Dead man's hand

The dead man's hand – aces and eights

The dead man's hand is a two-pair poker hand, namely "aces and eights". This card combination gets its name from a legend that it was the five-card-draw hand held by Wild Bill Hickok, when he was murdered on August 2, 1876, in Saloon No. 10 at Deadwood, South Dakota.

According to the popular version, Hickok's final hand included the aces and eights of both black suits. As Hickok's biographer, Joseph Rosa puts it: the "accepted version is that the cards were the ace of spades, the ace of clubs, two black eights (clubs and spades), and the queen of clubs as the "kicker".[1] However, Rosa says no contemporary source for this exact hand can be found. The earliest detailed reference to the "dead man's hand" is 1886, where it was described as a "full house consisting of three jacks and a pair of tens."[2]

In accounts that mention two aces and eights, there are various claims regarding the identity of Hickok's fifth card, suggestions that he had discarded one card and/or that the draw was curtailed by the shooting and Hickok therefore never received his fifth card.

In the HBO television historical drama series Deadwood, a nine of diamonds is depicted, although the show posits that another player concocted the hand, to further his own newsworthiness. An episode of Ripley's Believe it or Not shows Hickok holding a queen of clubs. An episode of Quantum Leap also shows Sam's love interest holding a Dead Man's Hand.[3]

Historical displays in the town of Deadwood, including one in a reconstruction of the original Saloon No. 10, also show the nine of diamonds as the fifth card. The Lucky Nugget Gambling Hall, which holds the historic site of Saloon No. 10, instead displays a jack of diamonds. The Adams Museum in Deadwood has a display that claims to be the actual squeezer cards held by Hickok. The hand is: ace of diamonds, ace of clubs, eight of hearts, eight of spades, and the queen of hearts. The Stardust on the Las Vegas Strip has used a five of diamonds in related displays and the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department Homicide Division uses the dead man's hand in its insignia, as does the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System.

References in popular culture

At least two of John Ford's films feature the aces and eights hand as a foreshadowing of death. In Stagecoach (1939), the hand is held by Luke Plummer (Tom Tyler), soon to be shot by the Ringo Kid (John Wayne) while in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), Liberty Valance draws the hand just prior to his death. In Anthony Mann's film Winchester '73, "Dutch" Henry lays down a full house, aces over eights, stating that he just missed the "dead man's hand." In the novel (also film) Along Came a Spider by James Patterson, Jezzie Flannigan tells the story of how her father won his gun with a hand of aces and eights – she also uses "Aces&Eights" as her computer password.

The Motörhead song "Ace of Spades", the Bob Dylan song "Rambling, Gambling Willie", the Uncle Kracker song "Aces and Eights" and the Bring Me the Horizon song "Alligator Blood" also refer to the legendary poker hand. The song "Aces & Eights" from the Lita Ford album Stiletto features "The dead man's hand holds aces and eights" in the refrain. Reckless Kelly's song "Nobody Haunts Me Like You" also makes reference with, " a shot in the back holding Aces and eights..." Notable 90's punk/folk band, Brutal DLX sings," I dreamed I was the dealer of a dead man's hand..." in the Koster/Mayron single, "Woke Too Fast." The phrase "who's gonna play those eights and aces?" appears in the song "Fire Lake" by Bob Seger

On the X-Files episode entitled "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose", the title character is playing poker with Agent Scully and is seen holding a full house of aces and eights with the ace of hearts as the fifth card.

"Dead Man's Hand" is the name of the seventh book of the "Wild Cards" series.

In "Batman R.I.P.", while Batman is talking to The Joker in Arkham Asylum, The Joker deals himself a "Dead man's hand".

In "Along Came A Spider" (2001), aces and eights is referenced as the winning hand that gave ownership of a Turkish hand-made shotgun to the father of Agent Flannigan and later in the feature was the clue that revealed her involvement with the kidnapping plot.


  1. ^ Wild Bill Hickok Gunfighter, by Joseph G. Rosa, p. 163.
  2. ^ discussion; Citation of the term in 1886 by the Grand Forks Daily Herald (July 3).
  3. ^ The Quantum Leap Nit-Picker's Guide;"How the Tess Was Won"

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Look at other dictionaries:

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