Explore Wild Bill Hickok's Abilene

By Abilene CVB on April 10, 2023

Named Best Historic Small Town to Visit by USA TODAY and True Western Town of the Year by True West Magazine, this Chisholm Trail Cowtown is the perfect stop for cowboys, cowgirls and cowboy history aficionados! 

Cowboy Trail - Abilene, KS

Wild Bill Hickok

While James Butler "Wild Bill" Hickok may have died in Deadwood, he left his mark on Abilene.

After the death of Abilene’s first city marshal, Tom “Bear River” Smith, the city hired a man named James Butler Hickok. People better know him as “Wild Bill” Hickok. Hickok controlled the town from April to December of 1871.  His reign as marshal ended with the shooting of Phil Coe in October.  Hickok and Coe had a running dispute throughout the cattle season.  Coe owned and operated the Bull’s Head Saloon. As the season was ending, Coe and some other Texans were out and about the town going from saloon to saloon.  At some point, Coe pulled a pistol out and started shooting at a dog.  Wild Bill came to see what was happening and saw Coe with the pistol.

Wild Bill asked Coe to turn over the gun, but Coe fired at the marshal missing him.  Hickok drew his pistols and was true to his aim.  Coe fell to the ground, mortally wounded.  As Hickok fired his pistols, he saw another man running up from the side; he turned and fired without looking.  The second man was Mike Williams, a good friend of Wild Bill’s. Williams fell to the ground, dead.

Wild Bill was devastated.  This was the end of Abilene as a cattle town.  In December, Wild Bill Hickok was let go as the marshal and the cattle drives were banned from Abilene.

See the original site of the Alamo Saloon at 101 N Cedar Street.

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The Alamo Saloon (1871) was the grandest drinking and gambling establishment on Texas Street. The Alamo faced west on Cedar Street and became Wild Bill Hickok’s headquarters during his tenure as marshal.

At this site, in 1871, Wild Bill Hickok exchanged deadly gunfire with Texas gambler Phil Coe. Unable to see in the darkness, Hickok fired both pistols at another figure, bursting into the light with the gun drawn. Sadly, that figure was his friend and deputy, Mike Williams. 

Must-See Stops

Visit these sites to experience what Abilene was like during its Wild Bill Hickok and Chisholm Trail Cowtown days and celebrate the cowboy story with Abilene’s new cowboy-themed public art exhibits. 

1. Old Abilene Town | 201 SE 5th

Cowboy Trail - Abilene, KS
See the Chisholm Trail Museum and Interpretive Trail Center in the Way Station at Old Abilene Town. Visitors can stroll the boardwalk, just as Wild Bill Hickok did during Abilene’s wild and woolly days. Get a taste of the Old West by drinking ice-cold sarsaparilla and watching can-can dancers as they perform on stage and on the bar from the original Alamo Saloon.

Gunfighters stage mock shoot-outs during the summer travel season.

Be sure to check out the Great Western Cattle Co. building to see a complete re-creation of Abilene’s original Texas Street.

Tip: Make sure to see the Bull’s Head Saloon Longhorn at the Trail Center in Old Abilene Town- According to a signed document, the bullhead is from the Bull Head Saloon that belonged to “Shotgun Ben” Thompson in Abilene. It was the headquarters for the drovers who trailed cattle from Texas to Kansas in the late 1860s and 1870s.

Cowboy Trail - Abilene, KS

2. Dickinson County Heritage Center | 412 S Campbell St

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Learn about Dickinson County’s famous former residents, from C.L. Brown — whose telephone company eventually became known as Sprint — to Abilene’s former Marshal Wild Bill Hickok to Joseph McCoy, who brought hundreds of thousands of cattle to Abilene in the 1860s, making the community a booming Cowtown at the end of the Chisholm Trail.

Tip: Make sure to check out the Wild Bill Hickok Bronze Statue and a replica of his gun on display. 

3. Abilene & Smoky Valley Railroad | 200 SE 5th

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Ride the rails on a 100-year-old steam engine, enjoy an open-air ride or dine aboard one of the Abilene & Smoky Valley Railroad’s dinner trains. (For an added fee, you can ride in the cab of the steam locomotive!)

The train departs Abilene eastbound for a 10.5-mile round trip through the Smoky Hill River Valley to the neighboring community of Enterprise. There, the train stops for riders to see the Hoffman Grist Mill, featuring a rebuilt working waterwheel that mills flour.

