BIRTH OF AMERICA BOOKS (tm)

FEMMES FATALES, GAMBLERS, YANKEES AND REBELS IN THE GOLD FIELDS [1859-1869]

 

REAL PEOPLE, TRUE STORIES

HISTORICALLY ACCURATE AND FUN TO READ

(They're written like novels with dialogue based on journals, diaries and newspapers)

HISTORY AS IT HAPPENS(tm) IN HIGH ACTION AMERICAN HISTORY BOOKS

 

"God's finger touched him, and he slept eternally."

Alfred Tennyson [Poet 1809 - 1892]

CHAPTER 17

THE SHADOW OF DEATH ........................MID 1861

ames Butler Hickok had trouble dismounting with his left arm tore up, but this was Rock Creek Stage Station in Nebraska Territory. He was told to show up in March, and here he was! Hickok hoped the stage line wasn't too busted to pay him for the light work he could do until his arm healed. They'd warned him this station boss David McCanles was meaner 'n a bitch wolf with pups and twice as dangerous. Rumor was he'd near killed wrangler Harry Goff with what was way past Indian torture!

"State your business, Mister!" McCanles bellowed from the station door.

"Company sent me for light duty till my arm heals up."

"You think this is the Charity Ward?"

"No sir. I'll do an honest day's work, slashed arm or no."

"What's your name?"

Hickok didn't like using his real name when he was but half a man, so he answered, "Dutch Bill."

"All right, Duck Bill. Put your gear in that dugout down by the crick, where you'll sleep. Still got daylight. Grab a manure fork and clean that stable. How'd you hurt your arm?"

Hickok's temper did a low boil. "Fiddled too much."

"That may pass for funny where you come from, Duck Bill, but it ain't here. Where do you hail from?"

" Troy Grove, Illinois."

"How old are you, Yankee?"

" Be 24 on May 27th."

"You'll not be here that long. Now get to work!"

Hickok never let a little thing like anger come between him and the ladies. "Saw a right purty girl across the crick when I rode up. She married?"

McCanles wheeled in the doorway, his face furious. "You better swear to leave her be, Duck Bill, or you'll be the newest corpse in Hell before your next heartbeat."

Hickok was mentally cocking his Navy Colt, so he led his horse to the stable. Jack Slade killed workers over sour remarks. James Hickok needed a better reason. Hickok cleaned the stable, proud he hadn't told McCanles a grizzly had mauled his arm before leaving earth with four pistol balls in its throat.

After Pony Express rider Doc Brink got to know Hickok, he spilled all about McCanles. "Sarah Shull, across the creek, is his mistress. She fled from North Carolina with Sheriff David McCanles. When Mrs. McCanles got here, seeing Sarah enraged her! She still yowls about 'that whore.' "

"What's all this talk about Harry Goff, Doc?"

"McCanles caught Goff drunk on duty. Poured gunpowder on his beard and lit it! Goff would have died with his face fried if Sonny hadn't ducked him in the creek. Then McCanles tied Goff on an unbroken bronco and let him go on the prairie. Goff near died. Then he ordered Goff to climb a honey locust tree with needle sharp trunk thorns. Goff lit out."

"Guess I'm here to take Goff's job."

"You better hope not, Hickok!"

As Hickok's arm healed, he found more reasons to go "hunting" in the moonlight across the creek. Hickok wasn't surprised when Doc said, "McCanles has been sniffing around the dugout at midnight - with his Dragoon Pistol out."

Luckily, new Station Superintendent Horace Wellman and his common-law wife arrived to take over Rock Creek Station, which Russell, Majors and Waddell had purchased from McCanles on the installment plan. McCanles moved to his nearby ranch, not to be seen again until his June payment misfired. McCanles badgered Horace Wellman until he visited the company office to get the money only to return empty handed. R, M & W wouldn't even pay in hay or horses, and Russell was in Washington trying to save his firm.

Horace Wellman left on July 1, 1861 for the company office. Hickok became acting Superintendent and moved into the station where Sarah Kelsey and Sarah Shull were also staying "to comfort Mrs. Wellman."

