Friday, November 28, 2014

I&M Canal NHC at 30: Wild Bill Hickok

Exactly what does Wild Bill Hickok have to do with the Illinois & Michigan Canal and my series honoring the 30th anniversary of Ronald Reagan signing into law the first National Heritage Area, the I&M National Heritage Corridor?

James Butler Hickok was born in what is now Troy Grove, Illinois, about a dozen miles north of the canal. His parents were deeply religious and they were abolitionists who aided escaped slaves traveling the Underground Railroad.

Young Hickok was known as an expert marksman--there was plenty of game to shoot in this recently-settled part of Illinois.

Wild Bill worked as a mule driver on the the Illinois & Michigan Canal at LaSalle. It was there in 1855 when Hickok's first recorded fight--a bare knuckles encounter--with another mule boy, Charlie Hudson, a bully. Both of them ended up in the canal and Wild Bill mistakenly thought he had killed Hudson. Hickok then fled to Leavenworth, Kansas where he began his life as a plainsman. He was a scout for the Union during the Civil War. After the war Hickok was a lawman and gunfighter and of course a legend of the Old West. He was murdered while playing poker by Jack McCall in Deadwood, South Dakota in 1876.

Hickok was born at what is now a park in the center of Troy Grove, which is graced by a bust of the village's favorite son.

Pictured above is a 1929 state historical marker about Hickok, where Will Bill is credited, among other things, with "making the west a safer place for woman (sic) and children."

As for contemporary Troy Grove, it's a tiny town, only about 350 people live there.

Now we're down in LaSalle. In the background is a steel silhouette of a Hickok the mule driver.

The I&;M Canal at Lock 16 in LaSalle. On the left is a working passenger barge. The canal probably didn't look too much different from this vantage point when Hickok was a mule driver.

This is one of the two mules that pull the barge. To see the other one, you have to watch my Hickok video.

Next: LaSalle

  Related post:

August 2, 1876: Dead man's hand and the shooting of Wild Bill Hickok

  Earlier I&M Canal NHC at 30 posts:

No comments: