James Butler Hickok was an early constable of Monticello Township in Johnson County.
He began upholding the law and order Monticello, a small town with a stagecoach stop, a few stores, and saloons, and the countryside of Monticello Township, after being elected a local lawman in 1858. A year later, he was gone, becoming a freight wagon driver, and later working at a station of the Pony Express.
During his life, he was many things – a scout, a sharpshooter, a professional gambler, and eventually “Wild Bill” Hickok, legendary lawman of the Old West.
Hickok was born in Homer (now Troy Grove), Illinois on May 27, 1837.  While he was growing up, his father’s farm was one of the stops on the Underground Railroad, and he learned his shooting skills protecting the farm with his father from anti-abolitionists. He was a good shot from a very young age.
In 1855, Hickok left his father’s farm to become a stagecoach driver on the Santa Fe and Oregon Trails. An early record refers to him as “Duck Bill” (perhaps in reference to a protruding upper lip he hid beneath a mustache), but his gunfighting skills changed his nickname to “Wild Bill.” His killing of a bear with a bowie knife during a turn as a stagecoach driver cemented a growing reputation as a genuinely tough man who feared nothing, and who was feared for more than carrying a fast gun.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 opened up territory in Kansas to settlement and offered Hickok the opportunity to go west for a new beginning with the lure of cheap land. He arrived in Leavenworth in June 1856, and soon learned that the best available land had already been claimed. So, he waited for more Indian land to be placed on the market. With a treaty with local Indian tribes, additional land opened up for settlement in Johnson County.
In a letter to his family in November 1856, Hickok said he was looking to purchase land in Johnson County, calling it “the finest country (sic) in Kansas I ever saw” but cautioned “that the territory is wild and not yet safe for women and children.”
In 1857, he built a log cabin and claimed a 160-acre tract of land in what is now the city of Lenexa. The original farm site is near the corner of 83rd Street and Clare Road. He also briefly worked at the Reed Hotel in the town of Monticello.
Also in 1857, Monticello Township recorded a lynching of a horse thief. Back then, the county’s population was sparse, and part-time lawmen on foot or horseback policed the rural areas. During the days when a horse was one’s fastest transportation and could make or break a successful farming operation, horse stealing was the one of the most serious and prevalent crimes.
The county sheriff and township constables provided law enforcement services among the non-Indian population of Johnson County. The sheriff had authority over the whole countywhile constables enforced the law in townships.
On March 22, 1858, Hickok was elected one of four constables for Monticello Township. It was the first of several law enforcement jobs he was to hold during his lifetime.
Wild Bill’s law days at Monticello were mostly tame.
As constable, Hickok invented the practice of “posting” men out of town. He would put a list on what was called the “dead man’s tree” (so called because men had been lynched on it). Hickok proclaimed he would shoot them on sight the following day. Few stayed around to find out if he was serious.
Hickok is said to have sharpened his shooting skills while in the Monticello territory along the banks of the Mill Creek by hitting the middle of an oyster can at a distance of 50 yards.
Outside his farming and law enforcement duties, Hickok spent his time playing cards in local saloons, another trait that he famously maintained throughout his life.
He also was an active participant in the border war, then in progress, serving as a scout and a bodyguard for General James H. Lane of the Free-State Army. Hickok became a victim of the conflict when his cabin was burned by pro-slavery men in late 1858. He abandoned his farming claim in the late summer of 1859, turned in his badge, and left Johnson County, heading north to the Nebraska Territory.
Hickok returned to Kansas, then a state, running for sheriff in Ellsworth County in 1867, but was defeated. A year later, he was in Hays as a deputy federal marshal, picking up 11 Union deserters charged with stealing government property to be transferred to Topeka for trial.
In 1869, Hickok was back in Hays and was elected sheriff and city marshal of Ellis County. He failed to win re-election the following year, heading to Abilene to serve as marshal until late 1871 when he left Kansas for good.
He was killed on August 2, 1876, while playing poker in a saloon at Deadwood in the Black Hills, Dakota Territory. Hickok was 39.
Fifteen decades after his departure, Wild Bill’s brief time in Johnson County is preserved in collections of a few pictures, census lists, books, and other documents at the Monticello Historical Station at Floyd Cline Hall, 23860 West 83rd St., Lenexa, and atthe Johnson County Museum, 6301 Lackman Rd., Shawnee.
There also is a small park in his honor at 85th Terrance and Clare Road in Lenexa. The one-acre Wild Bill Hickok Park was dedicated in 1993.