It's been said that every honest man secretly welcomes a press agent, and in the case of James Butler Hickok he got his wish, and then some.
George Ward Nichols (1831-1885) was a journalist, born in Tremont, Maine. After the outbreak of the Civil War, Nichols joined the Union Army and served on the staff of John C. Fremont and later served under General William Sherman. Nichols rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel. At the close of the Civil War in 1865, Nichols wrote and published "The Story of The Great March" about Sherman's march to the sea. After the war, he returned to journalism and on a visit to Springfield, Missouri he ran into James Butler Hickok and decided to write up his exploits on the frontier. The subsequent article "Wild Bill Hitchcock," yes, Hickok was misspelled, appeared in the February, 1867 edition of Harper's New Monthly Magazine. The article made Wild Bill a celebrity but there was immediate blowback from out West as a variety of newspapers, including the Leavenworth Daily Conservative, The Kansas Daily Commonwealth, The Springfield Patriot and the Atchison Daily Champion slammed the stories as inaccurate, especially the part where Hickok claimed to have killed "hundreds of men." Stung by the criticism, Nichols moved to Cincinnati, Ohio and decided to write about music. He died there on the fifteenth of September, 1885.
All the media attention, both good and bad, fanned the flames of interest and soon enough Hickok graduated from being a regional folk hero, to a national celebrity and then, after the Combination theatrical tour with Buffalo Bill Cody, Wild Bill moved on up to the rarified air of a living legend.
Unfortunately, at the end of the day this put a very large target on his back and it was only a matter of time before someone took aim at that target.
"This yere is Wild Bill, Colonel," said Captain Honesty, an army officer addressing me. He continued:
"How are yer, Bill? This yere is Colonel N----, who wants ter know yer."
—Colonel George Ward Nichol's alleged meeting with Hickok
"Whenever you get into a row be sure and not shoot too quick. Take time. I've known many a feller slip up for shootin' in a hurry,"
—Wild Bill's advice on shooting, as quoted by Nichols
"I have told his story precisely as it was told to me, confirmed in all important points by many witnesses; and I have no doubt of its truth."
—George Ward Nichols
But the best quote, which I plan on using prominently in the book is this:
"Pretty near all these stories are true."
—Wild Bill Hickok
In fact, I love it so much, I may use it in the book advertising as well:
Note: The book is not even printed yet and this ad is just a rough (note the typo in second graph). So be patient, we'll get the landing site AND the book ready, soon.