Interesting and Amazing Facts About the Dead Man’s Hand

For hundreds of years, playing cards have been a part of our culture. We can expect many great stories about them. The legend of the Dead Man’s Hand is one of the most well-known stories.

Gamblers are very superstitious people and believe in lucky dice and lucky cards. A lot of hands of playing cards have even special names.

Perhaps none more famous than the Dead Man’s Hand, a pair of black aces and black eights.

What is the story behind this seemingly unlucky hand that could be a sign of death? What parts of this tale are the myths and which ones are history? Read on and decide for yourself.

Wild Bill Hickok

First, let’s introduce you to Wild Bill Hickok (1837-1876). Although his real name was James Butler Hickok (although it sounds a lot more impressive when you’re a famous Wild West gunman), “Wild Bill” was the right choice. His long nose and large lips led to the nickname “Duck Bill” when he was young.

However, Wild Bill was born from his wild reputation and a fierce mustache.

Wild Bill was a well-known veteran of the Civil War and a respected gunfighter and lawman in the American West. His involvement in numerous shoot-outs, his iron hand that ruled the lawlessness of his time, and his skills as a professional gambler earned him respect. His many gunfights and conquests were detailed in newspapers.

His exploits were often sensationalized and mixed fiction with facts. We won’t know how many Wild Bill killed. While some journalists claimed that it was more than 100, a respected biographer says that the truth is closer at half a dozen.

His contemporaries often exaggerated the numbers, exploits, and stories. Wild Bill appears to have contributed some wild reports about his achievements to help his legend grow.

The End of Wild Bill

Let’s go back to 1876: Wild Bill is almost 40 years old. He made a lot of money from his gambling and other accomplishments. He wasn’t the same crack shot he was in his younger years, and his health was slowly declining.

Wild Bill boarded a wagon train headed for South Dakota and arrives in Deadwood.  He entertained himself at the Nuttal & Mann’s Saloon No. 10.

Wild Bill is a skilled player and makes a lot of money, just like he has done many times throughout his life. One of the unfortunate losers on this occasion is Jack McCall, a drunken buffalo hunter.

His losses are so great that he has to rely upon Wild Bill’s generosity to buy his breakfast. McCall may have taken this gesture as a serious insult, as the next day would prove.

Wild Bill returns to the saloon to play more poker on August 2, 1876. Our hero requests a switch with another player but is unsuccessful in his attempts to do so. His preference is to have his back to the wall and have a full view of both the saloon’s entrance and the poker tables.

Everyone is taken aback when McCall enters the saloon and yells, “Damn you! Take that!” and shoots him point-blank. Wild Bill is instantly killed, and he falls from his chair, his cards still in his hand: A pair of black Aces and a pair of black eights.

McCall was initially released on bail, but he was later tried for murder and convicted. He was then hanged the next year. Wild Bill’s last hand would be remembered forever.

The poker game was a five-card Stud. Although it’s not certain what the fifth card was, a witness at the scene identified the four other cards as black Aces or Eights. The legend of the Dead Man’s Hand was born.

The Dead Man’s Hand

Wild Bill had a pair of Aces and a pair of Eights. Some historians doubt the authenticity of the account. Some historians believe that Wild Bill’s association with this hand was popularized 50 years later when a book on Hickok was published.

The story was already becoming a legend by then, and the publication of this story helped to spread it. Little was known about the story before the 1920s. The Dead Man’s Hand story was linked to a different person and a different set of cards at one point in the 19th century.

We are nearly 150 years away from the original event, and it is unlikely that we will ever discover the truth.

Wild Bill’s hand at the time of his death is a historical fact, but it’s not surprising that his story has become a legend. A hand with a pair of black eights and a pair of black aces has been associated with Wild Bill Hickok’s passing for over 100 years. This hand is a well-known symbol in popular culture.

There are many references to it in movies, novels, and even computer games.

Today, there is a small casino called Saloon 10, located on the spot where Wild Bill was killed. You will find a historical exhibit about the Dead Man’s Hand and signs telling you the story. Wild Bill may have been long gone, but his legend lives on.

In modern poker, a pair of Aces and a pair of Eights is a decent combination and is unlikely to get you killed.

The Dead Man’s Deck

Vanishing Inc Magic has created a special deck to pay tribute to this story. It is a limited-edition deck that is geared toward collectors and commemorates Wild Bill’s tragic death. The tuck box is plain and simple with muted black borders and yellowed borders.

This makes it look like an authentic relic from the past.

You can expect a surprise when you take the cards out of their boxes. The entire deck has a hole that runs through all the cards. This gives the deck a fun novelty look.

To complete the dramatic effect, a round metal musket ball is placed inside the hole. The cards appear worn and weathered, with burn marks surrounding the bullet holes on each side.

This deck is not for the fainthearted, as there are visible bloodstains on the black Aces and Eights, which made up the legendary Dead Man’s Hand.

You can use the card backs as regular decks. These cards have a one-way design. Closer inspection will reveal details that relate to Wild Bill’s story, such as the references to his initials JBH and the cards of Dead Man’s Hand.

The face cards are designed in a vintage style. The court cards’ artwork follows a more traditional French look than the classic Bicycle look we are used to. There are also indices at all four corners.

Two additional cards are included: one with Wild Bill’s photo and the other telling a brief version of his story. Expert Playing Card Company printed the deck. The cards look great and are easy to handle.

This deck is unique and fun. It stands out among other decks in my collection because of its novelty value and the great story behind it. It could be used for a Wild West-themed card trick and would appeal to magicians who do gambling routines.

The “Wild Bill Hickock’s Hand” is a Henry Christ routine that uses Dead Man’s Hand as its background and plot. You could use it for a game or any other card game. It makes a great conversation piece or collector’s item.


We hope you’ve enjoyed this fun and interesting legend about the Dead Man’s Hand. Just remember to keep your back to the wall!