Wild Bill: The True Story Of The American Frontier’s First Gunfighter; New Book On The Old West Legend Reviewed By Paul Davis
Tom Clavin’s new book, with the title above, was reviewed in the April 26, 2019 edition of the Washington Times, by Paul Davis. Mr. Clavin is an award-winning author and has written extensively on key figures in the old west — including, “The Heart Of Everything That Is: The Untold Story Of Red Cloud, An American Legend;” and “Dodge City, Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, And The Wickedest Town In The Old West.” Mr. Davis writes frequently for the Washington Times, covering crime, espionage, and terrorism.
Mr. Davis begins, “The Wild West quick-draw showdown, a duel and a test of speed, accuracy, and grit, with two gunfighters facing each other on a dusty street on a Western frontier town, is a staple feature of nearly every Western cowboy film and TV series, since the beginning of motion pictures.”
But, as Mr. Davis notes, and Mr. Clavin writes in his new book, “this scene rarely happened, as gunfights on the American frontier were generally a more spontaneous affair of firearms drawn on the spot of the disagreement, with shots fired wild, and a few finding their mark. But, James Butler Hickok, better known as “Wild Bill,”did face of famously against a man on a Springfield, Missouri street in July 1865.”
“Wild Bill Hickok and Davis Tutt had a gambling dispute, and Tutt took Wild Bill’s gold pocket watch in lieu of a gambling debt he thought he was owed,” Mr. Davis wrote. “Wild Bill, then a former Civil War Union soldier and scout, wanted his watch back, and faced off against Tutt in the street, with townsfolk watching the gunfight from a safe distance. Wild Bill’s speed, accuracy, and courage won the duel, and he killed his opponent with his Colt pistol. This was the first recorded quick-draw street duel in history.” According to Hickok biographer Joseph G. Rosa, Hickok killed ‘only’ six or seven men in gunfights. The deadly shot occurred from about 75 yards away, according to newspaper reports at the time.
“Wild Bill Hickok faced a trial and he was subsequently found not guilty of murder,” Mr. Davis wrote. “After the trial, Wild Bill met Col. George Ward Nicholas, a fellow Civil War Union veteran, and former newspaper reporter, who was then a correspondent for Harper’s New Monthly Magazine. His interview and profile of the victorious “shootist,’ and frontiersman, would do much to create the Wild Bill Hickok legend.”
“It even contained a few facts,” Tom Clavin writes in his book, “Wild Bill: The True Story Of The American Frontier’s First Gunfighter,” Mr. Clavin, who also wrote: “Dodge City, Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson And The Wickedest Town In The American West,” writes in his author’s note of “Wild Bill,” that before the heyday of Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Doc Holiday, and other iconic frontier figures, there was arguably the most iconic figure of all: James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok.”
“Mr. Clavin goes on to note that he was indeed, the first gunfighter on the expanding American frontier, and he was indeed, the first post-Civil War celebrity of the West,” Me. Davis wrote. “With his long-flowing hair, buckskin outfit, or more formal town attire, and his two Colts, with handles facing outward, the young and handsome Wild Bill always stood out. There had been legendary frontier figures before Wild Bill, Mr. Glavin points out, such as Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, and Kit Carson; but, in the view of the author, Wild Bill was bigger than all of them.”
“He was an American legend by the time he was thirty years old, and by the end of the nineteenth century, only his good friend, Buffalo Bill Cody, who was transformed from army scout and hunter, to shameless showman, and outlived Hickok by four decades, came close to Wild Bill’s legendary status in the public imagination,” Mr. Clavin writes. “And, during the finest years of his all-too-brief life, which ended at thirty nine, there wasn’t a man alive who could beat him,” to the draw.
“Even discounting the exaggerated and fictious stories about him, Wild Bill led a fascinating and exceptional life,” Mr. Davis wrote. “Born in LaSalle, Illinois, in 1832, the son of a general store owner, the future frontier legend was raised in a family of abolitionists who helped runaway slaves. Even as a young man, he was a skilled woodsman, and was comfortable and proficient with firearms. He had a limited education, but he enjoyed reading the pamphlets about the adventures of Daniel Boone and Kit Carson.”
“At 17, James Butler Hickok headed West to California,” Mr.Davis wrote. “Like his family, he was strongly anti-slavery, and he later joined the Union Army at the start of the Civil War. He served as a scout, and as a spy behind Confederate lines. After the war, Wild Bill roamed as a gambler, served as a sheriff in Abilene, Kansas, and a deputy U.S. marshal, and later joined Buffalo Bill in a traveling show. He met Kit Carson, Gen. Custer and other famed men in the West, and he fell in love with Agnes Lake, the owner of a circus. He was not involved romantically with Calamity Jane, and in fact — he disliked her,” Mr. Davis noted. He also worked at various times a a drover on cattle drives, a wagon master, and stagecoach driver. He was once badly injured/mauled by a cinnamon bear, while driving a freight team from Independence Missouri to Santa Fe. Hickok was attacked after dismounting and firing a shot in an attempt to scare the bear, as it was blocking the road.
According to Britannica.com, Wild Bill, also helped guide Gen. William T. Sherman’s ‘Tour of the West,’ in 1867-1868, scouted for Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock, and at the time, Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer.
“With his eyes failing him, he knew his gunfighter days were ending,” Mr. Davis wrote. “Shortly after his marriage, he traveled to the Deadwood settlement in Indian country, to make money as a gambler. As he played 5-Card Stud/poker at Nuttal & Mann’s Saloon No. 10 in Deadwood, he was shot in the back of the head by a coward named Jack McCall.” Wild Bill was supposedly holding a hand of 2 black aces and eights,” which became known as “Dead Man’s Hand,” in poker. The fifth card has been unknown/in dispute ever since.
Mr. Davis concludes, “Wild Bill,” is a well-written, and well-researched tale of a most interesting American frontiersman, lawman, and shootist. Those interested in the true story of the life and times of Wild Bill Hickok, will enjoy this book.”
Looks like another one to add to the upcoming reading list. I have read several other books by Mr. Clavin and I thoroughly enjoyed them, as well as learned about Dodge City as well, which really did have a Long Branch Saloon.