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“BLOOD FEUD”: POWER–AND IDEALISM–CORRUPT: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Entertainment, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on January 15, 2019 at 12:08 am

In 1983, Blood Feud, a two-part TV mini-series, depicted the 11-year struggle between Robert F. Kennedy and James Riddle Hoffa. Although it took some dramatic liberties, its portrayal of the major events of that period remains essentially accurate.

Today, labor unions are a rapidly-vanishing species, commanding far less political influence than they did 50 years ago. As a result, young viewers of this series may find it hard to believe that labor ever held such sway, or that the International Brotherhood of Teamsters union posed such a threat.

James Riddle Hoffa testifying before the Senate Labor Rackets Committee

And in an age when millions see “Big Government” as the enemy, they may feel strong reservations about the all-out war that Kennedy waged against Hoffa. 

Blood Feud opens in 1957, when Hoffa (Robert Blake) is a rising figure within the Teamsters. Kennedy (Cotter Smith) is chief counsel for the Senate Labor Rackets Committee. 

At first, Hoffa tries to ingratiate himself with Kennedy, telling him: “I know everybody who can help me and anybody who can hurt me.”

Robert Blake as James R. Hoffa

A wily Hoffa decides to parley Kennedy’s anti-corruption zeal into a path to power for himself. Via his attorney, Eddie Cheyfitz, he feeds Kennedy incriminating evidence against Dave Beck, president of the Teamsters. 

Confronted with a Senate subpoena, Beck flees the country—paving the way for Hoffa to assume the top position in the union. Hoffa believes he has solved two problems at once. 

“He’s got his scalp,” Hoffa tells an associate. “Now he can move on to other things while I run the union.” 

But Hoffa has guessed wrong—with fatal results. Realizing that he’s been “played” by Hoffa, a furious Kennedy strikes back.  

He orders increased surveillance of Hoffa and his topmost associates. He subpoenas union records and members of both the Teamsters and the Mafia to appear before his committee in public hearings.  

And he tries to enlist the aid of legendary FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover (Ernest Borgnine). But Hoover wants no part of a war against organized crime, whose existence he refuses to admit.

Meanwhile, Kennedy’s confrontations with Hoffa grow increasingly fierce. In open hearings, Kennedy accuses Hoffa of receiving kickbacks in the name of his wife. Hoffa damns him for “dirtying my wife’s name.” 

Kennedy secures an indictment against Hoffa for hiring a spy to infiltrate the Senate Labor Rackets Committee. He’s so certain of a conviction that he tells the press he’ll “jump off the Capitol building” if Hoffa beats the rap.

But Hoffa’s lawyer, Edward Bennett Williams (Jose Ferrer) puts Kennedy himself on the witness stand. There he portrays Kennedy as a spoiled rich man who’s waging a vendetta against Hoffa.

Hoffa beats the rap, and offers to send Kennedy a parachute. But he jokingly warns reporters: “Hey, Bobby, you better have it checked. I don’t trust myself!”

By 1959, Robert Kennedy’s work as chief counsel for the Senate Labor Rackets Committee is over. But not his determination to send Teamsters President James Hoffa to prison.

Cotter Smith as Robert Kennedy

Throughout 1960, he manages the Presidential campaign for his brother, John F. Kennedy (Sam Groom). By a margin of only 100,000 votes, JFK wins the election.

Hoffa thinks that his troubles are over, that “Bobby” will move on to other pursuits and forget about the Teamsters.

Hoffa is partly right: Kennedy moves on to another job. But it’s the office of United States Attorney General.  

JFK, needing someone in the Cabinet he can trust completely, browbeats Robert into becoming the the nation’s top cop.

For Hoffa, it’s a nightmare come true.

As Attorney General, Kennedy no longer has to beg J. Edgar Hoover to attack organized crime. He can—and does—order him to do so.

Throughout the country, the Mafia feels a new heat as FBI agents plant illegal electronic microphones (“bugs”) in their innermost sanctums. Agents openly tail mobsters—and send them to prison in large numbers.

And Kennedy sets up a special unit, composed of topflight prosecutors and investigators, to go after just one man: James Riddle Hoffa. The press comes to call it the “Get Hoffa” squad.

