James Butler Hickok 18371876

Unidentified photographer
Tintype, c. 1876

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

James Butler Hickok received his nickname “Wild Bill” after he shot and killed a man—supposedly in self-defense—during an argument over money in 1861. Seated at the right in this tintype portrait, Hickok served as a scout during the Civil War and later worked in law enforcement in Kansas.

Although he accepted William F. Cody’s invitation in 1873 to perform together in the play Scouts of the Plains, he found the stage was not to his liking and returned to his preferred full-time work as a professional gambler. Back in the West, he earned a wide reputation for his skill as a card player and for his adeptness as a gunfighter.

While dime novelists exaggerated many of his feats, he was nonetheless a deadly fighting man. This photograph was taken around 1876, the year Hickok was shot and killed while playing poker in a saloon in Deadwood, Dakota Territory.