South Dakota

Lawrence County South Dakota


Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, - July, 2006
(used with permission) Transcribed by Jo Ann Scott

Wild Bill Hickok

Wild Bill Hickok was born James Butler Hickok in Troy Grove, Illinois on May 27, 1837 to William Alonzo Hickok and Polly Butler Hickok. Bill had four brothers and two sisters and his parents were God-fearing Baptists who expected Bill to keep up his chores on the farm and to attend church every Sunday. Bill's parents also operated a station along the Underground Railroad, where they smuggled slaves out of the South. It was during this time that the lean and wiry young man got his first taste of hostile gunfire when he and his father were chased by law officers who suspected them of carrying more than just hay in their wagon. Bill became enamored of guns and began target practice on the small wildlife around the farm. His romantic notions of the Wild West never sat very well with his father, but despite the protests Bill, became locally recognized as an outstanding marksman even in his youth. At the age of 14, Bill's father was killed because of his stand on abolition. Three years later, when Bill was 17, he went to work as a towpath driver on the Illinois and Michigan Canal. However, a year later he headed to Kansas getting a job in Monticello driving a stage coach on the Santa Fe and Oregon Trails. One of the first people he was to meet in Kansas was Bill Cody, who would later claim fame with his Buffalo Bill Wild West Show. In 1855, stagecoaches were often subject to the threats of bandits and Indians along the trail and Bill quickly put his marksmanship to work, as well as developing a ready belligerence to the frequent attacks. On one such overland trip, the stage broke down near Wetmore, Colorado. As Wild Bill slept under some bushes outside, the customers stayed within the coach until they were awakened by a disturbance. One of the travelers lit a kerosene lantern to find Bill being attacked by a cinnamon bear. When the struggle between man and bear was over, Bill was severely wounded, but the bear lay dead on the ground from Hickok's six inch knife. After recovering from the almost lethal attack, Wild Bill headed back to Monticello, Kansas where he accepted a position as a peace officer on March 22, 1858. Sometime after that he worked for the Pony Express and Overland Express station in Rock Creek, Nebraska, where he met David McCanles. McCanles teased Hickok unmercifully about his girlish build and feminine features. Perhaps in retaliation, Hickok began courting a woman by the name of Sarah Shull who McCanles had his eye on.

1902 Stagecoach Robbery courtesy Denver Public Library On July 12, 1861, McCanles, along with his young son and two friends by the names of James Woods and James Gordon came to the station, supposedly to collect a debt. However, profanities were exchanged which resulted in gunfire. McCanles was killed and both James Woods and James Gordon, who were seriously wounded, later died of their wounds. No charges were made against Hickok on the grounds of self-defense. Later, when Hickok's fame began to spread, writers looked back and began to call this gunfight the "McCanles Massacre", embellishing the story to the point that Wild Bill had polished off a dozen of the West's most dangerous desperados.

Hickok moved on again, landing in Sedalia, Missouri where he signed on with the Union Army as a wagon master and scout on October 30, 1861. The military records of his service give very little information regarding his services, but we do know that Hickok received the nickname "Wild Bill" while he was serving in the Union Army. As the story goes, he was in Independence, Missouri when he encountered a drunken mob with intentions of hanging a bartender who had shot a hoodlum in a brawl. Hickok fired two shots over the heads of the men, staring them down with an angry glare until the mob dispersed. A grateful woman was allegedly heard to shout from the sidelines, "Good for you, Wild Bill!" She may have mistaken Hickok for someone else, but the name stuck.

In July of 1865 Hickok met up with a twenty-six-year-old gambler in Springfield, Missouri, to whom Hickok lost at the gaming table. When Bill couldn't pay up, Dave Tutt took his pocket watch for security. Hickok growled that if Tutt so much as used the timepiece, he would kill him. On July 21, 1865, the two met in the public square, Tutt proudly wearing the watch for all to see. Moments later, Tutt lay on the ground dead. Hickok was acquitted of any wrong doing. During his time in the Army, Hickok became good friends with General George Custer, working as one of his principal scouts. Custer was said to have admired Hickok, played poker with him, and would have known him better had it not been for the disaster at Little Big Horn.

Shortly after the war, in 1867, Hickok was tracked down by Henry M. Stanley, correspondent for the New York Herald who later went to Africa and "found" Dr. Livingstone. Hickok blithely told the gullible Stanley that he had personally slain over 100 men. Stanley immediately reported this claim as gospel fact and Wild Bill became a national legend.

