Hickok's iconic status is rooted in a shootout in July 1861 in what came to be known as the McCanles Massacre in Rock Creek, Neb. The incident began when David McCanles, his brother, William, and several farmhands came to the station demanding payment for a property that had been bought from him. Hickok, just a stable-hand at the time, killed three men, despite being severely injured. The story quickly became newspaper and magazine fodder. Perhaps most famously, Harper's New Monthly Magazine printed an account of the story in 1867, claiming Hickok had killed 10 men. In July of 1865, in Springfield, Missouri's town square, Hickok killed Davis Tutt, an old friend who – after personal grudges escalated – became an enemy. The two men faced each other sideways for a "quick draw" duel, where each quickly turned and drew their weapons before firing. Hickok was the first to draw his weapon, and shot Tutt instantly, at a close range.
Hickok himself did little to diminish the attention. His legend only grew further when other stories about his fighting prowess surfaced. One story claimed he killed a bear with his bare hands and a bowie knife.
The Harper's piece also told the story of how Hickok had pointed to a letter "O" that was "no bigger than a man's heart." Standing some 50 yards away from his subject, Hickok "without sighting his pistol and with his eye" rang off six shots, each of them hitting the direct center of the letter. Press reports increased after he was romantically linked to Martha Jane, also known as "Calamity Jane," who'd become famous for her riding and shooting skills. Hickok's national reputation as the West's finest and fastest gunslinger soon led him to the stage. He starred as himself in Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show in 1872 and 1873. But the frontier called to him, and Hickok returned. During a heated poker game in 1876 in Deadwood, SD, he was shot and killed by Jack McCall, whose motives for the murder were never revealed.