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Taken from The Wizard 1814 November 19th 1960



The theatre in the American town of Rochester was packed to capacity. Every seat was taken and there were folk standing at the back and even in the aisles.

The show, called “Scouts of the Plains,” was by that famous playwright and novelist, Ned Buntline : and the stars of the show were Buffalo Bill Cody and Wild Bill Hickok.

These two men were known throughout the length and breadth of the United States of America.

Both of them were tall, powerful men, deep-chested, massive of shoulder and lean of flank. Both dressed well; both had tremendous reputations which they had built up in the West. Buffalo Bill’s reputation rested mainly on his almost legendary exploits as a Pony Express rider and on his mighty buffalo hunting feats. He was also a noted Indian fighter and frontier scout.

Wild Bill Hickok had been Marshal of Hays City and Abilene – two of the toughest towns in the West—and had tamed them both. He was a mighty fast man with a gun was Wild Bill Hickok. Over fifty graves scattered among the frontier towns testified to his gunmanship. On the stage, though, Wild Bill wasn’t a success. For one thing, he hated the publicity—showing-off, as he called it. He didn’t much like the rest of the actors in the show, calling them “phonies.” At Rochester things came to a head, and while the audience out front waited patiently for the show to begin, Wild Bill was arguing with the management and Bill Cody, telling ‘em that he was going to quit. Buffalo Bill couldn’t understand it at all. “But you’re doing fine, Bill,” he protested. “Just fine! Maybe you weren’t cut out to be a great actor, but you’re making more money out of this business than you ever handled in your life before. Why throw it all away?” Hickok tossed down a handful of blank cartridges. “There’s one reason!” he snapped. “I’m fed up with playing at being a gunman, Bill. I want to be back on the plains where guns is loaded with real bullets and carried by real men. Besides, I ain’t even a good actor. I can’t make this stuff look real—” “You will, in time,” soothed Buffalo Bill. “We’ll keep on rehearsing you and teaching you.” Wild Bill shook his head. “I’ll never learn,” he replied, “because I just couldn’t ever handle a gun the way it ought to be handled on the stage! Dadbust it, Bill, you know as well as I do that if a feller drew in real life the way you draw on the stage he’d be a dead man before his muzzle cleared his holster!” “I know that, but the stage way looks good, that’s the point,” explained Buffalo Bill patiently. “In a real gunfight there ain’t hardly anybody sees the winner draw his gun, on account of if they did see him draw he wouldn’t be the winner! But that ain’t no use on the stage. Audiences want to see the hero whip out his shooting-iron, otherwise they don’t figure they get their money’s worth. You have to make it look good – never mind about whether it’s correct or not.” “You’ve told me that a hundred times,” said Hickok, “but it ain’t no use at all. No! The fact is, Bill, I ain’t cut out for this business, and the sooner I get out of it the better I’ll like it. Besides, I’ve had a letter from my old pal Ned Kranko, Marshal of Cheyenne. He’s got trouble, and he’d like for me to go and help him sort it out.” “What sort of trouble?” demanded Cody. Hickok grinned. “There’s four gambling fellers shaking – down Cheyenne,” he replied. “Two of ‘em is Jake Deveraux and Cactus Pete Collins; the others is the Goffin brothers, Jim and Eddy. I figure I ought to go and talk to ‘em before they get to killing somebody.”




“I’ll tell you what,” suggested Cody. “You do the show tonight, and then take the night train to Cheyenne. We’ll get along with a substitute for you for a night or two, and when you’ve finished in Cheyenne you can come back to the show again. How’s that suit you, eh?” Wild Bill took up some blank cartridges and started loading them into his guns. “We’ll see how it works out,” he agreed. “Maybe I’ll borrow a few items from the show’s wardrobe, too, Bill. I’ve got me a little idea that might be kind of good fun.”


Three days later, a man walked down the main street of the busy town of Cheyenne. He was an oldish man, bent, and leaning heavily on a stout stick.

