|Great Gold Robbery from Wikapedia
The Great Gold Robbery took place on the night of 15 May
1855, when three London firms each sent a box of gold bars and coins from
London Bridge station for Paris via the South Eastern Railway. A total
of 200 lb (91 kg) weight of gold, worth around £12,000 (equal to
£1,011,341 in present day terms) was stolen en route to Folkestone,
from where the gold was to be shipped across the English Channel to Boulogne.
On the night of 15 May 1855, three boxes containing gold
belonging to Abell and Co., Spielmann, and Bult were delivered by a firm
of carriers to the South Eastern Railway at London Bridge station where
they were put aboard the guard's van.
The boxes were sealed and bound with iron bars and were
placed in safes secured by Chubb locks. The duplicate keys to the safes
were held by confidential servants of the railway company in London and
Folkestone, and also by the captains of the South Eastern railway's boats.
When the boxes were taken out of the safes at Boulogne
and weighed, it was discovered that one weighed 40 lb (18 kg) less than
it should have, while the other two each weighed a little more. Despite
this discrepancy, the boxes were transferred to a train for Paris. Upon
arrival in Paris they were weighed again and when they were opened, it
was discovered that lead shot had been substituted for the gold. It was
clear that the robbery had not taken place between Paris and Boulogne due
to the weights corresponding.
Inquiries were made as soon as the news of the robbery
came from Paris to discover where the robbery had been carried out. Initial
press reports stated that "it is supposed that so well-planned a scheme
could not have been executed in the rapid passage by railway from London
to Folkstone." However, after an investigation it was concluded that it
could not have taken place at Folkestone or aboard the cross-Channel boat,
or prior to the arrival of the boxes at London Bridge station, and therefore
must have taken place aboard the train.
Four police forces in Britain and France made extensive
inquiries for months and arrested hundreds of suspects for questioning
but found nothing. Afterwards many of those who had handled the boxes reported
small discrepancies like holes and broken seals. The main suspects were
railway staff members at Folkestone. The South Eastern Railway offered
a sizeable reward and named its own investigator but received only false
information. The official British theory was that the robbery had taken
place on the continent, while the French police claimed it had happened
in England because of the discrepancy in the boxes' weights at Boulogne.
In August 1855 Edward Agar, a professional criminal and
associate of crooked barrister James Townsend Saward, was arrested for
passing a false cheque; in fact, he had been set up by a rival. Agar was
sentenced for penal transportation to Australia for life, and meanwhile
sent to Pentonville prison. From prison Agar wrote to Fanny Kay, mother
of his illegitimate child, and mentioned that William Pierce, a former
railway employee, was supposed to have paid her £7,000 (equal to
£589,949 today). Pierce, in fact, had given her no money.
Kay grew suspicious and in the summer of 1856 visited
the governor of Newgate prison. The governor contacted Mr Rees, the investigator
for the railway company, and took her to see him. When Kay told Rees about
the money, he went to see Agar who, at the time, was in a prison hulk at
Portland. When Agar heard what had happened, he decided to tell Rees what
had happened and eventually described the robbery at length.
Agar had met Pierce years earlier when Pierce had worked
as a ticket printer for the railway company. When Agar returned to England
after some time in Australia and America, he met Pierce again and they
discussed the possibility of stealing some of the gold frequently shipped
between London and Paris on the South Eastern railway. Pierce appears to
have been the originator of the plan, and suggested that he could get hold
of impressions of the keys to the safes which protected the gold. He was
assisted by his associate, railway guard James Burgess.
Pierce and Agar travelled to Folkestone to watch the delivery
of the luggage, and make their plans, and attracted the suspicion of the
police and the railway authorities with their observation of the booking
clerks and the luggage porters. They separated, Pierce returning to London,
and Agar remaining behind, where he managed to discover where the key to
the bullion safe was kept, though he despaired of ever managing to get
hold of it.
Pierce decided to recruit one William George Tester, who
was a clerk in the railway superintendent's office. In July or August Pierce
discovered that the safe locks were to be returned to Chubb for alterations
and Agar was informed that Tester would briefly have the new keys in his
possession after this was done. The new safe had two locks, with two different
keys, Chubb at first sending only one key to each safe. Tester took these
keys to Agar, who made an impression of them in wax.
