Growing up, I knew that I was related to Wild Bill Hickok, My maiden name was Hickok. I probably realized who he was when I saw the movie The Plainsman, an idealized film about Wild Bill, starring Gary Cooper.
A relative researched and found that my grandfather was Wild Bill’s second cousin, which made my father a second cousin once removed and me twice removed. Rapscallion or hero—the jury is out on Wild Bill. But it has been fun being his relative.
James Butler Hickok, later known as Wild Bill, was born in Troy Grove, Illinois, in 1837. He left home in his teens and became a scout in the Civil War. He had some gunfights that earned him notoriety as a very quick draw. During that period he became “Wild Bill.” He was a law officer in Hays City and Abilene, Kansas.
A part of his notoriety came from his appearance. A tall, well-proportioned man with long blond hair and piercing blue eyes, he was a dandy in his dress, favoring fancy frock coats and wide- brimmed western hats. He was said to have a large nose, which is a familiar characteristic in the Hickok family.
Calamity Jane claimed to have been a lady friend and even a wife of Wild Bill, but that claim has been discounted. She was known for caring for the sick in the mining town of Deadwood, South Dakota, where both she and Wild Bill ended up.
With fading eyesight, Wild Bill’s deadly accuracy with a gun was gone, and he came to Deadwood in search of gold and gambling, always his principal preoccupation.
He always sat with his back to the wall when playing cards, but on the day of August 2, 1876, the only available chair at the card table had his back facing the door. A man named Jack McCall, who apparently had a score to settle, shot Wild Bill through the head and killed him. The hand Wild Bill was holding was aces and eights, which has been known since as the “Dead Man’s Hand.” My nephew in Texas has aces and eights as his brand.
Wild Bill is buried in the Mount Moriah Cemetery in Deadwood. Calamity Jane had requested to be buried next to him, and her grave is near his. In part his tombstone reads. “Pard, we will meet again in the happy hunting ground to part no more.”
RIP, Cousin Wild Bill!!