On the Headstone’s Story

Many of us remember Charlie Rich – the country music singer and songwriter known as the Silver Fox. His biggest hits were Behind Closed Doors and The Most Beautiful Girl, and the latter earned him two Grammy Awards.

I recall the first time I passed the beautiful and unique headstone near the road in a small town cemetery not too far from my house, but I knew his man wasn’t the Silver Fox – who was actually Charles Allan Rich. However, research would deliver a few surprises about the Cincinnati connection in this tale.

HeadstoneName

I never stopped to look at the headstone, but it’s uniqueness and significance always caught my eye. One day it was gone. I’ve heard different reasons for it being missing, but for the next 10 years or so, I would think about Mr. Rich when driving past the cemetery … especially wondering about the missing headstone.

Several months ago, I noticed the headstone had returned. I don’t know why, how, or if any changes were made, but I was happy to have it back. Much has happened since it last stood tall – especially starting this blog. I knew it had to be featured in a post, so I visited the grave … and now the rest of the story.

Miners formed Deadwood in the Dakota Territory in 1876 as a result of the Black Hills gold rush. The town’s namesake were the many dead trees occupying the surrounding canyon walls. The name stuck and the town is still there today in what is now west-central South Dakota. Deadwood is also a great name for the colorful and lawless legends of the new American frontier of that time … the wild, wild west.

Charlie Rich was born (1859) and raised one county north of Cincinnati. Being unmarried, young and adventurous, he traveled west seeking fortune.

Away from Deadwood, James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok was a skilled sharpshooter and quite the character. His legendary status involved time as a lawman, hunter, tracker, winner of duels, and participation in Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show. He also drank, gambled, and indulged in more than his fair share of fun. In other words, many knew Wild Bill.

In 1871, Hickok met Agnes Thatcher Lake, a widow and experienced circus performer who was 10 years older. They married on March 5, 1876 in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Oddly enough, Agnes grew up in Cincinnati – so they traveled to Cincinnati for their honeymoon and to meet Agnes’ friends. After a few weeks in Ohio, Wild Bill felt the need to head west to search for gold – so Wild Bill took the train back to Cheyenne (leaving Agnes in Cincinnati). Later, he joined a wagon train bound for Deadwood – arriving in June or July.

Two interesting things happened on August 1, 1876 in Deadwood. Wild Bill wrote a letter to his wife with these words:

Agnes Darling, if such should be we never meet again, while firing my last shot, I will gently breathe the name of my wife—Agnes—and with wishes even for my enemies I will make the plunge and try to swim to the other shore.

That evening at the Nuttall, Lewis & Mann’s No. 10 Saloon, Wild Bill played poker with several men – including Jack McCall. While Wild Bill won the money, others (including McCall) lost. Wild Bill returned some money to McCall so he could get a meal, but he also cautioned McCall about playing again before repaying his debts.

The next afternoon, Wild Bill Hickok returned to the same saloon for more poker. Charlie Rich, whom Hickok had met in Cheyenne earlier in the year, was the dealer. Rich was sitting in Wild Bill’s favorite seat, so Wild Bill asked Rich to changed seats. Rich refused, but Wild Bill joined the game.

Charlie Rich dealt the game of five-card stud. Jack McCall entered the saloon. He saw Wild Bill seated at a table, and approached him from behind. While saying, Damn you, take that! – McCall shot Wild Bill Hickok in the head from point-blank range, instantly killing him.

Headstone Deal

Wild Bill Hickok’s card hand was two black aces, 2 black eights … thereafter known as Dead Man’s Hand. In this case, the jack of diamonds was his down card.

HeadstoneHand

The townspeople buried Wild Bill Hickok in Deadwood, the town where he still lies today. Agnes visited her husband’s grave in 1877. While there, she made arrangements to place an iron fence around her slain husband’s grave. She eventually married a third time, and died on August 21, 1907 in New jersey. Interestingly, she is buried here (in Cincinnati) next to her first husband at Spring Grove Cemetery.

