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"Wild Bill" Hickok

Law Officer

Born: 27 May 1837
Died: 2 August 1876 (shot to death)
Birthplace: Troy Grove, Illinois
Best known as: The frontiersman shot from behind in Deadwood
James Butler "Wild Bill" Hickok was a frontiersman and law officer of America's Old West whose exploits -- and murder -- became part of that era's lore. Originally from Illinois, Hickok became a stagecoach driver and travelled both the Santa Fe and Oregon Trails. When the Civil War broke out, Hickok joined the Union Army in Kansas as a wagon master and scout (and, some say, a spy). After the war ended in 1865, "Wild Bill" Hickok served as a marshal in the Kansas towns of Hays City and Abilene (1869-71), then toured briefly with Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show (1872-73). He was known to be an expert marksman, with a reputation for having only killed in self-defense. Hickok ended up in Deadwood, South Dakota during a gold rush, and on 2 August 1876, he was playing poker in the No. 10 saloon when a local miscreant named Jack McCall shot him in the back of the head and killed him. The legend of "Wild Bill" Hickok says he was holding a pair of aces and a pair of eights (and some unknown fifth card), and in poker such a hand is known as the "Dead Man's Hand."
Extra credit: "Wild Bill" Hickok's story is frequently entwined with another legend of the Old West, Calamity Jane. Calamity Jane was known to have boasted of an affair with Hickok, but there seems to be no historical proof that the two were anything other than casual associates. Calamity Jane was buried next to "Wild Bill" Hickok in Deadwood, but Hickok had no say in the matter, having died 27 years earlier... Most retellings of Hickok's poker hand have it that the aces and eights were black, not red... "Wild Bill" Hickok was played by Keith Carradine in the TV series Deadwood (2004-06).

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More on 'Wild Bill' Hickok from Infoplease:

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