Today In History: Sheriff Wild Bill Hickok Kills Man In Barfight

Today In History |

September 27, 1869


Today in 1869, Wild Bill Hickok, sheriff of Ellis County, Kansas, got into a conflict with a man named Samuel Strawhun and his entourage of fellow drunks at John Bitter's Beer Saloon. Hickok, along with his deputy, responded to a report that Strawhun et al were brawling at the Saloon. Strawhun attacked Hickok, who responded by shooting him in the head and killing him.

Hickok got the position of Sheriff on the strength of his reputation as someone with an iron fist. Hays City, home of John Bitter's Beer Saloon, was fraught with drunken brawls instigated by soldiers and hunters. They elected Hickok sheriff in the summer if 1869, in the hopes that he could clean up the town.


Wild Bill was known for his steely cool and precise, ambidextrous shot. A shot that he employed liberally as sheriff. During a confrontation with a disorderly soldier, Hickok executed him on the spot for resisting arrest. The soldier died of his wounds a day later. Strawhun's murder came a few weeks later. The citizens of Hays City were understandably terrified and outraged by Hickok's methods.

The following November, Hickok lost re-election to his deputy, in a landslide victory. The votes were 144-89, in favor of the deputy.

Hickok's tenure as sheriff of Hays City was his first stint as a lawman, but not his last. Hickok is remembered today in part because of his own propensity to mythologize his exploits. While he claimed to kill hundreds of men in gunfights, historians claim that he probably killed six or seven during his lifetime. Still not a small number.

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Matt lives in Southern California. He is interested in politics, history, literature and the natural world.