David Colbert McCanless (1828 - 1861)

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About David Colbert McCanless

David C. McCanles (18??-1861) - McCanles owned the property upon which the Rock Creek Station sat on the Oregon Trail in Nebraska. On July 12, 1861, McCanles would be shot and killed by Bill Hickok, giving rise to Wild Bill's frontier legend and labeling the entire affair as the "McCanles Massacre." McCanles bought the Rock Creek property when he was on his way to the Colorado gold fields in the spring of 1859. However, after meeting a number of miners who were returning from Colorado with nothing in their pockets other than disappointment, he decided to take up "road ranching” instead. There are a number of variations on the tale of McCanles' killing, which are still in debate today. His "outlaw" persona comes from Hickok, who said he was a ruthless killer her lead a vicious the vicious McCanles Gang throughout the region. However, other versions of the tale say that while he was the local bully, and perhaps an unethical businessman, he was not an outlaw. In any event, McCanles, along with at least two other men, were shot and killed by Bill Hickok after an altercation at the ranch.

Established in 1857 along the Oregon and California Trails, Rock Creek Station, near what is now Fairbury, Nebraska, is today preserved as a Nebraska State Park.

The history here is rich in its tales of emigrating pioneers as well as legends of the Old West. 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.

In the Spring of 1859 along came a man named David C. McCanles, and his brother, James, who were on their way to the Colorado gold fields.

However, David became discouraged as he continually met miners returning from 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 Pony Express. 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 Pony Express relay station, while the West Ranch continued to be used as an emigrant rest stop, a freight station, and the home of the McCanles family.

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.

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David McCanless's Timeline

1828
1828
1861
1861
Age 33