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Rock Creek Station and the McCanles
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Established in 1857 along the
California Trails, Rock Creek
Station, near what is now Fairbury,
is today preserved as a
The history here is rich
in its tales of emigrating pioneers as well as legends of the
Located along the west bank of Rock Creek,
the station served as a supply center and resting spot for the many
travelers headed westward in the 19th century.
When it was originally built by S.C. Glenn,
the "station” consisted of little more than a cabin, a barn, and a
make-shift store, where Glenn sold limited supplies, hay and grain.
the Spring of 1859 along came a man named
David C. McCanles, and his brother, James, who were on their way
Colorado gold fields.
Station today, July, 2006, Kathy Weiser.
This image available for
David became discouraged as he continually met miners returning
Colorado with nothing in their pockets but disappointment.
Changing tactics, David McCanles bought the Rock Creek
Station from Glenn in March, deciding to take up "road ranching”
rather than gold prospecting.
McCanles continued to operate the small store and built a toll
bridge across the creek. Prior to the bridge, pioneers were required
to hoist and lower their wagons down into the creek, before pulling it
up on the other side – quite a tedious process that could take hours
for each wagon. When the toll bridge opened, each wagon paid from 10˘
to 50˘ to cross the bridge depending upon the size of their load and
their ability to pay.
McCanles also built a cabin and dug a well on the east side of Rock Creek
which became known as the East Ranch.
The following year,
McCanles leased the East Ranch to the Russell, Waddell, and Majors
Company, which owned the Overland Stage Company and founded the
They installed Horace G. Wellman as their company agent and station
keeper and hired James W. "Doc” Brink as a stock tender. Later, the
company made arrangements from
McCanles to buy the station with a cash down payment and the
remainder in installments.
The East Ranch was
then used as a stage and
relay station, while the West Ranch continued to be used as an
emigrant rest stop, a freight station, and the home of the
In April, 1861,
McCanles sold the West Ranch to freighters Hagenstein and Wolfe
and moved his family to another location about three miles south of Rock Creek
Station. Always trying to make money,
McCanles sold the toll bridge several times with a number of
specific requirements in the contract. When the new owner failed to
meet the stipulations, he would take it back and sell it again.
Hickok had not yet earned the nickname of "Wild
when the Rock Creek incident occurred. In this photo, taken in
1858, he was just 21 years old.
This image available for photographic prints & download
In April or early May of
1861, the station hired on then-24-year-old stock tender
"Bill” Hickok and he became immediately at odds with
David McCanles, who had earned a reputation as the local bully.
Allegedly, McCanles teased
unmercifully about his girlish build and feminine features, as well as
nicknaming him "Duck Bill,” referring to his long nose and protruding
Perhaps in retaliation,
Hickok began courting a woman by the name of Kate Shell, who, even
though McCanles was married, apparently had his eye on.
the meantime, the Overland Stage Company had fallen behind on their
installment payments and on July 12, 1861,
McCanles, along with his 12 year-old son, Monroe, and two friends by
the names of James Woods and James Gordon came to the station to inquire
upon the status of the installments.
Not long after their
arrival, an argument ensued and profanities were exchanged, soon leading
to gunfire. In the melee,
shot David McCanles, and both James Woods and James Gordon, who were
seriously wounded, later died of their wounds. Twelve year-old Monroe
escaped to his home some three miles south of Rock Creek.
Though the details of
what actually happened on the fateful day continue to be debated, the
versions vary widely. Monroe
McCanles, who witnessed the entire event,
told a version something like this.
David McCanles had not received full payment from the Overland Stage
Company, he planned to take it up with the station manager, Horace
Wellman. That very day, the station manager had allegedly gone to the
company office in Brownville in order to obtain the money, he returned
empty-handed. Upon hearing this, an angry
McCanles soon arrived with two options in mind – either collect the
money owed or repossess the ranch.
Wagon Train in 1847.
This image available for photographic prints
The Rock Creek
Station Toll bridge has been rebuilt
at the state park, Kathy Weiser, July, 2006.
This image available for
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