The difficulty now was to get an impression of the safe's
second key. In October 1851 Agar arranged to have a box of bullion worth
£200 (equal to £19,749 today) sent on the train to Folkestone,
where he would collect it under an assumed name. Agar watched as the safe
was opened by a clerk using a key taken from a cupboard. He and Pierce
then met in Folkestone where Pierce took advantage of the absence of the
booking clerks from the office to simply walk in, and take the safe key
from the cupboard – which had been left with its key in the lock – and
hand it to Agar, who made a wax impression, then returned it to where he
had found it.
Having made duplicate keys from the impressions, Agar
travelled down to Folkestone several times in the guard's van with Burgess,
to test the keys and adjust them until they fitted the safe's locks.
The conspirators decided not to steal any bullion until
a good haul could be made. In the meantime they prepared for their robbery
by obtaining lead shot equal in weight to the gold which was to be stolen,
so as to delay discovery of the theft, preparing 200 lb (91 kg) of shot
equal to what £12,000 of gold would weigh. They divided the shot
for easier handling, placing some in carpet bags and some in courier bags,
which could be carried on their person and hidden by a cloak.
Finally, on 15 May 1855, Tester met Agar at the station,
and told him it was "all right" and Agar and Pierce drove to the station
dressed as gentlemen, and bought first-class tickets for Folkestone. They
gave their carpet bags of lead shot to a porter, who in turn gave them
to the guard, Burgess, who put them in his van. Agar boarded the guard's
van with Burgess, while Pierce got into a first-class carriage.
As soon as the train began to move, Agar opened the safe
and found the three bullion boxes. He removed the iron bands from one of
the boxes using a mallet and chisel, took out the gold bars and substituted
lead shot, then replaced the bands and replaced the box's wax seal with
a wax taper and an ordinary seal.
It had been arranged beforehand that when the train halted
at Redhill Tester should relieve Agar and Pierce of a share of the gold
and at that station a bar of gold was placed in a black bag which Tester
had brought. In the confusion of the train stopping and starting off again,
Pierce got into the van with Agar and Burgess, and when it had set off
again they opened up a second box. The third and final box contained small
bars of Californian gold. Pierce and Agar could not take all of this, but
took a large portion of it, substituting lead shot as before.
When the train arrived at Folkestone the boxes of "gold"
were unloaded, and Burgess, Pierce, and Tester carried on to Dover on the
train. At Dover they took their carpet bags from the guard's van and proceeded
to the Dover Castle Inn, where they ordered refreshments before returning
to London by train.
In the following weeks, Agar and Pierce melted down the
gold and sold some of it. Burgess received £700 (equal to £58,995
today) and others £600 (equal to £50,567 today). When Agar
was arrested, Pierce buried some of the gold in the pantry under the front
steps of his house.
Arrests, convictions and sentencing
Fanny Kay was taken to lodge in the house of police inspector
Thorton for safekeeping. Further investigation corroborated Agar's story.
Rees recovered gold worth £2,000 (equal to £168,557 today).
Some railway employees Agar had dealt with recognised him.
William Pierce, Jeremy Forsyth, and James Burgess were
arrested in London in November 1856. William Tester, who had left to work
as a general manager for Swedish Railways, was arrested when he visited
relatives in England.
The trial at the Old Bailey began on 10 January 1857.
The main witnesses were Agar and Kay. On 12 January Burgess and Tester
were sentenced to penal transportation for 14 years. Pierce received two
years for larceny with periodical solitary confinement.
An account of the trial was published soon afterwards,
with illustrations by Percy Cruikshank (eldest son of Isaac Robert Cruikshank).
One hundred years on from 1855, Michael Robbins wrote
a detailed feature about this incident called The Great South-Eastern Bullion
Robbery in The Railway Magazine May 1955 issue.
Michael Crichton's novel The Great Train Robbery and subsequent
feature film presents a highly fictionalised version of the event, portraying
Pierce (played by Sean Connery), as a gentleman master criminal who eventually
escapes. The true story of the robbery can be found in the book by David
C. Hanrahan: The First Great Train Robbery.
The robbery also featured as one theme in the Victorian
mystery novel entltled "Kept", written by D.J. Taylor; however in this
novel the mastermind behind the crime evaded capture with much of the proceeds.
