July 17

This Day in History

Old West

Jul 17, 1870:

"Wild Bill" Hickok kills a soldier

A drunken brawl turns deadly when "Wild Bill" Hickok shoots two soldiers in self-defense, mortally wounding one of them.

William Hickok had earned his reputation as a gunslinger a decade earlier after shooting three men in a gunfight in Nebraska. He parlayed his standing as a sure-shooting gunman into a haphazard career in law enforcement. In 1869, he was elected interim sheriff of Ellis County, Kansas. Hays City, the county seat, was a rough-and-tumble frontier town, and the citizens hoped Hickok could bring order to the chaos. Unfortunately, after Hickok had killed two men in the line of duty after just five weeks, they concluded that he was too wild for their tastes and they elected his deputy to replace him in November.

Unemployed, Hickok passed his time gambling, drinking, and occasionally working as a hunting guide. He quickly became bored and was considering taking work at the nearby Fort Hays as an army scout. On this day in 1870, Hickok had been drinking hard at Drum's Saloon in Hays City. Five soldiers from the 7th Cavalry stationed at Fort Hays were also at the bar. They were drunk and began to exchange words with the notoriously prickly "Wild Bill." A brawl broke out, and the soldiers threw Hickok to the floor. One trooper tried to shoot Hickok, but the gun misfired. Hickok quickly pulled his own pistols and opened fire. He wounded one private in the knee and wrist, and another in the torso. The three remaining soldiers backed off, and Hickok exited the saloon and immediately left town

A clear case of self-defense, Hickok was cleared of any wrongdoing. Yet, one of the soldiers, Private John Kile, later died of his wound and Hickok's chances of becoming an army scout evaporated. He spent the next six years working in law enforcement, gambling, and appearing in Wild West shows. He was murdered in a Deadwood, South Dakota, saloon in 1876.

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