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ready to swallow it all as Gospel truth, as a Johnny Chinaman or Japanese
would be to believe that England, France and America are inhabited by canni-

"Don't touch it," cries the hilarious party, "don't spoil a richer morceaux than
ever was printed in Gulliver's Travels, or Baron MunchausenI If it prevents
any consummate fools from coming to Southwest Missouri, that's no loss."

So we compromise between the two demands, and give the article but brief
and inadequate criticism. Indeed, we do not imagine that we could do it
justice, if we made ever so serious and studied an attempt to do so.

A good many of our people those especially who frequent the bar rooms
and lager-beer saloons, will remember the author of the article, when we men-
tion one "Colonel" G. W. NICHOLS, who was here for a few days in the summer
of 1865, splurging around among our "strange, half-civilized people," seriously
endangering the supply of lager and corn whisky, and putting on more airs
than a spotted stud-horse in the ring of a county fair. He's the author! And
if the illustrious holder of one of the "Brevet" commissions which Fremont
issued to his wagon-masters, will come back to Springfield, two-thirds of all
the people he meets will invite him "to pis'n hisself with suth'n" for the fun he
unwittingly furnished them in his article the remaining one-third will kick
him wherever met, for lying like a dog upon the city and people of Springfield.

JAMES B. HICKOK, (not "William Hitchcock," as the "Colonel" mis-names
his hero, ) is a remarkable man, and is as well known here as Horace Greely in


New York, or Henry Wilson in "the Hub." The portrait of him on the first
page of Harper for February, is a most faithful and striking likeness features,
shape, posture and dress in all it is a faithful reproduction of one of Charley
SCHOLTEN'S photographs of "Wild Bill," as he is generally called. No finer
physique, no greater strength, no more personal courage, no steadier nerves,
no superior skill with the pistol, no better horsemanship than his, could any
man of the million Federal soldiers of the war, boast of; and few did better or
more loyal service as a soldier throughout the war. But Nichols "cuts it very
fat" when he describes Bill's feats in arms. We think his hero only claims to
have sent a few dozen rebs to the farther side of Jordan; and we never, before
reading the "Colonel's" article, suspected he had dispatched "several hundreds
with his own hands." But it must be so, for the "Colonel" asserts it with a
parenthesis of genuine flavorous Bostonian piety, to assure us of his incapacity
to utter an untruth.

We dare say that Captain Kelso, our present member of Congress, did
double the execution "with his own hands," on the Johnnies, during the war,
that Bill did. This is no dispargement to Bill. Except his "mate" TOM
MARTIN, (who swore yesterday that Nichols* pathetic description of his un-
timely murder in 1863, in that article, was not true,) Bill was the best scout,
by far, in the Southwest.

The equestrian scenes given are purely imaginary. The extraordinary black
mare, Nell, (which was in fact a black stallion, blind in the right eye, and "a
goer,") wouldn't "fall as if struck by a cannon ball" when Hickok "slowly
waved his hand over her head with a circular motion," worth a cent. And
none of our citizens ever saw her (or him) "wink affirmatively" to Bill's men-
tion of her (or his) great sagacity. Nor did she (or he) ever jump upon the
billiard table of the Lyon House at "William's low whistle;" and if Bill had,
( as the "Colonel" describes it on his own veracity, ) mounted her in Ike HofFs
saloon and "with one bound, lit in the middle of the street," he would have
got a severe fall in the doorway of the bar room, sure, to make no mention
of clearing at "one bound" a porch twelve feet wide, and five feet high, a
pavement twelve feet, and half the width of the roadway, (twenty-five feet by
actual measurement) making a total of forty-nine feet, without computing
any margin inside the room from which she (or he) "bounded."

We are sorry to say also that the graphic account of the terrible fight at
Mrs. Waltman's, in which Bill killed, solitary and alone, "the guerrilla Mc-
Kandlas and ten of his men" the whole bilen of 'em is not reliable. The
fact upon which this account is founded, being, that before the war, and while
yet out in the mountains, Wild Bill did fight and kill one McKandlas and two
other men, who attacked him simultaneously. These little rivulets in the
monthlies, weeklies and dailies, all run into and make up the great river of
history afterwhile; and if many of them are as salty as this one, the main
stream will be very brackish at least. We must, therefore tell the truth to
"vindicate history."