One of the strongboxes and a sack of the lead shot can
be seen on display at the National Railway Museum.
|Union Pacific Big Springs robbery from
The Union Pacific Big Springs Robbery of 1877 was a legendary
robbery of $60,000 in newly-minted $20 gold pieces being shipped from the
San Francisco Mint to a bank in the East. Coverage of the sensational heist
in the contemporary press made famous Sam Bass and his gang of "Black Hills
Bandits." The event remains the biggest single robbery in the history of
the Union Pacific Railroad.
On September 18, 1877, Sam Bass, Joel Collins, Jack Davis,
Tom Nixon, Bill Heffridge, and Jim Berry, robbed a Union Pacific train
(express train No. 4) out of San Francisco at a water station in present-day
Big Springs, Nebraska, resulting in no fatalities. Under the cover of night,
The Black Hills Bandits, as they were referred to, made off with “$60,000
in newly minted twenty-dollar gold pieces from the express car and $1,300
plus four gold watches from the passengers” (Clayton). Boarding the train
at 10:48 on a Tuesday night, the bandits found $450 in the way safe, used
for storing passenger’s valuables.
After interrogating an attendant as to why the main safe
would not open, one of the bandits pistol-whipped the man. While the accomplices
did not believe the lock was on a timer, making it impossible to open the
safe before the train reached its destination, Bass realized the attendant
was not lying (“Sam Bass and His Train”) and called off his rowdy comrade.
As the gang was walking toward the door—all but empty
handed and ready to flee the scene of the crime—something caught the eye
of one: three wooden boxes stacked by the main safe (“Sam Bass and His
Train”). Opening the boxes, the gang discovered “$20 gold pieces headed
from the San Francisco Mint to an Eastern bank”, them its $60,000 contents(“City
of Round Rock”). Each member of the Black Hills Bandits made off with his
share of the earnings, split six ways, accounting for the “first and greatest
robbery of a Union Pacific train” and placing our character Bass in the
midst of a crucial turning point in his life (McEntire 195).
However, there was one capture — John Barnhart, station-master
(McEntire 195). Though he made it out alive, others among the gang were
not so lucky. Eight days after the robbery, Collins and Heffridge were
killed by Sheriff Bardsley and a group of “ten United States Soldiers”
( McEntire 195). Berry, having been wounded at the hand of the law, died
a short distance from his home in Mexico, Missouri. Two thousand, eight
hundred and forty dollars was recovered from his person (McEntire 195).
Assumedly, Nixon escaped home to Canada, while Bass and Davis drove south-bound
with their money and their lives, the former hidden under the seat of their
escape buggy (“City of Round Rock”).
Bass’s robbery of the Union Pacific marks his succession
to fame. Before this job, the fatherless outlaw had worked as “farmer,
teamster, gambler, cowboy, saloon owner, [and later as a] miner” (O’Neal
35) in order to support himself. However, his continual losses on the race
track and in the saloons led Bass to robbery. After a brief stint of trying
to operate a freight line “in the black”, Bass turned to stagecoaches.
But, not turning a profit, Bass rounded up a gang for the Big Springs Robbery.
Following his Big Springs heist, Bass spent money prolifically,
gaining him the title of the “Robin Hood”. He paid handsomely for services
rendered: “payments of twenty dollars for a dozen eggs or a pan of warm
biscuits were reported from many directions” (“The Sam Bass Legend” 116).
Later owing to his success is the ballad written about the man, in which
the following lines appear:
"On their way back to Texas they robbed
the U.P. train,
And then split up in couples and started
Joe Collins and his partner were overtaken
With all their hard-earned money they
had to meet their doom."
Only after the Union Pacific job did the law — in the
form of freelancers hoping to cash in on a reward — come after the gang
(“City of Round Rock”). And even after the robbery, with all of that money
in his possession, Bass returned to crime a mere four months later.
As expressed on the City of Round Rock’s website, “Many
people have believed that there was no way that he could have spent the
money.” People began to think that in his stagecoach-robbing years and
up until his robbery of the Union Pacific, Bass robbed for profit. However,
post- Union-Pacific, “since it is hard to imagine that Sam could have used
up all of his gold before he started train robbing again, it lends credence
to the story that Sam robbed for sport more than for profit” (“City of
Round Rock”).With the robbery of the Union Pacific, Bass transformed into
a bona fide outlaw, from for-profit to for-pleasure robbery.
|Aztec Land & Cattle Company from
Aztec Land and Cattle Company, Limited ("Aztec") is a
land company with a historic presence in Arizona. It was formed in 1884
and incorporated in early 1885 as a cattle ranching operation that purchased
1,000,000 acres in northern Arizona from the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad.
