Born in Troy Grove, Illinois into an abolitionist family, James Hickok moved west in 1856 as the fight for Bloody Kansas began. In 1861, he joined Jim Lane’s Kansans as a civilian scout, just in time to participate in the Battle of Wilson’s Creek as a sharpshooter.
Hickok served the Union throughout the War, as a scout, courier, teamster and spy, attached first to Fremont’s command and then to the staff of Gen. Samuel R. Curtis. Before the Battle of Pea Ridge, Hickok and a small band infiltrated Confederate lines and brought Curtis intelligence regarding Confederate troop dispositions. He was also present when Zagonyi made his famous charge on Springfield in October, 1861, and was with Curtis at the Battle of Westport in 1864.
Legend holds that Hickok’s famous sobriquet, “Wild Bill,” was bestowed in 1862 by a bystander who witnessed him stare down a mob in Independence, Missouri. Hickok at the time was escorting an army supply train out of Ft.Leavenworth.
As the Civil War came to a close, Hickok ushered in the post-War West on July 21, 1865, in the square in Springfield, Missouri. There he gunned down ex-Confederate Dave Tutt in the first-ever western-style gunfight.