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

this day in crime history: july 21, 1873

RIandP

On this date in 1873, a group of western bank robbers known as the James-Younger gang tried their hand at train robbery.  The gang sabotaged the track just outside Adair, IA and waited for the Chicago Rock Island & Pacific train’s approach.  Around 7:00 PM, the locomotive derailed, killing the engineer.

Some of the robbers hit the express car while the rest guarded the train’s passengers and crew.  The gang believed that the train would be carrying tens of thousands of dollars in gold.  As it turns out, they were mistaken.  They left the scene about ten minutes later with a few thousand in cash.

Some have referred to the 1873 Rock Island &Pacific robbery as the first peace-time train robbery in US history, but this is incorrect.  The Reno gang beat the James-Youngers to it, robbing an Ohio and Mississippi train in Seymour, IN in 1866.

Further reading:

NY Times – “Daring Railway Robbery”

Old West Legends: The James-Younger Gang – Terror in the Heartland

Wikipedia – James-Younger Gang

this day in crime history: july 19, 1879

DocH

On this date in 1879, John Henry Holliday, an 1872 graduate of the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery, became former Army scout Mike Gordon’s Huckleberry. Mr. Gordon, it seemed, started an altercation in Dr. Holliday’s saloon in Las Vegas, NM. Big mistake. The argument spilled out into the street, where Mr. Gordon drew his pistol–an even bigger mistake–and fired it at Dr. Holliday. In what was sure to be the biggest mistake of all, Mr. Gordon missed. Dr. Holliday responded by drawing his own pistol and shooting at Mr. Gordon. He didn’t miss. Mr. Gordon died. And Dr. Holliday discovered a new favorite game: Play for Blood.

Further reading:

Wikipedia: Doc Holliday

Legends of America: Doc Holliday – Deadly Doctor of the West

this day in crime history: july 8, 1898

On this date in 1898, con-man and gangster Jefferson Randolph “Soapy” Smith uttered his last words: “My God, don’t shoot!” What do you think happened next? If your guess was “He was shot,” give yourself 10 points. Soapy was killed in a dispute over a game of three-card monte, among other things.

Further reading:

Alias Soapy Smith: King of the Frontier Con Men

Leadville & Twin Lakes, Colorado History: The Story of Jefferson Randolph (Soapy) Smith

Legends of America: Soapy Smith – Bunko Man of the Old West

Soapy Smith’s Soapbox

this day in crime history: april 3, 1882

On this date in 1882, legendary outlaw Jesse James was shot and killed in St. Joseph, MO by an outlaw named Bob Ford. Ford and his brother Charley attempted to claim a reward that had been offered for James, but the only reward they received was arrest and indictment for murder. They pled guilty and were sentenced to death, but a pardon from the governor spared them the hangman’s noose.

Charley Ford, suffering from tuberculosis, committed suicide in 1884. Bob was killed in 1892, shot in the back by a man named Edward O’Kelley. Sounds like poetic justice to me.

Further reading:

Legends of America: Jesse James – Folklore Hero or Cold-Blooded Killer?

St. Joseph History – Jesse James

Wikipedia – Robert Ford (outlaw)

this day in crime history: february 18, 1878

On this date in 1878, 24 year old John Henry Tunstall, an English-born rancher, was shot and killed in Lincoln County, NM. Tunstall’s men, including a young upstart who came to be known as Billy the Kid, vowed revenge. And thus began New Mexico’s Lincoln County War.

Further reading:

Legends of America – New Mexico’s Lincoln County War

The Death of John Tunstall

Wikipedia – John Tunstall