Duck Bill Hickok, the Influential Rich, and Public Libraries

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July 31, 2014 by libroshombre

The first wild west shootout occurred 99 years ago last week when the gambler Bill Hickok and cowboy David Tutt squared off over women, money, and a pocket watch.  It seems that Bill, a former scout for the Union army, might have impregnated Confederate veteran Tutt’s sister, while Tutt was flirting with Hickok’s main squeeze.  Things came to a head when Hickok refused to play cards with Tutt, who in turn bankrolled some friends to play in his stead.  They lost $200 of Tutt’s money, and he snatched Hickok’s pocket watch, claiming Hickok owed him money.  Featured imageSurrounded by Tutt’s buddies, Hickok didn’t argue but warned him not to wear it in public.  They met in the town square the next day, walked 75 paces apart, and simultaneously pulled their handguns and fired.  Tutt fired first but missed, while the more deliberate Hickok plugged his adversary through the heart.

The best source on his topic is Bill O’Neal’s “The Encyclopedia of Western Gunfighters,” where you’ll learn that Hickok’s first deadly dustup happened four years earlier in 1861.  He was working as a lowly stagecoach attendant and messing around with the paramour of a local rancher named McCanles, who enjoyed “calling Hickok ‘Duck Bill,’ a slur upon his facial features, and ‘hermaphrodite,’ Featured imagea slur upon certain other of his features.”  It wasn’t the sort of gunfight featured in countless westerns.  McCanles called him out, but Hickok refused to leave the stage station.  When McCanles entered the building, he “was promptly shot to death by Hickok,” who was hiding behind a curtain.

Most of the 587 gunfights listed in the book are similarly ignoble, but all “involved men who proved themselves professionals.”  The majority of the shootouts took place in Texas, “the most violent western area, and they were most common in the 1870’s and early 1880’s,” with the last coming when lawman Bill Tilghman was gunned down in 1924.  Many gunfighters sported nicknames based on physical characteristics (Flat Nose Curry and Cockeyed Frank Loving), personality traits (Happy Jack Morco and Mysterious Dave Mather), and “occupational tendencies” (Doc Holliday and Dynamite Dick Clifton).

It took brave men to wrangle with these desperadoes, and while some found fame, like Bat Masterson anFeatured imaged Pat Garrett, most didn’t get rich doing it, which brings up a recent study from Duke University that asked 1,519 American participants what they’d for $1 million.  On the positive side, seven in eight said they wouldn’t kick a friendly dog in the head, but twenty percent said they would sign a statement saying “I hereby Featured imagesell my soul, after my death, to whoever has this piece of paper,” and all but 6 percent said they’d do it for less than $1 million, and 3 percent said they’d do it for free.

Really rich people are oblivious to such temptations.  A “Perspectives in Politics” article by Martin Gilens analyzed 1,779 governmental policy outcomes over 20 years and concluded that “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.”  The Washington Post article on this study adds that “the collective preferences of ordinary citizens had only a negligible estimated impact on policy outcomes, while the collective preferences of ‘economic elites’ (citizens at the 90th percentile of the income distribution) were 15 times as important.”

It’s no wonder so many Americans don’t vote or get involved in civic concerns.  Still, it’s interesting to compare that sad fact to how many of our fellow citizens utilize their public libraries to obtain important information, handle personal business, boost their educational pursuits, and otherwise improve their lives.  Last December the Pew Research Center reported that about half of all Americans used their public libraries the previous year.

Modern public libraries aggregate information affordably, and help their users nFeatured imageavigate the plethora of information swamping our modern society.  It’s not like that in most countries.  At your American public library you can say, like Butch Cassidy, “I have a vision, and the rest of the world wears bifocals.”

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