Captain William Rodney Massie did much in his life that deserves fame and remembrance. His bravery in navigating the waters of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers as a riverboat captain certainly did much to help the United States expand westward. His boat was the first to carry the original Pony Express mail package across the Mississippi, for example.
His biography reads like many entrepreneurs/explorers of the time. He was brave, ingenious, and half-crazy. Such is the history of the giants who shaped America.
His most famous claim to fame, however, is based on pure circumstance. He was sitting across from Wild Bill Hickok in Deadwood, South Dokota on August 2, 1876, when the coward, Jack McCall entered the saloon, took aim at the back of Wild Bill’s head and fired a fatal blow. The bullet passed through Hickok’s head and lodged itself in Massie’s wrist.
At first, Massie believed that Hickock had shot him out of anger for refusing to change seats with him. As the story goes, Hickok never sat with his back to the door for fear of just such a thing happening. He asked Massie twice to change seats with him. Massie, it appears, refused. When the bullet hit Massie, he apparently ran out to the street yelling, “Wild Bill shot me!”
Jack McCall was caught, tried and acquitted for the crime. However, after he was caught bragging about the shooting, he was apprehended once again, tried for a second time and hanged in Yankton, South Dakota (it’s possible my great, great, great grandparents were present at the hanging, as they were residents of Yankton at the time).
Medical science being what it was at the time, it was deemed too dangerous a procedure to remove the bullet from Captain Massie’s wrist; so there it remained, the rest of his days. The legend goes that when Captain Massie was buried in Bellefontaine Cemetery in 1910, the bullet that killed Wild Bill Hickok was buried with him.
Captain Massie is buried on a family plot at the back of the cemetery (very near the grave of General William Clark). His grave bears no marker, for unknown reasons.