Check It Out: Wild Bill: The True Story of the American Frontier’s First Gunfighter by Tom Clavin

Jul 6, 2020

This is Jessi Wakefield with the Sioux City Public Library and you’re listening to Check It Out. 

Throughout American history there have been quite a few legendary figures, but very few could live up the phrase, “The Man, The Myth, The Legend” as well as one James Butler Hickok, better known as “Wild Bill”.  

Author Tom Clavin tackles this larger than life figure in his nonfiction account Wild Bill: The True Story of the American Frontier’s First Gunfighter. Sifting through historical documents, primary sources, as well as gleaning any information he could from dime store novels, Clavin constructs a compelling account of not only Hickok, but the times in which he lived. 

It was claimed that he was a man of many different lives, as one of the first quick-draws ever, as well as a wagon teamster, Union scout, deputy marshal, umpire for Kansas baseball games, prospector in the Black Hills, briefly in a Wild West show, and a theater actor. He was loved by many women, including Calamity Jane herself, despite some contention that they were even a couple. General Custer’s wife even confessed, “I do not recall anything finer in the way of physical perfection than Wild Bill.” 

With this book, Clavin accomplishes what he sets out to do, which is to give an overview of Wild Bill Hickok's life for the more casual reader of Western history. It appears Hickok lived a normal enough life for a frontiersman, save the fact that he was particularly fast and accurate with his pistols. Then an Easterner profiled him for Harper's magazine. With the words and embellishments of a slick penned journalist, it’s at this point Hickok became an icon. Now to be fair, Hickok didn't necessarily mythologize his own life, but he also didn't discourage others from doing so. Contact the Sioux City Public Library for this title and other western themed nonfiction. 

Support for Check It Out on Siouxland Public Media comes from Avery Brothers.