Deaths of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane: August 2, 1876/August 1, 1903

Bonus Army Forced from the Capital: July 28, 1932

August marks of the deaths of two of the Wild West’s most famous figures: Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane. Hickok was killed August 2, 1876, at the age of 39, and Calamity Jane died of illness on August 1, 1903, at age 51; both died in South Dakota.

Headline announcing Calamity Jane's deathDuring his life, Hickok was a soldier, scout, stagecoach driver, lawman, gunfighter, showman, marksman, gambler, and more. He died after being shot from behind while playing poker in a saloon. Calamity Jane was a frontierswoman known for her men’s attire, hard drinking, and skill at profanity. She claimed to have been in love with Wild Bill Hickok and even to have gone after his killer with a meat cleaver—though there is no evidence to support this; she is, however, buried near him, as she requested.

Both Hickok and Calamity Jane were famous during their lifetimes, with their legends quickly outgrowing the actual facts of their lives. Hickok gained national fame in 1867, when he became the subject of an article in Harper’s Magazine. Calamity Jane similarly became well known around 1877, when she was used as the basis for a fictional character in the “Deadwood Dick” dime novels.

After the two gained fame, they were regularly mentioned in the newspapers of the time. An excerpt of one article about Hickok from 1870 reads:

“Wild Bill is a man of great physical power and an unerring marksman. He never comes out of a fight second-best. He was at one time surprised by ten guerrillas in a cabin, where he fought and killed them all, being himself pretty well cropped to pieces with their knives.”

While Hickok died at the height of his fame, Calamity Jane outlived hers. An article published in 1903, shortly before her death, describes it thus:

“It is not the Calamity Jane of today […] that you want to remember. She of today is old and poverty stricken and wretched. The country has outgrown her and her occupation is gone. […] It is the Calamity Jane of the old days, the Indian fighter, the scout, the mail carrier, the cow puncher, the man among men, who stands heroic.”

In both of the case of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane, myth became more important than reality in the public’s perception of them, and they both still remain larger than life today.

If you’re interested in Wild Bill Hickok or Calamity Jane, look for more articles about them on Newspapers.com, especially in our South Dakota papers. Through cooperative projects with the Black Hills Pioneer and the Deadwood Historic Preservation Commission, Newspapers.com has a large collection of papers from South Dakota, where both Wild Bill and Calamity Jane spent significant time.

62 thoughts on “Deaths of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane: August 2, 1876/August 1, 1903

  1. This is timely given that I just returned from a Family Reunion in South Dakota!!! Jeff Noahr

  2. To think of these days gone by pictures a reality for me as Hickok died in 1876 and my Great Grandfather was born in 1875 and Calamity died in 1903 and my Grandfather was born in 1906. . .when I stop to think about it, it really wasn’t that long ago when you consider in Geology Time we are a speckle of sand in how long we are on this earth. . . .I always say I don’t want to be remembered by what I’ve done with my life, only that I lived at all. . . .

    • My Grandmother was born in1875. She had 8 children, 7 boys, one girl and was a widow at forty and died in 1972.

    • Hi little White Dove. I am ‘somewhat’ older than you I believe. My grandfather was born in 1965 and my grandmother in 1868, both on my mother’ side, in County Galway Ireland. Mom and dad were born in 1900, and I came along in 1933. Herbert Hoover was still President. Roosevelt had won the 1932 election, but they did not take office until March 20th back then. Roosevelt felt this was too long to wait after the election in November the year before and Congress agreed, and moved it up to January 20th. The country was was in such bad shape, that just about anything Roosevelt proposed Congress, both houses, passed immediately, and had it on his desk for signature the same day! Love to see that happen today! I grew up during “the great depression” when a penny would get you a bar of candy, nickel would get my dad a pack of cigarettes. Dad never missed a day of work during that depression, and bought a brand new 1932 4 door Willis sedan. Loved that car. I later myself became a marksman, a rifleman with 101st Division. I am comin up on 85, and thanks to my wonderful parents, many aunts and uncles, that have shared their lives with me, and the religion of my Irish mother, I too have enjoyed a great life. God Bless you Little White Dove, live bythe Golden Rule.

      • I don’t see how your grandfather could be born in 1965 and your grandmother in 1868! Someone is giving you the business.

        Also, I’ve never heard of a 1932 Willis sedan; perhaps you have been hitting the bottle more than the bullseye.

        • Don’t you think she meant 1865? So easy to hit one number over especially if you are typing on a cell phone like I am! Does making mean comments make you feel better? Go find something useful to do!

