cover image Wild Bill: The True Story of the American Frontier’s First Gunfighter

Wild Bill: The True Story of the American Frontier’s First Gunfighter

Tom Clavin. St. Martin’s, $29.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-250-17379-9

Clavin (Dodge City) portrays the legendary James “Wild Bill” Hickok as a sometimes trigger-happy gunman who became a 19th-century celebrity, in this rollicking but vaguely sourced biography. Hickok, born in 1837 Illinois, landed his first job in law enforcement at 20 as the town constable for Monticello, Kans. While working for a stagecoach company in Nebraska, he killed for the first time, defending his boss in a violent business dispute. Hickok served the Union during the Civil War as a scout and spy, and afterwards he shot and killed Davis Tutt, an acquaintance and romantic rival, in an argument about gambling debts; he was acquitted of murder, but gained a wide reputation as a fast draw. Press accounts turned him into a nationally known figure and made him a target for those seeking to prove their gunslinging skills. Hickok served as a marshal in Kansas, where he burnished his reputation as a gunfighter, although his habit of reflexive firing killed his own deputy, Mike Williams. Ultimately, Hickok was murdered, shot in the back of the head by someone he had not considered a threat. The absence of detailed source citations and Clavin’s acknowledgment that many writings about Hickok are embellished or unverifiable suggest that this is less a sober work of history than an entertaining tale of the man and the legend. [em](Feb.) [/em]