Elko Daily Free Press from Elko, Nevada on October 6, 1998 · 16
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Elko Daily Free Press from Elko, Nevada · 16

Elko, Nevada
Issue Date:
Tuesday, October 6, 1998
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B4 ELKO DAILY FREE PRESS, Elko, Nevada Tuesday, October 6, 1998 Weekly MtT feature 1 1 1 1 1 m. -. vy -t i ' nrinrrvnrTTTi 41 --rr - T "t"'"T"' ' - . , ' - ."'': -.' v-fv 'v.w-" , . '; -"' 7aii travelers (and robbers) riding through Elko on the Central Pacific would have been greeted by this bleak scene in the late 1800s. (Northeastern Nevada Museum photo) Mow roe to a tram By Charles Greenhaw Nevada once claimed to be the site of the first train robbery in the United States. Certainly the 1870 heist of a Central Pacific train near Verdi ranks among the best planned and most spectacular of all railroad hijackings. And the 1883 holdup of a Central Pacific train at Montello might win awards for comedy, if the event had been made into a movie. The state's boast did not long remain unchallenged. People in Indiana objected, and suggested that Nevada was really a late-comer in the matter of train robberies. But Nevada train robberies of the 19th century had plenty of drama the stuff of Western fiction. The Central Pacific train robbed at Verdi in 1870 was hijacked again less than 24 hours later in Elko County. Many movies, especially Westerns, worked features of real railway heists into their plots. Film makers had plenty of raw material. Jesse James robbed a train in Missouri in 1874 and Sam Bass led a gang of robbers in four train holdups around Dallas in 1878. The "Wild Bunch," a collection of outlaws who gathered around Butch Cassidy. robbed trains and banks in much of the West. When the Cassidy gang robbed a train at Wilcox, Wyo., in 1899, they used so much dynamite that they blew the express car and its treasures to smithereens. Among the early railroad heist movies was "The Great Train Robbery," a silent film of 1903, which was remade in 1904. The title surfaced again in 1942 starring Bob Steele. in between, came "The Great K&A Train Robbery." a 1926 film with Tom Mix and Dorothy Dwan in lead roles. Probably the most popular "railroad Westerns" were "How the West Was Won" and "The Wild Bunch." John Wayne, star of scores of movies, acted in films with railway themes, but not all were Westerns, the Duke's devoted fans will recognize him in "Tycoon" ( 1947) with Loraine Day, and "The Train Robbers" (1973) with co-star Ann Margaret. Before the building of the railroad across Nevada in 1868-69. brigands in the state had schooled themselves by holding up stagecoaches and taking gold from Wells Fargo treasure chests and personal items from travelers. The holdups had techniques readily adapted by film makers: robbers pushing boulders on the tracks to stop the train; masked men brandishing pistols in the face of the Wells Fargo messenger, a mouthy, funny-faced, whiskered Gabby Hayes type of character refusing to turn over the gold to the robbers; hijackers dynamiting the express car. Tne motif of the polite bandit who thanks his victims after relieving them of treasures, seems to be connected with early train robberies in the Silver State. f i - ! ' ; 1 - f r 4 W If early Nevadans needed to boast about outlawry, they could have pointed to the double robbery of 1870, w hen the Central Pacific trains had been crossing Nevada for only 13 months. The train robbed near the lumber camp of Verdi on Nov. 5. 1870, was also hijacked later east of Wells at Pequop Siding. Indiana, or any other state, would probably have a hard time matching such epic rob bing. As that fateful eastbound train left Verdi about 1 a.m., several masked men appeared on board. (The number of robbers varies with different reports; descriptions of their activities also vary.) Two gunmen neutralized the engineer and fireman. Three of the robbers occupied the platform around the express car, where the gold was stored. About nine miles west of Reno the engineer whistled "Down Brakes" at the command of a gunman. The brake-man set the brakes. Then three gunmen on the express car platform cut the bell rope and removed the cou-plingpin that connected the "treasure car" with the rear train. The next order "Give her steam!" The engineer balked until he felt a revolver muzzle beside his ear. The engine snorted and whistled, and jerked ahead, pulling the express car while the rest of the train, with passengers, stalled