On November 5, 1867, Wild Bill ran for sheriff of Ellsworth County, Kansas but lost. He returned to the army where he was lanced in the foot during a skirmish with an Indian in eastern Colorado. Returning to Kansas, he became the sheriff of Hays City, Kansas in 1869. On August 24, 1869, he shot and killed a man named Bill Mulrey. Just a month later on September 27, 1869, he killed a ruffian named Strawhan when he and several others were causing a disturbance in a local saloon.

On July 17, 1870, real trouble started for Hickok when several members of the 7th U.S. Cavalry caught him off guard in Drum's Saloon, knocked him to the floor and began kicking him. Hickok drew his pistols, killing one private and seriously wounding another. After this skirmish, Bill resigned his position in Hays City, landing back in Ellsworth, Kansas for a time, then on to Abilene, Kansas. On April 15, 1871, Hickok was appointed city marshal in Abilene, for $150 per month, plus one fourth of all fines assessed against the persons he arrested. At first Wild Bill tended to routine business. When John Wesley Hardin, purportedly the worst killer in the Wild West, arrived in Abilene, Wild Bill took an indulgent and parent-like attitude toward the nasty little murderer. They drank together, visited the brothels together, and Hickok often gave Hardin advice. Hardin enjoyed being seen with the celebrated gunfighter, but he was also cautious around the city marshal, sure in the knowledge that if he got seriously out of line, Wild Bill would add him to his reputation.

However, it didn't take long before Hardin crossed the line. Sleeping at the American House Hotel, he was awakened by the sound of snoring coming from the next room. Angry at having been awakened, Hardin fired two shots through the wall. In the deathly silence, Hardin knew that Marshal Hickok would waste no time in chasing him down. Crawling out a window onto the roof dressed only in his undershirt, Hardin spotted Wild Bill approaching and dove from the roof into a hay stack, where he hid for the rest of the night. With the dawn, Hardin merged, stole a horse and high-tailed it out of town dressed only in his underclothes. Hickok gradually spent more time at the gaming tables and with the ladies of the evening than he did taking care of his sheriff duties. One young man in Abilene, by the name of Samuel Henry, described Hickok's gambling habits as: His whole bearing was like that of a hunted tiger---restless eyes, which nervously looked about him in all directions closely scrutinizing every stranger. When he played cards, which he did most of the time in the saloons, he sat in the corner of the room to prevent an enemy from stealing up behind him. A local newspaper complained that Hickok allowed Abilene to be overrun with gamblers, con men, prostitutes and pimps.

However, Wild Bill did have some marshalling to do and the Bull's Head Saloon gave him the most trouble. Phil Coe and Ben Thompson, gamblers and gunmen, were the owners of the saloon and what brought matters to a head was an oversize painting of a Texas Longhorn painted in full masculinity. Most Abilene townspeople were offended by the sign and demanding the animal's anatomy be altered, Hickok stood by with a shotgun as the necessary deletions were made to the painting. Later, Thompson left town and Coe sold his interest in the saloon, although he remained on as a gambler. When Hickok and Coe began to court the same woman, rumors started to circulate that each planned to kill the other.

On October 5, 1871, the trouble finally came to a head. Many cowboys were in town, fighting, drinking, carousing, and only Deputy Mike Williams offered Hickok his assistance. Coe was celebrating the end of the cattle season and when he and his friends neared the Alamo Saloon, a vicious dog tried to bite him, prompting Coe to take a shot at the dog.

Though he missed the dog, Hickok appeared just minutes later to investigate the shots. Upon Coe's explanation, Wild Bill explained to Coe that firearms were not allowed in the city, but for whatever reasons, all hell broke loose and Coe sent a bullet Hickok's way. Bill returned the fire and shot Coe twice in the stomach. Suddenly, Hickok heard footsteps coming up behind him and turning swiftly; he fired again and killed Deputy Mike Williams. Coe died three days later. Abilene had had enough. The city fathers told the Texans there could be no more cattle drives through their town and dismissed Hickok as city marshal. At about this time the east coast was thriving on the Wild West stories in the dime novels that were being turned out and the exaggerated articles displayed in the press. Having had some luck at the gaming tables, Hickok decided to join the foray and put together a show called "The Daring Buffalo Chase of the Plains" in the early 1870's. Making a thousand dollar investment, he packed up six buffalos, four Comanches, three cowboys, a bear and a monkey, and headed on a train to Niagara Falls. But the show was a disaster. The once frisky buffalo acted like Jersey cows, until Wild Bill fired a shot. Suddenly the buffalo ran circles with the Comanches screaming in pursuit, some stray dogs mixed into the fray, as well as several children chased by their parents, and all hell broke loose. Suddenly, the buffalo broke through a wire fence and stampeded the audience. Wild Bill made only a little over $100 for his show and had to sell the buffalos to a butcher shop to pay the expenses home for everybody.

