04 April 2011

Cowards: Jack McCall

By Lorelie Brown

Howdy cats & kittens! It’s a new month here at Unusual Historicals and that means a new topic. And I get to be the very first. That makes me all wiggly inside. There’s been exciting stuff going on here at UH too, behind the scenes. The very wonderful Lisa Yarde is stepping up to fulfill a larger role. The effects on y’all the readers should be little, but Lisa deserves a round of applause for her help!

Ok, back to today’s story on cowards.

Once upon a time, there was a man named Wild Bill Hickok. No, he’s not exactly my topic for today. He was a showman, a lawman and a gambler, but never a coward. In July of 1876, he arrived in Deadwood, South Dakota, intending to seek his fortune in the gold fields. There was plenty of it to go around after all. Deadwood was the largest gold lode found since the California Gold Rush in 1849. He had a new wife named Agnes and he meant to stake their fortunes.

Instead, he wound up gambling at Nuttal and Mann’s No. 10 saloon on 2 August, 1876. What can I say, Hickok loved a game of poker.

Hickok was known for never taking a seat with his back to the door, but on this occasion he had. Twice he’d asked a man named Charles Rich to switch seats with him so he could sit with his back to the wall. Rich said no. But Hickok didn’t give up the game. By

Jack McCall walked up behind Hickok, shouted, “Take that!” and shot Hickok in the head. He died instantly. The hand of cards Hickok held--aces and eights--eventually became known as “the dead man’s hand.” (Curiously, it wasn’t the first hand of cards known for that. Gamblers had a habit of dying while clutching cards.)

A jury worth of miners and business men were gathered and McCall was put to trial. He claimed that he killed Hickok to avenge his brothers death--and it was possibly true. McCall’s brother was a thief killed by an unknown lawman in Abilene, Texas. McCall was acquitted. If a body wanted to kill a man, Deadwood was apparently the place to do it.

But McCall just couldn’t keep his mouth shut. Over the next nine months, he bragged about killing Hickok.

And he was arrested and put to trial again, this time in the territorial capital of Yankton.

Because his trial in Deadwood was informal and because Deadwood wasn’t territorial incorporated yet, this wasn’t considered double justice. It was, however, considered handy justice when McCall was found guilty.

Jack McCall was hanged for his sins on 1 March, 1877.

Lorelie Brown's first book, JAZZ BABY, is currently available from Samhain Publishing in both e-book and paperback formats. Her second romance, an 1880s-set western, will be published by Carina Press on 18 July.