James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok (1837-1876) was the archetypical Wild West figure who is often remembered with the ‘Dead Man’s Hand‘ in poker. Over time and human tendency to embellish has made his exploits the stuff of legends. But what is known to be true is that this gentleman has a notorious fame. He made his name as a legendary gunfighter and lawman and his love of a ‘poker game’. One such legend attributed to him is that he was a sharpshooter who could pick a flea off the back of a buffalo from 500 yards away on a moving train.
Besides his exploits with the gun, Poker too had a hand in making him famous. It was during an ongoing poker game in Springfield Missouri in 1865 that Hickok got into an argument with Davis Tutt, a Confederate – turned – Union solider. Tutt accused Hickok of owning him money and grabbed Hickok’s pocket watch, flaunting it in front of the whole town of Springfield. This led to a dual in the town square where Hickok’s bullet found its mark.
His role as a Sheriff/Lawman was also revolved around Poker. A hardcore poker card player, Hickok kept his office hours at local saloons and hotel rooms, where other games like liar’s dice were also played. While this did not endear him to the locals, it certainly made his name as a card player/gambler.
However, his most important contribution to Poker came the day he died. In August of 1876, Hickok sat down at No. 10 Saloon in the mining town of Deadwood in the Black Hills in South Dakota. Hickok usually sat with his back to the wall, but lack of seat availability forced him to take another seat which put his back to the saloon door. A young gunslinger called Jack McCall, came in and shot him at the back of his head. McCall’s motive for murder was never revealed and he was convicted for murder and hanged.
According to legend, Hickok held a pair of black aces and black eights when he died, a combination that has since been known as the Dead Man’s Hand.
Some other poker stories attributed to Will Bill
- Wild Bill is said to have used a severed hand on occasion to throw off his poker opponents.
- More than a century after his death, Hickok was induced into the Poker Hall of Fame as part of the first class in1979 joining legends Johnny Moss, Nick “the Greek” Dandolos, Red Winn, Felton McCorqudale and Syd Wyman.
- Hickok death in Deadwood worked in the favor of the City as it became the first gambling markets to open outside of Neveda or New Jersey. Wild Bill Hickok, dead for 113 years, brought legalized gambling to the City.