Niemann: A wild tale about a guy nicknamed Bill

Posted: Jun. 27, 2011 10:17 am Updated: Nov. 28, 2014 10:42 am


James Butler was born in 1837 in northern Illinois. He is remembered as one of the most colorful characters of the Old West and, like the pirates in last week's column, James Butler had a colorful nickname as well.

In fact, you probably don't recognize the name of James Butler, because it is neither one of his nicknames nor his full name. Because of the shape of his nose and his protruding lip, he gained the nickname of "Duck Bill."

When he was 18, he moved to the Kansas Territory after getting in a fight in which he mistakenly thought that he killed the other man. A few years later, he met a 12-year-old scout name Bill Cody for the first time. James would later work with Cody, when he was known by his nickname of Buffalo Bill Cody.

James was a lawman, a gunfighter, a detective, a spy, and a courier. He was also a U.S. deputy marshal, a county sheriff, a stage coach driver, a town marshal and an Indian scout for General George Custer. In fact, Custer once called James "the most famous scout on the Plains." He also killed several men in his lifetime.

His parents operated a station along the Underground Railroad in Illinois, helping smuggle slaves out of the South during the Civil War. At that point in his life, James Butler went by the name of William Haycock.

James Butler is remembered for many things, such as creating the quick draw shootout that you see in Western movies. This is when two gunmen face each other during a duel, which he did when he shot and killed a former friend and gambling buddy, Davis Tutt, Jr. in 1865 in Springfield, Mo.

Another famous figure of the Old West who was known by a nickname, Martha Jane Cannary, claimed to have had a child with James, which his family totally denied. Martha Jane Cannary, by the way, was Calamity Jane.

James Butler also joined Buffalo Bill Cody in a stage production of "Scouts of the Prairie." This was prior to Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, and he quit the show soon after joining it because he felt that acting out the lines in the show was too corny.

James Butler, a.k.a. Duck Bill, a.k.a. Bill Haycock, is also known for a poker hand called "Dead Man's Hand," which is a pair of aces and a pair of eights. It was the hand he was holding in a card game when he was shot from behind in 1876 in Deadwood in the Dakota Territory. The assassin was a criminal named Jack McCall who wanted the publicity of killing someone as famous as James was in his day.

Unfortunately for James, he was sitting with his back to the door that day because there were no other open seats in the saloon.

You remember James Butler Hickok by his nickname of … Wild Bill. But you knew that all along, didn't you?




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