The man’s eyes didn’t seem too good either, because although he wore spectacles, he had to peer mighty hard to see where he was going. Andy Gowan, smoking a cigar in the doorway of his harness shop, spotted right away that the old fellow was a stranger to Cheyenne. “’Morning, mister,” the stranger said, coming to a halt in front of the shopkeeper. “Can you tell me where a man might get himself a bite to eat—and maybe a little game of cards?” Gowan chewed the cigar into the corner of his mouth. “Hank’s place, down the street on the right—about a hundred yards or so—they’ll give you a meal,” he said. “I wouldn’t worry any about the cards, if I was you, Dad. In this here town a game of cards is liable to be a little more dangerous than a bear hunt—and a blamed sight less profitable!” “Somebody has to win, son,” observed the old man, very reasonably. “A game can’t be unprofitable for everybody—not unless it’s the durned queerest card game I ever heard tell of!” “It could be that, too!” said Gowan significantly. “You concentrate on filling yourself up with grub, and forget about emptying your pockets at a card table; it’s a whole lot healthier!” The old man blinked through his spectacles and then shuffled off down the street. At Hank’s Hash-House he filled up with ham, eggs, coffee, and doughnuts. “Where can I get a game of cards, mister?” the oldtimer asked the proprietor. Hank looked at the big wad of notes the old man pulled out of his pocket to pay for his meal. The old man riffled through the wad and produced a ten-dollar bill. “Take the price of my meal out of that!” he said. “Now, then, about this card game. Where do they play around here?” “You keep away from card games in this town, oldtimer,” pleaded Hank. “Shove them notes in your pocket, and keep ‘em there.” “What are you giving me?” roared the old man, waving the wad of bills under Hank’s nose. Ain’t my money good enough for this town—or are the fellers all scared to play for real money?” “For Pete’s sake! It ain’t that at all—” began Hank. Then he stopped, very suddenly—and another voice chipped in. “Wanting a game of cards, eh, Grandad?” it said. It came from a man who had just entered the hash-house. The newcomer went on, “Well, why not come over to the Gold Room?” “First bit of good sense I’ve heard spoke since I hit this blamed town,” grunted the old man, giving Hank a fierce scowl. The old man was piloted down the street by his new friend. They stopped at a saloon with the words “Gold Room” over the door in big gilt letters. The old man spelt out the letters slowly. “I don’t see so good,” he apologised. “Is this where the card game is?” “It sure is,” grinned his companion. “Best gambling house in town – if you ain’t afraid of big stakes and fast action.” They shoved open the swing doors and walked into the Gold Room – the old man in front and his companion a pace behind. There were perhaps thirty men in the place, most of them gathered round a table where four men were playing cards. One of the players, a flashily-dressed man looked up and cocked an enquiring eyebrow – and the old man’s companion nodded very slightly. “Why, hello, Eddy,” said the flash fellow to the old man’s companion. “Howdy, Jake?” returned Eddy. “You got room for a couple of players in the game?” “Two?” queried Jake. “Sure.” The oldtimer here has a big wad of dough – and is after making it a whole lot bigger,” laughed Eddy. “Well, I dunno,” replied Jake, looking at the other players. “We was playing jackpot at a dollar to open. I wouldn’t want your friend to get in a game he couldn’t afford—” The old man had already drawn up a chair at the card table. Now he flashed his thick wad of money. “There’s close on five thousand dollars there,” he boasted. “Now get dealing them cards – ‘less you’re scared of really big money!” The game began, and the old man lost steadily. This didn’t surprise anyone, because Jake was none other than Jake Deveraux. Eddy was Eddy Goffin, and the other two card players were Jim Goffin and Cactus Pete Collins. All were crooked gamblers and vicious gunmen. What did surprise the watchers was that the old man didn’t lose his money faster than he did; they figured that he was a mighty good card player – or maybe that the four sharpers were just stringing him