The Black Hills Travel Blog

Missing grave of Hickok’s killer

By • Jun 3rd, 2009 • Category: Discoveries

Wild Bill Hickok

I came across this interesting little bit of history by way of our friends at state Tourism.

Jack McCall, the  man who in August 1876 shot Wild Bill Hickok in the head while Hickok played poker in the Saloon No. 10 in Deadwood, was hanged in Yankton on March 1, 1877. After his execution, McCall was buried in the Yankton Catholic cemetery — with the rope still around his neck.

That fact was discovered in 1881, when the cemetery was moved. McCall’s body was dug up, and someone took a look inside the coffin.

And here’s the weird part: Apparently McCall was not buried in the new cememtery with the rest of the folks. In fact, nobody knows exactly where his body is.

Here’s the story from state Tourism.

PIERRE, S.D. – Jack McCall was born around 1853 in Jefferson County, Kentucky and died March 1, 1877 in Yankton, Dakota Territory. He was hung for the killing of James “Wild Bill” Hickok, shooting him from behind while he was playing poker at Saloon #10 in Deadwood in 1876.

McCall was raised in Kentucky and drifted west to become a buffalo hunter and was living in Deadwood by 1876. The killing was over McCall’s drunken resentment. The day before the killing, Hickok offered McCall money to buy breakfast after McCall had lost it all playing poker. McCall claimed the killing was retribution for Hickok having killed McCall’s brother in Abilene, Kansas, or perhaps it was that Hickok was cheating at cards.

McCall then fled to Wyoming, where he bragged about the details of how he had killed Hickok in a gunfight. Authorities refused to recognize the result of his first trial on the grounds of Deadwood being Indian Territory at the time and contended McCall could legally be tried again. Deadwood was an illegal settlement, with no legally constituted law enforcement or court system. The federal court in Yankton declared that double jeopardy did not apply and he was tried and hung there.

McCall was hung on March 1, 1877 at the age of 24. He was the first person to be executed by United States officials in Dakota Territory. After his execution, it was determined that McCall never had a brother.

He was buried in the old Catholic cemetery not too far away from the hanging. When the cemetery was moved in 1881, McCall’s body was unearthed. According to the local newspaper: “In removing the bodies from the old Catholic cemetery to the new one, the grave of Jack McCall was opened and the body removed with the coffin. It was discovered that McCall had been buried with the rope around his neck that strangled him.”

The precise location of McCall’s grave is unknown.

The site of the hanging is marked by a historical plaque at the intersection of Highway 81 and Highway 50, located in the parking lot on the south end of the Human Services Center in Yankton.

About the Author

is an on-again, off-again Black Hills resident since 1978. The Aberdeen native hit the road after high school, building houses in Boulder, working oil rigs on Colorado's Western Slope, delivering cars in California. In Wyoming and Idaho, he worked as a newspaper journalist. But the Black Hills kept luring him back. For 18 years, he wrote for the Rapid City Journal. The job gave him a chance to see the Hills from atop Mount Rushmore and the bottom of the Homestake Mine. Whenever possible, Dan grabs his dog Kody and heads to the Hills. These days, he's perfecting the art of low-impact backpacking: hike two hours to a scenic spot, break out the wine, cook up the pasta, watch the sunset and fall asleep under the stars.
Email this author | All posts by