Rock Creek Station is the name for two stations or road ranches on either side of a ford of Rock Creek on the Oregon-California Trail in extreme southern Jefferson County, NE. The ranches were occupied from 1857-1867 and served many roles including: as a pony express station, stage station, general store, blacksmith shop, and likely a post office. The station became famous in 1861 when James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok shot and killed David McCanles over an unpaid debt owed to McCanles. A complete description of those events can be found in Nebraska History Magazine Volume 49 Issue #1.
Development of Rock Creek Station State Historical Park began in 1980. Archeological work undertaken in 1980 and 1981 uncovered foundation remnants of some buildings as well as building related artifacts. This information was used to reconstruct some of the ranch buildings as close to their historic nature as possible.
In more recent years History Nebraska has done further work at Rock Creek Station State Historical Park and the adjoining campground. In 2016 portions of open grassland at the park were subject to a controlled burn, and archeologists from History Nebraska surveyed those areas before and after the burn. Several archeological sites and isolated artifacts were found around the park away from the reconstructed ranches. Two scatters of Native American artifacts were found that predate the site’s use as a station. The survey allows for a more complete story of park to be told.
Most recently, in 2021 History Nebraska has surveyed two projects, an electrical upgrade to the camp ground and a bank stabilization project. During the trenching for the electrical line logs or planking was found in the ground. The wood may relate to the trail and could have assisted wagons navigating the steep grade up from the ford. These efforts showcase the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and History Nebraska’s commitment to maintain and improve the park while preserving its historic features.
Map of Rock Creek Station in 1870
Excavation of the “Main House” at the West Ranch
Photo of the East Ranch in 1860 from the Piecing Together the Past exhibit at the Nebraska History Museum
Reconstructed Buildings at the East Ranch
Reconstructed Buildings at the West Ranch
Wagon Wheel Rim Found in the Post Burn Survey of 2016
Electrical Line Installation in 2020