Today May 27, 1837, James Butler Hickok , better known as “Wild Bill” Hickok, was born. He was born and raised on a farm in northern Illinois. Hickok got in a little trouble at home and headed West at age 18 as a fugitive from justice. He worked as a stagecoach driver and later as a lawman in the frontier territories of Kansas and Nebraska. He fought and spied for the Union Army during the American Civil War and gained publicity after the war as a scout, marksman, actor, and professional gambler. Over the course of his life, he was involved in several notable shootouts.
On August 2, 1876, Hickok was shot from behind and killed while playing poker in a saloon in Deadwood, Dakota Territory, present-day South Dakota. He was shot by Jack McCall. The hand of cards which he supposedly held has become known as the dead man’s hand: two pairs, aces and eights.
Charlie Utter, Hickok’s friend and companion, claimed Hickok’s body. Charlie had Hickok buried in the Ingelside Cemetery, Deadwood’s original graveyard. This cemetery filled quickly, and in 1879, on the third anniversary of his original burial, Utter paid to move Hickok’s remains to the new Mount Moriah Cemetery.
Utter supervised the move and noted that, while perfectly preserved, Hickok had been imperfectly embalmed. As a result, calcium carbonate from the surrounding soil had replaced the flesh, leading to petrifaction. One of the workers, Joseph McLintock, wrote a detailed description of the re-interment. McLintock used a cane to tap the body, face, and head, finding no soft tissue anywhere. He noted that the sound was similar to tapping a brick wall, and believed the remains to weigh more than 400 lbs.
William Austin, the cemetery caretaker, estimated 500 lbs, which made it difficult for the men to carry the remains to the new site.
Wild Bill put on some weight after death.