However, his old friend Buffalo Bill Cody came to his rescue. Inviting Hickok to join his dramatic play entitled "Scouts of the Prairies," Wild Bill made a decent income and was able to indulge in his love for women and gambling, but an actor he was not. Nor was he happy, beginning to drink a lot, his acting became even worse, and finally in March of 1874 he said goodbye to Cody and headed back out West.

On March 5, 1876, Hickok married an older woman by the name of Agnes Lake Thatcher, who had been chasing him around the country for years and patiently waiting for him to tire of his long string of female companions.

By this time he was almost 39, going bald, wearing glasses, and was said to have sensed his oncoming death. Marrying in Cheyenne, Wyoming, the two traveled to Cincinnati for their honeymoon. Just a month later, Bill explained to her that he was headed to the western goldfields to make a grubstake and would send for her later. She would never see him again. By the time the Hickok accompanied Charlie Utter's wagon train to Deadwood, South Dakota, his reputation as a gunfighter had preceded him. Initially, he attempted to lead a quiet, reasonably respectable life in the wild mining camp, but his two greatest failings - gambling and liquor, led him into the rough saloons lining the main street of the narrow gulch. Along the wagon train to Deadwood, Hickok met Calamity Jane in Laramie, Wyoming. Being very much alike with their outrageous tales and heavy drinking habits the two hit if off immediately. Later, Calamity Jane would tell everyone that they were a "couple," but this has been much disputed. Seemingly uninterested in a grubstake, Wild Bill tried vainly to resume a career as a gambler, but no longer possessed the requisite skills. In fact, he was just barely able to keep himself properly suited and situated so as to hold on to the reputation and the illusion. He was seldom sober and was repeatedly arrested for vagrancy. On the evening of August 1, 1876, Hickok was playing poker in a Deadwood saloon with several men, including a man by the name of Jack McCall, who lost heavily. Wild Bill generously gave him back enough money to buy something to eat, but advised him not to play again until he could cover his losses. The next afternoon when Wild Bill entered Nuttall & Mann's Saloon he found Charlie Rich sitting in his preferred seat. After some hesitation, Wild Bill joined the game, reluctantly seating himself with his back to the door and the bar---a fatal mistake. Jack McCall, drinking heavily at the bar, saw Hickok enter the saloon, taking a seat at his regular table in the corner near the door.

McCall slowly walked around to the corner of the saloon where Hickok was playing his game. From under his coat, McCall pulled a double-action .45 pistol, shouted "Take that!" and shot Wild Bill Hickok in the back of the head, killing him instantly. Hickok had been holding a pair of eights, and a pair of Aces, which has ever since been known as the "dead man's hand." Hickok's good friend, Charlie Utter, claimed the body, made the funeral arrangements, and bought the burial plot. He was buried in the cemetery outside Deadwood on August 3, 1876. Calamity Jane insisted that a proper grave be built in honor of the man she loved, and an 10'x10' enclosure was built around his burial plot encircled by a 3' fence with fancy cast iron filigree on top. A small American flag was stuck into the ground in front of the tombstone in honor of his service in the War. The entire population of the gulch, prospectors to prostitutes, followed his funeral procession to "boot hill." Charlie Utter placed a wooden marker on the grave inscribed:

Wild Bill J. B. Hickok Killed by the assassin Jack McCall Deadwood, Black Hills August 2, 1876
Pard we will meet again in the Happy Hunting Grounds to part no more
Good bye Colorado Charlie, C. H. Utter

