Wild Bill Hickok and the American West Gallery
The legendary Wild Bill Hickok was a gunfighter, scout, lawman, and gambler. He is known in Springfield for his infamous shoot-out on the public square, which is believed to be the first recorded "wild west" style shoot-out. Wild West shoot-outs are classified as informal and personal encounters as opposed to gentlemanly duels. Hickok came to the Springfield area during the Civil War. After the Civil War, he worked as a lawman in Springfield; although, Hickok was also very well known for his gambling and hot temper. One man that Hickok came into contact with was Davis K. Tutt, who ended up at odds with Hickok in July of 1865.
Backstory and Context
Tutt and Hickok were playing a poker at the Lyon House Hotel on South Street. Though they had been friendly to some degree in the past, there was tension between them. Tutt was coaching and funding Hickok’s opponents, trying to bankrupt him. Then Tutt started calling in debts that Hickok owed him. Hickok paid some of the debts but grew angry as Tutt continued listing off alleged debts. After Hickok’s refusal to make further payments, Tutt took Hickok’s prized golden pocket watch to keep as collateral. Hickok demanded that Tutt return the watch and threatened to kill Tutt if he ever saw him wearing it.
The next day, Hickok found Tutt on the Square wearing the watch. Wild Bill entered the Square from South Street and Tutt came in at the northwest corner. Both men stopped to face each other, around 75 yards apart. Witnesses claim that Tutt was the first to make the draw, but Hickok was the one to make the first shot and Tutt fell dead on the courthouse steps. Hickok turned himself in and, after a three-day trial by jury, he was found not guilty of manslaughter because the jury could not determine which man was the aggressor.
The History Museum offers a Shoot out Experience that offers visitors the opportunity to test their aim and see if they can shoot like Wild Bill Hickok. Inside of the circular room is a 360 degree painting of what the public square would have looked like during the 1860s. A target appears on one side of the room and moves to the simulated distance and location of Wild Bill's shot and give you three chances to hit the bulls-eye.
Also in the gallery is a display case of items associated with Wild Bill during the shootout's time.
- Gold Pocket Watch, Chain & Fob - A handsome pocket watch similar to this Waltham model led to the 1865 shoot-out. Wearing Hickok's watch onto Springfield's Public Square proved fatal for Davis Tutt.
- Colt Army Revolver - Hickok preferred the .36 Caliber Navy Colt for its accuracy and light weight, but for power at greater distances, this .44 Caliber Army Colt may have been his pistol of choice. Some witnesses and experts suggest he carried a pistol like this one on the fateful day, but the truth may never be known.
- Playing Cards - These playing cards may have been the type used in 1865. Early playing cards depicted only the suit and the value without numbers or letters for quick identification.
- Poker Chips - Colorful poker chips like these would have been on the gambling tables around Springfield at the time of Hickok's encounter with Davis Tutt. Made a bone or ivory and decorated with dyes, they were much thinner than chips used today.