Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Dead Man's Hand

On today's date, the 2nd of August, 1876, Wild Bill Hickok was playing cards in Deadwood, in what is now South Dakota, and then was simply known as the Dakotas, when Jack McCall shot him in the back of the head, killing him instantly.

McCall said he believed that Hickok had killed his brother in Kansas. Although McCall was a bad-natured drunk who didn't need much of an excuse to pull his gun, this may have even been correct, as his brother Lew had supposedly died in Abilene in a gunfight with a "lawman." In 1871 Hickok had been employed as a marshal in Abilene. He was paid $150 a month plus a percentage of the fines he collected plus a bounty of 50 cents for every unlicensed dog he shot. While Hickok had spent most of his employment playing poker, he had shot and killed at least two men during his time in Abilene. Other stories have it that McCall had lost $110 to Hickok the night before.

Wild Bill held a pair of black eights and a pair of black Aces when he died which became known both among poker players and popularly as a "dead man's hand."

James Butler Hickok was buried in the Mt. Moriah Cemetery outside Deadwood. Calamity Jane insisted that a proper grave be built in honor of the man she loved, and an enclosure 10'x10' was built around his burial plot. On top of that little encircling stone wall was placed a 3' fence which had fancy cast iron filigree on top, and a small American flag was stuck into the ground in front of the tombstone in honor of his service in the War.

In 1900, Calamity Jane was photographed next to the now neglected burial site. She posed with a flower in her hand, and she said that when she died she wanted to be buried next to the man she loved.

Three years later, she was.

In 2001, the older section of the cemetery was restored and many of the graves now have new homes, including those of Hickok and Calamity Jane. But the two still repose side by side on the hill.

Sources: The Outlaws; Sturgis Rally Lore

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