It then imported approximately 32,000 head of cattle from Texas and commenced
ranching operations in Arizona. Because Aztec's brand was the Hashknife,
a saddler's knife used on early day ranches, the company was known more
famously as The Hashknife Outfit. The company has been in continuous existence
Aztec was incorporated in New York, New York in 1884 by
a group of investors led by Edward Kinsley, a wool merchant and member
of the State Board of Railroad Commissioners of Massachusetts, and Henry
Warren, a former lieutenant in the Union army with some, albeit limited,
ranching experience. The investors were hoping to take advantage of the
recent drop in cattle prices. In the early 1880s, drought had become a
serious problem to ranchers in Texas. To recoup their investment, many
of these ranchers left their cattle herds intact during the dry times with
the intention of selling off the cattle when the market was better, which
resulted in overgrazing. By 1885, the beef industry had collapsed because
thousands of cattle in west Texas, held off the market for better prices,
were either dead or starving on barren plains. Separately, the Atlantic
& Pacific Railroad was having financial difficulties and sold 1,000,000
acres of Arizona grassland to Aztec at $0.50 per acre. Aztec then entered
a joint venture with the Continental Cattle Company of Texas and began
exporting droughted-out cattle from Continental’s Texas range to Arizona
via rail and traditional cattle drives. The original Aztec headquarters
was located across the Little Colorado River from Saint Joseph, Arizona
(now Joseph City), but was moved to Holbrook, Arizona shortly afterward.
In addition to the cattle, Aztec acquired one of Continental's
brands, the Hashknife, because the cattle it imported from Texas were already
branded with it. In these new and unsettled Western ranches, it was especially
important for cattle to be branded to prove ownership and minimize theft,
which was common and at times rampant. The Hashknife brand was registered
in Arizona, as it was in Texas, and placed, after 1895, on the left rib
of cattle and left shoulder of horses. For both cattle and horses, the
blade faced up. Some of the original Hashknife cowboys also came west to
work the new ranch in Arizona, among them, according to Aztec’s records,
a cowboy known only as “Baconrind Bill”.
Sheep Wars and Future Leaders
Several of Aztec’s early employees were Texas cowboys
whose abilities made them legends among their fellow ranchers during their
years in Arizona. Some were involved in Arizona’s Pleasant Valley War in
the late 1880s and early 1890s, a decade-long feud between cattlemen and
sheep herders over rangeland and resources that took place, in part, on
Aztec land. A few were killed in that war, but a number went on to become
local, state, and national leaders of some repute. Among these, the son
of Aztec’s earliest ranch superintendent, William Hood Simpson, became
the commander of the 9th Army in Europe during the worst fighting of World
War II. Another former employee, and son of an Aztec stockholder, Henry
M. Atkinson, later founded Georgia Power in Atlanta in 1902, which is now
a subsidiary of the Southern Company, an electrical utility in the southeast
Change of Strategy
Aztec continued ranching until about 1905, when after
years of drought, harsh winters and low cattle prices, the company sold
its cattle. Robert H. Carlock, a long-time principal in Aztec and author
of Aztec’s most comprehensive history, summarized both Aztec’s initial
business strategy and the cause of its troubles:
“ Cattle were supposed to generate the cash flow
that would be paid to the stockholders as dividends. The land would be
there…to secure the loans and expenses until the cattle could carry it.
But the cattle never made it. ”
After selling its cattle, Aztec embarked on a program
of leasing its grazing land to local cattle ranchers—a program that continues
to this day. Many of the company’s current grazing lessees are direct descendants
of its original lessees.
As of 2017, Aztec and its affiliates own approximately
240,000 acres in Navajo County, Arizona and 320,000 acres of mineral rights
(some without surface ownership) in Navajo and Coconino Counties. It is
the second largest private landowner in Arizona and holds one of the few
remaining large-scale tracts of rural private land available for development
in the state. As Robert H. Carlock observed, “Aztec’s land has changed
little in the past century. When traveling between Winslow and Flagstaff
on I-40, if one looks south some forty or fifty miles, the thin blue line
of the [Mogollon] Rim, still the southern boundary of Aztec’s vast acreage,
can be seen.”
