined up with General Sanborn as a Scout. He left military service in 1865.
Hickok soon made his way to Springfield, Kansas, where he got into a dispute with Dave Tutt over a watch and the affections of a young lady. History states that Tutt stole a watch belonging to Hickok. However, some reports state that Hickok lost the watch to Tutt in a gambling debt. Either way, Hickok, told Tutt he wanted the watch back. He further told Tutt, “I better not see you wearing that watch.”
Tutt, who in his own regard, thought himself as a gunfighter, began wearing the watch around town. Hickok soon learned of this and faced Tutt in the street. Both men drew their handguns. Tutt’s shot missed Hickok. Hickok shot Tutt through the heart at approximately 75 years away. Tutt died from this fatal wound. Hickok was arrested and tried for the murder of Tutt. The Judge stated that he felt Hickok acted in self-defense and he was acquitted.

During the next two years, Hickok served as a Scout for the United States Army during the Indian Wars. He scouted for General George Armstrong Custer during this time period. In 1867, Hickok was involved in a shootout that stemmed from a drunken cowboy pushing him, making him drop his drink. Hickok walked outside against four cowboys. Hickok shot and killed all four but received a shoulder injury himself.
Later that year, Hickok was in Hays, Kansas where he was elected Deputy United States marshal. He soon brought in eleven Union Deserters for stealing Government Property. Hickok met up with William Cody again and began to Scout for the Calvary.
Hickok became Sheriff in Hays, Kansas in 1869. He killed two men the first month as Sheriff. This was two different occasions. Both of the subjects were drunk and disorderly and refused to obey Hickok when he commanded to them to drop their guns. Later in 1871, Hickok was attacked by two Military Personnel. One placed a gun to Hickok’s head, which misfired. Hickok shot and killed both attacking subjects.

In April 1871, Hickok became Marshal of Abilene, Kansas. John Wesley Hardin came to Abilene where he shot through a hotel wall, killing a guest for snoring to loud. Hickok went to arrest Hardin, but Hardin had already fled. Hickok began to have a dispute with a Bar Owner named Phil Cole. One night, while in the streets, Cole fired two rounds while Hickok was present. Hickok told Cole that he was under arrest for firing a firearm in the city limits, when Cole turned his gun toward Hickok. Hickok fired and killed Cole.
As Hickok was standing over Cole’s body, he caught movement out of his peripheral vision. He turned and fired a shot, killing his Deputy Mike Williams. It is thought that Williams was rushing to help Hickok. There had been rumors that Hickok’s vision was failing him. Hickok was released from duties as Marshal after this incident.
Hickok was later diagnosed with Glaucoma. Hickok’s eyesight was indeed failing him. He continued to drink and gamble during this time. There are reports that Hickok frequented the opium houses to relieve the pain from the Glaucoma.

Painting of Jack McCall as he prepares to kill Hickok.

In 1876, Hickok joined Charlie Utter and Calamity Jane on a trip to Deadwood to pan for gold. In August of that year, Hickok was playing poker in a Saloon. He usually sat with his back to the wall. However, that day, the chair was not open and the player refused to give the chair to Hickok. Jack McCall entered the rear of the Saloon and walked up to Hickok. He fired one round into the back of Hickok’s head, killing him. McCall was later hung for the murder of Hickok. The cards that Hickok were holding when he was killed were Aces and Eights, commonly known as the “Dead Man’s Hand.”

Hickok has been portrayed in several movies and TV. The most famous being the “Wild Bill” movie and the HBO series “Deadwood.”

Jeff Bridges as Hickok in “Wild Bill.”

Wild Bill Hickok portrayed by Keith Carradine in “Deadwood.”

Bobby Inman is retired from Law Enforcement after 21 years of Service. He is a Consultant for Southern Heritage Gun & Pawn in Tuscumbia. He has articles published in Law & Order Magazine, Police Marksman Magazine, Guns & Weapons for Law Enforcement Magazine as well as several published ebooks on Amazon, Kobo Writing, as well as Nook (Barnes & Noble). He is owner of Poopiedog, an Animal Rescue Dachshund, who is his constant companion. He is a Senior Investigative Reporter for the Quad Cities Daily.

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