On the early morning hours of September 27, 1869, then lawman Wild Bill Hickok (and future gunslinger) responded to a report of men brawling at a saloon in Hays, Kansas. A local ruffian named Samuel Strawhun and several friends were tearing up John Bitter's Beer Saloon when Hickok arrived and ordered the men to stop, Strawhun turned to attack him, and Hickok shot him killing him instantly.
Famous for his skill with a pistol and steely-calm under fire, James Butler Hickok initially seemed to be the ideal man for the sheriff of Ellis County, Kansas. The good citizens of Hays City, the county seat, were tired of the wild brawls and destructiveness of the hard-drinking buffalo hunters and soldiers who took over their town every night. They hoped the famous "Wild Bill" could restore peace and order, and in the late summer of 1869, elected him as interim county sheriff. Hickok had a reputation as a deadly shot and this keep many potential lawbreakers on the straight and narrow. But when Hickok applied more aggressive methods of enforcing the peace, some Hays City citizens began to wonder about their decision. Shortly after becoming sheriff, Hickok shot a belligerent soldier who resisted arrest, and the man died the next day. A few weeks later Hickok killed Strawhun. While his brutal ways were indisputably effective, many Hays City citizens were less than impressed that after only five weeks in office he had already found it necessary to kill two men in the name of preserving peace. During the regular November election later that year, the people expressed their displeasure by not reelecting Hickok. Though Wild Bill Hickok would later go on to hold other law enforcement positions in the West, his first attempt at being a sheriff had lasted only three months.
Michael Thomas Barry is a columnist for CrimeMagazine.com and the author of Murder & Mayhem 52 Crimes that Shocked Early California 1849-1949. The book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link: