McCanles Incident

In 1861 he ['Wild Bill' Hickok] was involved in a deadly shootout with the McCanles Gang at the Rock Creek Station after 40-year-old David McCanles, his 12-year-old son (William) Monroe McCanles, and two farmhands, James Woods and James Gordon, called at the station's office to demand payment of an overdue second installment on the property, an event that is still the subject of much debate. David McCanles "called out" Wild Bill from the Station House. Wild Bill emerged onto the street, immediately drew one of his .36 caliber SA Navy revolvers, and, at a 75-yard stand-off distance, fired a single shot into McCanles's chest, killing him instantly (ref. Am. Handgunner). Hickok and his accomplices, the station manager Horace Wellman, his wife, and an employee, J.W. Brink, were tried but judged to have acted in self-defense. According to Joseph G. Rosa, a Hickok biographer, the shot that felled the elder McCanles came from inside the house, a tale Wild Bill's friends invented to keep the "heat" of both the law and McCanles' extended family off Wild Bill (extended generational member). It remains unknown who actually fired it. Rosa conjectures that Wellman had far more motive to kill McCanles, a belief supported by McCanles's son's own account. There were also women in the house, conceivably armed with shotguns. McCanles was the first man Hickok was reputed to have killed in a fight.

McCanles threatened to kill him and take the stock. That afternoon McCanles returned with three other men and started to enter the house. Wild Bill shot him. Two of the other men were killed, one got away. At Wild Bill's trial, which was held in Beatrice, no one appeared against him. His plea was self-defence [sic] and he was cleared.”

— F. J. Elliott

Mrs. McCanles, realizing the odds against her, sent word to David McCanles's brother, James, over in Johnson County. James came quickly, stopping at Beatrice to talk to the sheriff. He swore out warrants for Wellman, Hickok, and Brink.

The three were arrested and taken to Beatrice for trial. The trial was a closed affair, not even Monroe McCanles being allowed in the courtroom. He could have been the prime witness but for some reason, maybe his age, he was barred. The jury brought in a verdict of self defense and all three men were released.