Tuesday, June 28, 2016

American Biography: Wild Bill Hickok

Wild Bill Hickok was born in Illinois in 1837.  His family were part of the Underground Railroad, helping fleeing black slaves.  They provided shelter and transportation.  They had cubby holes under the floor boards where slaves could hide.  Hickok road with the Jayhawkers during the trouble in Kansas.He had many nicknames, which didn't stick.  He first met a younger William Cody (Buffalo Bill) during this time, helping him fight off some bullies.  Hickok was always standing up for the underdog.
While Hickok was recovering from a bear attack, he helped a Pony Express Station manager named Horace Wellman.  David McCanles showed up insisting on his land back for lack of payments.  McCanles was a general bully towards Hickok, and called him "Duck Bill."  Either Wellman or Hickok shot him through the chest from inside the station.  McCanles' men rushed the station, and Hickok shot another, who was finished by Wellman's wife with her sharpened hoe.  Hickok wounded the third, and pursued him into the woods and finished him off.  Hickok and Wellman went to trial, and claimed they were defending company property.  The judge agreed.
From there Hickok joined the Civil War, serving as a scout and spy for the Union.  From there he began serving as a scout for the military.  Some calvary men where beating up a barkeeper and Hickok intervened.  Two of the soldiers began to draw on him, and Hickok was quicker so the stopped mid-draw.  The crowd of men dispersed.  The Eastern newspapers, and dime novels always seemed to dramatized Hickok's exploits, and seemed to always enhance them here and there.
Hickok then went into law.  His skills seemed very adept at this.  He started by transporting some deserters for the military.  He then was employed by Hays City.  This was a lawless town.  He would always swing the doors wide open when entering a saloon.  This would afford him a good view of the entire room, and also discover if anyone was hiding behind the door.  This is where he developed the habit to always sit with his back to a wall.  Hickok was not one to draw easily, but he was the fastest and most accurate.  As a law man he killed a score of men.  He was also attacked unprovoked and in a surprise fashion on several occasions.  There was one kill that would haunt him.  He had moved to Abilene where he was the sheriff.  He was investigating some gunshots.  Phil Coe was a gambler with a grudge towards Hickok.  When Hickok came alone, having told his deputy he would handle things, Coe saw his chance.  He fired two shots, and they missed.  Hickok did not miss.  Then suddenly from the corner of his eye, he saw someone approaching with a gun.  He shot and killed his deputy.  Hickok took this hard, and started drinking heavier.  He wasn't long after that he left Abilene.  He was part of the Buffalo Bill Cody show after this, but did not enjoy gambling.  He then settled on policing a new community, Deadwood, a mining town.  He was interested in gambling, and the only chair available was not against the wall.  He asked others to trade him, but they refused.  The result was Jack McCall, who had lost in gambling to Hickok the day before, shot Hickok in the back of the head killing him instantly.  The trial in Deadwood found him not guilty as McCall said he was avenging his brother's death.  (There is no evidence he even had a brother.)  However he was retried by the territory, and Deadwood was not a city at the time.  He was found guilty and hung.

Excerpts from Bill O'Reilly's Legends and Lies by David Fisher.

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