5/27/1837 - The tumultuously brief life (out with a bullet to the brain at 39) of one of the Wild West's most famous gunfighters begins in Homer, Illinois (now the city of Troy Grove), when James Butler "Wild Bill" Hickok is born.
The Wild One
Too restless to lead the farm life of his parents, William and Polly, at 18, James moves to Leavenworth, Kansas, and begins living the Wild West raw that will make him a legend (believe the stories or not ... I tend to think more were true than false).
1855 - Hickok becomes a "Jayhawker" when he joins Jim Lane's vigilante Free State Army ... as a member of the army he also meets for the first time another budding legend ... a 12-year-old boy that is scouting for the group named William "Buffalo Bill" Cody.
1858 - Hickok is elected a town constable of Monticello Township, Kansas.
1859 - The parent company of the Pony Express, Russell, Waddell & Majors, hires Hickok to drive freight from Independence, Missouri, to Santa Fe, Texas.
1860 - While freighting, Hickok encounters a cinnamon bear and her cubs blocking the road he is using ... and the gunfighter kills Ma Ursus with a knife to the throat (the bullet he fires at her head fails to penetrate the thick skull of the beast), while suffering multiple injuries to his chest, shoulder, and arm that keep the gunfighter in bed for four months.
Bear & Bill
1861 - At Rock Creek Station, Nebraska, a dispute over a property payment not paid causes Hickok to pull his pistol (he's the one in arrears) and kill David McCanles ... the killing, his first, like the others that follow, is ruled self-defense.
1861 - The Union Army in Sedalia, Missouri, takes on a new teamster named Hickok.
1862 - Discharged from the Army for unknown reasons, Hickok vanishes from all public records for over a year ... time many historians believe he spends spying for the North.
1863 - As a provost marshal of Springfield, Missouri, Hickok spends a year arresting drunk soldiers, checking hotel liquor licenses, and hunting down individuals in debt to the Union Army.
1864 - General John B. Sanborn hires Hickok as a scout.
1865 - An argument over a watch taken as collateral for a $35 bet becomes the catalyst for a gunfight in the main square of Springfield, Hickok vs. former Confederate soldier Davis Tutt ... draw and fire from a distance of 75 yards, Tutt misses with his shot, but Hickok doesn't, putting his shot through his opponent's heart.
Hickok vs. Tutt
1867 - Working as a scout out of Fort Harker, Kansas, for Custer's 7th Cavalry, Hickok claims to encounter a large group of hostile Cheyenne Indians ... that flee when the gunfighter sends ten to their happy hunting grounds with his bullets.
1867 - Tired of risking having his long golden locks hanging someday in a warrior tepee, Hickok moves to Niagara Falls to star in the play, The Daring Buffalo Chasers of the Plains ... he is terrible in the flop production and back out West before the end of the year.
1868 - Working out of Hays City, Kansas, Hickok becomes a U.S. Deputy Marshal.
1868 - Assisting in the rescue of an Indian surrounded group of cattlemen at Bijou Creek Basin, Hickok is wounded in the foot.
1869 - Hickok is elected city marshal of Hays City and sheriff of Ellis County ... and in his first month in office kills two men in gunfights. Cowboy Bill Mulvey, who has the drop on Hickok, dies when he turns slightly to look behind himself when Hickok yells, "Don't shoot him in the back, he's drunk." Cowboy Samuel Strawhun perishes with lead in his head in a Hays saloon at 1:00 in the morning when he drunkenly insults the size of Hickok's nose.
1870 - Two drunken troopers of the 7th Cavalry, Jeremiah Lonergan and John Kyle, attack Hickok in a saloon. A mistake, when the pistol placed against his head doesn't fire, the gunfighter is able to grab his own weapon and go to work ... Kyle dies from two slugs in his stomach, and shot through the knee, Lonergan walks with a limp for the rest of his life.
1871 - Wild Bill and John Wesley Hardin meet in Abilene, Kansas, where Hickok is the town marshal ... and surprisingly don't kill each other. Legend has it that during one encounter, Hardin uses the famous "road agent's spin" when Hickok tries to disarm the outlaw. Impressed and wary of each other, the two nonetheless pal around for awhile, drinking, gambling, and whoring ... until Hardin kills Charles Couger in his hotel room for snoring too loud and is forced to flee the city.
1871 - Unhappy that Marshal Hickok has covered the erect penis on the painting of an enraged bull that he has on the side of his Abilene saloon, The Bull's Head Tavern, Phil Coe decides to slap leather against the famous gunfighter and finds out first hand that the talk of Hickok's speed and accuracy with a pistol are very much true. Sadly, Special Deputy Marshal Mike Williams finds out too ... taking a fatal snap shot slug from Hickok when he runs up behind the lawman to offer his assistance in dealing with Coe's friends.
1873 - Hickok joins Buffalo Bill Cody and gunfighter Texas Jack Omohundro in the cast of the play, Scouts of the Plains ... a success that will eventually morph into Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show.
1876 - Wild Bill marries a 50-year-old circus owner named Agnes Thatcher Lake in Cheyenne, Wyoming Territory.
1876 - Fleeing the constraints of married life, Hickok decides to try his luck at the gaming tables of the gold mining camp of Deadwood, Dakota Territory. It is his last stop. Refused his usual seat that allows him to view the room, the gunfighter is enjoying an afternoon session of poker (playing five card draw, he holds what will come to be known as the Dead Man's Hand ... a pair of black aces and eights, no one knows what the fifth card was) at Nuttal &Mann's Saloon on the 2nd of August when a former buffalo hunter named Jack McCall (he will eventually be hung for the crime) walks up behind Hickok, yells "Damn you, take that!" and shoots him in the back of the head. Instant death ... and immortality as a frontier legend of a wild time in American history.
177 years ago today ... Happy Birthday Wild Bill!