Hoffa continues to beat federal prosecutors in court. But he believes he’s under constant surveillance by the FBI, and his nerves are starting to crack. 

Convinced that the FBI has bugged his office, he literally tears apart the room, hoping to find the bug. But he fails to do so.

What he doesn’t know is he’s facing a more personal danger—from one of his closest associates. 

He tells a trusted colleague, Edward Grady Partin (Brian Dennehy) how easy it would be to assassinate Kennedy with a rifle or bomb.

Later, Partin gets into a legal jam—and is abandoned by the Teamsters. Hoping to cut a deal, he relays word to the Justice Department of Hoffa’s threats against the Attorney General.

Now working for the Justice Department, Partin sends in reports on Hoffa’s juror-bribing efforts in yet another trial. Hoffa again beats the rap—but now Kennedy has the insider’s proof he needs to put him away for years.  

WILD BILL HICKOK VS. THE NRA: PART TWO (END)

In History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on July 7, 2017 at 12:16 am

After being fired as town marshal of Abilene, Kansas, James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok lived another five years. But they weren’t good ones.

Unlike William F. Cody, Hickok couldn’t adjust to the changing West.

It was becoming less wild. His scouting days were over—the Indian wars were rapidly coming to an end.

(In June, 1876, barely two months before his own death, the Sioux and Cheyenne would wipe out the other famous “Long Hair” of the plains–George Armstrong Custer—at the battle of Little Bighorn.)

And most towns, like Abilene, increasingly had little use for lead-slinging lawmen like Hickok.

James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok

Worst of all, he was going blind—either from a venereal disease he had contracted or from the glare of too many prairie sunrises.

In 1873, Hickok tried his hand as an actor in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. But he was a terrible performer—and knew it.

The fault, however, did not lie entirely with him. Even Laurence Oliver would have rebelled at spouting lines like: “Fear not, fair maiden, for you are ever safe with Will Bill, who has sworn to defend to the death your maidenly virtue.”

Not that the audiences cared. They had come to see legendary plainsmen—such as Hickok and Cody—in the flesh, not great theater.

Hickok asked Cody to release him from his contract. Cody refused. So Hickok once again turned to his guns for a solution.

In this case, it meant shooting blanks into the legs and buttocks of “dead” Indians who suddenly sprang to life and rushed off the stage. And one night, Hickok put a real bullet through a stage light that was hurting his already sensitive eyes.

That, finally, convinced Cody that Hickok’s acting days were over.

In March, 1876, he married Agnes Lake Thatcher, a circus acrobat several years his senior.

In April, he told Agnes he was heading for the gold rush country of Deadwood, South Dakota. After he made his fortune, he would send for her.

But she never saw him again.

Deadwood was the sort of town the National Rifle Association wants to see replicated across modern-day America. Everyone wore a gun, and there was no town ordinance against doing so. Nor were there any law-enforcers like Hickok to protect the public from the kill-crazy antics of liquored-up gunmen.

Image result for Images of grave of Wild Bill Hickok

Grave of “Wild Bill” Hickok

Worse for Hickok, he had two strikes against him: His reputation as a matchless gunfighter had preceded him—and his failing vision put him at a disadvantage in backing it up.

Arriving in Deadwood, he quickly decided that the strenuous life of a gold-miner was not for him. Instead, he would seek his fortune as he often had—in saloons as a gambler.

And, as he had so often, he spent more of his time losing money than making it.

On August 2, 1876, his long trail of bad luck finally ran out.

He had always sat with his back to a wall, as a precaution against ambush. On this afternoon, he found his preferred seat taken by another gambler named Charles Rich. Hickok asked Rich to trade places with him, but when the latter refused, Hickok didn’t press the matter. 

It was a sign that Hickok’s reputation had sharply fallen. Ten years earlier, had he made such a request, the other gambler would have rushed to swap chairs.

Hickok paid no attention as a whiskey bum named Jack McCall walked around to the corner of the saloon to where the ex-lawman was playing.

Jack McCall

The previous night, Hickok had won considerable money from McCall in a poker game—and had generously given him back enough to buy something to eat.

