Poker Legends: Wild Bill Hickok
“I have never insulted man or woman in my life, but if you knew what a wholesome regard I have for damn liars and rascals, they would be liable to keep out of my way.”
Fastest gun in the old west. Sheriff who’s word is law. Gold prospector, Union army soldier, and, last but not least, Poker Hall of Famer.
James Butler Hickok, better known by his nickname “Wild Bill” is a legend not just of gambling but a renowned folk hero of the American West, the land where Poker was born. While there are plenty of myths surrounding Wild Bill’s life, including many tall tales that were spread by the man himself, there are a few things that we can say for certain about this frontiersman.
The Original Gunslinger
Wild Bill was a good shot from a young age, and by the time he was 18, there was nobody around who could match his skill with a pistol. Over the course of his life, at least 7 men would fall at the hands of the fastest gun in the west.
In fact, Wild Bill is credited with winning the first ever quick-draw duel—which happened, as it turns out, because of a poker game. Wild Bill lost a precious gold watch to a local rival named Davis Tutt, and he asked Tutt not to wear it in public out of respect. Tutt replied that he would wear the watch wherever he damn-well pleased, and the next day, on July 21, 1865, the two men faced off in town square for the first-ever cowboy duel. Tutt missed his mark, while Wild Bill shot Tutt straight through the heart from 75 yards away.
Photo: History Daily
Especially during his time as a sheriff, Wild Bill would have to deal with all manner of “liars and rascals”, often having to resort to his trusty pistols that he could count on to outdraw and out-fire his enemies. One amusing tale tells of a man named Mulvey who came to town to kill Wild Bill. When he saw the sheriff, he cocked his rifle at him. Without his pistols in hand, Wild Bill had to rely on his wits alone.
He waved past Mulvey at some onlookers at yelled, “Don’t shoot him in the back! He’s drunk!” The fool fell for it, wheeling around on his horse to confront his ‘attackers’. Before he realized that he had been duped, Wild Bill shot him straight through the head.
A Deadly Poker Game
Towards the end of his life, after he had given up the gun-totting life of a sheriff, Wild Bill headed to the Dakota Territory in search of gold, or, more likely, miners with gold that they wanted to gamble. It was during this time that Wild Bill made his living as a gambler, making him one of the first ever poker pros—before such a thing even existed.
On August 2, 1876, he went to play stud poker at his favorite saloon in Deadwood, Dakota Territory. As a man with many enemies, Wild Bill always wanted to sit with his back against the wall so that he could watch the doorway, but on this day the only available seat had its back to the door. After failing to convince anyone to switch seats with him, he sat down to play.
That’s when an assassin, Jack McCall, came in shouting “Damn you! Take that!” as he shot Wild Bill in the back of the head.
While his hole card remains a matter of speculation to this day, we do know that his face-up cards were two pairs: black aces and black eights. To this very day, this hand is known as “The Dead Man’s Hand.”