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Agnes Lake Hickok, Wild Bill’s Wife

It wasn’t easy being married to the deadliest pistoleer in the Old West, but Agnes Lake Hickok wasn’t one to shy away from difficulty. She was more than ten years older than Wild Bill Hickok when they married on March 5, 1876, and a fairly well-known woman in her own right. Agnes was an accomplished equestrian and star of Lake’s Circus, a traveling company of acrobats, tight-rope walkers, and trained animals. The circus was owned and operated by her first husband, Bill Lake. When Bill was murdered in 1869, Agnes was left to raise their daughter and carry on with the show alone. She crossed paths with William Butler Hickok when the circus was making its way through Kansas. He was impressed with her horseback riding skills and ability to manage a business on her own. Two months after Agnes and Wild Bill wed, the famous gunman left to look for gold in the Black Hills of the Dakotas. The couple exchanged a number of letters proclaiming their love for one another, but their happily ever after was never realized. Wild Bill Hickok was killed at the Number 10 saloon in Deadwood, South Dakota on August 2, 1876. He was playing poker when a drunk named Jack McCall shot him in the back of the head. Agnes was with her daughter in Ohio when she received the news that Bill had been murdered. Bill Hickok was laid to rest in the Ingleside area of Deadwood, the site of the town’s first Boothill. According to the August 29, 1929, edition of the Anita, Iowa, newspaper, The Tribune, among Bill’s personal effects was a note he had written to Agnes dated August 1, 1876. “Agnes, darling: If such should be that we never meet again, while firing my last shot, I will greatly breathe the name of my wife, even for my enemies, I will make the plunge and try to swim to the other shore.” The following are a five love lessons Agnes learned:
  1.  Western legends, such as Wild Bill Hickok, found successful business women attractive. According to the cowboy slang of the day, “Hosses an’ smart ‘wimmen will shore make a man go whistlin’, provided he’s still young ‘nough to pucker.”
  2.  Nothing was more appealing to an Old West lawman than a damsel in distress. Hickok’s friends noted that once he spoke up for the Widow Lake at the city council meeting, “a look, a smile, or a kind word from her could win him.”
  3. Agnes was not overawed by Wild Bill’s celebrity. Whereas most women at that time might have been quick to marry the legend and not the man, she suggested they get to know one another better by writing letters. Talk of love and marriage came after courtship by correspondence.
  4. A woman who knew her way around a horse and respected the animal was appreciated. Agnes was a talented equestrian and confident in her ability. She could ride like a man, but never forgot she was a woman.
  5. The eleven year age difference between Agnes and Wild Bill was a plus. As an older woman, she wasn’t interesting in competing for Hickok’s attention on the same level as others. She was self-sufficient and emotionally stable.
Chris Enss is the COWGIRL Book Editor, and a New York Times Bestselling author who writes about women of the Old West. For more stories about these wild women, visit www.chrisenss.com for more information on her books.