        • Jeez Alex! You need to lighten up. The 1965 was an obvious type. There is a new thing out there called Google … you can find lots of photos of the 1932 Willys.

        • 1932 Woody , could be a 1932 Willy , Both actual Cars .. The Woody has actual wood doors and rear window panel in wood. The Willy was a large 2 door ,rumble seat ?

        • Have a little respect, Alex Raymond. It was clearly a typo. I hope I am as clear headed and articulate when I am 85 years old.

          Furthermore, it took me 2 seconds to do a google search of the 1932 Willis Sedan which had a lot of results. Looks like a pretty awesome car.

        • The car referred to was a WILLYS. It was small & uncomfortable. My dad had one when we lived in Oregon in 1938. I seem to recall that Willys made Jeeps during WW2.

        • Well gee, if YOU’VE never heard of it…!!
          It is Willys, & yeah it exists.
          Try Google before opening mouth & inserting foot.

        • because you’ve never heard of a Willys sedan doesn’t mean it didn’t exist. I’m sure there are a lot of makes from that era and before that you never heard of. Be nice.

        • The spelling is “Willys” rather than “Willis,” and the Willys-Overland Corporation did indeed make a family car — the Model 77 — in 1932.

      • I’m 64 and my father was born in 1896 ,fought in ww1 and WW2 Colonel reported directly to George…..that’s George Patton senior,my grandfather was active in the civil war ,my aunt on fathers side was scalped during an Indian raid and lived to tell about it the rest were all killed some 15 persons an relations near Kentucky,my family worked with Daniel Boone in constructing Booneville .I now reside in Denver.My mother was my fathers interpitor during the war in Germany ,that’s how they met ,married and came home to US with him ….27 years younger than father ,teacher of English for 27 years with a German accent.

      • Willis is slang an inside joke “come on Willis…duh” but the sedan is very factual. And never ever loose your life to the loss of god country and love. Mean comments are pointless and take root in yourself before others along with smart remarks to those u do not know. Always practice and share the golden rule. And if you don’t know it then watch some Disney movies. Listen to some free bird let your spirit fly. Be positive and don’t point out others mistakes. Be brave for children fight for those in need and remember what your momma taught you.

    • I’m a geologist. My faith is in the cross. In geologic time, 4.6 billion years, you are much less than a speckle of sand.

    • 1875 was the year my grandfather was born and my mom was born in 1902. I share your thoughts.

  3. I visited the Deadwood Cemetery many years ago where Wild Bill and Calamity Jane are buried with many others. It is a peaceful quiet place, full of chipmunks and squirrels with birds singing. Probably much more so than the old days of Deadwood, although the Casinos have turned it into a totally different place than I remeber.

    • He is a relative of mine as well, it is very interesting to me when I can find things on him! We still have many relatives in south Dakota, we are now in Iowa though. 🙂

  4. I believe both Wild Bill and Calamity Jane stayed at my husband’s great grandparent’s Occidental Hotel in Buffalo, Wyoming back in the late 1800s.

      • I was just at the Historic Occidental Hotel this past Sunday! Such a cool place. So many famous people have stayed there, including Calamity Jane. Wild Bill was already deceased before the hotel came to be. However, Buffalo Bill Cody stayed there.

  5. Back in the 1970’s, Mother and I visited the graves of Wild Bill and Calamity Jane. At that time, one could drive to the site. Three years ago, my husband and I visited the cemetery — the graves are now fenced off and it is a bit difficult to get a good photo of the markers. Parking is free, but it’s quite a hike to the gravesites.

  6. And you have to pay to see the gravesites…I love old graveyard but refuse to PAY to walk through a graveyard. When they start charging to pay your respects to the dead….what’s next

    • You are kidding right? Being sarcastic?

      But not serious when you say you were there to pay respect, when all you wanted was to sightseeing.

    • One of the best, most interesting, vacations we ever had was years ago when we drove through South Dakota for a week or so (also, Montana for site of Custer’s “come-uppence” at the Little Big Horn. There was a small park my little daughter loved, full of fairy & children’s tale characters – maybe Disney too; so long ago, can’t remember exactly. Another park somewhere was a Flintstone Village themed place with little Flintmobiles for kids to ride in – my daughter loved that place too. The Black Hill’s with Mt. Rushmore, and the most amazing Badlands National Park are simply WONDERFUL American treasures! The Native American history and essence is omnipresent. South Dakota is itself a wonderful national jewel!!! Do not miss out on this area, your American “experience” will be grossly incomplete if you do.

      • I agree. My family stopped at each of those sites. It was so wonderful. The Badlands NP blew me away! Just did not expect the beauty we found there. Loved the magpie bird we saw there and the meadow lark too.