Bill never was in the tight place narrated, and exhibited in the illustrating
wood cut, where half down on the edge of Mrs. Waltman's bed, with his
bowie-knife up to the hilt in one bushwhacker's heart, with half a dozen dead
men upon the floor in picturesque attitudes; two of the three remaining des-
peradoes have their knives puncturing his westcoat, and the final one of the
ten is leveling terrific blows at his head with a clubbed musket. We con-


gratulate Bill on the fact that that picture and narrative was rather not true.
It would have been too risky even for Bill, the "Scout of the Plains." 2

We have not time or space to follow the article further. We protest, how-
ever, that our people do not dress in "greasy skins," and bask in the sunshine
prone upon our pavements. We will die in the belief that we have people
here as smart, and even as well dressed as "Colonel" G. W. NICHOLS. Mrs.
E. M. BOWEN advertises in our columns the latest styles of "postage stamp"
bonnets, and Mde. Demorest's fashions, for our ladies; and we know that
SHIPLEY has not been in fault, if our gentlemen are not presentable in costume,
even in the "salons" of the Hub.

We must add the remark that so far as we are capable of judging, "Cap-
tain Honesty" (who can forget more than Nichols ever knew, and scarcely
miss it,) speaks very intelligible, good English. He was at least considered
so capable and reliable an A. Q'. M. as to be retained by the War Department
for more than a year after the war had closed, and his regiment mustered out,
to administer and settle the government affairs in one of the most important
posts in the country.

In reading the romantic and pathetic parts of the article, "the undercurrent
about a woman" in his quarrel and fatal fight with Dave Tutts; and his re-
marks with "quivering lips and tearful eyes" about his old mother in Illinois,
we tried to fancy Bill's familiar face while listening to the passage being read.
We could almost hear his certain remark, "O! hell! what a d~n fool that Nichols
is." We agree with "Wild Bill" on that point.

The editor of the Leavenworth Conservative remembered that
he had known Wild Bill in 1864, and on February 1, 1867, told of
his acquaintance:

"WILD BILL." Since the publication of the paper in Harper's, setting forth
the exploits of "Wild Bill," there has been a determined research in memory
by those who participated in the closing scenes of the war in Northern Arkansas.
Since the subject of the sketch in Harper has been prominently given to the
country we have furbished our recollection, and the result is that we knew
Bill Hitchcock in 1864 and recognize his portrait in the magazine for February.
It is a fair representation for a wood cut. "Wild Bill," as he is called, rode in
company with the writer, and with Adjutant Mackle and Lt. Col. Hoyt from
Newtonia, subsequent to the battle in October, to the Arkansas river, we think,
but perhaps he remained at Fayetteville. The general description of the
man, as given by Harper, is tolerably correct, but in the language used the
narrator is much at fault. In appearance throughout Bill Hitchcock is gentle-
manly, and grammatically accurate in conversation, and in all belies the charac-
ter given him as a desperado. He came into Gen. Brunt's camp on the morning
after the battle of Newtonia, having previously been with Price, and having
spent several months in the camps in Arkansas, as stated in the article in
question. As to his pet mare we are skeptical, and the river adventure would
hardly be credited among those on the staff in the fall of 1864. "Wild Bill"
is a fit subject for romance, but not more so than a dozen now in this town,
who throughout the war, were in the fore front of danger. A special to the
Democrat says he is now a gambler at Junction City, which statement we have
no reason to doubt. "Wild Bill" has made a mark in the war for the Union,
and we accord him full credit for his risks and reward for results attained.


The Atchison Daily Champion, February 5, 1867, also felt that
some criticism and correction was due. The Champion's article was
reprinted by the Leavenworth Conservative on February 7:

"WILD BILL." Since the publication in Harper concerning "Wild Bill" the
origin, existence and actions of that personage have been very thoroughly can-
vassed. Elsewhere, we give the Springfield, Mo., version, which is not at all
creditable to Geo. Ward Nichols. Speaking of Bill the Atchison Champion