(The 1995 movie, Wild Bill, depicted McCall as Hickok’s illegitimate son seeking vengeance on the father who had abandoned him. But this was completely false, as the two were completely unrelated. The one saving grace to this otherwise absurd film was Jeff Bridges’ gritty performance as Hickok.)

Suddenly, McCall  pulled a double-action .45 from under his coat, shouted “Take that!” and shot Hickok in the back of the head.

Hickok died instantly.  He was 39.

As he slid from the table, he dropped the cards he had been holding—a pair of eights and another pair of Aces, which has ever since been known as “the dead man’s hand.”

McCall was “tried” by a mining court.  He claimed that Hickok had murdered his brother and he had sought revenge.  He was acquitted.

He headed for Wyoming, where he incessantly bragged that he had killed the famous “Wild Bill” Hickok.

McCall was arrested in Laramie and charged with murder. The trial in Deadwood was found to have been invalid—owing to the town’s being in Indian territory and outside the reach of United States law.

Once again forced to stand trial, McCall found himself convicted. On March 1, 1877, he was hanged. Later, it was discovered that McCall had never had a brother.

WILD BILL HICKOK VS. THE NRA: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on July 6, 2017 at 12:33 am

Almost everyone has heard of “Wild Bill” Hickok—the legendary Western scout, Indian fighter, two-gun lawman and crack shot.

And the legend, not the man, is often invoked–inaccurately—by “gun rights” advocates who seek to reduce the entire Constitution to a single amendment: The Second Amendment.

But there is a vast difference between Hickok the legend–and Hickok the actual man.

For one thing, his real name wasn’t “Bill”—or even “William.” It was James Butler Hickok.

He supposedly got the name “Wild Bill” after thwarting an attempted lynching—and a woman applauded his bravery with: “Good for you, Wild Bill!”

James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok

For another, Hickok didn’t spend most of his life as a town marshal. His gunslinging days as a lawman lasted just two years—1869 to 1871.

And they ended badly. His first stint as a lawman came at Hays City, Kansas. As sheriff, he shot and killed at least two men.

According to legend, 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. Knocked to the floor and repeatedly kicked, Hickok had reason to fear death.

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 even greater 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.

Image result for Images of Wild Bill Hickok's pistols

Replica of Hickok’s 1851 Navy Colt

This, of course, contradicts the “open carry” demands of the National Rifle Association. 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, 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.

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.

A CLASH OF TITANS: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on April 22, 2016 at 12:10 am

The 1983 TV mini-series, Blood Feud, chronicles the decade-long struggle between Robert F. Kennedy and James R. Hoffa.  

Having “helped” Kennedy (Cotter Smith) to oust corrupt Teamsters President Dave Beck, Hoffa (Robert Blake) believes that Kennedy should now be satisfied: “He’s got his scalp.  Now he can move on to other things while I run the union.” 

But Hoffa has guessed wrong–with fatal results. Realizing that he’s been “played” by Hoffa, a furious Kennedy strikes back.  

He orders increased surveillance of Hoffa and his topmost associates. He subpoenas union records and members of both the Teamsters and the Mafia to appear before his committee in public hearings.  

And he tries to enlist the aid of legendary FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover (Ernest Borgnine). But Hoover wants no part of a war against organized crime, whose existence he refuses to admit.

Meanwhile, Kennedy’s confrontations with Hoffa grow increasingly fierce. In open hearings, Kennedy accuses Hoffa of receiving kickbacks in the name of his wife. Hoffa damns him for “dirtying my wife’s name.” 

Kennedy secures an indictment against Hoffa for hiring a spy to infiltrate the Senate Labor Rackets Committee. He’s so certain of a conviction that he tells the press he’ll “jump off the Capitol building” if Hoffa beats the rap.

But Hoffa’s lawyer, Edward Bennett Williams (Jose Ferrer) puts Kennedy himself on the witness stand.  There he portrays Kennedy as a spoiled rich man who’s waging a vendetta against Hoffa.

Hoffa beats the rap, and offers to send Kennedy a parachute. But he jokingly warns reporters: “Hey, Bobby, you better have it checked. I don’t trust myself!”

