The Man Who Hated Hickok

Written by C. M. Wendelboe
Review by G. J. Berger

Ira Drang is a former soldier, buffalo hunter, bounty hunter and a dead shot. Now he is “settled down” in Cheyenne and keeps watch over his mentally-challenged younger brother, Jamie. Their parents perished in a buggy accident.

Jamie takes his own life after Wild Bill Hickok strips the lad naked in front of a bar full of rowdies. Hickok heads for the gold rush in Deadwood, Dakota Territory. Ira vows to follow and kill him. Ira loses all his money in a crooked faro game. He exposes the dealer and kills him in self-defense, then gives his horse to the one lawyer who will take his case. Now Ira’s only way to follow Hickok is riding shotgun on the stage coach to Deadwood.

In this summer of 1876, right after Custer’s last stand, stagecoaches and stations are under siege from bands of Native American warriors. On top of that, big-time stolen horse trader, Logan Hatch, is searching for the killer of his daughter. Logan becomes convinced the killer is a passenger on Ira’s stagecoach. Constant attacks from Lakota warriors and Logan’s men call for every trick Ira has learned to evade or fight.

Wendelboe knows his history and the details of that time, that place, and that jargon (a man in need of a good scrubbing is “water shy”). Though many, the episodes of violence are gripping and ring true. The multiple open questions (who killed Logan’s daughter, who will survive to Deadwood, will Ira catch Hickok?) are resolved in a rousing ending. Changing points of view and dozens of characters, with spare dialogue tags, sometimes make the story a bit hard to follow, but it’s a satisfying, fast-paced read.