One of the most famous murder cases in South Dakota is the shooting of “Wild Bill” Hickok, considered one of the greatest gunfighters of the Wild West.
Hickok, a former lawman and army scout, gained national fame following reports that he had killed at least a hundred men in shootouts. So it was ironic, some folks say, that he died with his gun holstered and without even seeing his shooter.
It was the second day of August 1876, in what was still Dakota Territory. At that point, Hickok was making a living as a roaming cardplayer and had reportedly been in the gold-mining town of Deadwood for a few months.
He was playing poker at Saloon No. 10, his back to the door, when a young gunslinger named Jack McCall walked in, approached Hickok from behind and shot him in the back of the head.
Hickok, 39, died immediately, according to accounts.
The cards Hickok held in his final moments — believed to include a pair of black aces and a pair of black eights — have come to be known as the Dead Man’s Hand.
At Hickok’s grave site in Deadwood’s Mt. Moriah Cemetery, where I visited last week, someone laid the cards at the foot of his monument. Near them was a star badge, a likely tribute to his career as a sheriff and town marshal, as well as mini bottles of whiskey, said to be Hickok’s favorite drink.
The cemetery, located on a hill overlooking Deadwood, is one of the city’s top tourist attractions. Saloon No. 10 burned down, but a similarly named bar has been established at a different location on Main Street.
McCall, meanwhile, was arrested, convicted of Hickok’s murder and sentenced to death. He was executed by hanging in 1877, the first person to receive the death penalty in South Dakota history.