Did Wild Bill Hickok Have Any Connection to Michigan?
I’ve written about many notorious characters that have, in some way, been connected to Michigan: General Custer, John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, Belle Starr, Buffalo Bill, Al Capone, John Wilkes Booth, Bonnie & Clyde, Pretty Boy Floyd, and others.
This has led a number of people to ask me about a few other historical figures – in particular this time, Wild Bill Hickok. Did Wild Bill have any connection or anything to do with Michigan?
In 1837, Hickok was born James Butler Hickok, in Troy Grove, Illinois, 135 miles from the Michigan border. When he turned seventeen years old, he went to work tending mules on the Illinois-Michigan Canal.
His first brush with trouble occurred with another teen worker, a bully named Charlie Hudson. Hickok thought Charlie had been beating one of the mules and the two got into a fist fight. Their fight led them into the canal water, and evidently, Charlie couldn’t swim. Hickok feared that he had accidentally killed Charlie, so he ducked out and went home. Did Hickok knock him out, or did he leave him in the water to sink? That part is unknown…but either way, Charlie didn’t die, but Hickok was unaware and fled down to Kansas to escape possible prosecution. It was in Kansas that he began his life as a Civil War scout, cowboy, plainsman, and lawman, with a reputation as a gunfighter.
So where did the name “Wild Bill” come from? Beginning in 1858, he referred to his first name as ‘William’ after his father. The ‘wild’ part was simply tacked on for no particular reason in 1861. As for his famous mustache, it’s believed it was grown to take notice away from his big nose. He had been called ‘duck bill’ by an acquaintance, referring to Bill’s nose and thick lips.
Fast-forward to 1876, where Wild Bill was in a Deadwood, South Dakota saloon playing a game of poker. In walks Jack McCall who proceeded to shoot Bill through the head from behind. Why? Because the day before, McCall had lost heavily in a poker game, with much of his money won by Hickok.
McCall was hung in 1877 at age 24.
Wild Bill's good friend (some say part-time lover) Calamity Jane came to Michigan as part of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in the early 1900s…so SHE came to visit but so far it's not known if Wild Bill made it here. I'm guessing it's a good possibility. So to fulfill a request, the only real connection Wild Bill Hickok had with Michigan was in name only – when he worked on the Illinois-Michigan Canal.
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