Soon, his new bride would receive a letter that Bill had penned just one day before his death. Seemingly, it appears that he had a premonition of his rapidly approaching demise: Agnes Darling, if such should be we never meet again, while firing my last shot, I will gently breathe the name of my wife---Agnes---and with wishes even for my enemies I will make the plunge and try to swim to the other shore. The day after Hickok was killed a jury panel was selected to try Jack McCall. McCall claimed he had shot Wild Bill in revenge for killing his brother back in Abilene, Kansas and maintained that he would do it all over again given the chance. In less than two hours the jury returned a "not guilty" verdict that evoked this comment in the local newspaper: "Should it ever be our misfortune to kill a man ... we would simply ask that our trial may take place in some of the mining camps of these hills." McCall hung about Deadwood for several days, until a man called California Joe strongly suggested the air might be bad for McCall's health. McCall got the message and believing he'd escaped punishment for his crime, headed to Wyoming bragging to anyone who would listen that he had killed the famous Wild Bill Hickok. Less than a month later, the trial held in Deadwood was found to have had no legal basis, Deadwood being located in Indian Territory. McCall was arrested in Laramie, Wyoming on August 29, 1876, charged with the murder, and taken to Yankton, South Dakota to stand trial. Lorenzo Butler Hickok traveled from Illinois to attend the trial of his brother's murderer and was gratified by the guilty verdict. On March 1, 1877, Jack McCall was put to death by hanging. As to McCall's earlier claim of having shot Hickok out of revenge for his brother, it was later discovered that Jack McCall never had a brother. Fourteen years after Hickok's death, in 1900, an aging Calamity Jane arranged to be photographed next to his overgrown burial site. Elderly, thin and poor, her clothes were ragged and held together with safety pins. Holding a flower in her hand, she said that when she died she wanted to be buried next to the man she loved. Three years later, she was.


Born in Princeton, Missouri on May 1, 1852 as Martha Cannary, she would later grow up to look and act like a man, shoot like a cowboy, drink like a fish, and exaggerate the tales of her life to any and all who would listen. From the beginning Martha loved the outdoors and began riding horses at an early age. In 1865, Martha, along with her parents and five younger siblings, migrated from Missouri to Virginia City, Montana. During the five month wagon train trip, the teen-age girl spent most of her time hunting with the men in the caravan. By the time the wagon train arrived in Virginia City, she was considered a remarkably good markswoman and a fearless rider. Shortly after arriving in Montana, Jane's mother died in Black Foot in 1866. The family migrated again to Utah, arriving in Salt Lake City in the summer of 1866. Travel was evidently not good for the Cannary family, for Mr. Cannary died later that same year. Now heading the household, Jane took her siblings back to Wyoming , arriving at Fort Bridger on May 1, 1868. Taking whatever job that was available in order to provide for the family, she worked as a cook, a nurse, a dance -hall girl, a dishwasher, a waitress, an ox-team driver, and according to some tales, a prostitute.

In 1870, she joined General George Armstrong Custer as a scout at Fort Russell, Wyoming, donning the uniform of a soldier. This was the beginning of Calamity Jane's habit of dressing like a man. Heading south, the campaign traveled to Arizona in their zest to put Indians on reservations. In her own words, Calamity would later say of this time, that she was the most reckless and daring rider and one of the best shots in the West.

In 1872, she returned to Fort Sanders, Wyoming , where she was ordered out to the Muscle Shell Indian outbreak. That campaign, in which Generals Custer, Miles, Terry and Crook were engaged, lasted until the fall of 1873. It was during this time that "Calamity Jane" reportedly earned her name. As Calamity told the story, it happened at Goose Creek, Wyoming , where the town of Sheridan is now located. Captain Egan was in command of the Post and the troops were ordered out to quell an Indian uprising. After a couple of days, when the soldiers were heading back to camp, they were ambushed by a large group of Indians. Captain Egan was the first to be shot and fell from his horse. Calamity Jane was riding in advance, but upon hearing gunfire, she turned in her saddle and saw the Captain fall. Galloping back, she lifted him onto her horse and got him safely back to the Fort. Captain Egan on recovering, laughingly said, "I name you Calamity Jane, the heroine of the plains.'' Afterward, she was ordered to Fort Custer, where she arrived in the spring of 1874. In the fall of that same year, they were ordered to Fort Russell where she remained until the spring of 1875. The troops were then ordered to the Black Hills to protect the settlers and the miners from the Sioux Indians where they remained until they arrived at Fort Laramie for the winter. In spring of 1876, she was ordered north with General Crook to join Generals Miles, Terry and Custer at the Big Horn River. During this march, she swam the Platte river near Fort Fetterman to deliver dispatches from General Crook to a local outpost. Contracting a severe illness, she was sent back in General Crook's ambulance to Fort Fetterman where she was hospitalized for fourteen days. When she was finally able to ride she headed to Fort Laramie where she met Wild Bill Hickok who was traveling with Charlie Utter's wagon train to Deadwood, South Dakota. Both being outrageous exaggerators and heavy drinkers, the two it off immediately. Although, the two have often been said to ave been romantically involved, there is little to support these stories. Jane joined the train which arrived in Deadwood in June of 1876. During the month of June she worked as a Pony Express rider carrying the U.S. mail between Deadwood and Custer, a distance of fifty miles, over one of the roughest trails in the Black Hills country. She remained around Deadwood all that summer visiting the many camps of the area. After Bill Hickok death she McCall headed out to Wyoming but less than a month later, the trial held in Deadwood was found to have had no legal basis, Deadwood being located in Indian Territory. McCall was arrested in Laramie, Wyoming on August 29, 1876, charged with the murder, and taken to Yankton, South Dakota to stand trial. Later he was found guilty and in the spring of 1877, Jack McCall was hanged for the murder of Wild Bill Hickok. Calamity Jane remained in Deadwood, prospecting at the various mining camps in the area. When the smallpox plague struck Deadwood, she nursed many people back to health, with little more than a thank you. Even old Doc Babcock had to admit there was a little angel of some sort in the hardboiled woman. While tending to the children, the doctor said of her, "oh, she'd swear to beat hell at them, but it was a tender kind of cussin'."

