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James B. "Wild Bill" Hickok

James Butler Wild Bill Hickok

Lawman, gun-slinger, 1837 - 1876

The legendary James Butler "Wild Bill" Hickok began his career as a Kansas lawman in 1858 at the age of 20. Born on May 27, 1837, in Troy Grove, Illinois, Hickok spent a decade in and out of Kansas working as a wagon master, special policeman, government scout and guide, and deputy U.S. marshal. His exploits in the West were published in an 1867 issue of Harper's New Monthly Magazine that brought him national recognition. In 1869 he was elected marshal of Hays, serving until 1870. During his tenure Hays was a rough frontier town whose population consisted primarily of buffalo hunters, soldiers, and railroad workers. Of the four-recorded deaths that occurred between June 1, 1869, and June 1, 1870, three were the result of gunshot wounds. Two of those fatalities were possibly the work of Marshal Hickok.

In 1871 Hickok was hired as Abilene's town marshal during its last big year as a cattle town. He earned a reputation for being a quick draw and for spending most of his time playing cards in the saloon. After a shooting spree in the Alamo saloon in which two men were killed, the local newspaper reported: "We hope no further disturbances will take place. There is no use in trying to override Wild Bill, the Marshal. His arrangements for policing the city are complete, and attempts to kill police officers or in any way create disturbance, must result in loss of life on the part of violators of the law." Ironically, it was during this disturbance that Hickok accidentally shot and killed a city policeman who stepped between him and his intended victim.

Hickok was killed by an assassin in Deadwood, Dakota Territory, in 1876.

Entry: Hickok, James B. "Wild Bill"

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: February 2011

Date Modified: May 2018

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.