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Since You Asked: Wild Bill Hickock Still Dead

During a driving tour around the country that my wife and I took two summers ago, we spent a day in Deadwood, S.D., and visited the historic "Saloon No. 10" where Wild Bill met his untimely demise. I've enclosed a picture of my wife Jeannie standing outside the saloon and another inside taken of what is purportedly "The Hand" of cards WBH was holding when he was shot to death. Note the two black aces and two black eights with the fifth card — the nine of diamonds. Now, I have no way to vouch for the authenticity of this claim by the current owner of Saloon No. 10, but it seems a pretty safe bet, and likely better than your reported "Jack or undealt" fifth-card hypothesis ... .

— Minor M., via e-mail

Hey, Since People: I enjoy your column very much — practical and close to your readers. I have been fascinated with Wild Bill ever since hearing about his miraculous and tragic life. I purchased a book last year at a local antique store called, "Age of the Gunfighter," by Joseph G. Rosa, Smithmark Publishers, 1993. In the book, they discuss the "dead man's hand" and I quote:

"Wild Bill concentrated upon gambling, and it was when playing poker at Deadwood in 1876 that he was murdered while holding a hand which comprised the ace of spades, the ace of clubs, the eight of clubs, the eight of spades and a queen or jack of diamonds 'kicker,' today remembered as the 'Deadman's Hand'."

Apparently, Mr. Rosa has written two books about Mr. Hickock and visited the Hickock family in Troy Grove, Ill., where he met Wild Bill's niece, Ethel Hickock, and became the only person outside their family to be allowed access to their archive. So the book jacket says.

— B. Close, Eagle Point, via e-mail

Thanks for that picture, Minor, though we wonder how much it can be relied upon since that isn't the original saloon. The original No. 10 was actually across the street from the facsimile you visited. It burned down in 1879, 13 years after Hickock's demise.

The only thing we've found consistent in all the stories is that Wild Bill was holding the ace of spades, ace of clubs, eight of clubs and eight of spades, so it seems the photo is right on the popular consensus there.

And though we're sure Rosa did plenty of research on his book, B., seems to us the best people who could tell us about the fifth card in Wild Bill's poker hand would be people like Tom Nuttall (the saloon's original owner and bartender at the time of the shooting), and he ain't talkin'. Hickock had no family in Deadwood at the time of the death.

True or not, all of it adds to the fascinating story of Deadwood.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to youasked@mailtribune.com.