• Wild Bill

  • The True Story of the American Frontier’s First Gunfighter
  • By: Tom Clavin
  • Narrated by: Johnny Heller
  • Length: 8 hrs and 51 mins
  • 4.6 out of 5 stars (451 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

“The first thing you will notice about this engaging and delightful biography is that [narrator Johnny Heller] sounds like a character actor who moseyed off the set of an old-fashioned oater. His voice is a little scratchy, a little seasoned and perfectly suits this biography of larger-than-life Bill Hickok and his pals, from Calamity Jane to Buffalo Bill Cody and General Custer.” (The Berkshire Edge

This program includes a bonus interview with the author.

The definitive true story of Wild Bill, the first lawman of the Wild West, by the number-one New York Times best-selling author of Dodge City.

In July 1865, "Wild Bill" Hickok shot and killed Davis Tutt in Springfield, Mo., - the first quick-draw duel on the frontier. Thus began the reputation that made him a marked man to every gunslinger the Wild West.  

James Butler Hickock was known across the frontier as a soldier, Union spy, scout, lawman, gunfighter, gambler, showman, and actor. He crossed paths with General Custer and Buffalo Bill Cody, as well as Ben Thompson and other young toughs gunning for the sheriff with the quickest draw west of the Mississippi.  

Wild Bill also fell in love - multiple times - before marrying the true love of his life, Agnes Lake, the impresario of a traveling circus. He would be buried however, next to fabled frontierswoman Calamity Jane.  

Even before his death, Wild Bill became a legend, with fiction sometimes supplanting fact in the stories that surfaced. Once, in bar in Nebraska, he was confronted by four men, three of whom he killed in the ensuing gunfight. A famous Harper’s Magazine article credited Hickok with slaying 10 men that day; by the 1870s, his career-long kill count was up to 100.   

The legend of Wild Bill has only grown since his death in 1876, when cowardly Jack McCall famously put a bullet through the back of his head during a card game. Best-selling author Tom Clavin has sifted through years of Western lore to bring Hickock fully to life in this rip-roaring, spellbinding true story. 

"[Narrator Johnny Heller] ensures that Western aficionados will enjoy listening to the life of Wild Bill." (AudioFile Magazine)

©2019 Tom Clavin (P)2019 Macmillan Audio

Critic Reviews

"[Narrator Johnny Heller] ensures that Western aficionados will enjoy listening to the life of Wild Bill" (AudioFile Magazine)

What listeners say about Wild Bill

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Off-Task - Full of Filler - But Bill was Handsome!

This strange novel gets weirder and weirder as the author, every 20-30 minutes or so, tells us once again about how handsome Wild Bill is. His hair! His figure, his wide shoulders, and girlish waist (yes, he said that)! After we, the listeners, are fully inculcated in Wild Bill's handsome features, Clavin moves off topic with side-show stories of totally peripheral characters to Wild Bill's life (but they think he is handsome...).

This novel is essentially a summary of old-west newspapers and Penny Dreadful stories about the the post Civil War Era and America's fixation on this fast shootin' buff dude that was generally polite before he blasted you with a firearm that was not yet invented (read Amazon reviews for details).

I give this novel two Army Colts down for turning in a term paper based on 100-year-old fictional periodical reporting, and pretending it's fact.

6 people found this helpful

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Spy, Lawman, Entertainer, Killer

Wild Bill Hickok emerges as a strange and charismatic figure in Tom Clavin’s biography. Clavin has done extensive research to separate myth from legend, and the results are surprising. Much of Hickok’s life was unknown to me, including his service as a Union spy during the Civil War (when he wore a Confederate uniform behind Confederate lines), his early work with his brother as a teamster and his unhappy but often lucrative performances in Wild West shows in the East.

