Is Wild Bill in Obama's family background?

In a packed town hall in Springfield, Mo., Sen. Barack Obama laid down the challenge for a duel.

His eyes weren't exactly squinting. And theme music to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly could not be heard. But the gauntlet was dropped.

"I'm ready to duel John McCain on taxes," Obama said. "Right here. Right now."

Then Obama surprised the crowd. "I don't know if people are aware of the fact," Obama said, "but the family legend is that Wild Bill Hickok, he's a distant cousin of mine."

The crowd roared with laughter. It seemed that perhaps the summer sun had gotten to him.

"I'm serious, I'm serious," Obama said. "I don't know if it's true, but that's the family legend. But we're going to research that."

No need, Sen. Obama. We called the New England Historic Genealogical Society. These are the folks who back in March released the study that found that Obama is a distant relative of actor Brad Pitt (ninth cousins, to be exact).

Chris Child, a staff genealogist, compared genealogical charts for Obama and Hickok and ... bang ... there it was. The two trees intersected with one Thomas Blossom of Holland, who arrived in Plymouth, Mass., in 1629.

Obama and Hickok are sixth cousins, six times removed, Child said. Whatever that means.

Seems quite a length for Obama to go to support a metaphor about dueling with your opponent over taxes, but then Hickok was also a noted gambler.

Obama also said that Hickok, the legendary frontier lawman, had his first duel in Springfield, Mo. While we were digging we looked that up, too. And Obama is right again. While it's hard for many historians to separate fact from legend, it is documented that James Butler Hickok (his name wasn't even William) got the better of former Confederate Army soldier Davis Tutt in an 1865 "quick draw" duel after a dispute involving gambling debts and, you guessed it, a woman.

In the ensuing years, Hickok boasted of killing more than a hundred men. In his defense, he said they all had it coming.

Hickok got his in 1876 after he apparently broke the cardinal rule of gunfighters: He sat with his back to the door and was shot from behind while playing poker at a saloon in Deadwood, S.D. The story was that he was holding a full house, aces over eights — hence the term "dead man's hand," still used today.

The relation to "Wild Bill" Hickok is way cooler than the revelations earlier this year that Obama is distantly related to none other than Vice President Dick Cheney. Undoubtedly, Obama took a lot of ribbing over that. Maybe those jokesters ought to sleep with one eye open because Obama's "family legend" is correct. We rule the statement True.

The statement

"I don't know if people are aware of the fact... but the family legend is that Wild Bill Hickok, he's a distant cousin of mine."

Barack Obama, Wednesday, Springfield, Mo.

The ruling

It's utterly preposterous, but here's the math: sixth cousins, six times removed.

Is Wild Bill in Obama's family background? 07/30/08 [Last modified: Friday, August 1, 2008 1:30pm]

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