Wild Bill Hickok and the Wrath of the Dead Rabbits

Many will assume that with such a title the book is meant to be humorous, but it is not. I doubt even the redoubtable Ned Buntline, in one of his alcoholic hazes, would have dared publish such a yarn and claim that it was factual.

Based upon what the author James Mic Regan’s grandfather told him as a child, this book purports that the dreaded Irish-American gang of thugs and murderers who infested New York before and after the Civil War, went West, where they became spies for the Army and later joined the cavalry, notably Custer’s 7th. This gang was known as the Dead Rabbits (because they laid the corpse of one on the bodies of their murdered victims).

Regan goes on to report that in 1870, Hickok killed one of the gang members in Hays City. The man Hickok killed was not a Kelly, as the gang members are commonly named, but one John Kile, a Medal of Honor winner who had deserted on several occasions. Helping Hickok during his fight was California Joe. The gang swore to get them both.

Years later, in Deadwood, the Rabbits tracked down Hickok and killed him, leaving Jack McCall to take the blame.   Later, at Camp Robinson, they caught up with California Joe and killed him, allowing another man to take the blame.

The book is bolstered by fake dialogue and claims that cannot be verified. Even Hickok critics will find it nauseating. I imagine that experts on Bat Masterson and others will find much to irritate them in this book.  One almost wishes that there had been a Myxomatosis epidemic that would have wiped out these supposed frontier-ranging Rabbits!

—Joseph G. Rosa, authoritative biographer of Wild Bill Hickok

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