The term gunslinger is a invention of the enertainment media. One hundred-fifty years ago the concept of a gunslinger did not exist, some people were reconsied to be dangerious with a firearm but the fellow walking out into the street to face down another man as dangerous as himself was not entertained. Matt Dillon shot many men each week for more than two decades on our TV screens for our enjoyment each week. But things like this just did not happen. In Dodge City , Kansas’s most bloody year 1878 only 8 deaths by gunshot were recorded. In the years of the great trail drives from1876-1885 only a total of 15 are listed. El Paso, Texas made Dodge city look like a girl scout camp. El Paso most violent year 1881, eight people died of shootings, five with in one week. In El Paso’s first quarter century of existence 1873-96 thirty people were transported to Concordia Cemetery due to experation by gunshot.
Acutally a search of records shows that murder ranked far down the list of major crime. Drunkeness, assult, larcney, thievery, gambling, burgulary and carring conceled weapons were the most prevaliant. Many towns including El Paso did not even have a jail for many years. It took a really noted crime to result in prison.
Most towns west of the Mississippi had laws and ordanances prohibiting the carrying of firearms in city limits. True these laws were often ignored, but the weapons were mostly carried conceled in sholder holsters, tucked into belts or carried in pants pockets. The shootest of the day dressed like everyday folks in suits of work clothes no fancy dud’s to attract attention. The tied down low slung rig popular inthe western of Hollywood did not exist, and when a belt gun was wore it was carried high in a more comfortable manner. Never in all the photos of lawmen and others in all my books and old pictures have I saw a pistol wore down on someones thigh. I personaly have played cowboy most of my life and I can attest that a pistol in the popular gunfighter rig of the B-western is a uncomfortable peice of equipment after a short while. I personaly prefer to wear my big hog-leg (a7 1/2 inch barrled Ruger Vacaro) in a high cross-draw on my left side. With it on your thigh you cannot sit comfortably, and lord help you if you needed to draw it while sitting. Also if it is not thonged down (a loop over the hammer) the damn thing falls out of the holster.
Mentioning the photos of lawmen and there are many, rangers of the Texas and Arazonia type especially, most have a holstered side arm but invertably almost all have a rifle in hand. A hand gun is at best a spur of the moment defensieve weapon. When a choice is presented a rifle is the prefered weapon it is more acutate and has more range. It amazes me in the old movies the one group comes barelling up and piles off their horses and starts blazing away with the pistols while their horses stand around wearing the Winchesters as decorations.
Hollwood would have you believe that the Colt .45 Peacemaker was the only handgun used in the west. In truth, the varitey was vast and varried. Remington and Smith and Wesson were just a few of the competators for the trade. I love to see in a movie like” The Missing” that Tommy Lee Jones was carring a Star revolver, which sure had a destintive shape to it. Colt came to be the weapon of choice for the movies because it is dependable and plentiful. I think I have gone about as far as I need to in this vein ( I have voiced my displeasure with the movie industry using inapropate weaponry for time periods in the past).
Needless to say there were people refered to as shooters and sometimes gunmen in the old west and more than a few were elevated to hero status by the penny dreadfulls of the time and they are the real meat of my coming stories.
WILD BILL HICKOK
His mother named him James Buttler Hickok at his birth on, May 27, 1837, in Troy Grove, Illonois. He grew to stand six foot two inches tall ,was broad sholdered and slim hipped and rather effeminate looking and had a high pitched voice. His many dallances with women through out his life never gave any doubt to his sexual presuasions. He had what was described as a aquiline nose and was considered good looking. Mr. Hickok would later grow and wear his famouse drooping moustach for the rest of his days, He ravored the fancy dress shirts and the long tailed coat. His first seventeen years gave no indication of the violent life he would come to live. At eighteen he was working with a crew alongside a canal when he became engged in a fistfight with a teamster who had been riding him with out letup about his girlish looks. They both fell into the canal and after James climbed out he never saw the other appear and feared he had killed him and fled. The other man survived but the kid did not know until years later.
Hickok turned up in Leavenworth, Kansas , sectional rivalerys were rife and he sold his servives to a rirregulator army know as the “Free Staters” untill 1857. He lived with various women and worked as a teamster on the Santa Fe Trail and shot buffalo, where he met and becamd friends with Buffalo Bill Cody, a frindship that lasted untill his dying days.
In 1861 Hickok went to work for the Pony Express working at one of the stops inRock Creek, Neberska (not as a rider, he was too tall and heavy for the run). It is here where the legend of “Wild Bill Hickok” began (although he had not aquired the title of Wild Bill yet). A man named David McCaneles, picked on Hickok unmercifuly about his girlish features and roughed him up unnecesarly (in the name of fun). Things came to a head when Hickok started to court McCaneles woman. McCaneles came t the station accompanied by his son and two friends under the pretex that they had stolen some of his property (he had at one time owned the property the station was situated) on. McCaneles stepped into the station and chalanged Hickok to come out, Hickok fired through a curtain and instantly killed him. His two friends ran inside and Hickok shot one and chased him outside and shot him again, he also shot the other man who tried to run away. The first man ran and tried to hide but was clubbed to death by the station managers wife with a hoe. The second was chased down and killed by other employees with shotguns. All were aquitted by a local judge. As Hickok’s fame grew writers ,with no little help from Hickok himself, expanded the Rock Creek fight to a fight of gigantic preportions with a wounded Hickok fighting off ten asailants with gun and bowie knife.
