Antedating of "Dead Man's Hand"

Fred Shapiro fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU
Mon Jul 31 00:23:58 UTC 2006

dead man's hand (HDAS 1908)

1886 _Grand Forks Daily Herald_ 1 July 3 (America's Historical Newspapers)
I was present at a game in a Senator's house one night and saw him win
$6,000 on one hand.  It was the dead man's hand.  What is the dead man's
hand?  Why, it is three jacks and a pair of tens.  It is called the dead
man's hand because about forty seven years ago, in a town in Illinois, a
celebrated judge bet his house and lot on three jacks and a pair of tens.
... When his opponent showed up he had three queens and a pair of tens.
Upon seeing the queens the judge fell back dead, clutching the jacks and
tens in his hand, and that's why a jack-full on tens is called the dead
man's hand.

NOTE:  This citation tends to undermine the standard Wild Bill Hickock
derivation of the term.

Fred Shapiro

Fred R. Shapiro                             Editor
Associate Librarian for Collections and     YALE BOOK OF QUOTATIONS
   Access and Lecturer in Legal Research     Yale University Press,
Yale Law School                             forthcoming
e-mail: fred.shapiro at     

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