Eickhoff (The Red Branch Tales, 2003, etc.) lets Wild Bill Hickok tell his side of things.
Like everyone else connected with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, Hickok (1837–76) was a legend in his own time, and his life became a wild ragout of fact and fiction. Eickhoff’s account tries to set the record straight. Born on a farm in Illinois, Hickok grew up in a devout Presbyterian family and was well versed in the classics (especially Homer) as a boy. His parents were staunch abolitionists and often harbored fugitive slaves on their way north. In his teens, Hickok left home for Kansas, where he planned to homestead with his brother Lorenzo, but he was too restless for farming and soon gave it up. Kansas was then going through a kind of dry run for the Civil War, with pro- and anti-slavery militias fighting for control of the territory, and Hickok signed on as a scout with one of the abolitionist outfits. His skill in tracking his way through the wildest terrain earned him his nickname, and his fame grew during the Civil War when he led raiders behind Confederate lines to ambush rebel troops. After the war, he scouted for the army in the Indian Wars and served a stint as US Marshall, but he eventually turned to gambling and tried to earn a living as a cardsharp. When his old friend Buffalo Bill Cody set up his Wild West Show, Hickok became one of its regulars, touring the country with Annie Oakley and Sitting Bull. It was a sad acknowledgement, in its way, that the West was no longer truly wild, and that scouts like Hickok and Cody were relics of another age. Hickok died in Colorado saloon, shot in the head during a poker game.
A good portrait of an age and a place as well as of a man, briskly narrated and engaging.