Wild Bill (1995)




Director:    Walter Hill

Starring:    Jeff Bridges (Wild Bill), Ellen Barkin (Calamity Jane), John Hurt (Hickok's friend), Diane Lane, Keith Caradine (Buffalo Bill), Christina Applegate, Bruce Dern, James Gammon, David Arquette (Jack McCall), Marjoe Gortner, James Remar


The movie is a good one  -- not great, but good.  In this movie much is made of the assassin Jack McCall. -- in fact, way too much. Jack McCall was a former buffalo hunter with little to brag about.  His only claim to fame was that he was the man who killed Wild Bill Hickok and that's nothing to brag about.  Most likely, he was a mentally deranged person who wanted to make a name for himself by killing the great Wild Bill.  The assassination was a simple enough matter, but the movie makes it into a major production with numerous henchmen. 

Calamity Jane also gets a lot of undeserved play.  And Ellen Barkin who plays her is much too pretty for the part.  (But that's Hollywood and the audience appreciates eye candy.)

One does learn a little of Hickok's background from several brief flashbacks involving Hickok's gunfights, which I think were the best parts of the movie.   

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



Historical Background:

1837  -- James Butler Hickok born in Troy Grove, IL

1855  -- he became a stage coach driver on the Santa Fe and Oregon Trails. 

He became famous for a shoot-out with the McCanles gang at Rock Creek Station in Nebraska Territory, in which three members of the gang were killed.

after the Civil War  --  Hickok became an Army scout and a professional gambler.  

1866-1871  U.S. marshal and gunfighter in the cow towns of Kansas.  He helped clean up Abilene, Kansas, the then terminus of the Chisholm Trail for cattle drives.

A story told about him concerned his answer to gunman Phil Coe who bragged that he could "kill a crow on the wing (that is, flying)".  Wild Bill sneered and asked Coe, "Did the crow have a pistol? Was he shooting back? I will be."   Hickok later killed Coe.  

1870 (July 17)   --  as Sherriff/City Marshal of Hays, Kansas, he was in a gunfight with soldiers of the 7th US Cavalry wounding one and mortally wounding another. 

1871  --  while marshal of Abilene, Kansas, he had an encounter with one the most famous killers of the west, John Wesley Hardin.  Wild Bill disarmed Hardin who then fled town. 

1871 (Oct 5)  --  while involved in a gunfight, Hickok accidentally shot and killed his friend Abilene Special Deputy Marshall Mike Williams, when Williams ran up to him from the side.  (Hickok's eye-sight was poor.)  The death deeply affect Hickok. 

1873-1874  --  Hickok performed in the Buffalo Bill Cody touring stage play titled Scouts of the Plains, the forerunner to Cody's Wild West shows.  He was fired from the show for drunkenness.  There he met Calamity Jane.

1876  -- meets Calamity Jane at Fort Laramie; they both were heading for Deadwood, Dakota Territory in Charlie Uttter's wagon train.  In Deadwood, he spent most of his time gambling.  He would never play cards with his back to the door.  He insisted on sitting facing the door.

Jack McCall was living in Deadwood in 1876 under the alias "Bill Sutherland".  He claimed that Wild Bill had killed his brother in Abilene, Kansas.  (But it was later discovered that Jack McCall never had a brother.)

1876, August 2 --  for once, Hickok was sitting with his back to the door.  He was shot from behind while playing poker in Saloon #10, Deadwood, by Jack McCall, who said that Wild Bill had killed his brother.  Hickok died with a poker hand of a pair of aces and a pair of eights, known thereafter as the "dead man's hand."

McCall was found innocent after two hours deliberation by an impromptu court in McDaniel's Theater, made up of local miners and businessmen.

McCall fled to Wyoming where he would brag to anyone who would listen that he had killed Wild Bill in a fair fight. 

But trouble was coming for McCall.  The verdict of the first trial was reversed on the grounds that Deadwood was then part of Indian Territory.

1876 (August 29)  --  Jack McCall was arrested in Laramie, Wyoming.  He was brought to Yankton, South Dakota. 

1877 (March 1)  -- Jack McCall was hanged in Yankton.  He was buried with the noose still around his neck.



Return To Main Page

Return to Home Page (Vernon Johns Society)