James Butler "Wild Bill" Hickok would have like Yankton

 

Jack McCall probably didn't feel the same way.

 

Wild Bill Hickok Jack McCall McCall's Trial The Verdict McCall Last Seen Hanging Around Yankton The "New" Old West


 

This is the text from The Press and Dakotan Newspaper (Yankton – Dakota Territory) reporting on the hanging of Jack McCall for the murder of William “Wild Bill” Hickok.

From March 2nd, 1877


THE GALLOWS
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Jack McCall the Murderer of Wild Bill Executed
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He Meets Death With Unshrinking Firmness
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Full Particulars of the Closing Scene
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On the 2nd of August last in Deadwood City, in the Black Hills, a tragedy was enacted which for its coldblooded and bloodthirsty character startled even the rough miners and motley denizens of that wild western city. Wm. Hickok known as “Wild Bill” was shot dead in a saloon while engaged at playing cards with Capt. Massey and one or two others, and his assassin, Jack McCall, today paid the awful penalty upon the gallows.

A brief resume of the history of this important and tragic case may be appropriate. After the assassination of Wild Bill, in the hills, his murderer was given a farcical trial by an improvised tribunal and acquitted upon his own statement that his excuse for the commission of the offence was that Wild Bill had killed his brother in Kansas which statement, as he subsequently admitted was an entire fabrication.

Fleeing from the Black Hills, McCall was next found in Laramie City, where he boasted of his bloody deed in sending the soul of William Hickok suddenly into the presence of its Maker. Here he was apprehended by Untied States marshal, St. Balcombe, of Nebraska, and handed over to United States Marshal Burdick of Dakota, and by him confined to jail to await trial.

During the session of the Untied States court in October last an indictment for murder was found against the prisoner, and at the same term, United States District Attorney Wm. Pound moved his case for trial. The prisoner was without means to procure counsel and the Hon. G.G. Bennett, then holding court in this judicial district, assigned Gen W.H.H. Beadle and Oliver Shannon, Esq., to defend him. A motion for a continuance was overruled and on the 27th of November the case was called and after a very exciting trial lasting several days, the jury found the prisoner guilty of murder in the first degree. His counsel immediately gave notice of a motion for a new trial on the grounds of want of jurisdiction, alleging that Deadwood was not within the limits of Dakota territory, and upon the illegal admission of documentary evidence. This motion Judge Shannon overruled to which ruling exceptions were taken to the supreme court on writ of error. After argument, before the supreme court, composed of Chief Justice P.C. Shannon and Associates A.H. Banes and G.G. Bennett, the decision of the court below was affirmed on the 19th of January last and the case remanded for execution of judgment.

The prisoner had in the meantime been sentenced on the 3rd day of January last by Judge Shannon to be hanged on the 1st day of March, between the hours of 9 o’clock a.m. and 2 o’clock p.m. While pronouncing sentence upon the prisoner the court house was densely packed by a curious throng, and during the delivery of the impressive language of the court, he the prisoner seemed least moved of all present, though a slight quiver of the lips was perceptible when the judge dwelt pathetically upon the teachings and prayers of a mother.

After the affirmance by the supreme court of the rulings of the district court the prisoner’s counsel made a last effort to obtain from the president a commutation of the death sentence to imprisonment for life. In this they failed, the U.S. attorney general having notified U.S. Marshal Burdick some days ago, that the president, after an examination of the case, declined to interfere.

McCall upon being informed that all earthly hope was gone, evinced no shrinking or physical cowardice, but on the contrary was even more exuberant in spirits than his fellow prisoners

 

Several ministers among them Rev. Jos. Ward, of the Congregationalist church, and Rev. J.A. Potter, of the M.E. church of this city, had during his long incarceration proffered their sacred offices in administering to the doomed man spiritual consolation, but we understand he respectfully declined their religious offices, though he read much in the Bible. Latterly he has received the ministrations of Rev. Father Daxacher, a Roman Catholic priest, who was with him almost constantly yesterday and last night.

This morning dawned cloudily, with a drizzling rain, the heavens seemingly draped in sombre colorings for some specially dreadful occasion. At half past eight o’clock we were admitted to the United States jail, where we found U.S. Marshal Burdick, Deputy Marshals C.P. Edmunds and Stanley, Rev. Father Daxacher and J.A. Curry, his assistant. The Rev. Father was then engaged in religious ministrations with the condemned man, who seemed resigned to his fate. His fellow prisoners, McCarty and Allen, seemed more moved by the solemn ceremonies than McCall.

At 9 o’clock a.m. Marshal Burdick, in the presence of the deputies named, and the others present, read to the doomed man the death warrant. During the reading of this document he manifested his usual apparent firmness, listening attentively, seemingly, though at the time his soul must have been peering into the awful mysteries of the future. His irons had been removed and at the conclusion of the reading he stepped into his cell for a few moments. Upon his return he conversed briefly, in a whisper, with his spiritual adviser. An air of gloom pervaded the interior of the jail, and Allen and McCarty hung their heads in silence. Outside the jail yard, in the drizzling rain, was a crowd of curious lookers on, anxious apparently to catch a fleeting glance of the unfortunate man who was so soon to expiate his crime on the gibbet.

McCall had prepared a written statement which he designed should be published in our columns, after his death, but for some reason unknown to us he last evening destroyed the same. Evidently, his wished to hide, if possible, all trace of his past life.

At half past nine, everything being in readiness, the condemned man bade farewell to his fellow prisoners, and left his prison house for the last time. There present at this time, L.D.F. Poore, representing the New York Herald, Bryant, reporter of a New England journal; Dr. Wixson and the Taylor Bros. of the Dakota Herald, and Phil K. Faulk, representing the Press and Dakotian, Rev. Father Daxacher, J.A. Curry, his assistant, U.S. Marshal Burdick and Deputies C.P. Edmunds, H.C. Ash, R.J. Stanley and Geo. D. Mathieson, special guard.

