Around the Island

Friday Night Dialogues: Wild Bill Hickok

If you love stories of the Old West, you won’t want to miss Tom Clavin’s appearance at Friday Night Dialogues, April 26th at 7 p.m. Clavin is author or co-author of 16 books, including the recently released “Wild Bill: The True Story of the American Frontier’s First Gunfighter.”

Clavin wrote the New York Times bestseller “Dodge City: Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson and the Wickedest Town in the American West.” He co-wrote with Bob Drury the New York Times bestseller “The Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud, An American Legend.”

In his introduction to “Wild Bill,” Clavin recalls how after the success of “Dodge City” he wondered what might come next. 

“Next turned out to be not going forward in time, but to step back a few years,” he wrote. “Before the heyday of Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Doc Holliday and other iconic figures who continue to populate our books and screens, there was arguably the most iconic of all: James Butler Hickok.”

In July 1865, “Wild Bill” Hickok shot and killed Davis Tutt in Springfield, Missouri in what’s come to be known as the first quick-draw duel on the frontier. Hickok worked variously as a soldier, Union spy, scout, lawman, gunfighter, gambler, showman, actor and more. 

In his travels, he crossed paths with General George Custer, Buffalo Bill Cody and Kit Carson. He was romantically involved with Calamity Jane. And, after an exaggerated story of his exploits was touted in a widely read article in Harpers Magazine, he became a target for every young gun wanting to prove himself against the quickest draw in the West.

For Clavin, Wild Bill proved an irresistible subject. People think they know the story of Wild Bill, Clavin writes. Sure they know the legend of “the gallant plainsman and gunslinger who helped dozen of villains to meet their maker.”

While there are elements of truth behind the legend, Clavin writes, “thankfully, the true and still to some degree untold-accurately tale … is pretty surprising.”

Clavin has been a full-time resident of Sag Harbor since 1982. Readers of the East Hampton Star and papers in The Independent group of weeklies might recall Clavin for his 10-year stint as editor-in-chief. He’s also been a columnist and contributing writer at The Press News Group.

He wrote for the New York Times for 15 years. He’s contributed to such magazines as Golf, Men’s Journal, Parade, Reader’s Digest, and Smithsonian, among others. He’s received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation, and the National Newspaper Association.

Born in the Bronx, he grew up on Long Island and attended Suffolk Community College. He went on to study at the University of Southern California, SUNY Albany and SUNY Stony Brook, earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English and Literature.

Join Tom Clavin on Friday, April 26, 7 p.m. for Friday Night Dialogues at the Shelter Island Public Library, and learn more about one of the most intriguing figures in American history.

Up next, “Austen Mania” with WSHU’s Joan Baum, Friday, May 3, at 7 p.m.