John Wesley Hardin stands out as the most ruthless killer in not only the Old West, but in American history as well. By his account he killed 42 men – but the law could only account for 27. There might have been many more but he died at 42 after spending 17 years in prison. It is true he was friends with William “Wild Bill” Hickok though the facts are in dispute. Reported as fact by Hickok, in Abilene, Hickok told Hardin – then under the alias Wesley Clemmons – to stay out of trouble and turn in his guns. Hardin did though Hardin’s memoir, disputed, said Hardin beat Hickok to the draw.
In that year, 1871, the two owners of the Bulls Head Saloon painted a giant bull on the side of their establishment with a large erect penis. Citizens asked the penis be removed. The saloon owners declined so Hickok altered the drawing. This infuriated the owners and one of them, Phil Coe, tried to get Hardin to kill Hickok – to which Hardin replied, “If Bill needs killing, why don’t you kill him yourself?” Coe allegedly told Hickok he was such a good shot he could “kill a crow on the wing,” to which Hickok replied, “Did the crow have a pistol? Was he shooting back? I will be.”
On October 5, 1871, Hickok did. Coe was on the main street firing his gun when Hickok ordered him arrested. Coe said he had been firing at a stray dog and suddenly turned his gun on Hickok. Hickok shot killing Coe in what was the only authentic ‘shootout on Main Street’ in Western history – but has been repeated in thousands of Westerns since.