Wild Bill Hickok with failing sight

Grips the cards held in his hand

Ghostly faces gather round

The door behind him opens wide.


Panicking cavalrymen, unhorsed,

Scramble towards a grassy ditch

The condemned Indians make the kill.


A straight hard highway stems the land

Flat fields of wheat that wave and brush

The memories down to subsoil worms.


Wild Bill Hickok was famously shot in the back while sitting with his back to the door playing cards: he normally avoided this position, but had found the other seats occupied. His sight was failing badly and some time earlier he had shot a fellow lawman by mistake.

Fairly recent archaological excavations at the Little Big Horn confirm Indian accounts, discounted at the time, that the last cavalrymen had broken and run into a long, shallow depression on the battlefield in a desperate and unsuccessful attempt to escape the Indians. The battle changed little, of course, beyind the lives lost, and history moved on to Wounded Knee.


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  1. teenylove

     /  November 26, 2011

    I’ve been working on a poem about the death of Wild Bill but yours is far superior. He asked a fellow poker player to change places with him three times during that game. The player refused. Then he ran out of money, but instead of quitting, he borrowed from the house and kept on playing. Now he knew better than to sit with his back to a door. He must have just been feeling reckless that day. WB was a fearless lawman. I miss Wild Bill!

  2. Thanks, TL. Go ahead with that poem! My reference to him is just one verse. I’m afraid my knowledge of Wild Bill comes largely from Wikipedia, though I did know he was a Union scout in the civil war because he’s mentioned in a history of that war for a significant role in one of the battles – Chancellorsville? The one where Stonewall Jackson was fatally wounded by his own sentry. He was indeed a fearless lawman and a committed abolitionist from youth, though it seems to me his role in suppressing potential Indian action against the illegal settlers is less magnificent.

    His death was, as we say, fishy. The motives of the killer were never clear though Wild Bill had undoubtedly offended powerful people. Maybe one or two of the card players were in on it.


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