Trial of Jack McCall
The Trial of Jack McCall has been performed in Deadwood since the mid-1920s, making it one of nation’s longest running plays. The play is based on the actual trial which took place in the mining camp of Deadwood after Jack McCall murdered James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok. Wild Bill was playing poker in Nuttal and Mann’s Saloon No. 10 and was shot in the back of the head while holding Aces and Eights, forever known as the “Dead Man’s Hand”.
This is a family-friendly show where the selected members of the audience participate in the performance serving as jurors in the trial. The show is held nightly Monday through Saturday with the schedule as outlined below. There is a nominal fee for the show. Tickets can be purchased by using the calendar on the bottom of this page or by calling 1-800-344-8826
MONDAYS – SATURDAYS
May 25 – September 21, 2019
$6 Adults, $5 Seniors and $3 Children
Call (800) 344-8826
Purchase tickets at the door before the show. Tickets are also available on the information wagon on Main Street.
- 7:35 p.m. – Shooting of Wild Bill and the Capture of Jack McCall Main Street in front of the Old Style Saloon NO. 10/Bodega
- 7:50 p.m. – The Blackpowder Pistols Band at the Historic Masonic Temple Theatre Top of Main Street next to the Silverado
- 8:00 p.m. – Trial at the Historic Masonic Temple Theatre Top of Main Street next to the Silverado
Blackout dates apply.
Many details of McCall’s life are unknown. He was born in the early 1850s in Jefferson County, Kentucky. McCall was raised in Kentucky with three sisters and eventually drifted west to become a buffalo hunter. By 1876, he was living in a gold mining camp outside Deadwood, under the alias “Bill Sutherland”.
Murder of Hickok
McCall was drunk at the bar at Nuttal & Mann’s saloon in Deadwood on August 1, 1876, when one of the players dropped out of a card game that included “Wild Bill” Hickok. The inebriated McCall quickly took his place. McCall proceeded to lose several hands, and was soon broke. Hickok offered McCall money to buy breakfast and advised him not to play again until he could cover his losses. Though McCall accepted the money, he reportedly felt insulted.
On August 2, a poker game was once again under way at the saloon, but this time Hickok had his back to the door, in contrast to his normal practice of sitting in a corner to protect his back. A resentful and drunken McCall shot Hickok in the back of the head with a single-action .45-caliber revolver, shouting “Damn you! Take that!” Hickok died instantly. McCall ran from the saloon and attempted to steal a horse to escape, but fell from the excited animal. McCall was soon found hiding in the back of a local butcher shop and apprehended.
An impromptu court was called to order with the prosecution, defense, and jury made up of local miners and businessmen. On trial the next day in McDaniel’s Theater, McCall claimed his actions were in retribution for Hickok having previously killed his brother in Abilene, Kansas. McCall was found not guilty after two hours. The verdict brought the Black Hills Pioneer to editorialize: “Should it ever be our misfortune to kill a man… we would simply ask that our trial may take place in some of the mining camps of these hills.”
Second trial and execution
Fearing for his safety, McCall soon left the area and headed into Wyoming Territory, where he repeatedly bragged about killing Hickok in a “fair” gunfight. But Wyoming authorities refused to recognize the result of McCall’s acquittal on the grounds that the court in Deadwood had no legal jurisdiction. Because Deadwood was not under a legally constituted law enforcement or court system, officials argued that McCall could be tried for murder again. Agreeing, the federal court in Yankton, Dakota Territory, declared that double jeopardy did not apply, and set a date for a retrial.
McCall was tried again in Yankton for Hickok’s murder, and was quickly found guilty. After almost three months in jail, he was hanged on March 1, 1877, aged 24.
Aftermath and legacy
McCall was buried in Sacred Heart Cemetery in Yankton County, South Dakota, a cemetery which was moved in 1881. When McCall’s body was exhumed, it was found to still have the noose around its neck. McCall was the first person to be executed by federal officials in the Dakota Territory.
The killing of Hickok and the capture of McCall is reenacted every summer evening (except Mondays) at the Masonic Temple in Deadwood.