By 1959, Robert Kennedy’s work as chief counsel for the Senate Labor Rackets Committee is over. But not his determination to send Teamsters President James Hoffa to prison.

Cotter Smith as Robert Kennedy

Throughout 1960, he manages the Presidential campaign for his brother, John F. Kennedy (Sam Groom). By a margin of only 100,000 votes, JFK wins the election.

Hoffa thinks that his troubles are over, that “Bobby” will move on to other pursuits and forget about the Teamsters.

Hoffa is partly right: Kennedy moves on to another job. But it’s the office of United States Attorney General.  

JFK, needing someone in the Cabinet he can trust completely, browbeats Robert into becoming the the nation’s top cop.

For Hoffa, it’s a nightmare come true.

As Attorney General, Kennedy no longer has to beg J. Edgar Hoover to attack organized crime. He can–and does–order him to do so.

Throughout the country, the Mafia feels a new heat as FBI agents plant illegal electronic microphones (“bugs”) in their innermost sanctums. Agents openly tail mobsters–and send them to prison in large numbers.

And Kennedy sets up a special unit, composed of topflight prosecutors and investigators, to go after just one man: James Riddle Hoffa. The press comes to call it the “Get Hoffa” squad.

Hoffa continues to beat federal prosecutors in court. But he believes he’s under constant surveillance by the FBI, and his nerves are starting to crack. 

Convinced that the FBI has bugged his office, he literally tears apart the room, hoping to find the bug. But he fails to do so.

What he doesn’t know is he’s facing a more personal danger–from one of his closest associates. 

He tells a trusted colleague, Edward Grady Partin (Brian Dennehy) how easy it would be to assassinate Kennedy with a rifle or bomb.

Later, Partin gets into a legal jam–and is abandoned by the Teamsters. Hoping to cut a deal, he relays word to the Justice Department of Hoffa’s threats against the Attorney General.

Now working for the Justice Department, Partin sends in reports on Hoffa’s juror-bribing efforts in yet another trial. Hoffa again beats the rap–but now Kennedy has the insider’s proof he needs to put him away for years.

Meanwhile, the Mafia despairs of the increasing pressure of the Justice Department. At a swanky restaurant, several high-ranking members agree that “something” must be done.

[Although this scene is fictional, it’s clearly based on an infamous outburst of Carlos Marcello, the longtime Mafia boss of New Orleans. 

Carlos Marcello

[In 1961, Marcello was deported to his native Guatemala on orders by RFK. After illegally re-entering the country, he swore vengeance against the Attorney General.  

[In September, 1962, during a meeting with several mob colleagues, he flew into a rage when someone mentioned Kennedy.  

“Take the stone out of my shoe!” he shouted, echoing a Sicilian curse. “Don’t you worry about that little Bobby sonofabitch. He’s going to be taken care of!”

[When one of his colleagues warned that murdering RFK would trigger the wrath of his brother, President John F.Kennedy, Marcello replied: “In Sicily they say if you want to kill a dog you don’t cut off the tail. You go for the head.”

[Marcello believed that the death of President Kennedy would render the Attorney General powerless. And he added that he planned to use a “nut” to do the job.]

On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas, Texas.  

Blood Feud clearly implies that the Mafia was responsible. 

TELL YOUR AIRLINE TO FLY OFF

In Bureaucracy, Business, Self-Help, Social commentary on November 28, 2014 at 12:13 am

Imagine the following situation:

  • You’re vacationing in Denver and must return to San Francisco for an urgent-care medical appointment
  • You’re disabled but nevertheless arrive at the airport on time.
  • The airport–in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act–doesn’t have anyone assigned to help disabled passengers get onto departing planes.
  • As a result, you arrive at the gate–just as the plane takes off.
  • The airline informs you that if you want to board a plane, you’ll have to pay for another ticket.
  • You can’t afford to buy another ticke–and your urgent-care appointment is tomorrow.

What do you do?

In this case, the stranded passenger called me: Bureaucracybuster.

First, I instinctively called the airline company. And that meant starting at the top–the president’s office.

I punched the name of the airline–and the words, “Board of Directors”–into google. This gave me several websites to click on to obtain the information I needed.

I started dialing–and quickly hung up: I had just remembered the day was a Sunday. Nobody but cleaning crews would be occupying the airline’s executive offices that day.