The biography made the Wild West seem like a small-town club. The same group of frontier buddies kept appearing in one town after another: Hays City, Abilene, Cheyenne, Deadwood. Buffalo Bill Cody shows up again and again. General Custer finally leads his troops to the Little Big Horn. Like Wild Bill, many of his friends have reductive nicknames: Texas Jack, Colorado Charlie, California Joe. (I may have the first names wrong, but hey, it was an audiobook.) Historic figures pass Wild Bill’s path in cameos, like William Quantrill, John Wesley Hardin, William Tecumseh Sherman and Ned Buntline. And then we meet his true love, Agnes Lake, who owned one of the traveling circuses that visited the frontier towns. One of the book’s best parts busts the myth of romance between Hickok and Calamity Jane.

Hickok is personally intriguing. He was a deputy US marshal and frequently a lawman, but he often made his living gambling. Apparently wildly handsome, he wore his hair shoulder-length and dressed in town like a dandy. And unlike just about anybody else out west, Wild Bill bathed every day.

But at heart, the book makes clear, Hickok was a killer. Even setting aside many of the false legends about his quick draw, he killed a lot of men. Sometimes he did this as a lawman, sometimes just as a survivor out-drawing those who wanted to take down a legend. The book highlights several instances in which he tried to avoid confrontation, suggesting to a foe with a gun that they settle things over a drink. But there was no evidence in the book of Hickok’s reflection or regret over the number of men he had killed.

The other problem, which Clavin handles well but without emphasis, was the treatment of Native Americans. Hickok was not into the slaughter of Indians, unlike his friend Custer, but he seemed oblivious to the broken treaties, cruelty and lawlessness directed at the Plains natives. He seemed to get along personally with the many Native Americans he met, including wives of his friends, but he also seemed ignorant of the larger issues. Their land was stolen, and their lives were often taken without mercy. Again, there is no evidence of reflection or regret over this.

The narrator had a raspy, grizzled voice that worked well. He spoke like an old prospector telling tales over whiskey at a Deadwood saloon.

Overall, I enjoyed this book and recommend it to others interested in the American frontier or history generally.

4 people found this helpful

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Incredibly exciting & informative!

Excellent narrator! beautifully written with excitement, mystery & charm! I will definitely read this author's other books as well.... starting with "Dodge City".

4 people found this helpful

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A great look at real Wild Bill!

Excellent narration combined with superb writing ushered me through this book as Clavin swept away fictional accounts of Wild Bill and introduced me to the real man. Clavin confirmed much of what I already knew about Hickok and shared many facts I had never heard before. His writing remained concise and interesting throughout the book. The coverage was so thorough that the book left me with no unanswered questions about Wild Bill. I'd recommend it to anyone who is interested in the old West or Wild Bill. I'll also watch for more books narrated by Johnny Heller.

1 person found this helpful

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True Story? Must be a joke.

If the author wants to claim this as a true story then they should have invested more time into research. Several inaccuracies, poor citations, a general google search will be just about as informative with truth and fiction.

Not worth it if you want accurate information.

1 person found this helpful

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unbelievable

it was an fascinating Epic. I learned so much about a man that I thought I knew. his story stands as a great American tale.

1 person found this helpful

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I Learned Much

I learned a great deal about Wild Bill. The book helped me appreciate the man and all he did and learn about the many famous people who passed through his life in his short lifetime. He truly was larger than life. I recommend this audiobook.

1 person found this helpful

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Well written and narration was great

This is a well told story of one of the most interesting people of his time. I knew little of wild bill going in. This was a great read.

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Great story

A lot of detail and interesting side stories make the story captivating. Looking for other books by Calvin.

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Fascinating & Well-Written

Wild Bill is a western character I’ve always heard of, but never really knew his whole story. I think Tom Clavin’s research & subsequent book brought Wild Bill Hickok to life. I will definitely be reading/listening to more of Tom Clavin’s works.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 10-24-21

OK Biography

Good performance by the narrator but the biography itself is lacking. The author sometimes goes off on tangents about mostly irrelevant characters and also does not go into detail about Bill's life and character in the same way that superior biographies do about their subjects.