In History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on July 25, 2013 at 11:58 am

On July 23, North Carolina lawmakers approved a bill that allows those with concealed-carry weapons permits:

  • To bring firearms into bars and restaurants serving alcohol–so long as the owner doesn’t object.
  • To store weapons in locked cars on the campus of any public school or university.
  • To bring guns onto greenways, playgrounds and other public recreation areas.

The Republican-supported bill was approved by both the House and Senate.  It now heads to Republican Governor Pat McCrory, who is expected to sign it into law.

Now think:

  • You’re mixing high-octane alcohol with high-powered firearms.
  • You’re allowing weapons to be legally stored in parked cars–which can easily be broken into.
  • You’re allowing firearms to be brought onto playgrounds filled with children.

What could possibly go wrong?

The National Rifle Association (NRA)–which backed the measure–will celebrate a return to an era “when men were men” and every argument threatened to become a shootout.

But not everyone in the Old West welcomed the indiscriminate right to carry and use firearms within town.  One of those was the legendary lawman, James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok.

Contrary to popular belief, Hickok actualy didn’t spend most of his life as a town marshal.  His gunslinging days as a lawman lasted just two years–1869 to 1871.

His first stint as a lawman came at Hays City, Kansas.  As sheriff, he shot and killed at least two men. One of these shootings occurred when Hickok, looking in a bar mirror, saw a ruffian named Strawhan pull a pistol to shoot him in the back.

Hickok, looking into the mirror, threw a “trick shot” over his shoulder–and nailed Strawhan dead.

Then Hickok’s luck ran out.  On July 17, 1870, several members of the 7th U.S. Cavalry attacked him in Drum’s Saloon. Drawing his pistols, he killed one private and wounded another.

Although he had acted in self-defense and the shootings were entirely justifiable, Hickok now faced danger from other, enraged members of the same regiment.  He decided to leave Hays before they could take their revenge.

His next posting as town marshal came in Abilene, Kansas.  This stint lasted from April to December, 1871.  And, like his last one as a “town-tamer,” it ended with a deadly shootout.

A major portion of his duties lay in enforcing the “no firearms worn or used in town” edict.

Abilene was a cattle town, the end of the line for many outfits seeking a major railhead where their hundreds of beeves could be dropped off and shipped eastward.

When cowboys–most of them in their teens or early 20s–reached Abilene, they wanted to celebrate.  Their long drive was over, and now they could finally get paid.  And there were plenty of bars and whores waiting to pick up their newly-issued monies.

This combination of randy men and ready supplies of alcohol and women often led to trouble.  One cowboy might make a pass at another’s “lady” for the night.  Or an argument might erupt over a card game.

It was Hickok’s duty to make sure that such arguments were settled only with fists.  And that meant demanding that all cowboys’ guns be checked at the marshal’s office until the “boys” were ready to leave Abilene.

This, of course, contradicts the “open carry” demands of the NRA.  And most of its members–if transported to the Old West–would find themselves on the wrong side of Hickok.

And that wasn’t a good place to be–as Texas gambler Phil Coe learned to his dismay.

Coe and Hickok had clashed before.  As co-owner of the Bull’s head Saloon, Coe had advertised its wares with a sign depicting a bull with oversized sexual organs.   A number of citizens raged that this was obscene and demanded that the animal’s sexuality be greatly reduced.  The city fathers agreed.

Hickok stood nearby with a shotgun while a painter made the necessary deletions.

On October 5, 1871, cowboys were flooding into Abilene, looking for a good time.  Coe, feeling in high spirits, decided to celebrate by firing his pistol into the air several times.

The shots quickly brought Hickok to the scene.

“Did you fire that shot?” Hickok demanded.

Coe supposedly replied: “I shot at a dog–and I’ll shoot at another.”

Coe threw a shot at Hickok, which missed.

Hickok whipped out his two revolvers and put two bullets into Coe’s stomach, mortally wounding the Texan, who died three days later.

James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok

With Coe’s Texas buddies surrounding him, Hickok suddenly heard someone rushing at him from behind.

Hickok whirled and fired twice more–into the chest of his own deputy, Mike Williams, who had been running to his aid.

Hickok, aghast at his mistake, gently carried Williams into a saloon and placed his body onto a billiard table.  Then he raged through Abilene, ordering an end to the festivities and knocking down any cowboys foolish enough to resist.

Owing to this latest explosion in violence, the city fathers quickly reached two decision:

First, they put an end to Abilene’s years as a major cattle shipping point.  From now on, cattlemen were no longer welcome there.

And then they fired Hickok as city marshal in December, 1871.

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