I had to start all over.

Next, I decided to call Denver Airport and find an official who would help Rachel onto another flight–without charging her for it.

I didn’t know where to start, so I decided that starting anywhere was just fine. As I was routed from one person to another, I would develop a sense of who I needed to reach.

Some of those I reached seemed genuinely concerned with Rachel’s plight. Others gave me the “that’s-life-in-the-big-city” attitude.

One of the latter felt I wasn’t deferential enough in my tone. He threatened to notify the chief of airport security.

“Go ahead,” I said. “I once worked for the United States Attorney’s Office. I’ll be glad to talk with him.”

He backed off–just as I had assumed he would. Usually the best way to deal with threats is to directly confront the person making them.

(A friend of mine, Richard St. Germain, spent part of his 11 years with the U.S. Marshals Service protecting Mafia witnesses. Many of them didn’t like the places where they were to be relocated under new identities.

“I’m going to complain to the Attorney General,” some of them would threaten.

St. Germain would reach for his office phone, plant it before the witness, and say, “Call him. I’ll give you his number.” The witness always backed off.)

Eventually I reached the Chief of Airport Operations. I outlined what had happened.

He didn’t seem very sympathetic. So I decided to transfer the problem from Rachel to the airport.

Without raising my voice, I said: “It isn’t her fault that your airport was in non-compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act and she missed her flight because there wasn’t anyone to assist her.”

Suddenly his tone changed–and I could tell I had definitely reached him. No doubt visions of federal investigations, private lawsuits and truly bad publicity for his airport flashed across his mind.

And all this had been achieved without my making an overt threat of any kind.

He said he would see to it that she got onto another flight without having to buy another ticket.

I called Rachel to give her the good news. But a few minutes later she called me back, almost in tears.

The airline official at the departure gate was giving her a bad time: “If we have to choose between you and another passenger who has a ticket for this flight, he’ll go, not you.”

She laid out a series of other scenarios under which Rachel would remain stranded in Denver.

So once again I called the Chief of Airport Operations: “She’s being hassled by an official at the gate. Can you please send someone over there and put a stop to this nonsense?”

A few minutes later, I got another call from Rachel–this one totally upbeat.

She said that a man who identified himself only as an airport official–but wearing an expensive suit–had visited her at the gate. When the ticket-taking airline official had protested, he had cut her off.

The official had then walked Rachel and her baggage onto an otherwise fully-loaded 777 jet bound for San Francisco.

Soon she was en route to San Francisco for her urgent-care medical appointment the next day.

So if you’re having troubles with an airline:

  • Start by calling the highest-ranking airline official you can reach.
  • If s/he isn’t available or sympathetic, call the airport.
  • Be persistent–but businesslike.
  • Don’t let yourself be bullied.
  • If you can cite a legal violation by the airline and/or airport, don’t hesitate to do so. But don’t make overt threats.
  • Don’t hesitate to play for sympathy: “This is a woman has an urgent-care doctor’s appointment….”

Then cross your fingers and hope for the best.

WILD BILL HICKOK VS. THE N.R.A. – PART TWO (END)

In History, Law Enforcement, Social commentary on May 2, 2012 at 12:15 am

After being fired as town marshal of Abilene, Kansas, James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok lived another five years. But they weren’t good ones.

Unlike William F. Cody, Hickok couldn’t adjust to the changing West.

It was becoming less wild. His scouting days were over—the Indian wars were rapidly coming to an end.

(In June, 1876, barely two months before his own death, the Sioux and Cheyanne would wipe out the other famous “Long Hair” of the plains–George Armstrong Custer–at the battle of Little Bighorn.)

And most towns, like Abilene, increasingly had little use for lead-slinging lawmen like Hickok.

James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok

Worst of all, he was going blind—either from a venereal disease he had contracted or from the glare of too many prairie sunrises.

In 1873, Hickok tried his hand as an actor in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. But he was a terrible performer—and knew it.

The fault, however, did not lie entirely with him.  Even Laurence Oliver would have rebelled at spouting lines like: “Fear not, fair maiden, for you are ever safe with Will Bill, who has sworn to defend to the death your maidenly virtue.”

