James H Capen

The McCandless Gang at Rock Creek

Taken in part from The Overland Stage to California
Frank A Root & William Elsey Connelley

JAMES H. CAPEN was born in Maine in 1840, and drifted out to Kansas in the spring of 1860. His first trip across the plains to Denver was from Leavenworth with one of Jones & Cartwright's ox trains. He was employed as messenger on the Central Overland California and Pike's Peak Express line in the spring and summer of 1861. His run was from St. Joseph to Denver, but he reports few incidents of special interest happening on the route during the brief period he was connected with it. He was the first messenger to arrive, about four o'clock in the morning, at Rock Creek station, in southern Nebraska, where "Wild Bill" Hickok and "Dock" Brink, two stage drivers, had killed the notorious McCandless gang of outlaws that had some time been watching for and threatening their lives. Capen saw the whole gang lying dead on the ground, where they fell in the desperate fight that took place.

Capen had a slight misfortune one trip while coming in from Denver. His coach was upset at one of the stations and the vehicle badly disabled because the driver, who wanted to show off his skill as one of the best reinsmen on the line, made too short a turn. This accident caused considerable delay, and before resuming his trip the messenger was obliged to return to Fort Kearney to get another coach. The driver was reported to the division agent, who promptly discharged him for his carelessness. While Capen was in the stage company's service, Amos Hodgman was also employed as messenger alternately with him over the same route.

Both young men afterwards enlisted in the Seventh Kansas Volunteer Cavalry (the famous "Jayhawker" regiment), commanded by the gallant Col. C. R. Jennison. The regiment went South during the war, and Hodgman was killed in battle at Wyatt, Mississippi in 1864, but Capen served until the rebellion closed.

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