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Jack McCall & The Murder of Wild Bill Hickok, Part 1

Historical Black Hills characters, both factual and fictional, have taken center stage in the successful HBO series "DEADWOOD".

Not much is known of Jack McCall, who murdered Western legend Wild Bill Hickok in the No. 10 Saloon in 1876. According to research, McCall was born around 1851 in Jefferson Town, Kentucky. He was reported to have been in the Republican River country near the Kansas-Nebraska border in 1869. He was employed as a buffalo hunter, and was thought to be a cattle rustler, though that has not been documented. He likely bounced around in the cattle and railroad towns of Kansas, Nebraska, and Colorado during the early 1870s.

Although no photographs of Jack McCall have been authenticated, newspapers described him as having thick chestnut hair, a somewhat pointy-head, a small sandy moustache, a small mouth, snub nose and crossed eyes. He may have had a small goatee, and he was described as having a florid complexion and a double chin. He apparently used aliases during this period – two of which were Curly Jack and Bill Sutherland.

Jack McCall was sighted in Wyoming around 1875, and probably gravitated toward the gold rush in the Black Hills. It is likely that McCall was already in Deadwood when Hickok arrived in mid-July of 1876.

The arrival of Hickok in wide-open early Deadwood was viewed with a mix of curiosity and distrust by those already there. What was the “famous” Wild Bill doing in Deadwood? Local bosses who made serious money on illegal and immoral activities guessed that local businessmen would ask Hickok to take on the position of marshal or at least a hired enforcer on their behalf . It is speculated that the criminal element was fearful due to his reputation, and may have decided to encourage somebody outside their group to “take care of Hickok” for them.

Wild Bill was playing cards in Nuttall and Mann’s No. 10 Saloon on August 1, 1876, when one of the players dropped out and bystander Jack McCall took his place. McCall lost big, and at the end of the evening was broke. Hickok gave him money to buy supper and a little advice about gambling, and then returned to his camp.

On August 2, Wild Bill entered the Saloon No. 10, had a drink, and talked with bartender Harry Young. A poker game was in progress, with the saloon's owner Carl Mann sitting in. Mann, Charles Rich and Captain Massie invited Wild Bill was invited to join them. He hesitated. The only available seat had its back to the door, and Hickok never sat with his back to the door. He asked Rich to change seats with him, but Rich refused. Hickok reluctantly took the empty seat and joined the game—a fatal mistake.

Hickok was losing by the time Jack McCall slipped into the saloon. McCall moved down the bar, and stopped a few steps behind Hickok, as if to look at the hand Bill had been dealt. Not noticing him, Wild Bill said to Massie, "The old duffer – he broke me on the hand," the last words he was ever to speak. There was a loud bang, and McCall shouted, "Damn you, take that!" Hickok’s head jerked forward, was motionless for a moment, and then he fell backwards to the floor. The bullet had passed through Wild Bill's skull and exited his right cheek before lodging in Massie’s wrist.(Hickok’s cards: an ace of spades, an ace of clubs, an eight of spades, an eight of clubs, and the Jack of diamonds spilled from his hands, to become known as "the Dead Man’s Hand.")

McCall backed to the door, waved his .45 pistol and shouted, "Come on ye sons of bitches." All but Carl Mann left the room. McCall ran out the back door and tried to make his escape on a horse tethered there, but the saddle had been loosened, and McCall fell. Several men grabbed him and placed him under guard for the night. By the following morning a "miners court" had been convened in McDaniel’s Theater. This “trial” had no legal standing, as Deadwood and the Black Hills were not a part of the Dakota Territory, or for that matter a recognized jurisdiction in the United States, but a part of the Great Sioux Reservation. This fact may have also had a part in the judgment of the “jury.”

Continued . . . The Further Trial of Jack McCall


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