Frances Barnhart: Tales of `Wild Bill' and the Old West

Article excerpt

Stories about the wild and woolly West of the mid-1800s are part of Frances Barnhart's family lore. Barnhart's great uncle was James Butler Hickok, better known as "Wild Bill" Hickok.

Hickok's adventures as scout, soldier, U.S. marshal and legendary marksman were passed down to Barnhart by her grandmother, Lydia Hickok Barnes, who was Wild Bill Hickok's sister.

Wild Bill Hickok was born in Pennsylvania, one of seven children of a Quaker family. He was 37 in 1877 when he was shot in the back while playing poker in a saloon in Deadwood City, S.D.

Barnhart said that was the first time Hickok had failed to sit with his back to the wall.

"The West was as rugged and wild as all get-out back then. Wild Bill was a marshal who went from town to town trying to control the lawlessness," Barnhart said. "He had the reputation for being the fastest draw in the West, so lots of people were out to get him."

Barnhart's grandmother told her that Hickok headed West from Troy Grove, Ill., when he was a young boy.

"When he was 14 he had consumption, and a doctor told the family to get him a horse and let him rough it in the fresh air, or he wouldn't live but a year," Barnhart said. "My grandmother said he was skin and bones, and they didn't think he'd live long enough to get up on the horse."

Barnhart's prized possession is a yellowed copy of "Hard Knocks" written by James Young, a friend of Wild Bill's. …