Nigel West Dickens, the “miracle elixir” merchant John Marston befriends early on in Red Dead Redemption, almost died because of his lies before the game even started. Considering the character’s penchant for lies, cons, and scams, it’s honestly surprising he lasted as long as he did, but small details and references in Red Dead Redemption 2 show that West Dickens’ survival in the Wild West was nearly cut short at least twice.
There are some characters who have prominent roles throughout both Red Dead Redemption and RDR2, like Dutch Van der Linde, Bill Williamson, and John Marston, but there are others who are only mentioned or referenced offhand a small number of times. Despite being one of the central instigators of Marston’s raid on Williamson’s base in the original Red Dead Redemption, the character doesn’t appear in-person at all in the game’s prequel. However, that doesn’t mean he wasn’t busy during that time.
Red Dead Redemption’s Nigel West Dickens can best be described as a snake oil merchant – someone who advertises a product as containing abilities that it absolutely does not. In one Red Dead Redemption mission John Marston attempts to assist Dickens in his schemes, utilizing his Dead Eye ability and pretending that it was Dickens’ magical elixir that caused him to shoot so well. Dickens continues to show this propensity for scamming unsuspecting people throughout the game, culminating in his near-arrest in West Elizabeth. Although Dickens was saved by John Marston once again there, West Elizabeth definitely wasn’t the first place he got caught.
In Red Dead Redemption, Nigel West Dickens has a rope burn scar across his neck, clear evidence that the character was hung at some point. How he escaped this hanging is unclear, and although his scams were likely the cause of someone getting mad enough to try to kill him, it obviously wasn’t enough of a scare to make him stop altogether.
That isn’t even the only time Dickens almost died due to his lies before Red Dead Redemption’s story started. In the Gunsmith catalogue in Red Dead Redemption 2, players can find a brief mention of Dickens in the entry for RDR2’s sawed-off shotgun. The brief description recounts the story of an Annesburg resident who, after her parents became addicted to Dickens’ elixir (which, during his West Elizabeth arrest, is revealed to be narcotics), holds Nigel West Dickens at gunpoint and threatens him with the weapon.
With all of these near-death experiences, it’s no wonder that the first time John Marston comes across Nigel West Dickens in Red Dead Redemption the character has been attacked for his scams yet again. While actually getting shot may be the closest to death that Dickens had experienced so far (although the ambiguity surrounding his hanging means that event could have been a pretty close call as well) none of these past encounters seem to put a damper on the character’s schemes. This is ultimately a good thing for John Marston in Red Dead Redemption, since it is with Dickens’ assistance that he meets Seth and Irish, and together the four of them mounted a formidable attack on Bill Williamson’s stronghold.