Upon leaving the jail, Marshal Burdick, with Deputy Marshal Ash, occupied a light carriage, and led the way. They were followed by a carriage containing McCall, with Rev. Father Daxacher and his assistant, J.A. Curry, Deputy Marshal C.P. Edmunds, and ourself. This mournful train, bearing its living victim to the grave, was preceded and followed by a long line of vehicles of every description, with hundreds on horseback and on foot, all leading north, out through Broadway. The rain which was failing had moistened the earth and deadened the sound of the carriage wheels. Not a word was spoken during the ride two miles to the school section north of the Catholic cemetery. McCall still continued to bear up bravely, even after the gallows loomed in full view. At ten o’clock precisely the place of execution was reached. Sheriff Baker and Marshal Leeper had charge of police regulations at the ground, and had so efficiently discharged their duties in this respect that there was no crowding or other unseemly conduct at the scaffold. As soon as possible after reaching the ground the prisoner mounted the platform of the gallows, accompanied by Deputy Marshal Ash. He evinced the same firmness and nerve that have always characterized him since his arrest and trial. He placed himself in the centre of the platform facing east and gazed out over the throng without exhibiting the least faltering; not even a quiver of the lip. U.S. Marshal Burdick, with Deputy Ash, Rev. Father Daxacher and his assistant, Mr. Curry, were the only parties upon the platform. Immediately the limbs of the unfortunate culprit were pialoned, when he knelt with his spiritual counsel. Turning his face toward heaven his lips were seen to move in prayer. Upon rising he kissed the crucifix and after the black cap had been placed over his face, the U.S. Marshal placed the noose around his neck. He then said “wait on moment Marshal until I pray.” Marshal Burdick waited until he had uttered a prayer and then adjusted the noose when he said “draw it tighter, marshal.” All was now in readiness, and the assemblage of nearly one thousand persons, seemed to hold their breath. It was an awful moment – the single step between life and death.



 

At precisely fifteen minutes after ten o’clock the trap was sprung, and with a single chocking expression “Oh God,” uttered while the drop fell the body of John McCall was dangling between heaven and earth. The drop was four feet and everything having been carefully arranged there was but a brief struggle with the King of Terrors.

The gallows was a frame eight by ten feet square. The platform in which the trap was arranged was eight feet from the ground. The entire structure from two feet above the platform to the ground was closely boarded up, so that is was impossible to observe the last death struggle of the unfortunate man. This arrangement reflects credit upon Marshal Burdick and evinces the prudence and care with which every part of his painful duty was performed in connection with the last fleeting hours of John McCall.

Twelve minutes after the drop fell, Drs. D.F. Etter and J.M. Miller, were admitted to the interior of the gallows and examined the body, pronouncing life extinct. McCalls head was inclined in a drooping position toward his breast his hands were clenched and blue, in one of which as still grasped the crucifix. After hanging ten minutes longer, the body was cut down and placed in a neat walnut coffin, after which it was removed to the south west corner of the Catholic cemetery, where in full view of Yankton, two miles distant, it sleeps its long sleep.

Upon the scaffold, McCall, neatly attired in black, cleanly shaven and of slight build, looked indeed boyish, but met his death with the most unshrinking courage. Of all upon that fatal scaffold, he seemed least affected. Poor boy the way of the transgressor is hard.

From a letter received last evening by Marshal Burdick it is ascertained John McCall, is the true name of the young man executed to day. Upon being shown the letter, McCall admitted it was from his sister in Louisville, Kentucky, where he also has a father and mother who had not heard of their wayward son for three years.

The last chapter is ended and John McCall and William Hickok are in eternity. Truly life is a dream filled with exciting shadows and sometimes ending suddenly in deeper shadow, like the frightful awakening from a horrid nightmare.

With regard to the execution, it must be said here that Marshal Burdick, with his assistants, Deputies Edmunds, Ash Stanley and special guard Geo. D Mathieson performed their unpleasant duties most admirably. There was no indecent basteno bungling, and no ledions waiting. They all deserve credit for efficiency and prudence in conducting to a close properly this last act in the life of Jack McCall. To Marshal Burdick we are personally under obligations, for gentlemanly courtesies shown and facilities given enabling us to give a truthful account of this first legal execution in Dakota Territory.

As a fitting close to this tragic drama we may say of “Wild Bill,” notwithstanding his eventful and exciting career as a scout of the union army during the war, and on the frontier and the wild plains of the west, amongst wild and lawless whites, and still more savage red men, he was still a quiet and unassuming man, peaceable and harmless, except when menaced by the cold glitter of the bowie knife or the deadly muzzle of the revolver. At such times his nerve and cold daring were unparalleled. As soldier, scout, marshal, sheriff and private citizen, his qualities enabled him always, by rapidity of execution and extraordinary fearlessness, to defeat and destroy his enemies when the odds were overwhelming. No open enemy could have taken his life, except by sacrificing his own, and it remained for Jack McCall to assassinate him in an unsuspecting hour, when his back was toward the enemy. Though his life was bloody and adventurous, yet he was the champion of the weak and oppressed and if he was not a paragon of excellence, he was at least a man of brave impulses.

This sign marks the spot where Jack McCall was hung in Yankton

Historical Marker on the site where Jack McCall was hung for the murder of Wild Bill Hickok
(click photo for larger view)


Stops along the Tailsville Trail...

St. Louis, Yankton, Dodge City, Amarillo, Tombstone, Fort Laramie, the Badlands, Harney Peak and Deadwood just to name a few.