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Dead in Deadwood

On August 2nd, 1876, Jack McCall walked into Nuttal & Mann's Saloon No. 10, drew his Colt Single Action, yelled "Damn you! Take that!", and shot James Butler Hickok in the back of the head. Wild Bill was dead before he hit the floor.

James Butler "Wild Bill" Hickok

Texas Jack Omohundro met Wild Bill Hickok at the end of a cattle drive in 1868, when the cowboy found himself in Hays City, Kansas, where Hickok was Deputy U.S. marshal. Hickok later Texas Jack and Buffalo Bill Cody for their 1873-1874 tour of The Scouts of the Plains, before deciding that he was not a man made for show business.

Left to right: Wild Bill Hickok, Texas Jack Omohundro, Buffalo Bill Cody

According to Texas Jack, "Early in August Wild Bill was at Deadwood City, Dakota, where there is about the roughest and worst population in the West, made up largely of outlaws, gamblers and roughs. Here he met one Jack McCall, a cross-eyed fellow, who was a gambling sharp and a sort of ‘no-good.’ He challenged Bill to a game of poker, in which Bill beat him. At the last deal in the game, McCall overbet his hand; that is, he bet $10, and when Bill called him and took the cards McCall had only $7.50. Bill mildly remonstrated with him, saying, ‘You don’t want to overbet your hand. That’s no way to play cards.’ McCall said he hadn’t another ‘red,’ upon which Bill kindly gave him enough to pay for his lodging and his breakfast.

"Next day Bill was sitting in the saloon playing a quiet game with a party of gentlemen. The play was proceeding pleasantly enough, with several looking on, McCall being in another part of the room. Suddenly, before anyone noticed him, McCall stood behind Bill, who remained seated at the table. To draw his revolver, place it within a few inches of the back of Bill’s head and to fire, exclaiming, ‘Take that, damn you!’ was the work of a few seconds. The ball entered a little to the right of the centre at the back of the head, and came out below the right eye. Bill stiffened himself and fell back in his chair dead, without a groan, and probably never knew who had killed him. The cowardly deed was so quickly done that before those present could seize the murderer he had begun backing toward the door, holding his revolver in front of him and threatening to kill any man who moved."

Wild Bill Hickok

McCall was eventually captured and tried by a miner's jury. He told the jury that Hickok had murdered his brother in Abilene, and that he had sought revenge. Indeed, a Lew McCall had been killed by a lawman in Abilene in 1868, though there is no proof that the lawman was Hickok or that Lew and Jack McCall were related. McCall was acquitted of the crime of murder, and left Deadwood before Wild Bill's friend California Joe Milner could catch up with him.

Though he had escaped with his life, McCall could not help but to brag that he was the man who killed Wild Bill. This bragging proved deadly, as McCall was recaptured and tried by a court in Yankton, then the capital of Dakota Territory. The second trial was determined not to be double jeopardy, as the initial Deadwood trial was in Indian Territory, and not within the United States. The jury in Yankton found Jack McCall guilty of the murder of Wild Bill Hickok, and he was hung on March 1, 1877.

Wild Bill biographer Joseph G. Rosa said, "It might be said that Wild Bill's death was a destiny fulfilled, that McCall's pistol was an instrument of fate. It might also be said, with truth, that Wild Bill had outlived his time and had to die." Whether he had to die or not, Hickok's life and his death have become the stuff of legend. No man more exemplifies the west when it was Wild than Wild Bill.

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