near Verdi. When the engine was four miles from Reno, the engineer saw a big rock on the rails. He set the brakes and the steamer hooted and screeched as it stopped. The robbers had executed their plan. One of the masked men rapped on the door of the express car. Frank Marshall, the messenger inside, asked, "Who's there?" The answer "Marshall." Marshall was also the conductor's name, so Frank Marshall opened the door. He saw a stubby shotgun pointed at his face and quickly allowed the masked men inside. They threw three sacks of gold out into the snow-covered sagebrush. Miners on the Comstock would miss payday, as the pirates emptied about $40,000 from the car. The car contained an equal dollar amount of silver, but it must have been considered too heavy to carry. They left politely in the night after thanking Frank Marshall for being so cooperative that they didn't have to shoot him. Central Pacific workers reconnected the train and it chugged east, averaging about 20 mph. It stopped in the evening of Nov. 5 for about 25 minutes at Elko where $1,000 in gold was added to the Wells Fargo chest. Then it continued east about 80 miles before a band of five or six young robbers waylaid it, probably as "helper steamers" from Wells were pushing it slowly over a mountain pass. Some reports of the second robbery indicate that the site was Moors (now Moor), just east of Wells. Others place the event farther east a few miles at Pequop. The mail car still contained registered mail from California. The men took the mail, which probably contained a goodly amount of money. Then, with guns pointed, they demanded that the safe of the express car be opened. They got about $3,000 and rode away. The robbers at Verdi were accomplished hijackers. But they had not included a snowfall in their plans. One of the men was a "dandy" who wore boots favored by gamblers. His peg-heeled boot left a special track in the snow. The Washoe sheriff, who knew the habits and hangout of the "dandy," had strong evidence when he saw the imprint in the carpet of snow. He traced the tracks to a cabin and arrested six men At the trial, two men made deals with the prosecutors and turned state's evidence. Four robbers served 21-year terms in prison. Apparently the leader of the gang got a 10-year term, but it was reduced to three years. . i i - - . -A W MA fW4tt(MWW y V. k M S W A W Novices held up the train in Elko County. Young soldiers from Camp Halleck proved to be the brigands. The pastoral setting of the camp at the base of the Ruby range had few attractions for young Army toughs serving in the aftermath of the Civil War. Long marches to and from Arizona, beans and bran for meals, floggings for insubordination these did not build loyalty of all the youthful soldiers. An oral history of a Starr Valley settler of the 1870s relates that the camp was notorious for desertions, at least in its early years before it became Fort Halleck. About three weeks before the robbery, Edward Carr had been involved in a fracas at Sally Whitmore's sportin' house a couple of miles from Camp Halleck. Carr, a soldier in the Third Cavalry', U.S. Army, was appar ently the loser in the incident. He went to the camp, got a carbine, and returned to the brothel. Whatever his intentions, he shot Sally Whitmore in the groin. The wound was fatal to the lady whose businesses revolved around military posts and mining camps and the Pioneer Saloon in Elko. When the Elko constable came to arrest Carr, the soldier's friends resisted. As the constable rode away to get a posse, Carr and his young Army buddies deserted Camp Halleck. At the site of the robbery, the sheriff found evidence, including one of Carr's gloves, linking the deserters with the crime. Some of the robbers were captured on the stage road from Toano to Pioche; others on the Overland Trail in western Utah. For more than a decade after 1870, the Central Pacific had no picturesque robberies, although trainmen were constantly working to keep tramps off the platforms using long poles to punch the freeloaders on to the roadbed. Sometimes, tramps took long poles away from conductors and then punched the trainmen off the tops of railway cars. ' ' This picture of the fully restored CP. Huntington, one of the first steam locomotives of the Southern Pacific, appeared on a post card. A ' ft W ' m, ; ' f V W 'Wk ft A ft A ft W .WV'- A About midnight on Jan. 21, 1883, seven masked men struck the east-bound train at Montello. It had left Elko at 8 p.m. The