Aztec, with a partner, also owns the Apache Railway, a
Class III short-line railroad running for 55 miles off the BNSF Railway’s
transcontinental mainline near Holbrook, Arizona. The Apache Railway serves
much of Aztec’s land, providing access to both national and international
markets, and has operated continuously since its incorporation in 1917.
|Fairbank Train Robbery from
The Fairbank Train Robbery occurred on the night of February
15, 1900, when some bandits attempted to hold up a Wells Fargo express
car at the town of Fairbank, Arizona. Although it was thwarted by Jeff
Milton, who managed to kill "Three Fingered Jack" Dunlop in an exchange
of gunfire, the train robbery was unique for being one of the few to have
occurred in a public place and was also one of the last during the Old
In the 1890s, Burt Alvord and his partner in crime, Billy
Stiles, were serving as deputy sheriffs in Willcox. Law enforcement paid
little, though, so they began robbing trains belonging to the Southern
Pacific Railroad. For a while they managed to be successful and went undetected
by their fellow lawmen.[
According to James H. McClintock, train robbery was popular
in Arizona at the time, which was exemplified by the passing of a statute
in 1889 that made it punishable by death. However, the law was never enforced
and several train robberies occurred between 1889 and 1899. One of the
most daring, according to McClintock, was the Cochise Train Robbery. On
September 9, 1899, Alvord's gang robbed a train as it was stopped at the
town of Cochise. There they forced the staff off at gunpoint and then blew
up the safe with dynamite. After taking several thousand dollars in gold
coins and bills, the gang rode into the Chiricahua Mountains, unsuccessfully
pursued by a posse under Sheriff Scott White and George Scarborough.
Like at Fairbank, the Cochise robbery took place in public
as well, although it was nearly midnight and there was no gunfight. According
to the Historical Atlas of the Outlaw West, by Richard M. Patterson: "Most
Western train robberies occurred on a lonely stretch of track, usually
far enough outside the nearest town to give the robbers plenty of time
to raid the express car or the passenger coaches and disappear over the
nearest ridge." Alvord and Stiles must have thought it was easier to rob
a train in town than in the middle of nowhere so they came up with a plan
to hold up a Wells Fargo express car as it was stopped in front of the
train station in Fairbank. The express car, Alvord hoped, would be carrying
the United States Army's payroll for the soldiers stationed at Fort Huachuca.
Also, the crowd of people that was sure to be gathered at the station would
provide the bandits with human shields.
The train was traveling from Nogales to Benson, but it
had to stop at the little town of Fairbank, located a few miles west of
Tombstone, to offload some cargo. Alvord and Stiles knew that Jeff Milton
was working for Southern Pacific as an express messenger so they made arrangements
to have five men rob the train on a night that he was not supposed to be
working. In the mean time, Alvord and Stiles would maintain their guise
as honorable deputies.
The night chosen for the robbery was February 15, 1900,
and the five bandits were Bob Brown, or Burns, "Bravo Juan" Tom Yoas, the
brothers George and Louis Owens, and "Three Fingered Jack" Dunlop. When
they arrived in town, the bandits dismounted and blended in with the crowd,
pretending to be drunken cowboys.
At this point there are some conflicting accounts, although
there are only slight variations. According to Bill O'Neal's Encyclopedia
of Western Gunfighters, as the train approached Fairbank Jeff Milton was
standing at the open door of the express car when the bandits opened fire
on him from the station and wounded him. However, according to Robert M.
Patterson, the train came to a full stop before the bandits made their
approach and one of them shouted "Hands up!" to Milton before the shooting
According to Patterson's version, at first Milton thought
that the call to surrender was a joke, but, when the bandits called out
a second time and shot off his hat, he quickly reassessed the situation.
Milton was substituting for a friend at the time of the robbery and otherwise
would not have been on the train. He had left his revolver on his desk
inside the car, but his sawed-off shotgun was next to the door and within
reach. Milton hesitated though because using his shotgun would put innocent
bystanders at risk. So when the bandits decided to open fire again one
of their first shots struck Milton in the left shoulder. Milton then fell
to the floor badly wounded, but he managed to grab his shotgun just in
time to use it on Dunlop, who was trying to enter the car. Eleven pellets
struck Dunlop somewhere in his body and a final pellet hit Yoas in the
upper leg or behind.
After the initial exchange, Brown and the Owens brothers
began firing volleys into the express car while Yoas ran away to mount
his horse. In response to the fire, Milton crawled over to the metal door
of the car and slammed it shut just as another volley came in. He then
applied a makeshift tourniquet, hid the key to the safe behind some luggage,
and fell unconscious.
