June 04, 1870
Abilene, Kanasas, was a burgeoning Cowtown. The county itself, Dickinson County, had only come into existence in 1857. A stage coach stop was built by Timothy Hershey that same year, and was Mud Creek began as a stage stop that same year and due to the landscape, it was given the unlikely name of Mud Creek. In 1860, it was renamed Abilene, and the name was taken from a passage in the Bible (Luke 3:1), meaning “city of the plains”.
In 1867, Joseph G. McCoy purchased 250 acres of land north and east of Abilene, on which he built a hotel that he called the Drover’s
Cottage. He also put together a set of stockyards equipped for 2,000 head of cattle, and a stable for their horses. Why did he invest here? Because he was a smart man. In that same year the Kansas Pacific Railway (Union Pacific) had pushed westward through to Abilene. The Kansas Pacific put in a side-track switch at Abilene that enabled the cattle cars to be loaded and sent on to their destinations. The first twenty carloads left September 5, 1867, on their way to Chicago, Illinois, where McCoy was quite familiar with the market. The town grew quickly and became the very first “cow town” of the west.
McCoy encouraged Texas cattlemen to drive their herds to his stockyards. From 1867 to 1871, the Chisholm Trail, a trail used by many cowmen to herd their cattle to market, ended in Abilene, and this convenient location brought in many travelers and very quickly turned Abilene one of the wildest towns in the west. According to records, 35,000 head were sent on their way east in 1867 and this allowed Abilene to become the largest stockyards west of Kansas City, Kansas. Another reliable resource declared that 440,200 head of cattle were shipped out of Abilene from 1867 to 1871. How-ever, in just four years, this total jumped to between 600,000 and 700,000 cows coming in to Abilene and other Kansas railheads, a 35-40% increase in traffic.
This represented a tremendous boom in Abilene’s economy, but it came at a price. These cows didn’t come on their own, and that mean men were needed to move them. After four to six months on the trail, with no liquor or women, when the men arrived and were paid off, they wanted to howl at the moon. This allowed for a lot of opportunities for gamblers, pickpockets, saloons and painted ladies to make a killing as well. And to prevent the other kind of killings, a strong and effective lawman was needed.
Town marshal Tom “Bear River” Smith was initially successful policing Abilene, often using only his bare hands. He survived two assassination
attempts during his tenure. However, he was murdered and decapitated on November 2, 1870. Smith wounded one of his two attackers during the shootout preceding his death, and both suspects were given life in prison for the offense. He was replaced by a man whose fierce reputation, as well as his unyielding style of law enforcement, was guaranteed to keep peace in town. On June 4, 1870, the town father hired James Butler Hickok, known far and wide as Wild Bill Hickok to be the new marshal. Hickok’s time in the job was short. One night while he was
was standing off a crowd during a street brawl, a gambler named Phil Coe took two shots at Hickok, who returned fire, killing Coe.
There had been bad blood between them for some time. But Hickok then accidentally shot his friend and deputy, Mike Williams, who had come running up from behind in a desire to help his friend. Running up be-hind Hickok was a smart move at any time, as Hickok was known to shoot to kill. Hickok lost his job two months later in December. It was the beginning of the end for Wild Bill, as his eyesight was already beginning to fail, possibly from an STD. He never drew his pistol on another man for the rest of his life, which was only five years and four months.
It is reported that Hickok had a premonition that Deadwood would be his last camp, and expressed this belief to his friend Charlie Utter (also known as Colorado Charlie) and the others who were
traveling with them at the time. On August 2, 1876, Hickok was playing poker at Nuttal & Mann’s Saloon in Deadwood, in the Black Hills of the Dakota Territory. Hickok usually sat with his back to a wall. The only seat available when he joined the poker game that afternoon was a chair that put his back to a door. Twice he asked another player, Charles Rich, to change seats with him, and on both occasions Rich refused. A former buffalo hunter, Jack McCall (better known as “Crooked Nose” or “Broken Nose” Jack), entered the saloon unnoticed by Hickok.
McCall walked to within a few feet of Hickok, drew a pistol and shouted, “Damn you! Take that!” before firing at Hickok point blank. McCall’s bullet hit Hickok in the back of the head, killing him instantly. The bullet emerged through Hickok’s right cheek, striking another player, Captain Massie, in the left wrist. The murder weapon was an 18 inch “Sharps Improved” revolver.
Hickok was playing five card draw when he was shot, and was holding a pair of black aces and a pair of black eights. The final card had been discarded and its replacement had possibly yet to be dealt. The fifth card’s identity remains the subject of debate.
To purchase a signed copy of Larry Auerbach’s novel “a Matter of Justice”, Click Here
Photo courtesy of wikipedia.com