outlaws stopped the iron horse by putting a red light on the water tank. Two gunmen boarded the locomotive, one from each side, and two others took the brake-man and conductor to a room under the water tank. Then the robbers rapped on the express car door. A.G. Ross, the messenger, cracked the door, saw the muzzle of a gun, and slammed the door shut. A robber shouted: "Hop out. G d d n you, and be quick about it!" But Ross stood his ground. Then the robbers rapped on the door on the opposite side. One yelled "Open the doors ... we are robbing the train!" Ross answered: "Just wait a minute until I get my boots on." "Never mind - p-A- - -f. -as. - ." "W- ' 1Jt- v , '- I xam leg r-i a f r& a-' '0- - - your boots!" replied the gunman. "You can put on your boots after we get the treasure box." Ross responded by firing his gun through the side of the car. A few seconds of silence followed. "Open the door or we will burn you out and murder you!" shouted one of the robbers. Ross fired again. "I'm not coming out!" The gunmen fired bullets into the express car from its four corners. Bullets hit Ross in a finger, one hip, and his side near his watch pocket, but he wasn't disabled. As the bandits decoupled the express car from the train, they heard the No. 2 train rolling into Montello, where it would stop to get water for the steam engine. They captured the conductor of No. 2 and made him pull the train onto a siding. Then they returned to Ross' car 'with coal picks and began hacking at the doors. But they made little progress. They ordered the engineer of No. 2 into the locomotive and told him to ram the express car with the iron horse. With the collision, the doors of one part of the express car burst open and the roof bubbled up. But Ross managed to pull the doors shut as the masked men tried to gfet to him; Then they ordered the engirteer to ram the express car again. But only a few sticks of wood remained for fuel and the steamer couldn't build up power. The outlaws gave up on the express car. They took a few dollars from the conductor, but didn't bother the passengers. Later they terrorized sheep-herders in the area, taking their money, valuables, and horses. People in Elko saw the bullet-riddled and wrecked express car as it came through town later. About 10 days after the train holdup, Wells Fargo agents and lawmen cornered the weary robbers near Deseret, Utah, following a chase of several hundred miles. A shootout followed, with two outlaws hit, one critically. A W W A A u This special Central Pacific train was sent across the Utah Salt Flats in 1869 en route to the Golden Spike ceremony that launched the transcontinental railroad. It was met by one of the last covered wagon trains. 1 Aftftwjri a It is tempting to write that the "last train robbery" in Nevada occurred July 11 1898, just east of Humboldt House, which was a fashionable dining stop near Imlay until the advent of railway dining cars around the turn of the century. But "lasts" are as elusive as "firsts." Railroad detectives remain busy pursuing modern robbers who try to heist trains of valuables. The robbery at Humboldt House would have been a spectacle, but unlike movie train heists, it happened at night, like the other robberies. As Southern Pacific passenger train No. 1 pulled out of the station at Humboldt at 125 a.m, two men (some reports have two whites and a black man) jumped on the rear of the tender. Showing revolvers, they ordered the engineer to stop the train. Then they went to the express car and ordered the messenger to open the door. When he refused, one of the desperados placed a stick of dynamite near the rear of the car. Then he warned the messenger that he would be blown up with the car if he did not come out. The engineer asked the messenger not to come out firing his gun for he (the engineer) might be hit by bullets. The robbers placed dynamite bombs on top of the safe and lit the fuse. Then they warned everybody to scramble to the front of the locomotive. The explosion blew out the sides of the car, raised its roof, and ripped open the safe. One of the bandits picked up the money while another escorted the crew several hundred yards east of the stalled train where the bandits had horses waiting. The robbers congratulated themselves, shook hands, bade the crew "Adios" and rode north, crossing the Humboldt River in the summer night Lawmen presumed that the outlaws had escaped into Oregon.

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