along for a while. The climax came around midday. There was about eighty dollars in the jackpot and Jake had just dealt a fresh hand. The old man, after looking at his hand, opened the betting with a ten-dollar bill, discarding three cards from his hand, and drew three more from the pack. Pete put in ten dollars, discarded two cards, and drew two cards from the pack. Jake sat pat, staying in with a ten-dollar bill. Jim Goffin threw in his hand, and Eddy stayed in and drew one card from the dealer. “Up to you, oldtimer,” said Jake. The old man slowly peeled off two one-hundred-dollar bills and shoved them into the jackpot. “I’m raising,” he said. He meant that any one of the other players who wanted to stay in the game with him now had to bet two hundred dollars or more to do so. Jake smiled. “I bet three hundred dollars,” he said, shoving in a big wad of notes. “How about you, Pete?” Cactus Pete Collins promptly threw in his hand. “Too big for me,” said Eddy Goffin, tossing in his cards, also. Now it was up to the old man. He pushed three hundred dollars into the pot and then peeled off another five hundred and shoved them in, too. Jake Deveraux covered the old man’s five hundred and raised it another five hundred. But the old man calmly covered it and raised it five hundred more. This was big-time stuff. There hadn’t been so much money on the table since anybody could remember. At last the old man reached his limit. He was down to his last hundred dollars. “I’ll just have to call you, Jake,” he said regretfully. “What you got, eh?” Deveraux smiled complacently and spread out his cards, face uppermost, on the table. There was a five, a three, a seven, and a pair of nines. There was also a dead silence—and the look on Jake’s face was worth all the money there was on the table, and more. “You certainly have your nerve, Mister!” observed the old man, laying down four aces and a king, a hand which beat his opponent’s hollow. “What did you hope to do—scare me so much I’d drop dead?” “Why, you blamed, croaking old buzzard!” hooted Jake, “Them’s my cards you just laid down! Keep your thieving hands off that money!” It was obvious that Jake had not been caring what cards he had in his hand. He had just kept on raising the betting so that the old man would put all his money in the jackpot. Claiming that the old man had stolen his hand was just an excuse for Jake to force a showdown with the old man and steal his money. The crowd, sensing that in a few seconds guns would be out, drew hurriedly from the table. The old man had both hands stretched out to gather in his winnings when Jake made a grab for his gun. Everybody knew what was coming—or thought they did, anyway! What actually happened, though, was something quite unexpected. The old man’s right hand suddenly jerked up towards his left armpit and came away again. Jake, who was in the act of whipping his own gun out of its holster, found himself looking down the muzzle of a well-worn Colt .45. The old man coolly went on raking up the notes with his free hand and stuffing the money into his pockets. “This is where I usually get to shooting,” he told Jake in the very friendliest of tones, “but, shucks, you ain’t no great shakes as a card-sharping man. Reckon I’ll just let you go your own ways—all four of you. Before you go, though, maybe you’d better take a closer look at me—wouldn’t ever do for you to try them tricks on me again. With that the old man, stuffing the last of the money into his pocket, put up his left hand and whipped off his spectacles. He jerked off his hat, and with it a grey wig. His long, natural hair fell to his shoulders. “Hickok!” somebody shouted. “Wild Bill Hickok.” Jake and his companion stared in amazement at the man whom they had taken to be an oldtimer and easy prey. It was no doddering old codger who now faced them, grinning, across the table. The keen, blue eyes were hard as ice and the hand that held the heavy pistol was as steady as a rock—the muzzle didn’t waver a hairsbreadth. When all the money from the table was safely stuffed into his pockets, Wild Bill backed towards the saloon door. “Carry on with your game, gents,” he suggested. “You can always play for peanuts.” With a mocking laugh the most deadly gunman in the West was gone.


