These pairs, along with an unknown kicker, were the cards reportedly held by James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickock during a five-card draw game when he was shot by Jack McCall on 2 August 1876 at Nuttal & Mann’s Saloon in Deadwood, Dakota Territory.
William “Wild Bill” Hickok
The story goes that a very inebriated McCall—who had introduced himself as Bill Sutherland—was playing poker with Hickok the previous evening and losing heavily. Hickok encouraged McCall to stop for the night until he could settle up, and Hickok gave him some money for food.
When the insulted McCall entered the saloon the next day, he walked up behind Hickok—who was begrudgingly sitting with his back to the door as another player, Charlie Rich, wouldn’t change seats with him—and shouted, “Damn you! Take that!” and proceeded to shoot Hickok in the back of the head with his Colt Model 1873 .45 caliber revolver. Hickok died instantly. The state executed McCall for murder seven months later.
In Des Wilson’s Ghosts at the Table (2007), the author attempts to determine exactly what cards Hickok had been holding on that fateful day. Whereas most accounts suggest Hickok’s hand was comprised of the black aces and the black eights—with an unknown fifth card—another story proposes that a delivery man named Richard Stephens picked up Hickok’s cards and later donated them to a museum. In this account, Hickok’s hand was A♦ A♣ 8♥ 8♠ Q♥ and included a drop of the deceased gunfighter’s blood.
Although there is some doubt about the actual dead man’s hand’s fifth card, the consensus was—and remains—that Hickok died holding two pair of aces and eights. Voila, the dead man’s hand was born.