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RG2603.AM:  James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok, 1837-1876

Records, research material:  1860-1861, 1926-1937, 1954-1961

Jefferson County, Neb.:  Law officer, plainsman

Size:  0.5 cu.ft.; 1 box and 1 reel of microfilm


James Butler, “Wild Bill,” Hickok was born in Troy Grove, Illinois, on May 27, 1837, the son of William Alonzo and Polly Butler Hickok. After receiving an elementary education, Hickok went west in 1855 where he joined General James Lane’s Free State Forces in Kansas. In 1858, he was elected constable of Monticello Township in Johnson County, Kansas.

During the next few years, Hickok was employed as a stagecoach and wagon driver for the firm of Russell, Majors, and Wadell along the Oregon and Santa Fe Trails, and in 1861 came to the Rock Creek Stage Station in Jefferson County, Nebraska. It was here that the now-famous Hickok-McCanless affair occurred on July 12, 1861. In this incident, Hickok reportedly killed McCanless and two other men. Although acquitted of murder in Gage County District Court, the affair laid the basis for Hickok’s reputation as a gunfighter.

During the Civil War, Hickok served as a scout, spy, and courier with the Union army, and after his discharge in 1866 received an appointment as deputy United States Marshall at Fort Riley, Kansas. While at Fort Riley he also served as a scout in various military expeditions against the Indians on the plains. Between 1869 and 1871, Hickok served as Marshal of Ft. Hays and Abilene, Kansas, and is credited with restoring order to these previously lawless communities.

In 1872-1973, Hickok toured the eastern United States with Buffalo Bill Cody’s theatrical productions but soon returned to the West. In the winter of 1876 he renewed his acquaintance with a Mrs. Agnes Lake, the owner of a circus playing in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and the couple were married on March 5, 1876. Hickok soon left for the Black Hills in Dakota Territory in the hope of finding gold. While in Deadwood he was murdered by Jack McCall on August 2, 1876, during a card game at a local saloon.


This collection consists of one box of manuscript material arranged in three series: 1) Correspondence, 1926-1954; 2) Legal Documents, 1860-1861 and 3) Miscellany.

This collection relates to the Hickok-McCanless affair at Rock Creek Station, Jefferson County, Nebraska, and the trial of Hickok and others in Gage County District Court in 1861. The bulk of the material consists of correspondence and research materials of George W. Hansen and Addison E. Sheldon used in the article, “True Story of Wild Bill-McCanless Affray in Jefferson County, Nebraska, July 12, 1861,” published as an entire issue of Nebraska History (Volume 10, 1927) and reprinted in 1968 (Volume 49). The correspondence includes several letters from Hickok and McCanless relatives or acquaintances.

Of primary interest are original documents of the Hickok murder trial, which are found in Series 2 and also on microfilm. Additional material in the collection includes printed matter and newspaper clippings relative to various aspects of the Hickok-McCanless affair and of the career and reputation of Hickok.


Series 1 – Correspondence, 1926-1954

Box 1


  1. Between George W. Hansen and Addison E. Sheldon, 1926-1937

  2. Between George W. Hansen and others, 1927-1932

  3. Between Addison E. Sheldon and others, 1927-1935 and undated

  4. Miscellaneous, 1927-1932, 1954

Series 2 – Legal documents, 1860-1861 (also on microfilm)

  1. Warrants, subpoenas, and other documents from the Gage County District Court regarding the trial of Hickok and others for the killing of McCanless

Series 3 – Miscellany

  1. Edited manuscripts for the Hickok-McCanless issue of Nebraska History, 1927

  2. Newspaper clippings

  3. Scrapbook compiled by Hansen containing correspondence about Hickok and McCanless

  4. Printed materials


Subject headings:

Hansen, George W., 1848-1936

Hickok, James Butler, 1837-1876

Jefferson County (Neb.) — History

McCanless, David Colbert, 1828-1861

Sheldon, Addison Erwin, 1861-1943


APD/meg               12-15-1983

Revised TMM        04-06-2007; 01-21-2022