Wild Bill went to the Marshall’s office in Cheyenne. Hickok’s old friend Marshall Ned Kranko, roared with laughter when he heard how the four card-sharpers had been out-smarted.

“This ain’t nohow the end of it, though, Bill,” Kranko warned. “Time was when fellers would have pulled out of town after being handled the way you handled them four hombres, but not now. There’s good pickings in Cheyenne for them four crooks and they’ll stick around.” “They’ll find it hard going,” replied Bill. “I’ll make it so hot for ‘em they’ll be scared stiff to handle a pack of playing cards.” “There ain’t nothing I’d like better,” admitted Kranko, “but you’ll have to watch out for yourself, Bill. I know these fellers and I’m telling you they’re rank poison. Don’t underestimate ‘em!” While Wild Bill Hickok was getting this good advice from Ned Kranko, Jake Deveraux was busy making plans. It wasn’t an easy task, because the very name Wild Bill Hickok had been enough to scare the wits out of Jake’s three henchmen. Cactus Pete Collins and Jim and Eddy Goffin were all for shaking the dust of Cheyenne off their feet; but Jake was made of sterner stuff. “What’s so special about Hickok?” Jake demanded. “He’s only flesh and blood ain’t he?” “Oh, sure,” replied Cactus Pete, scornfully. “Only the cemeteries around these parts are full of fellers who thought that way.” Jake looked at them scornfully. “There’s four of us,” he said at last. “Did you think we was gonna let him handle us one at a time? Oh, no! The way I figure it we’ll jump him in a bunch!” “And what will Ned Kranko be doing?” demanded Pete. Kranko’s ain’t in Hickok’s class as a gunfighter, but he’s no slouch for all that!” Jake heaved a big sigh. “You guys is so simple it hurts to hear you talk,” he said. “I’m the one who’s gonna shoot Hickok, but you others is gonna be around so he don’t shoot me.” Half an hour later, when Jake had finally got his plan into the thick heads of his henchmen, they were feeling braver. The plan that Jake Deveraux had thought up was one which came to be widely known in the West, and afterwards men took guard against it. At this time, however, it was quite new, and it was based on the unwritten laws governing gun-play. These laws were few and quite simple. In the first place, both combatants had to be armed. In the second place both men had to have a chance. In other words it wasn’t lawful to pull a gun and shoot when the other fellow wasn’t looking. And lastly, except in the case of lawmen making an arrest, it wasn’t lawful for a friend of either party to take a hand before the original quarrel had been settled. Breaking any of these rules was liable to lead to trouble, because the killing then became murder and the offender might be arrested and brought to trial. If he was unlucky he might be shot by irate bystanders before the town marshall got hold of him, for in spite of the lawlessness of the times, western characters had a high sense of fair play. But on the whole, men abided by these unwritten laws; although, of course, some gunslingers were so fast and accurate that any idea of the other man having a chance was sheer nonsense. Jake’s plan took care of all this very neatly—so neatly in fact that it deserved to succeed. And that it did afterwards succeed, time and time again, against real, fast gunmen was due to the fact that not one man in a million had the savvy to handle the situation the way Wild Bill Hickok did. The showdown came in October 1874, in the Gold Room at Cheyenne. Bill Hickok was in there, talking to a few friends, and he noticed first Eddy Goffin, then Jim Goffin, then Cactus Pete Collins, sidle in and step up to the counter. Naturally, Wild Bill kept an eye on these characters, but since they kept quiet he figured that they weren’t out for trouble. Jake Deveraux came into the saloon about half an hour later, by which time Eddy, Jim and Pete had drifted to various parts of the saloon. And if the others had been quiet and peaceable it was soon pretty obvious that Jake was not! He was clever though. He didn’t exactly address his remarks to Wild Bill, but from what Jake was saying it was obvious to everybody that there was trouble brewing. “Play-actors, that’s what they are, some of these gun-slingers,” Jake remarked in a loud voice to anybody who might be listening. “Huh! What a laugh! Shooting down ten men in a night, and then shooting ‘em all over again at the next day’s matinee! That’s the way to do your killings, fellers—nice and easy!” Wild