Seeing Hickok and Sarah Shull under the same roof, McCanles lost control. He pounded the doors daily, demanding of Mrs. Wellman, "Give me back my station! You people gotta get out!" She often slammed the door in his face. McCanles caught Mrs. Wellman's father "stealing horses" and beat him savagely. Mr. Wellman returned home with their son July 11th.

On July 12th David McCanles rode up late in the day with a shotgun across his pommel, accompanied by his son William, James Woods and James Gordon. McCanles called Horace Wellman out and terrified him. "You little rat. If you don't clear my house of all your whores right now, I'll blow you apart with this scattergun!"

Mrs. Wellman stepped in front of her husband, yelling, "You filthy beast! If you raise that gun, I'll rip your eyes out!"

"My business is with men, not whores!"

Unable to watch McCanles murder a woman, Hickok stepped to the door. "Go home while you still can, McCanles!"

"I gotta have a drink of water!" McCanles gasped. Hickok filled a tin cup and handed it to McCanles, who gulped it down, gurgling, "If you wanta fight, Hickok, come out or I'll come in and drag you out!"

"There'll be one less McCanles if you try that!"

McCanles jerked his shotgun up and got shot through the heart, the impact of the bullet sprawling him on his back. Woods charged through the door. Hickok's bullet blew him back outside. Gordon dashed toward the door, but Hickok blasted a ball through the side of his belly, whirling him toward the brushy path along the creek. He staggered into the brush.

Rising, James Woods stumbled off to collapse in a weed patch. Mrs. Wellman tore out of the house shrieking, "Kill them! Kill them all!" Thoroughly mad, she chopped the wounded Woods to death with a grubbing hoe.

Doc Brink and stagedriver George Hulbert came running from the barn to join Hickok. One picked up McCanles's shotgun. Wellman unleashed a bloodhound to find Gordon's tracks along the creek. When they converged on Gordon in the brush, they couldn't see if he was aiming at them, so the man with the shotgun killed him. Gordon's corpse was wrapped in a blanket and buried where he fell. McCanles and Woods were buried on Soldier Hill.

Former Kansas Constable James Butler Hickok surrendered to local authorities, pleaded self defense and the prosecutor's case fell apart at trial.

Near the end of July, Hickok departed Rock Creek for Fort Leavenworth, Kansas where he enlisted in the Union Army as a Civilian Scout. Hickok was sent to Missouri, which had both a pro-northern and a shadow-rebel government in exile. Local newspapers said there were 23 Northern and 11 Con-federate states and that Lincoln had submitted the names of 26 officers, including former Missourian U.S. Grant, to Congress to become Brigadier Generals. Hickok served under Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon, who assaulted a larger Confederate force under General Simon Buckner at Wilson's Creek, Missouri. Lyon was killed early on. Scout Hickok saw his headless unit disintegrate. Hickok eased inside a leafy tree limb severed by artillery fire and floated down the creek to safety.

[Note: The remainder of Chapter 17 has been deleted and replaced here by pages 310 and 311 of the EPILOGUE .]

Another dangerous myth of the old West arose for James Butler Hickok in the Rock Creek, Nebraska shooting incident of July 12, 1861 at McCanles Stage Station. A reasonably accurate version of the actual shootout appears above at pages 67-69 of this text.

Hickok later related the Rock Creek affair to Colonel George Ward Nichols, who embellished it into Hickok single handedly killing ten cutthroat desperadoes in a glorified gunfight he furnished to Harper's New Monthly Magazine under the title Wild Bill, the Scout of the Plains, published in February 1867. This monstrously exaggerated article launched Wild Bill as a celebrity in Kansas and the nation. On July 31, 1867 a dime novel, Wild Bill, the Indian Slayer, also glamorized Hickok's gun prowess, making him a target for every gunfighter who hoped to gain instant fame by killing him. Worse yet, the unembellished Wild Bill was grand enough that the truth alone would have made him a legend in his untamed young America.

 

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