Not that the audiences cared. They had come to see legendary plainsmen–such as Hickok and Cody–in the flesh, not great theater.

Hickok asked Cody to release him from his contract. Cody refused. So Hickok once again turned to his guns for a solution.

In this case, it meant shooting blanks into the legs and buttocks of “dead” Indians who suddenly sprang to life and rushed off the stage. And one night, Hickok put a real bullet through a stage light that was hurting his already sensitive eyes.

That, finally, convinced Cody that Hickok’s acting days were over.

In March, 1876, he married Agnes Lake Thatcher, a circus acrobat several years his senior.

In April, he told Agnes he was heading for the gold rush country of Deadwood, South Dakota. After he made his fortune, he would send for her.

But she never saw him again.

Deadwood was the sort of town the National Rifle Association wants to see replicated across modern-day America.  Everyone wore a gun, and there was no town ordinance against doing so.  Nor were there any law-enforcers like Hickok to protect the public from the kill-crazy antics of liquored-up gunmen.

Grave of “Wild Bill” Hickok

Worse for Hickok, he had two strikes against him: His reputation as a matchless gunfighter had preceeded him–and his failing vision put him at a disadvantage in backing it up.

Arriving in Deadwood, he quickly decided that the strenuous life of a gold-miner was not for him.  Instead, he would seek his fortune as he often had—in saloons as a gambler.

And, as he had so often, he spent more of his time losing money than making it.

On August 2, 1876, his long trail of bad luck finally ran out.

He had always sat with his back to a wall, as a precaution against ambush.  On this afternoon, he found his preferred seat taken by another gambler named Charles Rich.  Hickok asked Rich to trade places with him, but when the latter refused, Hickok didn’t press the matter.

Hickok paid no attention as a whiskey bum named Jack McCall walked around to the corner of the saloon to where the ex-lawman was playing.

Jack McCall

The previous night, Hickok had won considerable money from McCall in a poker game–and had generously given him back enough to buy something to eat.

(The 1995 movie, Wild Bill, depicted McCall as Hickok’s illegitimate son seeking vengeance on the father who had abandoned him.  But this was completely false.  The one saving grace to this otherwise absurd film was Jeff Bridges’ gritty performance as Hickok.)

Suddenly, McCall  pulled a double-action .45 from under his coat, shouted “Take that!” and shot Hickok in the back of the head.

Hickok died instantly.  He was 39.

As he slid from the table, he dropped the cards he had been holding—a pair of eights and another pair of Aces, which has ever since been known as “the dead man’s hand.”

McCall was “tried” by a mining court.  He claimed that Hickok had murdered his brother and he had sought revenge.  He was acquitted.

He headed for Wyoming, where he incessantly bragged that he had killed the famous “Wild Bill” Hickok.

McCall was arrested in Laramie and charged with murder.  The trial in Deadwood was found to have been invalid—owing to the town’s being in Indian territory and outside the reach of United States law.

Once again forced to stand trial, McCall found himself convicted.  On March 1, 1877, he was hanged.  Later, it was discovered that McCall had never had a brother.

WILD BILL HICKOK VS. THE N.R.A. – PART ONE (OF TWO)

In History, Law Enforcement, Social commentary on May 1, 2012 at 2:05 pm

Almost everyone has heard of “Wild Bill” Hickok–the legendary Western scout, Indian fighter, two-gun lawman and crack shot.

And the legend, not the man, is often invoked–inaccurately–by “gun rights” advocates who seek to reduce the entire Constitution to a single amendment: The Second Amendment.

But there is a vast difference between Hickok the legend–and Hickok the actual man.

For one thing, his real name wasn’t “Bill”–or even “William.” It was James Butler Hickok.

He supposedly got the name “Wild Bill” after thrwarting an attempted lynching–and a woman applauded his bravery with: “Good for you, Wild Bill!”

James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok

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

And they ended badly. His first stint as a lawman came at Hays City, Kansas.  As sheriff, he shot and killed at least two men.

According to legend, 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.  Knocked to the floor and repeatedly kicked, Hickok had reason to fear death.

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 even greater 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 National Rifle Association.  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, 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.

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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