Jack McCall, Assassin

Review: Jack McCall, Assassin: An Updated Account of His Yankton Trial, Plea for Clemency, and Execution, Joseph G. Rosa, 1999.Jack Mccall

It’s the 140th anniversary of Jack McCall’s walk on part in the history of the Old West. James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok was playing cards when McCall stepped up behind him and shot him in the head.

A miner’s jury acquitted him. But he hung later in Yankton, the capitol of Dakota Territory. The jury, it was decided, had no right to hold a trial on what was legally Indian land.

McCall’s motives were obscure. His background is seldom mentioned. It was a life only remembered at all for what happened in Saloon No. 10 on that hot August afternoon.

As far as I know, Hickok scholar Rosa is the only one to have actually researched McCall’s life for this slender pamphlet of 24 pages.


More reviews of books related to the Old West are indexed here.

Wild Bill Hickok, Gunfighter

A retro review from July 31, 2006.

Review: Will Bill Hickok, Gunfighter: An Account of Hickok’s Gunfights, Joseph G. Rosa, 2003.Wild Bill Hickok

If you’re looking for one book on Wild Bill’s life, this is not it. Instead, read Rosa’s They Called Him Wild Bill: The Life and Adventures of James Butler Hickok. This book has nothing on Hickok’s Civil War experience, no evaluation of the tales of his shooting prowess, no account of his days on the plains or on the stage.

It is a detailed look at the five documented gunfights — and death — of Hickok. Rosa reconstructs each with contemporary records, presents diagrams and timelines, and looks at the weapons each party used. He also looks at how Hickok wore his guns and the provenance of several guns claimed to have been carried by Wild Bill.

For hardcore Wild Bill devotees, there is some new information uncovered by Rosa since They Called Him Wild Bill.

The illustrations are both plentiful and useful.


The Old West page.

They Called Him Wild Bill

Having just returned from South Dakota, it’s entirely appropriate I revive this retro-review from November 13, 2003.

Rosa, incidentally, is from Britain and still considered the world greatest authority on Mr. Hickok.

Review: They Called Him Wild Bill: The Life and Adventures of James Butler Hickok, Joseph G. Rosa, 1974.They Called Him Wild Bill

There are many figures from the American West whose lives are encrusted with legend and myth, but, with Wild Bill Hickok, the process started even before he was dead.

It was a short life, done at 39 when he was shot in the back by one Jack McCall in Deadwood, South Dakota.

In those 39 years, Hickok helped his father run a station in the Underground Railway, fought as a guerilla in Missouri, went behind enemy lines as a scout and spy in the Civil War, drove coaches and wagons, guided hunting parties, served as a detective for the U. S. government, prospected for gold, acted in a traveling stage show with Buffalo Bill Cody, gambled, and, most famously, served as a lawman in Hays and Abilene, Kansas. During that time, he killed men and exhibited a shooting skill with revolvers unmatched at the time.

I grew up not far from Deadwood, a town that has enshrined Hickok’s grave and memory, but this is the first full-length, adult biography of him I’ve read, and I found it a good, credible introduction to his life. Continue reading