No doubt Hickok served as a teamster, scout and spy during the Civil War and sometime in this area he aquired the name Wild Bill. He served as a lawman in various capacitys ,sometimes invited to leave town by the very people who hired him. In Springfield, Missouri he lost a gambling bet to a Dave Tutt, a cocky twenty-six year old gambler. Wild Bill tendered his pocket watch as secutity until he could make good his wager. He warned Tutt not to wear or display his watch in public. The next morning Tutt appered in the town square proudly wearing and showing off Bill’s watch. Bill entered the scene and issued the chalange. Tutt stepped into the square and both drew their weapons and Tutt fired and missed. Wild Bill from a distance of seventy-five yards rested his pistol across his left wrist and fired once killing Tutt where he stood (now if you have no concept of seventy_five yards, Imagen 2/3’s of a football field). It is generally aknowledged that Hickok was probably the best pistol shot of the whole bunch. Wyatt Earp once said while in Dodge he, Luke Short and Hickok had a meal together and had stepped out side. Hickok had a pair of .36 caliber pistols that had been presented to him as a gift. Wyatt asked him how they shot. Hickok pulled both pistols from his sash ( Hickok was never reported to have wore holsters) and empted them across the street at a sign hanging on the side of a store. Crossing the street they found all ten holes within the center of a “O” on the sign. I read of a occasion where he gave a demonstration along side a railroad track for a visiting diginatary by standing between two telegraph poles and drawing both pistols and hitting both poles.
It is reported he scouted for Col. Custer on occasion and liked to play poker with him, as Custer was a poor card player. He also had a scuffel with members of the seventh calvary in a saloon where he was jumped after arresting some fellow soilders and beaten to the floor where a pistol was placed to his head but misfired, where upon he pulled his pistols and killed one and wounded several others.
Bill started to loose his sight probably due to gonerea from his many trusses with prostitutes, and was forced to use glasses in his later years. As his reputation as a lawman wained he tried to start his own wild west show with distatris results. Then he tried to tour with Bill Cody, and Ned Buntline. He ruined too many shows and took to drink and was eventually let go. He drifted and gambled finally marring Agnese Lake in 1876. Married life was not to his liking so he said he wanted to try getting a grubstake and would be back. Mining was not to his liking so he went back to gambling. Eventually he drifted into Deadwood. Here was a den of eniquity unparrialied on the contenent. Calimaty Jane entered the picture here it is unlikely they shared anything more than a bottle of whisky, but you now know how she interpeted it.
Bill had a fetish about entering saloons theough a side or back door and always sitting with his back to a wall. He even strewed newspapers around his room at night so no one could sneak up on him. On August 2, 1876, Bill entered the #10 saloon and saw a card game in progress and took the only vacant chair, one with it’s back to the door. Twice he asked Charlie Rich to trade places with him, each time he was refused because Rich felt it was a lucky spot for him. Bill luck went bad and he borrowed some money from the bartender to continue the game. At 4:10 Bill got his best hand of the game, he never got to play it out. A twenty-five year old ex-buffalo hunter named Jack McCall, entered and pulled a pistol and yelled take that and shot Wild Bill in the back of the head. The bullet exited his forehead and lodged in another players wrist. McCall snapped his pistol twice more but the gun misfired each time. It is only conjector what the out come would have been if it had misfired on the first attempt. Four cards fell from Hickok’s hand two ace’s and two eight’s, the now famious dead man’s hand.
McCall was caputred and tried he changed his story so many times it is not sure why he did what he did. He was aquitted and set free for some reason incomprehinsable reason. the army was insiced and rearested him stating the courts in Deadwood were not legal as it was not a offical town on territory that was still under US juridiction. McCall was retried and convicted and condemed to hand. Appeals were filed and went to the govonor who wrote to President Grant asking him to commute the sentence who refused.
So how many men did Wild Bill Kill? He told a gulliable newspaper man “Henry Stanley” (of the Dr. Livingston I presume fame) over 100 white men (I don’t count indians or confederate’s). He probably killed ove 10 but less than twenty, however he is one of the enduring legends of the old west. Wild Bill Hickok died a few years short of his 40th birthday. And was burried in the Dead2ood Cemetary, his head stone erected by his friend charlie Utter. Calamity Jane requested that she be burried near him years later.
Once again there is much more of Wild bill’s story available on the internet and books if you desire.
Thanks for putting up with my rambles again.