"The real name of 'Wild Bill/ the scout described in Harper's Magazine for
this month, is William Haycock, and not Hitchcock, as given in the last para-
graph of the article referred to. He kept, up to the time of the McKandles
difficulty, the Overland Stage Co.'s ranche at Rock Creek, beyond Marysville.
The McKandles gang consisted of only the leader and three others, and not of
fourteen as stated in the magazine. Of these 'Wild Bill/ in the fight referred
to, shot McKandles through the heart with a rifle, and then stepping out of
doors, revolver in hand, shot another of the gang dead; severely wounded a
third, who ran off to a ravine near by, and was found there dead, and slightly
wounded the fourth, who ran away and was not heard of afterwards. There
was no grudge existing between the McKandles gang and *Wild Bill/ but the
former had a quarrel with the Stage Company, and had come to burn the sta-
tion 'Bill* was in charge of. The other men, hearing of their coming, ran off,
leaving 'Bill' to defend the property alone. He did it with the greatest coolness
and courage, and the Company rewarded him very handsomely for his action

" 'Wild Bill* is, as stated in the Magazine, a splendid specimen of physical
manhood, and is a dead shot with a pistol. He is a very quiet man, rarely
talking to any one, and not of a quarrelsome disposition, although reckless and
desperate when once involved in a fight. There are a number of citizens of
this city who know him well.

"Nichols* sketch of 'Wild Bill' is a very readable paper, but the fine descrip-
tive powers of the writer have been drawn upon as largely as facts, in producing
it. There are dozens of men on the Overland Line who are probably more
desperate characters than Haycock, and are the heroes of quite as many and
as desperate adventures. The wild West is fertile in 'Wild Bills/ Charley
Slade, formerly one of the division Superintendents on the O. S. Line, was
probably a more desperate, as well as a cooler man than the hero of Harper's,
and his fight at his own ranche was a much more terrible encounter than that
of 'Wild Bill' with the McKandles gang. Slade, however, unlike Haycock, was
naturally quarrelsome, and could hardly feel comfortable unless he had shot
a man within two or three days."

The identity of the scout will probably be settled within the next three
months. However, the remarks of the Champion as to other scouts may be
taken as correct. There are many in Kansas whose adventures, illustrated,
would read as well as those of Wild Bill.

By February 19, 1867, when this item appeared in the Conserva-
tive, Hickok was something of a celebrity in Leavenworth:

"WILD BILL." This somewhat noted individual was in the city yesterday,
having recently arrived from Riley with a lot of furs and skins. He was the
observed of a good many observers.


Wild Bill had been in government service, as a scout, since the
first of the year. In April he was ordered to accompany the Indian
expedition of Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock west of Fort Lar-
ned. Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer, as executive officer and
acting commander of the Seventh U. S. cavalry, was along as was
Henry M. Stanley, then a newspaper reporter but later famous as
the discoverer of Dr. David Livingstone in Africa. The Topeka
Weekly Leader, April 25, 1867, reported:


Phillip D. Fisher, of Topeka, now engaged in surveying the route for the
Union Pacific Railway, eastern division, west of Salina, writes, as follows to
Harper's Weekly. Mr. Fisher also sketched Fort Harker, which appears in
"Harpers" for April 27th:

"The Government, aroused at last to the necessity of doing something to
prevent a repetition of the massacre at Fort Phillip Kearney, has sent an ex-
pedition to the Plains under Major-General Winfield S. Hancock. The com-
mand reached Fort Harker on the first of April, and went into camp on the
"Smoky Bottom," just west of the post; from which camp it moved on the third
of April, going to Fort Larned on the Arkansas River, distant from Harker about
eighty miles. The troops are under command of Gen. A. J. Smith [colonel of
the Seventh U. S. cavalry]. They number about two thousand men.

"Wild Bill," who, since the publication of his exploits in the February num-
ber of Harper's Magazine, has had greatness thrust upon him, is attached as a
scout, and quite a number of Delaware Indians accompany the command in
the capacity of scouts, guides, hunters, and interpreters. . . .

