17. Eastern Stations
awoke to clear blue skies and calm and rode on, now following the Little
Blue River to Rock Creek station. This
became famous because of the killings of three men in July 1861 by a then
lowly stable hand named James Butler Hickok, later to be known as “Wild
Bill”. In one version of
the story Wild
Bill, outnumbered, fought the dastardly McCanles gang and single-handedly
gave them their due. In
another, McCanles, two neighbors and his 12 year old son went to collect
rent on the station which was in arrears.
An argument started and “Wild Bill” who already hated McCanles
for calling him “Duck Bill”, a reference to his protruding lip, killed
the men in cold blood. The boy, who escaped, was too young to testify in court.
The truth is probably somewhere in between for Hickok was never
noted for unnecessary killing. He was acquitted of the charge of murder and went on to
become one of the most famous gunfighters in the west.
This original pony station has survived. It was called Midway.
crossed the border into Kansas and immediately came upon fresh cut golden
wheat fields and bales of straw. The
sky was deep blue and John Denver was playing in my head.
I sped along highway 36 where signs exhorted voters to re-elect
Albert (Butch) Clark for Sheriff. I
wondered if William (Killer) Smith or John (Shoot first and ask questions
later) Jones might be standing against him.
I spead ahead to St.Jo. to visit the Patee House museum and its curator Gary Chilcott with whom I had been in touch from Australia. I wanted to find out the best spot to join up with the re-enactment riders. The affable Mr. Chilcote showed me around the excellent displays and I learned of the history of the trail. (He himself had been on a crossing on which a four-wheel drive had suffered 3 simultaneous blow outs -how lucky was I!). He suggested the well preserved station of Hollenburg where the riders stopped for a meal. I went back down the highway and put up my tent on the free town camp site at Marysville ,the location of another historic station. Unfortunately one border of the site was the Union Pacific railroad and a procession on wailing freights prevented much in the way of sleep.
Hollenburg a group waited for the riders among them three Germans and a
Czech in Pony Express gear of red double-breasted shirts and blue
bandanas. They were part of
the Pony Express Club of Germany and the leader had come to the USA the
last four years and followed the ride over it’s whole course doing a
couple of legs himself.
was talking to a taciturn older cowboy, his chest hair so long, straight
and white it looked like he was wearing a fluffy boa around his neck.
“Why dja’ let’m tek yer guns off yer?”
that question again.
more sets of ears pricked upon hearing this and the owners hustled over to
hear the answer. I explained
that I didn’t really know the details, but as far as I knew, only
assault rifles and semi-automatics were involved.
They seemed mollified by this explanation.