James Butler Hickok was born May 27, 1837 in Homer, Ill. He had five siblings, and his father was a farmer and owned and operated a general store. Bill, who grew to more than six feet tall, towered over the other boys in town, and had a temper to match his size.
While he was still a teen he got into a violent brawl with a freight wagon driver and fearing he'd killed the man, he left the area and headed west. For a short time he was a peace officer in Johnston County, Kan., but left the position to hire on with Russell Majors and Waddell Freight Line as a teamster.
In 1860, Hickok was attacked by a bear while on a wagon run. He killed the bear using a knife and two guns. After recuperating from his injuries he moved to Neb. where his employing freight company assigned him to tend the cattle and horses at a stage stop.
Soon he was involved in another scrape. He'd been spending time with another man's mistress and the man threatened to kill him. Hickok shot him dead before the man's gun cleared the holster. So again Hickok was on the move, this time to Sedalia, Mo. where he was employed as a special detective for the government. His job was to locate missing property that had been hijacked. During this time the Civil War broke out and he signed on. He was asked to use his skill as a sharp shooter for the Union army, where he earned the nickname Wild Bill. For the bulk of the war, Hickok worked as a scout and wagon master for the north, continuing four years after the war had ended. In doing his duty to his country Hickok engaged in several bloody confrontations, killing every ambitious gunslinger who took him on.
By the summer of 1869 Hickok had become the sheriff of Hays City, Kan., and he cleaned up the rowdy cow town, followed by his being sent for by other rough establishments to restore order. He became marshal of Abilene in March 1871, crossing paths with the likes of John Wesley Hardin, Ben Thompson, and Phil Cox.
In 1872 he departed his law enforcement life and joined Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show. After two years he went west to Wyo., following the gold strike, and then into the Dakota Territory, ending up in Deadwood.
On August 2, 1876, Hickok bought into a poker game at the Number 10 Saloon. He was seated with his back to the door when Jack McCall entered the bar. Swearing revenge on Wild Bill for taking his money, McCall walked up behind Hickok and shot him once in the head, killing him.
Wild Bill was laid to rest with his Sharp's rifle at the Mount Moriah Cemetery in Deadwood. Jack McCall was arrested, charged with murder, and later hanged.