Before the expedition left Fort Harker, Stanley, reporting for the
St. Louis Missouri Democrat, had written this description and al-
most unbelievable interview with Hickok under dateline of April 4:

James Butler Hickok, commonly called "Wild Bill," is one of the finest ex-
amples of that peculiar class known as frontiersman, ranger, hunter, and Indian
scout. He is now thirty-eight [29] years old, and since he was thirteen the
prairie has been his home. He stands six feet one inch in his moccasins, and
is as handsome a specimen of a man as could be found. We were prepared,
on hearing of <c Wild Bill's" presence in the camp, to see a person who might
prove to be a coarse and illiterate bully. We were agreeably disappointed
however. He was dressed in fancy shirt and leathern leggings. He held him-
self straight, and had broad, compact shoulders, was large chested, with small
waist, and well-formed muscular limbs. A fine, handsome face, free from
blemish, a light moustache, a thin pointed nose, bluish- grey eyes, with a calm
look, a magnificent forehead, hair parted from the centre of the forehead, and
hanging down behind the ears in wavy, silken curls, made up the most pic-
turesque figure. He is more inclined to be sociable than otherwise; is enthusi-
astic in his love for his country and Illinois, his native State; and is endowed
with extraordinary power and agility, whose match in these respects it would
be difficult to find. Having left his home and native State when young, he is
a thorough child of the prairie, and inured to fatigue. He has none of the
swaggering gait, or the barbaric jargon ascribed to the pioneer by the Beadle


penny-liners. On the contrary, his language is as good as many a one that
boasts "college laming." He seems naturally fitted to perform daring actions.
He regards with the greatest contempt a man that could stoop low enough to
perform "a mean action." He is generous, even to extravagance. He formerly
belonged to the 8th Missouri Cavalry.

The following dialogue took place between us: "I say, Mr. Hickok, how
many white men have you killed to your certain knowledge?" After a little
deliberation, he replied, "I suppose I have killed considerably over a hundred."
"What made you kill all those men? Did you kill them without cause or provo-
cation?" "No, by heaven! I never killed one man without good cause." "How
old were you when you killed the first white man, and for what cause?" "I was
twenty-eight years old when I killed the first white man, and if ever a man
deserved killing he did. He was a gambler and counterfeiter, and I was then
in an hotel in Leavenworth City, and seeing some loose characters around, I
ordered a room, and as I had some money about me, I thought I would retire
to it. I had lain some thirty minutes on the bed when I heard men at my
door. I pulled out my revolver and bowie knife, and held them ready, but
half concealed, and pretended to be asleep. The door was opened, and five
men entered the room. They whispered together, and one said, 'Let us kill

the son of a ; I'll bet he has got money/ Gentlemen," said he, "that

was a time an awful time. I kept perfectly still until just as the knife touched
my breast; I sprang aside and buried mine in his heart, and then used my
revolver on the others right and left. One was killed, and another was wounded;
and then, gentlemen, I dashed through the room and rushed to the fort, where
I procured a lot of soldiers, and returning to the hotel, captured the whole gang
of them, fifteen in all. We searched the cellar, and found eleven bodies buried
in it the remains of those who had been murdered by those villains." Turning
to us, he asked: "Would you not have done the same? That was the first man
I killed, and I never was sorry for that yet." 3

Perhaps Wild Bill's fanciful account was merely an attempt to live
up to the reputation Harpers had built for him. If so, he deserves
an "E" for effort.

The records of the Quartermaster General, "Reports of Persons
and Articles Hired, 1861-1868," show that Hickok had entered gov-
ernment service on January 1, 1867. Engaged as a scout, he was
paid $100 per month. By July 31, 1867, the last month of his re-
corded employment, the government owed him $300 in back pay.
In May and June he was listed as "scouting with 7th Cavly in the
field." '

Hickok and Jack Harvey, another of Hancock's scouts, visited
Junction City in May. The Junction City Weekly Union, May 11,
1867, reported: "Wild Bill came in from the west the other day. He
reports all qui[e]t at the front. Jack Harvey has also returned. Han-
cock will be in in a day or so. Custar will be the only notable left be-

Henry Stanley was in Junction City, too, and that same day, May


11, sent another of his dispatches. Hickok still had him captivated,
for he wrote:

"Wild Bill," who is an inveterate hater of the Indians, was . . . chased
by six Indians lately, and had quite a little adventure with them. It is
his custom to be always armed with a brace of ivory-handled revolvers, with
which weapons he is remarkably dexterous; but when bound on a long and
lonely ride across the plains, he goes armed to the teeth. He was on one of
these lonely missions, due to his profession as scout, when he was seen by a
group of the red men, who immediately gave chase. They soon discovered
that they were pursuing one of the most famous men of the prairie, and com-
menced to retrace their steps, but two of them were shot, after which Wild
Bill was left to ride on his way. The little adventure is verified by a scout
named [Thomas] Kincaid, who, while bearing despatches for General Custer,
was also obliged to use his weapons freely. The lives of these Indian scouts
are made up of these little experiences." 4

Since Hancock's expedition had failed in its primary mission,
which was to persuade the Indians by show of force not to follow
the war path that year, military operations against the red man
were active throughout the summer. The Leavenworth Daily Con-
servative, July 10, 1867, reported on a rumored skirmish with the

[From Our Special Correspondent.]