Because of his final acts, when the bandits boarded the
train they thought Milton was dead and they could not find the key. Without
the key or dynamite, there was no way to open the safe so the wounded Dunlop
was loaded onto his horse and the bandits rode out of town. According to
James H. McClintock, the bandits got away with only seventeen Mexican pesos.
The bandits headed for the Dragoon Mountains, but, at
a point six miles from Tombstone, Dunlop had to be left behind with a bottle
of whiskey to ease his pain. Possemen under the command of Sheriff Scott
White found Dunlop on the next morning and a few days later they captured
Brown and the Owens brothers while they were traversing a pass in the Dragoons.
Dunlop later died in a Tombstone hospital, but not before revealing that
Alvord and a local cattleman named William Downing had been involved in
organizing the Cochise robbery. He was one of the last criminals to be
buried in the Boothill Graveyard.
Initially the police thought Dunlop's claim that Alvord
was somehow involved in the robbery must have been false, being that he
was one of the "noisiest and most active pursuers." Later on, however,
Billy Stiles surrendered and made a full confession. Stiles said that it
was he and a man named Matt Burts who held up the train at Cochise, but
it was Alvord and William Downing who planned the robbery and provided
the dynamite for the safe. Stiles said he received only $480 for his participation
in the robbery and it was believed that he confessed because of his dissatisfaction
with his share. According to McClintock, the police treated Stiles as little
more than a witness so he was not placed in jail and was allowed a certain
amount of liberty. This would later prove to be a mistake.
When Alvord was arrested he was put in the Tombstone jail
with Downing, Burns, and Yoas, who was captured in Cananea. He wasn't in
jail for very long though because on April 7, 1900, Stiles broke in, shot
Deputy Marshal George Bravin in the foot, and freed Alvord and Yoas. Downing
refused to leave his cell and Burts was outside with a deputy sheriff at
the time so the other three men took all the weapons they could find and
then fled into the desert on stolen horses, leaving Downing and Burts in
The bandits are next found at the home of Alvord's wife,
a cattle ranch near Wilcox, where they announced that they intended to
rob a few more trains. Meanwhile, the local police and territorial officials
were busy authorizing various amounts of reward money for the capture of
the bandits. There was also support from the private sector as well; William
Cornell Greene, the owner of the large copper mine at Cananea, offered
$10,000 for the capture of Alvord or Stiles.
The reward money made no difference though. Stiles remained
on the run until he surrendered in 1902. He briefly served in the Arizona
Rangers under Captain Burton C. Mossman before going to Mexico and rejoining
Alvord, who was still at large. Finally, the Arizona Rangers entered Mexico
and managed to wound both Alvord and Stiles during a shootout near the
village of Naco in February 1904. Alvord was captured as result, but Stiles
got away. He was eventually killed in Nevada while serving as a lawman
under the name William Larkin.
Because he was popular among the authorities, Alvord was
charged for "interferring with United States mails", instead of train robbery,
which would have meant death. Alvord was put in the Yuma Territorial Prison
and he remained there until 1906. When he was released, Alvord went to
Central America and was last seen in 1910 while working on the Panama Canal.
William Downing received similar treatment. Because he was a prominent
cattleman, as well as a former member of the Bass Gang, Downing was not
charged with train robbery either, but on another charge he served seven
years in Yuma. Not long after his release, the Arizona Ranger Billy Speed
shot and killed him.
Jeff Milton received much praise for foiling the Fairbank
robbery. Although his arm was crippled, Milton continued serving as a lawman.
He died in Tombstone in 1947.
In 1961, the Fairbank train station was moved to nearby
Tombstone and restored. It now serves as the city library and is open to
the general public.
|Baxter's Curve Train Robbery from
The Baxter's Curve Train Robbery, also known as the Sanderson
Train Robbery, occurred in 1912 near the town of Sanderson, Texas. Ben
Kilpatrick and his partner, Ole Hobek, attempted to rob a Southern Pacific
express car, but they were stopped by one of their hostages, David A. Trousdale,
who managed to kill both of the bandits.
Ben Kilpatrick, known as the "Tall Texan", was originally
a member of Butch Cassidy's Wild Bunch, but he was caught after the 1901
Great Northern Robbery in Montana and sent to the federal prison in Atlanta,
Georgia. Upon his release, exactly ten years after the Great Northern Robbery,
Ben went straight back to a life of crime.