But, still she was always up to some kind of antic. When the Lard Players were at the East Lynne Opera House, Calamity sat with was her rough and ready gunslinger friend, Arkansas Tom. Jane became enraged at the denouement in the play and stood up and let fly a long stream of tobacco juice which hit the star square in the eye and dribbled down her dress. Jane's gunslinger boy friend let out a whoop at this and started to shoot out the lamps. The crowd went wild with delight. Calamity took her gun slinging friend by the arm and they marched up the aisle together to the cheers of the crowd. Tom, unfortunately, did not see Calamity again because he was cut down in a bank stick-up the following day.

One morning in the spring of 1877, when she was riding towards Crook city, she met a stagecoach running from Cheyenne to Deadwood with Indians in hot pursuit. Pulling alongside, she found the driver lying face downwards in the boot of the stage, having been shot with an arrow. Taking the driver's seat, she drove the coach to Deadwood, carrying its six passengers and the wounded driver.

Calamity left Deadwood in the fall of 1877, and traveling to Bear Butte Creek with the 7th Cavalry, where they built Fort Meade near the town of Sturgis. In 1878 she left the command and went to Rapid City where she spent the year prospecting, with little success. By early 1879 she was in Fort Pierre driving mule trains to Fort Pierre and Sturgis.

By the late 1870s Calamity Jane had captured the imagination of several magazine-feature writers who covered the colorful early days of Deadwood. One dime novel dubbed her "The White Devil of the Yellowstone." By 1882 she was in Miles City, where she bought a ranch on the Yellowstone raising stock and cattle and kept a way side inn.

Ever restless, Calamity went to California in 1883, but left for Texas in 1884. While in El Paso, she met Clinton Burk, a native Texan, whom she married in August 1885. On October 28, 1887, she gave birth to a baby girl.

They left Texas in 1889 and went to Boulder, Colorado, where they ran a hotel until 1893. During the next three years, the Burk family traveled through Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon and South Dakota. For the next few years, Calamity tried to sell her life story to anyone who would listen.

Having the reputation for being able to handle a horse better than most men and shoot like a cowboy, her skills took her into Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show in 1895 where she performed sharp shooting astride her horse. She toured Minneapolis, then Chicago, St. Louis and Kansas City, bringing to the stage the rip-roarin' west as she had lived it. She always managed to get drunk and get fired without ceremony. In 1900 Calamity Jane was found by a newspaper editor in a bawdy house and was nursed back to health. In 1901 she was hired by the Pan American Exposition at a good job with fine pay in Buffalo, New York. But again she got liquored up, shot out the bar glass, made Irish policemen dance the jig to her roaring guns, and then stumbled down the street cursing the whole town. She was run out. In the summer of 1903, Calamity Jane returned to the Black Hills for the last time. In the final stages of raging alcoholism and carrying her pathetically few belongings in a dilapidated old suitcase, she found refuge at Madam Dora DuFran's brothel in Belle Fourche. For the next few months, Jane earned her keep by cooking and doing the laundry for Dora's brothel girls. However, by August, Calamity Jane was dying in a frowsy little room in the Calloway Hotel in Terry, near Deadwood, South Dakota. Her last request was to give her the date - August 2, 1903 - and then requested that she be buried next to the great American gunfighter, Wild Bill Hickok, on Mt. Moriah overlooking the town of Deadwood. Her wish was granted. The funeral was the largest to be held in Deadwood for a woman, and Calamity's coffin was closed by a man who, as a boy, she had nursed back to health when the smallpox epidemic took so many lives in Deadwood. Calamity Jane may have been second only to Wild Bill Hickok in exaggerating her early life exploits into something that only a dime store novelist would believe. Many of those exciting adventures came from Calamity herself, and most of them could not be corroborated by others. However her legend as a hard drinking woman, wearing men's clothing, and living a rough and raucous life continues.



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