Be sure to visit the Fred Schmidt Railroad Museum inside the railroad depot and enjoy the exhibits of memorabilia and model trains.

4. World’s Largest Belt Buckle | 400 N Pine St

Cowboy Trail - Abilene, KS
At 19 feet 10 1⁄2 inches wide and 13 feet 11 1⁄4 inches tall (without the frame), Abilene is home to the World’s Largest Belt Buckle. Climb the spiral staircase to the top to take your photo “wearing” the buckle!

5. Big Spur | 1810 N Buckeye Ave

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At 28 feet high, the big spur stands on its ends to form an arch and weighs a ton. It was built by Larry Houston in 2002 and was certified as the World’s Largest Spur by Guinness World Records until 2017.

6. Statues

7. Cowboy Boots

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Celebrating its cowboy roots, the Cowboy Boot project pays homage to T.C. McInerney’s Drovers Boot Store from the 1870s. Using this ad for inspiration, the Arts Council of Dickinson County, Quality Life Coalition of Dickinson County and Community Foundation of Dickinson County joined forces to add cowboy boot art throughout the community.

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  • Rose Garden” Cowboy Boot - Abilene Civic Center/Visitors Center | 201 NW 2nd St
  • Patriotism” Cowboy Boot - Little Ike Park | 324 N. Spruce St
  • Sister City” Cowboy Boot - Abilene Public Library | 209 NW 4th St
  • Ike’s Galaxy” Cowboy Boot - Abilene City Hall | 419 N. Broadway St
  • Crazy Quilt” Cowboy Boot - Arts Council of Dickinson County | 401 N. Cedar St
  • Varsity Letter” Cowboy Boot - Abilene High School Football Stadium | 900 Block of N. Walnut St
  • Wild Bill Hickok” Cowboy Boot - Central Kansas Free Fair | Pine St in Eisenhower Park
  • Mud Creek” Cowboy Boot - Abilene Senior Center | 100 N. Elm St
  • Mooooo” Cowboy Boot - Old Abilene Town | 200 SE 5th St
  • History of Farming” Cowboy Boot - Dickinson County Courthouse | 109 E. 1st St

8. Murals

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Celebrate the old west by visiting these murals!

9. Tom “Bear River” Smith Tombstone | Abilene Cemetery, 501 NW 4th St

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Before Hickock, there was Smith. In 1870, Abilene had had enough. The city hired two professional police officers from St Louis, Missouri. They arrived on the morning train and resigned by the end of the day, taking the midnight train going back east. They had quit, saying they could not handle the job. The city fathers then hired Tom “Bear River” Smith as their first city marshal. Smith was unknown to the cowboys but soon found out he was not to be taken lightly.

Tom handled the cowboys not by pulling his guns but would first talk to them politely. If that didn’t work, he used his fists. Big Hank and Wyoming Frank were the first two cowboys to learn that Marshal Smith meant business. Both had defied him only to find themselves picking their bodies off the floor, being knocked down by Smith’s two big fists.

Most cowboys and the townspeople respected Smith and gave him very little trouble. However, Tom Smith was killed in the line of duty. On November 2, 1870, Smith and his deputy rode out northeast of Abilene to bring in two settlers who were accused of killing a third farmer whose cattle destroyed their crops. As Smith rode up to their dugout, he was shot falling from his horse. The deputy, thinking Smith was killed, turned around and rode back to Abilene to get help.

By the time he came back with help, they found Smith’s body lying on the ground with his head nearly severed by an ax. The two men were found, and both were sent to prison.

10. Wild Bill Hickok Rodeo

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Today, Abilene honors Wild Bill's Legacy with not only a mural and museum exhibits but an entire PRCA rodeo named after him. The Wild Bill Hickok Rodeo, named one of the best medium-sized PRCA rodeos in the country, attracts thousands of spectators and contestants each year in August. 

Dining

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Stop for a bite to eat at the Hitching Post Restaurant and Saloon, 100 SE 5th Street, at Old Abilene Town or Legacy Kansas – Munson’s Prime & Brookville Hotel, 105 E Lafayette Ave.

Or, grab a drink at Abilene’s newest bar, the Dizzy Donkey Saloon, 311 N Spruce St.