Old West historians have often written Ben Kilpatrick
off as being entirely unable to commit a robbery without the help of Butch
Cassidy or Kid Curry, but after his release from prison, a man named Ole
Hobek and he executed a series of "spectacular" bank and train robberies
within a short time. The robberies did not yield much gain, though, which
necessitated further robberies.
Little is known about Hobek's life prior to his release
from prison, where he is believed to have met Ben. However, anticipating
Ben's release, he made an appearance in West Texas in the spring of 1911.
Claiming to be a detective, he shared a hack with two men from San Angelo
who were taking a trip to Sheffield. Once there, Hobek disappeared without
paying his share of the bill. Investigators later determined that he contacted
someone in Christoval, where some of Ben's relatives lived. Hobek was next
seen in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was working for the L.B. Price Mercantile
Company from July 1911 until February 5, 1912.
At about 12:05 am, March 13, 1912, Kilpatrick and Hobek
boarded Southern Pacific's Train #9 in Dryden and rode it west towards
Sanderson. Once they were out of town, the two robbers put on masks and
made their way to the front of the train to take the engineer, D. E. Grosh,
two of his crewmen, and the express messenger hostage. The robbers then
ordered the engineer to stop the train at the first iron bridge west of
Baxter's Curve, which was located roughly midway between Dryden and Sanderson
and was where they had left their horses.
While Kilpatrick was holding the engineer at gunpoint,
Hobek went to the express car with the express messenger, David A. Trousdale,
and the two crewmen, to disconnect the following cars and commence the
actual robbery. Along the way, Trousdale managed to arm himself with an
ice mallet that was used for a shipment of frozen oysters. He concealed
it upon his person until an opportune moment. A few minutes later, as Hobek
was looking down to pick up a package, Trousdale struck him in the head
with the mallet and killed him.
Trousdale then armed himself with Hobek's rifle and gave
pistols to the two crewmen. They then turned out the lights and went to
the back of the car to wait for Kilpatrick to show himself. According to
Trousdale, they waited over an hour before he became impatient and decided
to make his way to the express car. When he appeared in the window of the
express car, Kilpatrick called out the name "Frank" a few times, but was
then shot in the head by Trousdale without ever seeing him.
With the robbery thwarted, the engineer restarted the
engine, reconnected with the other half of the train, and then drove to
Sanderson, where the sheriff of Terrell County was informed. The sheriff,
David L. Anderson, who was notable for having been a member of Billy the
Kid's gang, later captured a third accomplice in the robbery attempt; an
11-year-old boy who was recruited to hold the horses at Baxter's Curve.
Interestingly, the bandits' horses were found to have been shod backwards,
presumably so that when they made their escape their tracks would appear
to be going the opposite way.
The train arrived in Sanderson about 5:00 am. The bodies
of Kilpatrick and Hobek were immediately removed from the train and propped
up in front of the depot for their now-famous photograph. After the photograph
was taken, the bodies were wrapped in sheets and placed together in a large
wooden coffin. Kilpatrick and Hobek were originally buried in an unmarked
plot at the Cedar Grove Cemetery, but their grave has since been discovered
and is now a popular tourist attraction.
David Trousdale was regarded as a hero, and as a reward,
he was presented with $1,000 and an engraved gold watch from Wells Fargo
& Company. He also received another $1,000 from the federal government,
$500 from the Southern Pacific Railroad, and a gold watch fob inlaid with
a diamond inside the star of Texas from grateful passengers. The engraving
on the watch said "In recognition of the courage and fidelity displayed
in an attempted train robbery near Dryden, Texas, March 13, 1912, Wells
Fargo and Co." The fob said "Presented by passengers, west-bound Sunset
Express, for bravery displayed March 13, 1912, near Dryden, Texas."
Although the Baxter's Curve Train Robbery is sometimes
considered to be the last train robbery in Texas history, the Newton Gang
robbed a Southern Pacific train near Uvalde in 1914.
