I enjoyed the August 2019 feature article “The Coward Who Shot Wild Bill,” on Deadwood badman Jack McCall, by Wild Bill Hickok biographer Aaron Woodard. I recently reviewed Woodard’s book The Revenger: The Life and Times of Wild Bill Hickok for The Tombstone Epitaph and found the study to be a valuable addition to the Hickok story, especially as it pertains to McCall. Readers may be interested to know that Yankton, S.D., monument sculptor Scott Luken recently erected a monument [see above] to McCall in the Sacred Heart Cemetery near the border with the Yankton City Cemetery. During the creation of the McCall monument the Archdiocese of Omaha wanted some input into the monument’s design, as it would be sitting in a Catholic cemetery. The Catholic leaders opted to have a scripture carved on the backside of the monument, which seems entirely appropriate for the mysterious and infamous man that was Jack McCall. According to Luken, who donated the monument, the site now gives Old West enthusiasts a place to pay their respects to a man whose story Yankton inherited so many years ago.
The August 2019 issue of Wild West was another generally well-written compilation of articles. Well done. Regarding Aaron Woodard’s “The Coward Who Shot Wild Bill,” one of Jack McCall’s appointed lawyers was Oliver Shannon. The presiding judge was Peter Shannon. Were the two Shannons related? If so, were there any concerns of a conflict of interest?
Colonel John E. Kosobucki
U.S. Army (Ret.)
Falls Church, Va.
Aaron Woodard responds: There is difference of opinion as to whether or not Oliver and Peter Shannon were related. One source says Oliver was Peter’s adopted brother, while another asserts they had the same parents, while yet a third source claims they were just good friends with the same surname. The only way to clear it up would be DNA testing of the remains or of descendants. On the issue of a conflict of interest, I am a historian, not an attorney (thank goodness), so I consulted a state deputy attorney here in Sioux Falls with your question. The answer, as with so many things of the legal realm, is it depends. In South Dakota it would be a conflict of interest for a judge and defense attorney in the same case to be brothers; in other jurisdictions it is not. However, conflicts can be waived if all parties in the case are amenable. It is also my guess that the legal environment in Dakota back in the 1870s was, shall we say, more relaxed and less attuned to what would probably be considered legal trivialities.
Thank you for the detailed article [“Bloodbath at Pyramid Lake”] on the First and Second Battles of Pyramid Lake in the June 2019 issue. Gregory Couch’s research truly paid off in the insightful and factually comprehensive understanding of this little reported episode in frontier history between American Indians and American settlers. The article accurately and effectively conveyed not only the operational and tactical actions of both parties, including the colossal failure of William Ormsby—who, I discovered while reading the article, “bore the honorary title of major”—but also the incredible losses suffered by the settlers (“the worst loss of white life in an Indian fight since 107 soldiers were killed during the 1835 Dade Massacre in central Florida,” and remaining the worst defeat “until 268 men under Lt. Col. George A. Custer were killed 16 years later at the Little Bighorn in Montana Territory”). The map on P. 48 of the article is a superb rendition of Ormsby’s folly, starting at the Big Bend of the Truckee River and continuing on to the southern end of Pyramid Lake.
By comparing [Ormsby’s force] to the professional soldiers of the Regular Army out of Fort Alcatraz, under the leadership of Captain Joseph Stewart, and Colonel John Coffee Hays and his “Washoe Regiment,” the author was able to convey a lesson in the difference between personally brave yet blundering amateurs unschooled in guerrilla, or fourth-generation, warfare and seasoned and experienced professionals. Given his lifetime of contributions to the Old West frontier of the American republic—beginning in San Antonio, Texas, and ending in Oakland, Calif.—Hays ought to be as heralded and well known as any other Western personality. Lawman, gunfighter, soldier, pioneer, businessman and patriot are among the many descriptions of this individual, and I am grateful to see at least one chapter of his life highlighted in your magazine.
Director, John Coffee Hays Club
Walnut Creek, Calif.
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