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Stagelines, Stagecoaches and Stage Robberies of the Old West
by R. Michael Wilson
Hoaxes and Misinformation!
It would have been the perfect romantic ending to the saga of thrilling stagecoach
robberies if the “Last in the West” involved the only gun-
On January 2, 1901 the Castle Creek coach was robbed near Hot Springs Junction, A. T . On August 25 1902 Hyram Whipple robbed the coach from Patagonia to Washington Camp and on December 23, 1902 a stagecoach, when one mile from Fairbanks, was robbed by two road agents. The Arizona robbery reported on October 27, 1903 is controversial but still, with at least three other robberies occurring between May 1899 and December 1902, Hart’s adventure was not the last in the west. Even if you dismiss the Jarbidge, Nevada robbery, as some have, it would be hard to dismiss the robbery of the Durkee, Oregon stagecoach on April 5, 1915 and there were many other western stagecoaches robbed between 1899 and 1916.
There have been a few stagecoach robbery hoaxes, and once you know what to watch
for they are not difficult to identify.
First, look for some event which is much bigger, or considerably earlier than a genuine documented event. Take for example the instance of the robbery of a stagecoach on its way to Portland, Oregon with $500,000 in gold aboard. The largest amount ever shipped should be your first clue. Now the story goes that the stage line owners wanted the Concord coach to remain inconspicuous so that road agents would not know which coach carried the immense treasure. First they reinforced the coach to carry the great weight of the gold – an impossibility considering the way a Concord coach is put together. Then they hooked up a ten horse team to pull the heavy weight, and finally they put aboard several messengers but also took aboard passengers, which was intended to show that this was a typical stagecoach. Finally they had two guards on horseback meet the coach on the road. The coach continued until within 60 miles of Portland, and when in the most vulnerable part of the trip the two guards on horseback turned back, content that the coach would be safe for the remainder of the trip. A short distance further on the coach came to a narrow part of the road with a hill on the right and a steep precipice on the left. Here the road agents caused rock slides with explosions which closed the road, front and rear, and a third explosion knocked the coach from the road. However, coaches could be stopped by the most meager effort -
Another example is the only known female to rob a stagecoach by wielding a pistol
at the scene. In May 1899, Pearl Hart stopped a stagecoach near Globe, Arizona.
Afterward, Dutch Kate was conjured to rob a coach in about 1860, but of course there are few details. Then Lizzie Keith was created to rob a coach in about 1874. Keith was younger than Hart, feistier, prettier, and she robbed two coaches before being overpowered at the scene. Again, the details are few, but a check of the newspapers reveals no record of a Lizzie Keith and California’s prison records do not show a Lizzie Keith, or any name similar. Finally, the Harvey girls were created in Salmon Valley, Idaho and the robberies occurred in1891, eight years before Hart, but now it was five exceedingly beautiful young sisters who were just trying to save the family farm, while Pearl Hart was sending her plunder to her ailing mother. The Girls were captured after robbing five stagecoaches. Their father, who would allow no man to court his daughters, arrived at a compromise by letting the two oldest marry the judge and the sheriff in lieu of prosecution. However, there are no newspaper records of any stagecoach robberies and a check of the census records for Idaho show no Harvey family residing in Salmon Valley. While all these events have the characteristics of hoaxes, Pearl Hart was not the only convicted female stagecoach bandit, as Ol’ Mol Burgett participated in a stagecoach robbery near Durkee, Oregon in 1915, but only as the planner and as a lookout, not a gun-
R. Michael Wilson -
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