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Dead Man's Hand - Poker Story

Why is Ace - 8 known as Dead Man's Hand?

Poker became extremely popular in the wild West when it spread from New Orleans and the Mississippi riverboats. One of the real wild West characters who loved to play the game was James Butler Hickok otherwise known as Wild Bill Hickok, who had come to Deadwood in South Dakota as a gold prospector. One of his favourite pastimes was playing Poker in the local saloon.

Wild Bill had quite a reputation and it is said that he had killed 36 people by this time but unfortunately his gunslinging activities had somewhat made him a marked man with several people already having made threats on his life.

It was on August 2, 1876 that Hicock was playing Draw Poker at Carl Mann's saloon. Apparently on this rare occasion, Hickok's usual seat was taken by a certain Charlie Rich, a friend of Hickok's who to tease Bill, refused to give up his seat. And so because of this harmless prank, Hickok was seated with his back to the door which he usually didn't make a habit of for obvious reasons. In his hand he was holding a pair of aces and a pair of eights with the fifth card yet to be dealt. It seems that a drifter by the name of "Crooked Nose" Jack McCall who turned out to be Wild Bill's killer, sneakily moved round behind Bill and quickly drew his gun (a .45-calibre Colt) and shot Hickok in the back of the head!

Incredibly, McCall was actually acquitted of the murder because he claimed he was avenging Wild Bill's earlier killing of his brother. However, later, McCall was retried after he was heard bragging about the shooting and he was later found guilty and hanged on 1 March 1878. It turned out he never had a brother and had probably shot Hickok out of a desire for fame!

Wild Bill Hickok died holding two pairs: aces over eights and ever since that time, this has been known as 'Dead Man's Hand'

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Wild Bill

Wild Bill Hickok

Born James Butler Hickok
May 27, 1837(1837-05-27)
Troy Grove, Illinois, U.S.
Died August 2, 1876 (agedĀ 39)
Deadwood, Dakota
Territory, U.S.
Buried in Mount Moriah Cemetery