Theodore Roosevelt, 1903

"Let us speak courteously, deal fairly, and keep ourselves armed and ready." - Theodore Roosevelt, 1903

Friday, June 14, 2013

Buffalo Bill and The McCanles Massacre



Buffalo Bill was a friend of Wild Bill Hickok .

Buffalo Bill  Cody describes an incident when his friend was riding the trail as a Pony Express Rider:

"The affair occurred while Wild Bill was riding the pony express in western Kansas.

The custom with the express riders, when within half a mile of a station, was either to begin shouting or blowing a horn in order to notify the stock tender of his approach, and to have a fresh horse already saddled for him on his arrival, so that he could go right on without a moment's delay.

One day, as Wild Bill neared Rock Creek station, where he was to change horses, he began shouting as usual at the proper distance; but the stock-tender, who had been married only a short time and had his wife living with him at the station, did not make his accustomed appearance.

Wild Bill galloped up and instead of finding the stock-tender ready for him with a fresh horse, he discovered him lying across the stable door with the blood oozing from a bullet-hole in his head.

The man was dead, and it was evident that he had been killed only a few moments before.

In a second Wild Bill jumped from his horse, and looking in the direction of the house he saw a man coming towards him.

The approaching man fired on him at once, but missed his aim.

Quick as lightning Wild Bill pulled his revolver and returned the fire. The stranger fell dead, shot through the brain.

'Bill, Bill! Help! Help! save me!'

Such was the cry that Bill now heard. It was the shrill and pitiful voice of the dead stock tender's wife, and it came from a window of the house.

She had heard the exchange of shots, and knew that Wild Bill had arrived.

He dashed over the dead body of the villain whom he had killed, and just as he sprang into the door of the house, he saw two powerful men assaulting the woman.

One of the desperadoes was in the act of striking her with the butt end of a revolver, and while his arm was still raised, Bill sent a ball crashing through his skull, killing him instantly.

Two other men now came rushing from an adjoining room, and Bill, seeing that the odds were three to one against him, jumped into a corner, and then firing, he killed another of the villains.

Before he could shoot again the remaining two men closed in upon him, one of whom had drawn a large bowie knife.

Bill wrenched the knife from his grasp and drove it through the heart of the outlaw.

The fifth and last man now grabbed Bill by the throat, and held him at arm's length, but it was only for a moment, as Bill raised his own powerful right arm and struck his antagonist's left arm such a terrible blow that he broke it.

The disabled desperado, seeing that he was no longer a match for Bill, jumped through the door, and mounting a horse he succeeded in making his escape - being the sole survivor of the Jake McCandless gang.

Wild Bill remained at the station with the terrified woman until the stage came along, and he then consigned her to the care of the driver.

Mounting his horse he at once galloped off, and soon disappeared in the distance, making up for lost time."

Now that, that's the tale that Wild Bill Hickok told Buffalo Bill.

The problem with it? Well, it's all a lie! It's the lie that built the legend of Wild Bill Hickok.

Years later, Buffalo Bill will meet David McCanles son, Monroe, who was there and survived the murders. Buffalo Bill will get the real story as to what took place.

The McCanles Massacre, or the Rock Creek Massacre, contributed heavily to Wild Bill Hickok’s legend. Wild Bill's description of being attacked by the ficticious "McCanles Gang" was what really made Hickok famous.

Rock Creek Station was a stagecoach and Pony Express station in southeastern Nebraska, near the present-day village of Endicott.

The station was established in 1857 by S.C. Glenn along the Oregon Trail and California Trail, along the west bank of Rock Creek.  The station was a supply center and campground for emigrants.

In March 1859, the property was purchased by David McCanles and his brother, James, who added a toll bridge across Rock Creek, charging each wagon from 10¢ to 50¢ to cross the bridge depending upon their ability to pay.

In 1860, David McCanles, a former law enforcement officer in the South, built a cabin and dug a well on the east side of Rock Creek which became known as the East Ranch.

In early 1861, David McCanles sold the East Ranch to the Russell, Waddell, and Majors firm, which owned and operated the Pony Express for a cash deposit with the remainder to be paid in installments.

The West Ranch continued to be used as an emigrant rest stop and the home of the McCanles family until April, 1861, when McCanles sold the West Ranch to freighters Hagenstein and Wolfe and moved his family to another property three miles south of Rock Creek Station.

On July 12, 1861, the day of the McCanles Massacre, James Butler Hickok was just a stock-tender there at the station. No, he was not a Pony Express rider.

According to the Pony Express Museum in in St. Joseph, Missouri, on July 12, 1861, while working as a stock-tender for the Rock Creek Pony Express station, James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok is confronted by station owner David McCanles over unpaid rent from Russell, Majors and Waddell.

David McCanles arrived at the station with his 12-year-old son Monroe, his cousin, and another employee at the ranch to see the relay station manager Horace Wellman over la long overdue installment from the company.

The company was having financial difficulties at the time, and McCanles was arguing with Wellman when he was shot by then 24-year-old stock tender Bill Hickok who was hiding behind a calico curtain.

McCanles's son immediately rushed into the building, where he ran to his father. The two other men who, like McCanles, were unarmed, attempted to flee but Hickok threw the rifle he had shot McCanles with onto a bed and stepping from the cabin, wounded both with his pistols.

