this day in crime history: august 2, 1876

On this day in 1876, James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok was murdered in Deadwood, Dakota Territory. Hickok was playing poker, his back to the door, when a man named Jack McCall walked up and shot Wild Bill in the back of the head. Hickok was holding two pair, aces and eights: the “dead man’s hand.”

The motive for the murder was never clear. McCall claimed he was avenging the killing of his brother by Hickok. A trial was held in Deadwood and McCall was acquitted and told to leave Deadwood. As it turns out, McCall may have never had a brother. So much for the justice system.

But all was not lost. McCall, as dumbass crooks often do, bragged about killing Hickok. He was eventually arrested and taken to Yankton, Dakota Territory for trial. It turns out that Deadwood was an illegal town, as it was built on Indian land (like they say in the real estate biz, it’s all about “location, location, location!”). Consequently, the trial that was held there was not legit, so a trial in Yankton wouldn’t constitute double jeopardy (“I’ll take screwed, blued, and tattooed for $1000, Alex”). McCall was tried and found guilty. He was hanged (I’m not sure if he was hung, you’ll have to ask Mrs. McCall) on March 1, 1877. Legend has it that when his body was exhumed in 1881, it was discovered that he’d been buried with the noose still around his neck.

Further reading:

Legends of America: Jack McCall – Cowardly Killer of Wild Bill Hickok

John “Jack” McCall Trials

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9 thoughts on “this day in crime history: august 2, 1876

  1. Reblogged this on Brittius and commented:
    Very sad day, indeed. Much of what Wild Bill Hickok spoke of regarding gunfighting, is the basis of much police firearms training of today. All of the foundation basics, belong to Wild Bill Hickok.

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  2. There used to be a magazine advertisement that claimed that Jack McCall was the son of David McCanles, who Hickok killed at a pony express station in Rock Creek, Nebraska. In fact, there was no connection between them, but I guess some folks think anyone with Mc in their name must be related.

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  3. Allegedly, Wild Bill never sat with his back to the room, but he got into this game late and the player with his back to the wall, a friend of his, made such fun of him for wanting to switch seats that WB broke his own rule, just this once.
    Also, in Little Big Man, Jack Crabb (Dustin Hoffman) runs away to join Custer and the 7th Cavalry after his friend Wild Bill is killed. In real life, Custer was killed in June, almost two months before Wild Bill. Seeing this ruined my faith in humanity. After all, if you can’t trust Hollywood, who can you trust?

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    • I had heard that too, that Wild Bill had violated his own rule about sitting with his back to the room. He learned the hard way that rules exist for a reason.

      As for trusting Hollywood, I’ve seen them get it wrong too many times to expect them to be faithful to history. Not that it matters anymore, these days they usually stick to remakes and comic book adaptations.

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  4. John D.:
    Didn’t know that about McCall’s trial.
    Guess the IN-justice system was founded in those days.
    Nice to know a REAL trial followed and being buried WITH the noose as fit and proper (in my book).

    I’m sure Hickok would have preferred a better “end”.
    Very good story.

    Roll safe out there.

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