David A. Trousdale's account
The following was reported by David A. Trousdale to the
police in Sanderson:
“ The first I knew of being held up was when the
train came to a stop at Baxter's Curve. I did not go to the door, and did
not know there was any trouble until the train porter [crewman], or the
engineer called me and asked me to come to the door. I opened the door,
and when I looked out, there was a man with a mask on, standing there pointing
a rifle at me. The train porter told me that I was wanted out there; that
there were robbers and I had better come out. I stood there for a few seconds
and the robber told me to 'fall out' with my hands up. When I got out of
the car, he walked up to me and searched me for arms; and then made me
stand back with the train crew. He made the conductor and the train porter
uncouple the baggage cars from the coaches and move away about 10 to 12
feet…. He searched the helper [crewman], and gave the conductor and porter
instructions to go back and stay with the coaches; the mail clerk, the
helper, and I to go on the engine. One of the robbers rode on one side
of the engine in the gang way and one on the other side. They carried us
something like a mile from the place they held us up. The robber going
by the name of 'Partner' stayed with the engineer and fireman; and the
other one going by the name of 'Frank' had the mail clerk, the helper,
and myself line up by the side of the engine tank and marched us back to
the baggage car and made us get up into the car, holding our hands up.
He then carried us over to the safe and had me open it. I only had seve[n]
money waybills in the safe, and out of the seven, I told h[i]m that there
were only two of any value to him. I got him to take two packages one valued
at $2.00 and the other $37.00. After he had looked over the car, he said
he would go through and see what Uncle Sam had and he carried the three
of us back to the mail car. He cut one mail pouch open and put all of the
loose registers in it; and threw it out with four others, filled with registers;
and told me that he would take me across the river (meaning the Rio Grande)
with him. I thought if there was any chance for me to get the advantage
on him, it would be by taking him back through my car where I could find
some means of turning the table on him. We passed through the combination
car and I opened two or three packages of express; and he took his knife
and cut one telescope grip open. He took out a Mexican hat and said there
was nothing in the baggage that he wanted. The robber, helper Reagan, and
I went on into the through car. I told him that I was not getting fighting
wages and did not care how much he took out. In this way I gained his confidence
and he quit treating me as roughly as he had been. Before this, he would
jab me with his rifle and command me around in a boisterous manner. When
we passed by a stack of oysters, I had an empty packer standing in about
the center of the car, and the robber and I had to pass between the oysters
and the packer, and this crowded me close to the oysters; and as we passed,
I picked up the ice-maul [mallet] which was lying on them. I placed it
behind my overcoat so that he could not see it and got him away from the
door and showed him a package which was going to Sanderson, and told him
that the package was worth more than all he had gotten, I thought. He rested
his rifle against his leg and started to pick up the package in his right
hand. While he was in this position, I saw my chance, and so the first
blow I struck him was at the base of the skull, adjoining his head from
his neck. Then I struck him two more blows in the top of the head after
he had fallen, and knocked his brains out the third blow. I took two .45
caliber Colt revolvers and a 401 Model Winchester off this man. I gave
the mail clerk and the helper each a revolver and I kept the rifle. I sent
the mail clerk and helper to the rear end of the car. I turned the lights
out and then joined them and the only way we could see was from the lights
in the combination car. I waited something like two hours for the second
man to come back. He did not show up for sometime, and I fired a shot through
the top of the car, and in a few minutes, he came to the door and called
the name 'Frank' three times; and waited about five minutes, then I saw
his head sticking out from behind a trunk forty feet from me. The first
time he put his head out I did not get a chance to shoot, but the second
time he was looking toward the rear of the car. I fired one shot – the
bullet striking him about an inch and a half above the left eye, passing
through his head and started going through the end of the car. After waiting
about an hour, we pulled the air and the engineer backed the engine and
baggage cars back to the coaches. The fireman came back to the coaches
and called me. I told him to get the conductor and some of the passengers
before I could open the car, that I had killed two men. In a few minutes
he came back with the conductor, porter, and fifteen or twenty passengers.
When I found that there was no one out there to harm me, I opened the door
and admitted the train crew. After getting the train coupled up, we moved
up to where the US mail had been unloaded and found everything there as
it had been unloaded, and I got the two sealed packages that had been taken
out of my safe. I transferred all of my money run to Helper Reagan and
went as far as Sanderson and unloaded the dead bodies with the six guns
taken from them. I then went before the Grand Jury and the coroner's court
and was released. In conclusion, I will state that while on the way to
Sanderson, I removed six sticks of dynamite and a box of dynamite caps
and an 'Infernal Machine' from the man called 'Partner'. The man called
'Frank' had a pint of Nitro-Glycerine in his side pocket. "
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