FORT HARKER, July 8, 1867.

. . . I noticed in the Commercial of Saturday morning the following
interesting paragraphs relative to Fort Harker and Indian matters:

"A gentleman, just from Fort Harker, says the town is full of vague and
indefinite rumors of Indian depredations, outrages, etc.

On the 2d inst. it was reported that four men had been killed and scalped
some eight miles west of Fort Harker. Troops were immediately put in readi-
ness, and, under the direction or guidance of Wild Bill, started in pursuit of
the bloody depredators. The next day Wild Bill and his party returned, bring-
ing five red skins with them, and having killed some eight or ten Indians on
the trip.

As the train left Fort Harker on the morning of the Fourth, picket firing
was heard in various directions around the Fort, indicating the presence of
skulking Indians."

If there is such a town as Fort Harker "your own" has failed to discover
it. If it has an existence, it is in the imagination of the author of the para-
graphs above quoted.

As to the second paragraph it is true in part. Four men were reported
killed on the 2d inst., and a scouting party was sent out to investigate. The
party returned on Friday, but with nary a dead Indian; neither had they seen
a live one.

On October 26, 1867, the editor of the Manhattan Independent
described Hickok as follows:


On Monday we took the cars of the U. P. R. W. E. D. for Leavenworth.
We make no mention of this because there is any peculiar significance in our
visiting the metropolis of Kansas. Like almost everybody in Kansas we do
so occasionally. But upon this occasion it was our fortune to fall in with
quite a number of persons of whom it might interest our readers to learn


the celebrated scout, with Jack Harvey and some dozen of their companions
were upon the train, having just come in from a scouting expedition under
Gen. Sherman. All the party were more or less affected by frequent potations
from their bottles, and Wild Bill himself was tipsy enough to be quite bel-

He is naturally a fine looking fellow, not much over 30 years of age, over
6 feet in height, muscular & athletic, possessing a fine figure, as lithe and
agile as the Borneo Boys. His complexion is very clear, cheek bones high,
and his fine auburn hair, which he parts in the middle hangs in ringlets down
upon his shoulders, giving him a girlish look in spite of his great stature. He
wore a richly embroydered sash with a pair of ivory hilted and silver mounted
pistol stuck in it. Doubtless this man and his companions have killed more
men than any other persons who took part in the late war. What a pity that
young men so brave and daring should lack the discretion to sheath then-
daggers forever when the war terminated! But such is the demoralizing
effect of war upon those who engage in it and certainly upon all who love the

We learn from a gentleman who has frequently met these wild and reck-
less young men, that they live in a constant state of excitement, one continual
round of gambling drinking and swearing, interspersed at brief intervals with
pistol practice upon each other.

At a word any of the gang draws his pistol and blazes away as freely as
if all mankind were Arkansas Rebels, and had a bounty offered for their

How long these Athletes will be able to stand such a mode of life; eating,
drinking, sleeping (if they can be said to sleep) and playing cards with then-
pistols at half cock, remains to be seen. For ourself, we are willing to risk
them in an Indian campaign for which their cruelty and utter recklessness of
life particularly fit them.

In December Wild Bill was mentioned as being in Hays. The
Conservative, December 14, 1867, gave this article taken from the
Hays City Advance: "U. S. Marshal Whiting, Wild Bill, Jack Har-
vey, Surcey and others called in at our quarters Tuesday. They
were all welcome. William is still around, probably engaged in
preparing his LIFE for DeWitt."

Frank A. Root, editor of the Atchison Daily Free Press, wrote in
that paper on January 6, 1868:

In Hays I formed the acquaintance of Wm. Haycock, better known as
"Wild Bill." He is a man about thirty years of age, over six feet high, straight
as an arrow, with long black hair hanging over his shoulders. He is in the


Online LibraryKansas State Historical SocietyThe Kansas historical quarterly (Volume 26) → online text (page 48 of 59)