Bill knew well enough that Jake was getting at him, and that the card-sharper was looking for trouble. This puzzled Wild Bill on account of he knew that he could outdraw and outshoot Jake any time—and he knew that Jake knew it, too. But why was the man trying to force a fight? Without appearing to have heard what Jake was saying. Bill looked around. He saw that Cactus Pete and the two Goffin brothers were closing in on him, but this didn’t seem to signify anything, because if it came to a gun fight with Jake they’d have to stay out of it. On the other hand, Bill guessed that these three men were all part of a trick, otherwise Jake would never carry on the way he was doing right then. Bill decided to call their bluff and see what happened. “Jake,” he snapped, “for a low-down punk you’re making a whole lot of noise! What’s on your mind, feller?” Most folk had the good sense to get out of the line of fire when they heard this, but Jake’s three cronies just crowded Bill a mite closer. They had some of the citizens of Cheyenne tangled up along with ‘em, too, and Bill was mighty short of room to move. Suddenly Wild Bill saw that this was exactly what Jake wanted. Jake planned to go for his gun, ad at the same time Jim or Eddy, or even Pete would jostle Wild Bill and jog his arm. Thus, although to all outward appearances, Bill would be fighting one man, in reality he would be fighting four. Wild Bill saw all this in a flash; and at the same moment he saw the solution to the problem. “Jake,” he said, “there’s four of you in this saloon would like to kill me, but it so happens I ain’t got more than one life to lose. Now it don’t seem right to me that any one of you ought to have priority over the others, so I aim to make you a little proposition. We’ll step outside—all five of us—me facing the four of you at twenty paces and the bartender to see fair play. When he gives the signal you can all draw your guns and get to shooting, and that way I guess you’ll all have equal chances of killing Wild Bill Hickok!” It was the most amazing challenge in the whole history of western gun-fighting. One man against four, and each one of those four a well-known gunfighter capable of holding his own with most men. The spectators figured that Wild Bill would get one of ‘em with that lightning draw of his—two, maybe—but that the others would cut him down they had no doubts whatsoever. In fact, bets were taken about it; not on whether Bill would be killed or not—nobody was fool enough to bet on that—but about how many Bill would kill before he went down. At twenty paces Bill and the four gunmen faced each other in the dirt street outside the saloon. The bartender took off his hat and held it from him at arm’s length. “All set?” he asked. Five heads nodded—and the hat dropped. Five hands flashed. Five guns came out, Wild Bills just that vital fraction before any of his opponents. He triggered off the first shot and Jake Deveraux pitched forward on his face without firing a shot. Then the hot lead started flying. Jake’s three pals came into the fight. Wild Bill took a slug in the thigh, his hat went sailing from his head, and a slug from Cactus Pete’s gun tore into Bill’s gun hand. For most men this would have been the end, but Wild Bill Hickok was no ordinary man. His gun jerked from his right hand to his left and his thumb flicked the hammer. Three shots rolled out, the explosions blending into one continuous roar. And as the smoke drifted aside the spectators gazed in awe on four prostrate bodies—and at Wild Bill Hickok, still on his feet—still full of fight! There was only one survivor—Jim Goffin—and he was badly wounded. He recovered from the wound, but his nerve was broken and he never carried a gun again. He got a job in a livery stable some place and died years later through being kicked by a horse.


Wild Bill Hickok was never beaten in gun-play, but in 1876 he was invited to take over the job of town marshal in Deadwood. He accepted, but never pinned the star of office on his shirt. On a certain Wednesday afternoon he was sitting in a card game with Captain Massey, Charles Rich, and Carl Mann in a Deadwood saloon, when he was shot in the back by a sneaking little twister named Jack McCall.

Wild Bill died instantly. He was thirty-nine years of age, and had seventy-five notches on the ivory handles of his Colt revolvers.

He had been the deadliest gunfighter of them all.



© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd 

Vic Whittle 2006