John “Jack” McCall (1852 or 1853–March 3, 1877), also known as “Crooked Nose Jack” or “Broken Nose Jack”, was the murderer of Old West legend Wild Bill Hickok, shooting him from behind while he played poker at Nuttal & Mann’s Saloon in Deadwood, Dakota Territory on August 2, 1876.
Many of the details of McCall’s life are unknown. He was born in the early 1850s in Jefferson County, Kentucky. McCall was raised in Kentucky with three sisters, and eventually drifted west to become a buffalo hunter. By 1876, he was living in a gold mining camp outside Deadwood, under the alias “Bill Sutherland”.
Murder of Hickok
McCall was drinking at the bar at Nuttal & Mann’s saloon in Deadwood on August 1, 1876. When one of the players dropped out of a card game, which included “Wild Bill” Hickok, the inebriated McCall quickly took his place. McCall lost hand after hand, and was soon broke. Hickok offered McCall money to buy breakfast and advised him not to play again until he could cover his losses. Though McCall accepted the money, he reportedly felt insulted.
The killing of Hickok
On August 2, a poker game was once again underway at the saloon, but this time Hickok, in contrast to his normal habit of sitting in a corner to protect his back, had his back to the door. A resentful and drunken McCall shot Hickok in the back of the head with a single-action .45-caliber revolver, shouting “Damn you! Take that!” Hickok died instantly with no chance of defending himself. McCall ran from the saloon and attempted to steal a horse to make his escape, but fell from the excited animal. The fleeing McCall was soon apprehended, found hiding in the back of a local butcher shop.
An impromptu court was called to order with the prosecution, defense, and jury made up of local miners and businessmen. On trial the next day in McDaniel’s Theater, McCall now claimed his actions were in retribution for Hickok having previously killed his brother in Abilene, Kansas. McCall was found innocent after two hours. The verdict brought the Black Hills Pioneer to editorialize:
“Should it ever be our misfortune to kill a man… we would simply ask that our trial may take place in some of the mining camps of these hills.”
Fearing for his safety, McCall soon left the area and headed into Wyoming Territory, where he repeatedly bragged about the details of how he had killed Hickok in a “fair” gunfight. But the Wyoming authorities refused to recognize the result of McCall’s acquittal on the grounds that the court in Deadwood had no legal jurisdiction. Because Deadwood was not under a legally constituted law enforcement or court system, Wyoming officials argued that McCall could be tried again. Agreeing, the federal court in Yankton, Dakota Territory, declared that double jeopardy did not apply, and set a date for a retrial.
McCall was tried again in Yankton for Hickok’s murder, and was quickly found guilty. After almost three months in jail, he was hung on March 1, 1877, aged 24. He was buried in the Catholic cemetery. The cemetery was moved in 1881, when McCall’s body was exhumed and found to have the noose still around his neck. The killing of Hickok and the capture of McCall is reenacted every summer evening in Deadwood. McCall was the first person to be executed by federal officials in the Dakota Territory.