  7. Fantastic genealogical discovery, thanks to newspapers.com, is related to Calamity Jane. My brother-in-law’s grandmother was raised in Deadwood and the nearby Terry. Her parents comings and goings were often detailed in the local newspaper, which I discovered on Newspapers.com. The greatest discovery was that her mother was one of two ladies who attended to Calamity Jane on her death bed! Talk about a great factoid for the family history books!

  8. My father was born in Deadwood. My Grandfather worked in the mine there. There are pictures and chaps belonging to my Grandfather in the Deadwood Museum.

      • I believe so. The chaps are made out of a white long haired animal. My cousin has a picture of our Grandfather riding a rearing horse and he is wearing those chaps. My Grandfather’s name was George K. Bjorklund. The family lived in Deadwood, one house was right next to the RR Tracks. My grandmother, Ruth, said she always had hobos stopping by the house asking for food and she never turned anyone away. They had 9 kids!

  9. Neat story!
    Interesting stories to go with!!
    So glad to have seen these!!

  10. Now I need to look for articles about Wild bill from the ranch of Gr. Grand dad Funnell where Wild bill trained his horses. Many fun family stories.

  11. Don’t forget the Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD when touring the state, and also the Rapid City Dinosaur Park up on the hill. Two of my favorites. My father was born in SD had a cousin who lived on a farm near Sioux Falls. We suburb folks always looked forward to visit “cousin Marilyn’s farm”. Dad’s “Aunt Mamie” lived in Martin, SD, near the Badlands, so we often drove west to east across the state. When I was a kid, I thought Rapid City was “Rabbit City”!

  12. My great Aunt Marianne Sarah Benford had a sepia photograph taken on the plains and given to her by her great Uncle William S. Styles a retired cavalry trooper. The photo had : far left, William S. Styles, Buffalo Bill Cody, Bill Hickock, Calamity Jane, and the “old Ranger” all lined up in front of a horse drawn wagon and no mountains on the horizon giving the belief it was shot on the plains. Marianne showed it to me when I was in grade school, about sixty years ago. The photo was stolen from her home while her family attended her wake.

    • So sorry to hear such an important, historic photo was stolen from the family. Hoping karma catches up with the thief and leads the photo back to your family.

  13. If you come to South Dakota don’t forget to stop in Fort Pierre and Pierre. Lots of history including the Lewis and Clark expedition, a plaque the Vandreeye Bros. placed a plaque claiming the land for France and many other items.

  14. My gr grandfather came over from england with his kids , one being my grandfather they went out there and one of my uncles stayed somewhere in the sandy flats etc the rest later on ended Ion wi. Dad a older brothers would jump trains and visit their uncle Steve. Dad was the young of 15 brothers and sister. What a small world.

  15. Vacationed in SD in our 1951 Chevrolet with a Powerglide transmission. Got a FREE glass of ice water at Wall Drug where I sat on a stuffed buffalo. Climbed on green dinosaur tails in Rapid City. I remember driving up Deadwood’s boot hill in rutted tires tracks. As a child all that scenery was pretty boring to me. I still remember the buffalo and dinosaurs, though.

  16. I’ve also been to see their graves, about 42 years ago. Though, we did not have to pay to. We hit the Badlands, Mt. Rushmore, Little Big Horn. I seem to remember most from Ft. Laramie, WY. We were there for hours, had an informative person show us around, heard many Indian raid stories, one of the Colonel’s daughter being kidnapped and carried off by horse across the river. She never was returned. I recall petting the horses by the river, listening to these Wild West stories, imagining what it was like to have lived here and yet, glad I didn’t know it first hand. That place is haunted with slamming doors w/out wind, lights back on after turned off for the night … We headed out of there just as dusk was setting. Driving cross country is the best way to see America. Flying over just doesn’t provide the same opportunities. If it was anything to do with the WIld West, from artists to outlaws, wagons ruts crossing the plains, the Pony Express, trains, Indians, antiques, old photographs, plantations, slaves, the south, been there to see it. Have been to theme parks, hardly compares though. Many thanks owed to my mother for those summer long drives across the country.

  17. Wild Bill seemed to have been some type of scoundrel…drinker, shooter, gambler, womanizer…but has left a legacy of “heroism.” Calamity didn’t seem to have been much better.But they made for great stories about the “building of America.”

  18. The primary thing to remember with a way of life is one cannot take articles of history concerning habits, activities, etc. out of context. What was commonplace then may not be “respectable” now but that is the way it was then. Who knows what is going on today that will not (or should not) be appropriate in 100 years from now? These two individuals will still be a hero for their actions 100 years from now.

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