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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!