by Evelyn J. Mocbeichel
Year round the Montauk Library hosts a long list of exciting, educational, and entertaining events in their Suzanne Koch Gosman Community Room.
Pick up a brochure at the library of their summer activities and see for yourself. With the latest offerings ranging from singer-song writer performers, youth quartets, jazz concerts and guest speakers, just to name a few, your calendar will be filled with “must attend” notations. Most recently I went to a Sunday presentation where Tom Clavin, noted author gave a talk and had an in person signing for his newest book, Wild Bill: The True Story of The American Frontier’s First Gunfighter. Mr. Clavin is a Sag Harbor resident and journalist and is the best- selling author of numerous outstanding books. He’s written about sports figures such as the DiMaggio brothers, Gil Hodges, and Roger Maris. Maritime and military history has been covered in his books including Valley Forge, Halsey’s Typhoon and the sinking of The Pelican (Dark Noon)
Besides having the chance to hear and meet this famous author in person, the topic was an instant draw for me since Westerns were always part of my television viewing with my dad when I was growing up. Dad loved watching television and when he first bought our black and white TV he introduced me to what would soon become my favorite programs and movies, too. We watched Roy Rodgers and Dale Evans, Gene Audrey, The Cisco Kid and the Lone Ranger together and any other western, particularly with John Wayne in it. Add to these shows there was Wagon Train, Rawhide and Bonanza to round out the long list of programs we liked. And to make it more fun for me, one Christmas Dad bought me my own set of toy six shooters, complete with holster, a cowgirl hat and matching vest. Now I was ready to sit in wait safely behind our sofa for the right time to get the “bad guys” and help our cowboy hero out of a tight spot. I thought I was “quick on the draw” and could easily compare to Dale Evans or Annie Oakley that I admired.
Naturally reading the Montauk Library flyer about Mr. Calvin’s upcoming program covering the history of one of the old west’s legendary gunfighters was not to be missed.
The Montauk Library community room was where Mr. Clavin gave his talk and read excerpts from his new book. While detailing how the book began, Mr. Clavin’s lecture style is easy going, and he sprinkles his talks with light humor and a chatty format, like hearing from a favorite uncle sharing his knowledge. He spoke how his book Wild Bill came about as basically a follow up to his highly successful Dodge City that came out in 2017. Since that book was an instant best seller, his publisher asked for another “western themed book”. Clavin had been intrigued by Wild Bill, whose real name was James Butler Hickok, and thus began research into his life. As he wove the story of what he learned and shared various details about Hickok’s life, it was easy for the audience to also be captured by the spell of this hero of the old west. Without giving away too many details of the book, Clavin shared that Hickok was from a New England family who were abolitionists and helped with the Underground Railroad. They even used their children to go for rides in the buckboard to pretend to be on the way to the general store, but secretly were transporting runaway slaves under piles of hay across state lines to safe havens. From a young age, Wild Bill was used to danger and became a great marksman, able to shoot with either hand. He even placed his gun handles in the holster backwards so he could cross shoot, reaching over to either side when needed. Leading a fascinating life from joining the union army in 1861, two years later becoming a spy for them and joining the confederate army to obtain their mission and attack secrets, to his years after that as a federal marshal he had an action packed life. He was a friend of contemporary Buffalo Bill Cody, who also copied the dress style of Wild Bill, complete with shoulder length hair and buckskin clothing. When Hickok was let go of his marshal duties when the government said he was no longer needed because ‘the town was safe”, it was Cody that offered him employment. Being let go was sort of ironic as it was the legend of his fast draw that kept ‘the bad guys” away from his town and the residents safe. Cody offered him a job in a “wild west play” reenacting the old west for Eastern audiences and he accepted it, since he needed the income, which paid much more than a life threatening job as a marshal. While the pay was lucrative, Wild Bill became disenchanted with being on stage and this life style and returned to the west he loved.
Throughout the talk Mr. Clavin dotted the lecture with fascinating tidbits about the old west and Hickok’s life, bringing to light the background of one of the old west hero’s. As Mr. Clavin spoke it was easy to imagine this book being made into a film starring any one of the young popular stars of today that could do justice to Wild Bill as this new book describes. His books can be purchased at the Montauk Library, in book stores or online.