Wild Bill Hickok Biography
Wild Bill Hickok was an American frontiersman who helped bring order to the frontier West. Born as James Butler Hickok, he was one of the early “Heroes of the West” known for his skills as a gunfighter, scout and professional gambler. Born and raised on a farm in rural Illinois, he grew up to be a tough teenager who often picked up fights with other boys. Following a violent fight with a boy named Charles Hudson, Hickok thought that he had killed his opponent and thus fled from home to evade arrest. He moved west and joined General James Lane's Free State (antislavery) forces in Kansas. During this time he also worked as a stagecoach driver. When the American Civil War broke out, he joined the Union Army and also spied for them. By this time he had become a remarkable marksman and a skilled professional gambler. His exploits during the war greatly added to his reputation and he was catapulted to the status of a legendary hero of the West. After the war, he was appointed sheriff in Hays City and marshal of Abilene—cities notorious for being havens for lawless men. Hickok, however, changed that and helped to establish law and order in these cities which further cemented his reputation as a folk hero.
- Wild Bill Hickok was born as James Butler Hickok on May 27, 1837, in Troy Grove, Illinois, US, to William and Polly (Butler) Hickok. He was raised in a rural farm and grew up to be a brave and tough boy.He proved to be a good shot from a young age and was soon recognized locally as a skilled marksman. At the age of 18 he picked up a fight with a boy called Charles Hudson, during which both fell into a canal. Hickok feared that he had killed Charles and fled home to evade arrest.Continue Reading BelowYou May LikeLater Years
- He moved to Leavenworth in the Kansas Territory in 1855. At that time there was a violent conflict going on in the region over whether slavery should be permitted there or not. Hickok joined the antislavery Free State Army of Jayhawkers, serving under General James Lane.It did not take long for the brave and sturdy Hickok to gain a reputation as a campaigner for fairness, and he earned a position as a constable in Monticello, Kansas, in 1858.Around this time he was injured in a bear attack which left him bedridden for six months. He moved to southern Nebraska in the summer of 1861 to work at the Pony Express station at Rock Creek.The American Civil War broke out in April 1861 and he signed on as a teamster (an outfitter or packer) for the Union Army in Sedalia, Missouri. He served as a wagon-master for some time and it was also reported that he operated as a Union spy in Confederate territory.An incident happened in 1861 that would greatly add to the reputation of this extraordinary marksman. Hickok, along two other men, Horace Wellman and J. W. Brink was involved in a deadly shootout with David McCanles that resulted in McCanles’ death. All the three men were tried for murder but judged to have acted in self-defense.He was hired by the provost marshal of south-west Missouri as a member of the Springfield, Missouri detective police in late 1863. He was assigned routine duties as a police detective and likely resigned in 1864 after not having been paid for some months.Over the ensuing years he became involved in many more fabled shootouts including the famous Wild Bill Hickok-Davis Tutt shootout in 1865. It was a gunfight between the two men—a one-on-one pistol quick-draw duel in a public place—that resulted in the death of Tutt at the hands of Hickok. Hickok was arrested for murder, tried, and acquitted.He became even more famous after the Tutt incident and it was reported in the ‘New York Herald’ in 1867 that Hickok had killed 100 men, which was obviously an exaggeration.In 1867–68, he scouted for General Winfield Scott Hancock and Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer. He became sheriff of Hays City, Kansas, in 1869 and killed several men in shootouts. He helped to bring law and order in the city which was notorious as a hideout for many criminals.He was appointed the marshal of the tough cow town of Abilene, Texas, in 1871. Once again he proved his mettle and helped bring about order in the formerly violent region which was ridden with lawless men. However, he accidently killed his own deputy marshal which led to Hickok’s dismissal.Tall, well-built, and good-looking, he tried his hand at acting in the Wild West shows, which were growing in popularity. In spite of his stunning looks and immense popularity, he proved to be a poor actor and did not fare well in this occupation. He returned to the West in 1874.Major Works
- Wild Bill Hickok was one of the early “Heroes of the West”, reputed to be an extraordinary gunfighter with a sense of fairness and justice. He was very famous as a lawman who established law and order in the most lawless towns on the frontier and best remembered for his services as the sheriff of Hays City and marshal of Abilene.Awards & Achievements
- In 1979, Hickok was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame.Personal Life & Legacy
- Wild Bill Hickok married Agnes Thatcher Lake, a 50-year-old circus proprietor in Cheyenne on March 5, 1876, at the age of 38.Hickok was playing poker at Nuttal & Mann's Saloon in Deadwood, in the Black Hills of the Dakota Territory on August 2, 1876. A former buffalo hunter, Jack McCall, entered the saloon and shot Hickok point-blank in the back of the head, killing him instantly. Almost the entire town attended the funeral, and he was buried in the Ingelside Cemetery.
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