From his farmyard birth in Illinois, to his death at the hands of Jack McCall in the town of Deadwood, in the Black Mining Hills of South Dakota, the tales of Wild Bill Hickok are some of the greatest in the history of the Wild West.
But did you know that Wild Bill played poker in between killing sessions?
Did you also know that in 1979 he was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame and is one of only three poker players in that illustrious club who died whilst actually playing poker?
Here are 11 reasons why Wild Bill made it into the Poker Hall of Fame:
1. He Had A Great Poker Nickname
All great poker players have nicknames.
Phil Hellmuth is the Poker Brat, Daniel Negreanu is Kid Poker, Doyle Brunson is Texas Dolly, and Phil Ivey is the Tiger Woods of Poker.
James Butler Hickok would have fit into the poker world with ease. During a brawl in a saloon, Hickok would save a barman from certain death, and out of the crowd a woman screamed ‘It’s Wild Bill.’
Wild Bill… now there’s a fantastic poker nickname.
Just don’t call him Duck Bill, the nickname his business colleague David McCanles gave him before Hickok shot and killed him. McCanles was the first of an estimated century of men that Wild Bill killed during his lifetime.
It’s said that Wild Bill had the strength of Samson and Hercules combined. General George Armstrong Custer said he was one of the finest human specimens he had ever seen.
One of the reasons that Wild Bill was so popular as Sheriff and Marshall was his reputation to be aggressive, fearless, tough and quick. He was a born killer. A man who could outrun, out jump and outgun any other man.
I mean come on… How much aggression do you need?
The man killed a Grizzly Bear in hand-to-hand combat!
3. Dedication to the Art
The best way to improve your poker game is to play, and play a lot.
Anybody can get lucky in poker, but it’s the ones who persevere and work the hardest on their game that will win over the long run.
Legend has it that Wild Bill religiously engaged in target practice. He was one of the fastest, most feared shooters in the Old West. This didn’t come naturally to Wild Bill. He worked at his art. He dedicated his life to it, and it’s what saved his life on many occasions.
4. He Was Chris Ferguson
With his long straggly mane, Stetson hat and moustache Wild Bill was a dead ringer for Chris ‘Jesus’ Ferguson. This prompts me to believe that Jesus was Wild Bill in a previous life, proof personified in his skills as a poker player.
It wasn’t just their physical features that were uncanny.
Wild Bill could shoot the head off a pin whilst Ferguson could slice through carrots with playing cards; Wild Bill fought a Grizzly Bear and Ferguson fought The Bear on many occasions; and finally both players had plenty of enemies that would love to fill them full of lead.
The only way they differ is that Wild Bill Hickok made it into the Poker Hall of Fame. Ferguson is not likely to match that particular feat in a hurry.
5. The Poker Face
The poker face is one of the impressive feats of human ingenuity. I mean come on… Lady Gaga even sung about it.
It’s said that Wild Bill Hickok had an icy, implacable stare that drew brown in people’s pants.
There is also a slight counterargument that his icy stare was so foreboding because he was blind.
6. He Wasn’t Afraid to Pull the Trigger
Top poker players not only know when to pull the trigger, but they don’t let fear stand in their way when the time comes. When it came to pulling the trigger, there was none better than Wild Bill.
The only problem he had was his inability to fire three barrels with any consistency. This is because his ivory-handled Colt 1851 Navy .36 caliber revolver created so much smoke that Bill couldn’t see well enough after that first barrel had been fired.
7. He Didn’t Kill off the Fish
“The killing of a bad man should not bother you anymore than the killing of a rat, an ugly cat or a vicious dog.”
– Wild Bill Hickok
See, the man never killed fish.
I feel sorry for the ugly cats though.
8. He Mixed It Up With the Best
If you live in the Wild West and can count Buffalo Bill, General Custer and Calamity Jane as your colleagues, then it’s safe to assume that, were Wild Bill alive today, he would now be hanging with Phil Galfond, Daniel Negreanu, Phil Ivey, Doyle Brunson and Jean-Robert Bellande.
9. Front Page Material
Colonel George Ward Nicholson is the man responsible for creating the legend of Wild Bill Hickok after running a magazine article on the man celebrating his accomplishments (of which killing over 100 men was one).
Before he knew it, Hickok was plastered over the front pages of magazines and newspapers all throughout the West, and his celebrity even went as far as to see him star in a play called ‘The Scouts of the Plains.’
The Prince of Pistoliers was one of his nicknames later stolen by Scotty “Prince of Pissedallthetimeheis” Nguyen.
10. All-In Blind
All the top players need a little gamble behind them, and if you are willing to go all-in blind then you will quickly develop celebrity status.
No problem for Hickok.
By the time he had moved into the town of Deadwood, he was so blind he needed help getting back to his room in the dark after sessions at the felt.
Legend has it that, moments before his death, Hickok told his opponent: “I’m broke. You got me.”
Now those are the words of a poker player if I have ever heard them.