Thursday, December 05, 2013

The not-so-noble Old West

It Didn’t Save Wild Bill

I can't find much of interest to post today, so try this:

While researching my second Western Mystery for kids, P.K. Pinkerton and the Petrified Man (AKA The Case of the Good-looking Corpse), I discovered a fascinating fact: very few gunfights played out like the iconic Western movie “showdown”. Two antagonists rarely faced each other like self-moderating duelists on Main Street, one honorably waiting for the other to “draw”. More often one man would “throw down” on another without warning, sometimes even shooting from behind through a window or door.

One night in 1876 in a Deadwood saloon, a famous gunfighter with silky golden locks was shot in the back of the head while playing poker. The shooter, a certain Jack McCall, fled. Hurdy girls screamed and other gamblers recoiled in horror. Wild Bill Hickok, already a legend in his own time, was dead. The reputed inventor of the “fast draw”, Hickok usually took a seat in a corner of a saloon or against wall, so nobody could sneak up on him. But on that fatal  night he sat with his back exposed. Perhaps he was feeling tired of life. He was an alcoholic who rubbed mercury on his skin to alleviate the symptoms of venereal disease. This poisonous treatment made him drool and start to lose his sight. According to Deadwood author Pete Dexter, it often took him twenty minutes to empty his bladder.

1 comment:

John said...

Thanks Steve. The cowboy thing is just another USA mythology. Only came across it recently in a Big Ideas discussion with a US historical novelist. The cowboys died more from alcohol than lead.

BTW, mercury was all the rage for various medical conditions back then and even into the early 20th century. How crazy is that!?