There are many more interesting names in the game of poker, and the Hand of the Dead has a special history. It’s the hand that Wild West lawman “Wild Bill” Hickok was holding when he was fatally shot at the poker table.
The Dead man’s hand in poker consists of a pair of AAs and an 88. It got its name from an incident that happened in the Wild West long ago and is one of the most famous legends in the history of this fascinating card game.
“Wild Bill” Hickok was born in Illinois in 1837, and in addition to being an exceptional gunslinger, he was also very skilled at the game of poker, always managing to round up his earnings at games organized in various saloons Old West. Discover the best poker strategies on the 888poker blog!
Wild Bill was shot right at the poker table
He later moved to the Black Hills, Dakota, and on August 2, 1876, played Five Card Stud poker at Nuttal and Mann’s Saloon. While Hickok was paying attention to the poker game, a player named Jack McCall appeared in the parlor.
McCall walked right up to the bar behind Bill, without Bill noticing, drew his gun from his holster and shot Hickok in the back of the head, killing him at the age of 39. According to legend, Hichkok was holding two black aces and two eights of the same suit – a very good 5 Card Stud poker hand.
Being a man of the law – constantly exposed to danger – Hickok used to always sit with his back to the wall, so that he could observe everything that was happening in the saloon and that he would not have any unpleasant surprises. However, on that fateful day, all the seats with their backs to the wall were taken, so Hickok sat with his back to the bar. It was enough for McCall to catch him.
The reason for the crime
The motive for the murder is not known even to this day, but there have been many theories. The most famous one says that Hickok had banned McCall from playing poker until he paid off the debts he had accumulated. Also, another theory claims that McCall’s brother was among Hickok’s victims in the past and this was revenge.
Ultimately, a jury of miners acquitted McCall on the first count, but the federal government later found him guilty of murder, and he was hanged on March 1, 1877.
Wild Bill Hickok, a famous gunslinger of those days
Wild Bill Hickok is one of the most famous characters in the Wild West. Beyond his role as a lawman, he was also a hunter, spy, soldier, military scout and elite marksman.
“Whether on foot or on horseback, he was one of the most imposing men I ever saw. His skill with the rifle and pistol was incredible,” General George Custer said of Hickok.
Moreover, he entered the American pop culture, and Wild Bill stood out as a sheriff who could dominate the poker tables of those times, having above average skills. Incidentally, in the ’50s, Avon Periodicals also published a series of comic books with Hickok, in which his exploits in the Wild West were reproduced.
And a TV series was even made about him, which had seven seasons and was broadcast in the 50s. It was called The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok and starred Guy Madison. In addition, a radio series was made about his life, and between 1989 and 1992 there was another screen adaptation, called The Young Riders.
As one of the most famous men of the Wild West, Hickok has also been featured in numerous films, with actors such as Gary Cooper, Ray Rogers, Robert Culp, Charles Bronson, Jeff Bridges, Sam Elliot and more playing his role.
Hickok’s story was also played out in one of the most popular series of recent years, Deadwood – made by HBO.
In the series, the action takes place in the Black Hills, and the role of Hickok is played by Keith Carradine. Gambling and poker play a central role in this series, and the inaugural season also contained fictional details from Hickok’s life. Moreover, his murder at the poker table is the key plot of the first season of the series.