Deadwood: Comparing The Lead Characters And Their Real World Counterparts

How well did Deadwood capture history?


Like most works of historical fiction, the HBO series "Deadwood" takes some liberties with the characters, even those based on real people, for the sake of telling a compelling story.

Some characters' real lives were so legendary that the show could keep them true to history and keep an audience captivated, like Wild Bill and Calamity Jane. Others are only loosely based on real people, like Trixie who represents many working girls with similar monikers. And still more have only a name or part of a name that is borrowed from antiquity.

Finally, as is the case with Alma Garret and Whitney Ellsworth, there are characters who are complete works of fiction created solely for the series. With that in mind here are 10 significant real life figures from the town of Deadwood compared to their portrayal in the series of the same name.

10. Jack McCall


Jack McCall's portrayal by Garret Dillahunt was quite accurate in the series when compared to historical accounts. McCall's claim to fame was that he shot Wild Bill Hickok. Much like in the series, McCall was known for being a blithering drunk who gambled away any money he came upon. In fact, if he hadn't shot Hickok history would have forgotten him altogether.

The scene in which McCall shoots Hickok is right out of the history books. McCall waited until a seat opened up at the poker game Wild Bill was playing, he then took it and proceeded to lose every dime he had to Hickok. Bill, not being completely unsympathetic, threw McCall a few bucks advising him to buy a meal and stay away from the game. The next day when Hickock came into Nutall's saloon and sat with his back to the door, McCall seized his opportunity and shot Wild Bill in the back of the head shouting "damn you, take that!"

A hasty trial was put on in Deadwood which acquitted McCall on the grounds of revenge, McCall claimed Hickock killed his brother in Kansas, the most Wild West defense there is. In both history and the series McCall is convinced that remaining in Deadwood could be hazardous to his health.

Unlike the series which depicts Seth Bullock and Charlie Utter as having tracked McCall down, McCall's bragging got the attention of a Marshall in Laramie, Wyoming who snatched McCall up and brought him to Yankton, Dakota Territory. In both historical accounts and the series, it is determined that Deadwood had no legal authority for the original trial. So, McCall was retried, found guilty, and executed for murdering Wild Bill Hickok.

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Chief Operating Officer at Man Tools Media LLC and writer/host/producer of the Man Tools Podcast.