But what about Charlie Rich – the dealer – the man whose gravesite is near me? Several years after the shooting, he returned to Ohio where he worked, married, had a family, and died (1929) – three weeks shy of his 70th birthday.

HeadstoneBornDied

In time, the family decided to honored the man who dealt the infamous Dead Man’s Hand with a special headstone – the man who family says never dealt another hand.

Headstone Whole

This is the side that one sees when driving by Evergreen Cemetery on Rt. 126 just outside Miamiville, Ohio. Some of the other images from the other side appear in this post … and this headstone tells quite a story!

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54 thoughts on “On the Headstone’s Story

  1. What an interesting story, Frank….why did the headstone disappear, and why did it come back? And the adventures of C.H. Rich are such a good “wild west” story….and his taking off and leaving his wife behind….and the second, and third marriages that people managed to have, in those days….lots of things we’ll never know but are a wonderment to think about….that really is an unusual headstone, certainly enough to make one pause and think and wonder….

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  2. Intriguing stuff Frank! Like the other commenters I wonder why the headstone disappeared and returned. Was it perhaps being restored? What a story though, and it happened in your neck of the woods and really not that long ago. I wonder if Charlie Rich the country singer knows about his name sake.

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    • Pauline,
      Singer Charlie’s life was 1932-1995 … and the grandson commissioned the stone in 1989 … but who knows if the Silver Fox knew about the link to his name.

      The most reliable info about the headstone going missing is that a grandson had it removed to add the scene around the table, then decided to keep the headstone for himself. Interestingly, I just discovered that the grandson may have died on June 25, 2015 … thus why the stone has been returned.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great story, Frank, although I would treat it as legend. Of course, I had to do a quick search, and that’s all I can find. 🙂

    I, too, wonder about the stone that went missing and then was replaced. Was the early stone as elaborate as the replacement?

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    • Merril,
      Because you are the historian, shat part of this story is a legend?

      I don’t think the headstone is a replacement, but it could be. A reliable source stated the grandson had it taken down for something to be added, then decided to keep it at home.

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      • It’s not my area of expertise, Frank. It just sounded like a legend to me, and when I did a quick search, the things I came across said “dead man’s hand” wasn’t associated with Wild Bill until many years later. There are lots of wild tales of the “Wild West,” and many were sensationalized in publications of the day. (And you didn’t cite your sources.) 🙂

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    • Christy,
      Glad you enjoyed this. Answering comments yesterday gave me an idea, and I may have discovered why it returned. It seems a grandson had the headstone … and I may have discovered that he died this past summer … so the family returned it to its place.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. What a great story. Isn’t it fascinating all the connections, even back then. Do you wonder why he never dealt another hand of cards, I do. I use to wander old cemeteries, still do when I have the chance. So many stories contained within them.

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    • Val,
      As I like to say, everybody and everything has a history. For me in this story, I needed the initial stimulus of the headstone to discover so much more … and all those Cincinnati connections!

      In terms of never dealing again, I can see it … why relive that event. He saw a murder take place right in front of him. … then again, just my guess. Glad you enjoyed this!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. What a fantastic story, Frank. I loved this from beginning to end. I have had a strong desire to go to Deadwood and the era of history you retell in this story simply fascinates me. I also love to read headstones, and I think this may be one of the more unusual and informative. I’m so glad the headstone was returned to take a prominent position. Such a unique piece of our American folklore!

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    • Debra,
      Glad you saw this post because I knew you would enjoy the history. All the Cincinnati connections surprised me! … and I may have discovered why the headstone returned, so I’ll mention it in upcoming OITS. Meanwhile, how you make it to Deadwood. … BTW … I think Calamity Jane is buried beside Wild Bill.

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  6. Gee, poor ole Wild Bill never had a chance to think of his Agnes. Looks like saloons were a dangerous place to be in those days. Playing cards raised the level even higher.
    This is a great old wild west story. I enjoy historical writing. You did a real good job of buidling the suspense. I would have been curious about the headstone too. In this case, a super story came about from your curiosity. 📚

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  7. Pingback: Opinions in the Shorts: Vol. 295 – A Frank Angle

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