Rediscovered: “Wild Bill, I Presume?”

In building up his history of the Old West in his new book, Nathan Ward naturally brings in Wild Bill Hickok.

Couldn’t leave him out, in my opinion. It’s like the IMDb Top Four Known Fors.

Right now I think the Wild West is best known for Wild Bill, Buffalo Bill Cody, Geronimo and Billy the Kid.

I wouldn’t argue that you might squeeze in Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, Jesse James, Sitting Bull or Crazy Horse instead. The top names are the top names, and I have nothing against Kit Carson or Joaquin Murietta but let’s stay real here.

And as part of the coverage of Hickok I was pleased to see Nathan stick in some info I can’t recall reading about before now.

One of my favorite side hobbies is the Who Was When? game, where you bring together people you wouldn’t associate with one another — and my absolute favorite was tumbling to the info that the 12 year old Benjamin Franklin knocked off a poem and sold copies on the streets of Boston about the Last Stand of Blackbeard the Pirate, which took place in a whirlwind of blades and musket balls November 22, 1718 on Ocracoke Island in the Outer Banks.

Apparently the first mention ever of Blackbeard in a poem, and we’ve all heard of Blackbeard, right? And Ben Franklin.

Here’s the info Nathan eased in:

On July 21, 1865, Hickok had been in what is often called the first recorded one-on-one gunfight — quick draw, as opposed to European-style gentlemen’s dueling — when he and a man in a white linen coat named Davis K. Tutt fired at each other across some seventy-five yards of Springfield, Missouri’s public square. Tutt, who had taken Bill’s pocket watch against his poker debt, moved first, according to some witnesses, then grabbed his breast after the shots were fired to announce, accurately, “Boys, I am killed.” After the facts of the shooting made the local paper, Hickok’s name was introduced to a public hungry for other stories of frontier violence, true or not. Hickok was happy to oblige his growing myth, particularly in an interview filled with tall tales he fed to the journalist Henry Morton Stanley, who more famously found Dr. Livingstone near Lake Tanganyika in Africa a few years later.

Man, that newshound Stanley got around, didn’t he?

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