July 12, 1861 - Wild Bill Hickok: The Legend Begins
James Butler 'Wild Bill' Hickok engaged in his first gunfight at Rock Creek Station, Nebraska on this date.
While the details are questionable, we do know that 3 men died that day - all on the side opposing Hickok and friends. The only survivor from the other faction was a 12-year-old boy, and he was not allowed to testify at the trial.
The root cause of the matter seems to have been money. In 1859, Dave McCanles purchase a small spread on Rock Creek, on the Oregon Trail. He made several improvements to the place, including the building of a toll bridge and an additional cabin. In 1861, The Pony Express needed relay stations, and the McCanles place was selected as one of the sites. Originally, the station was leased from McCanles, later it was 'purchased' by The Pony Express System. But, it seems that the money was a little slow in coming, at least it seemed so to Dave McCanles, who had not received any of the three promised payments by the time the third payment was due. Each time that he inquired about payment, he was told by the station master (Horace Wellman) that the payment would be arriving 'soon'. Each time, McCanles went away with with an ever-increasing temper, a temper that he did little to hide.
On July 12, 1861, Dave, his son (Monroe), and two hired hands (James Wood and James Gordon), rode over to inquire about the overdue payment. McCanles was met at the door by Mrs. Wellman, with young Jim Hickok (known in those parts as 'Duck Bill' due to his distinctive nose and protruding lips), joining her at the door after McCanles made a threat to drag Horace out of the station. McCanles asked for, and received, a drink of water. As he was returning the water dipper a shot rang out from the interior of the station, striking McCanles in the heart and killing him instantly. Whether that shot was fired by Wellman, or Hickok, is still unknown to this day.
The shot caused Monroe, Wood, and Gordon to begin fleeing for their lives. Hickok slightly wounded Gordon, then took off after Wood, accompanied by Wellman's dog, and the station's stock tender, Doc Brink. Horace Wellman caught up with Gordon and finished him off with a blow to the head from a garden hoe. Wellman's dog caught up to Woods and was fighting with him when Hickok and Brink arrived on the scene. Brink's shotgun was used to kill Wood - again we don't know who actually fired that shot. Monroe escaped and reported the incident to local authorities.
At the trial, Monroe McCanles was not allowed to testify - the only witness allowed to testify was Mrs. Wellman. Horace, Jim, and Doc were all acquitted on the basis of self-defense.
It is rumored that the next person who used the nickname 'Duck Bill' in front of Hickok was firmly persuaded that the proper nickname would henceforth be 'Wild Bill'.
Hickok was able to parlay his new reputation into a future career as a lawman in some of the Kansas cow-towns.
Suggested Reading:
♠Cunningham, Eugene
♠Holbrook, Stewart H.
  Wild Bill Hickok Tames the West
♠May, Robin
♠Miller, Nyle H.; Snell, Joseph W.
  Why The West Was Wild
♠O'Connor, Richard
  Wild Bill Hickok
♠Raine, William MacLeod
  .45 Caliber Law
♠Rosa, Joseph
  The Gunfighter - Man or Myth?
♠Trachtman, Paul
  The Gunfighters (Time-Life Old West Series)
♠Turner, Thadd
  Wild Bill Hickok : Deadwood City - End of Trail
♠Wilstach, Frank J.
  Wild Bill Hickok : The Prince of Pistoleers

Back to Top of Page
Top of Page