The two men, James Woods and James Gordon, were then killed by other members of the relay station; one was killed by station employee J.W. Brink with a shotgun blast and the other was hacked to death with a hoe by Horace Wellman's wife.

During the attack McCanles' son was able to escape via a dry creek bed.

Hickok, along with Wellman and Brink, were charged with the murders.

When the case was brought to trial, Monroe McCanles was not permitted to testify by the judge -- so subsequently the court heard only the account given by the station employees. Within 15 minutes, the judge ruled the defendants acted in self defense and were acquitted.

Yes, even though McCanles and the others were all un-armed a judge acquitted Hickok and two others on grounds of self defense. Amazing huh?

So, have you ever wondered where someone with the name James Butler Hickok gets the nickname "Wild Bill"?

Since Bill is usually used for someone named William, where did "Wild Bill" come from?

Well, its a fact that Hickok was known as "Duck Bill" because of his sweeping nose and protruding upper lip which he covered with a mustache later in life.

And yes, believe it or not, the original court records of the McCanles Massacre has James Butler Hickok listed as also known as "Duck Bill."

Later, a dime novelist would change "Duck Bill" into "Wild Bill" with the stroke of a pen.

That derisive nickname of "Duck Bill" was given to him by none-other than David McCanles, who had sold the buildings that became the Pony Express’s Rock Creek station, on credit, to Russell, Majors and Waddell.

The first major description of the incident appeared in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine in February 1867, six years after the massacre took place.

It was written by Col. George Ward Nichols, who claimed to have been told the story by Hickok in 1865. Now there's a great source for the truth!

According to the Harper’s version, which by the way is different than the version Hickok told Buffalo Bill, while guiding a detachment of Union cavalry through southern Nebraska, Hickok decided to stop and visit an old friend, Wellman’s wife, at Rock Creek Station.

Upon Hickok’s arrival, she told him that a Confederate gang led by David McCanles was pursuing him, and almost immediately they were set upon by the bloodthirsty Confederates.

Hickok's fanciful tale went on to say that David McCanles invaded the Wellmans’ cabin and prepared to shoot Hickok, who acted faster and shot McCanles in the chest.

In quick succession, Hickok was said to have then killed five members of the "McCanles Gang" and knocked out another before three more gang members threw him down on a bed, only to be bested in hand-to-hand combat by the knife-wielding Hickok.

Hickok claimed a lot of things during his life. Taking on 10 or more hombres at once was nothing new to Hickok!

He claimed to have been a Pony Express rider, which of course would have made him the biggest, tallest, heaviest, largest, and oldest express rider that ever rode the short lived mail route.

Sorry to say that wasn't true either. You see, according to the Pony Express Museum in St. Joseph, Missouri, James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok never worked as a pony express rider and only worked as a stock-tender.

Reason being, he was too old and too heavy to be a pony express rider.

He claimed to have been a Union scout and spy, and that he had killed well over a 100 men. The guy had a lot of stories.

The incident at Rock creek station was the beginning of a career for Hickok as a gunfighter, lawman and gambler.

He was good friends with Buffalo Bill and did perform in his Wild West Show for a brief period.

Hickok would later move to Deadwood, South Dakota where he would be shot in the back of the head while playing cards in a saloon.

It is interesting to note that another player refused to relinquish his seat to Hickok after Hickok asked for it so that he could sit with his back against the wall.

It's true. Hickok's usual habit was to sit with his back against the wall so he could watch any approaching adversary or enemy that might wish to kill him. He was even known to play cards with his left hand so that his right hand, his gun hand, would always be able to defend himself.

When he approached the poker table a fellow Deadwood resident, Charlie Rich, was seated in Hickok's preferred seat against the wall.

Hickok asked him to give up his seat but Charlie Rich refused.

Hickok then reluctantly took a seat at the side of the table where he could still have a good view of the front door. However, the saloon also had a side entrance, which was to Hickok's back.

As Hickok was playing, Jack McCall snuck in through the side door, and come up behind Hickok. Then, with his six-shot revolver drawn, and reportedly shouted “take that” and shot him once in the back of the head.

Hickok fell dead instantly as the bullet passed through his brain, came out his cheek, and lodged in the left wrist of Captain Massie seated across from him.

Maybe, if Charlie Rich had gave up his seat to Hickok, he would have probably saved his life from being murdered?

Years later, Buffalo Bill met Monroe McCanles who was 12 years old when he witnessed the Rock Creek Massacre and got away alive by out-running his assailants.  

Buffalo Bill’s visit to Major Israel McCreight at The Wigwam in Du Bois, Pennsylvania, on June 22, 1908, was an event in Wild West history.  

On this occasion, Monroe McCanles was McCreight’s house guest and told Buffalo Bill about his father Dave McCanles having been shot by Wild Bill Hickok.  

The "McCanles Incident” was the subject of controversy and debate by Wild West historians.  

Monroe McCanles disclosed that at the age of twelve he had stood beside his father Dave McCanles when James Butler "Wild Bill" Hickok shot him dead behind a curtain.  

For the first time, Buffalo Bill heard the facts of the historic event and remarked that he would include the story in his projected autobiography.  

McCreight wrote articles about the "McCanles Incident" the rest of his life  

Buffalo Bill found out the truth about what took place at Rock Creek. And sadly, he found out that his friend Hickok was not what he pretended to be.    


Story by Tom Correa





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