About “Wild Bill” Hickok
James Butler Hickok was born in Troy Grove, Illinois, on May 27, 1837. As a boy in rural Illinois, young James was inordinately interested in guns, and became recognized locally as an outstanding marksman with a pistol. When young James reached his eighteenth birthday, he took his leave and migrated to Monticello, Kansas to become a stagecoach driver on the Santa Fe and Oregon trails. Young James had many violent episodes with highwaymen of every creed hoping to prey on the wealthy passengers inside the coach. This challenged Hickok’s marksman skills, and put them to a profitable use. He began to develop a quick temper paired with belligerence, which earned him the nickname “Wild Bill.”
The reason he was called “Bill” is lost in time. In 1872, Hickok joined Buffalo Bill’s “Grand Buffalo Hunt” staged at Niagara Falls. Cody himself had already been in show business for a decade, staging plays known as “border dramas.” Wild Bill was better known for his days in law enforcement in Nebraska. One of his most famous rivals was the McCanles gang, who were known for train robbery, murder, bank robbery, cattle rustling, and horse theft. Legend has it that Wild Bill Hickok lured the gang to a saloon with promises of exotic pleasures, and popped up from behind the bar with a grin on his face and both guns blazing. Wild Bill had confronted the entire McCanles gang single-handedly, killing Jeb McCanles and two of his men, and taking the rest as prisoners.
His legend spread, and any discrepancies with the truth, he kept quiet about. Hickok moved around during the Civil War, and continued gambling, which resulted in more legendary shoot-outs and duels. Eventually he became a US Marshall in Hays and Abilene, Kansas, before moving on to Deadwood, South Dakota. In between there were many saloons and gambling opportunities. Once in Deadwood Wild Bill met Calamity Jane, and their friendship was perhaps as legendary as their exploits.
Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show was in Nebraska seeking new recruits for its repertoire of performers, and a scout had been sent to inquire if Wild Bill had an interest in joining the show as a sharpshooter. Absolutely, Wild bill said, and he accepted the job. Unfortunately, this didn’t last for very long. Since he still had a taste for a “medicinal” bottle of spirits each day, his performance in the Wild West Show was dismal on his better days. He was fired, again.