The 5th card of The Dead Man's Hand

When Wild Bill Hickok was shot, he was holding this poker hand. It is now called The Dead Man's Hand.
  The fifth card was either a or a .
Nobody knows for sure which it was. I don't like unsolved mysteries so I am going to try to prove it logically one way or the other.


The Dead Man's Hand is sometimes depicted like this but I never hold a poker hand this way.

I hold it like this with the useless card in front to conceal the 'good' cards from peekers.

Also, once I know what is in my hand I no longer hold it fanned or, at least, hold it close to my chest. If someone tried peeking into my hand from behind they would only see the useless card. Wild Bill Hickok was a good poker player and I am sure he would hold his cards this way, too. The fact that he was shot in the back of the head shows that there were people behind him and one of them might have tried to look into his hand and signal it to one of the other players. Obviously, he would take care to conceal his Aces and 8s.

Now, about that 5th card.
Could a 9 be mistaken for a 5? I don't think so. There are simply too many red diamonds scattered over the face of a 9 and not very much white space. I think it is not possible to mistake a 9 for a 5. What about mistaking a 5 for a 9? It sounds as though a similar argument can be applied to show that it is not possible to mistake a 5 for a 9.

That argument, however, fails to take into account a very important point: When Hickok was shot he would have slumped forward and blood from the wound could easily have dripped onto the 5 and changed its appearance.

If a drip of blood covered the region near the top right of the 5 it could easily have made the 5 look like a 9. That would not have caused confusion to anyone who saw the hand at this stage because it would be possible to distinguish the blood for the pips and still recognise the card as the 5 of diamonds.

However, if the cards had been picked up and reassembled with the Aces and 8s on top of the 5, the pips can no longer be seen. All that can be seen is the 5 defaced into a 9 by a bloodspot. Anyone seeing the hand this way might mistakingly think the 5th card is the 9 of diamonds.

The odds favour being the 5th card.

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