October 13th, 2004

The Death Of Wild Bill Hickok

That's the third time I've seen Bill Hickcok shot. First time was in Little Big Man, second time was in Wild Bill, third time was in Deadwood.

Clearly there's something iconic about this particular death that we keep having to revisit it.

The facts are these. It was August 2, 1876. Hickok was playing poker in Nuttall and Mann's Number Ten Saloon in Deadwood when a loser called Jack McCall came up behind him and shot him in the back of the head. "Take that!" he grunted. McCall's motives are unknown. At the trial he defended himself by alleging that Wild Bill had killed his brother and he'd been executing frontier justice. It got him acquitted.

But McCall never had a brother.

Bill was killed on the spot. The combination of eights and aces he was holding has ever since been known as the Dead Man's Hand.

The grave marker read. A BRAVE MAN, THE VICTIM OF AN ASSASSIN. When the body was disinterred three years later it was found to be pale and hard and untouched by putrefaction- for all the world like that of a catholic saint.