This Day in History – July 21st, 1865

wbhOn this day in 1865, Springfield, Illinois witnessed a new kind of duel, or at least the first of its kind to be recorded, the “quick draw duel.” Unlike the kind of duel in Western movies where the opponents face each other, the duelists in a “quick draw gunfight” stand sideways, thus presented a narrower target. The two men in this duel were Davis Tutt and James Butler Hickok, better known as Wild Bill Hickok.

Hickok (May 27, 1837 – August 2, 1876) is a legend of the Old West, a legend because many of his exploits were actually fictionalized and were subject to media romanticism. His skills as a gunfighter and gambler, along with his reputation as a lawman, provided the basis for this legend. Born and raised on a farm in rural Illinois, Hickok went west at age 18 as a fugitive from justice, first working as a stagecoach driver, then as a lawman in the frontier territories of Kansas and Nebraska. He fought (and spied) for the Union Army during the American Civil War, and gained publicity after the war as a scout, marksman, actor, and professional gambler. Hickok was involved in several notable shootouts, the most famous being July 21st, 1865.

wild-bill-hickock-sizedEarlier that year Hickok met former Confederate Army soldier Davis Tutt while gambling in Springfield. The two were originally friends, but they had a falling out over a woman and Hickok refused to play cards with him. Tutt’s response was an attempt to bankrupt Hickok by backing other gamblers whom Hickok would play, but the conflict came to a head when Tutt was coaching a player during a game against Hickok.

Hickok was on a winning streak, and the frustrated Tutt requested he repay a $40 loan, which Hickok immediately did. Tutt then demanded another $35 owed from a previous card game. Hickok refused, as he had a “memorandum” proving it to be for $25. Tutt then took Hickok’s watch, which was lying on the table, as collateral for the $35, at which point Hickok warned him not to wear it or he, Hickok, would shoot him. The next day, Tutt appeared in the square wearing the watch prominently, and Hickok tried to negotiate the watch’s return. Tutt stated he would now accept no less than $45, but both agreed they would not fight over it and went for a drink together. Tutt left the saloon, but returned to the square at 6 p.m., while Hickok arrived on the other side and warned him not to approach him while wearing the watch. Both men faced each other and fired almost simultaneously. Tutt’s shot missed, but Hickok’s did not, piercing Tutt through the heart from about 75 yards away. Tutt called out, “Boys, I’m killed” before he collapsed and died.

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Two days later Hickok was arrested for murder, but was acquitted by a jury. Shortly after that Hickok was interviewed by Colonel George Ward Nichols, and the interview was published in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine. Using the name “Wild Bill Hitchcock” [sic], the article recounted the “hundreds” of men whom Hickok had personally killed, and other exaggerated exploits, and was born the myth.

640px-Dead_man's_handThe end of the legend is somewhat of an anti-climax; he was shot in the back on August 2, 1876 while playing poker, but the hand that he was holding has become a legend in itself. The aces and eights that he was holding became known as the “Dead Man’s Hand.”

0009r0ysDoctor Who fans may note that the Eighth Doctor (portrayed by Paul McGann) wore an outfit inspired by Wild Bill Hickok. In the 1996 TV Movie “The Enemy Within,” Ted, an orderly in a San Francisco hospital, was going to go to a New Year’s Eve party in 1999 dressed as Hickok, until the newly-regenerated Doctor stole the costume from Ted’s locker and adopted it as his regular outfit.

This September, Paul McGann will be appearing at the Cincinnati Comic Expo, and will be part of the 2014 Time Travelers’ Ball hosted by the Pandora Society.

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