Chapter ThreeFirst Pacific Coast Train Robbery

     After much discussion during the summer months, a number of plots and proposals were chewed over and dismissed. However, a very workable plan started to evolve amongst several hardened prisoners during their typical Sunday routine. This routine consisted of gathering in the dining hall around 7 am. They were served their usual breakfast meal. Afterward, everyone was left to hang around the dining area for lunch and dinner. Some men played cards, others tried checkers. For the most part, the inmates were bored. The more astute noticed that on Sundays they were hardly guarded at all. Usually the Captain of Guard hung around outside the dining hall during the day. This observation was pointed out by old time highway man John Squires. He shared this observation with some of his old time stagecoach robbing buddies, John Chapman and Jack Davis. They were all ready to escape as soon as possible. They had ended up here after participating the year before in an infamous train robbery.
      As it turned out, this was the first train robbery in the west. It occurred at Hunter's Crossing, just outside the little town of Verdi not far from Reno. It was originally cited as the first train robbery in the world. While one of the earliest it was not the first of its kind. The first train robbery in the United States occurred near Seymour, Indiana, shortly after the end of the Civil War. The train robbers were Frank Slim, Billy Reno, Miles Ogle and Charles Anderson. They held up the train, threw the express messenger into a ditch nearby and stole $90,000 from the Adams Express safe. The hold-up between Reno and Verdi Nevada in 1870 was the first train robbery on the Pacific Coast
      It was planned by several successful old time highwaymen. Lawmen in both Washoe and Storey Counties were convinced that “Smiling Jack” Davis and John Squires had been in every stage hold-up over the past couple of years. However, their skills were so smooth that whenever they were arrested and brought to trial, they always succeeded in establishing a “reasonable doubt.” Because of them Wells Fargo started putting more guards on the payroll to provide added protection. Thus armed guards were assigned to ride behind their stage coaches and wagons.
      As they planned their next heist, Davis and Squires cased two or three stage routes. The old outlaws saw all the coaches were being accompanied by heavily armed men. These accomplished robbers were no fools.
      They could see there was no more easy money being delivered to them on the stage. So the outlaws retired for the time being. During this period they hung out for awhile at the Antelope Ranch Station run by Chat Roberts. He ran this popular stage station with his sons Dick and Bedford.
      The Reno Crescent said: “. . . the amiable landlord who runs the Antelope Ranch Hotel on the Susanville and Beckwourth Pass road in Long Valley has been in town for a day or two sloshing around generally among his friends. In town he is a bully boy and at home he keeps the nicest hotel in the country. Men who know him will ride an hour later to strike Roberts’ hotel.”
      Davis and Squires liked Robert’s place. Here they played cards and drank whiskey with their friends. But generally they were all bored to death. These men thrived on excitement and needed something to do.
      Most of them could rope and ride. They had a variety of skills. Being outlaws, however, they weren’t very good at regular jobs. They were forced to find a new way for a big payoff and it couldn’t require much effort. So they decided to rob a train. John Chapman was the ringleader of the robber gang. He and Squires conceived the idea of holding up a railroad train. It was a remarkably well-concocted plan. Chapman would travel to San Francisco. There he would gather information on valuable shipments being made along the tracks. He would telegraph Sol Jones in Reno with the details of a pending shipment. All the details were worked out to perfection.
      Chapman went to San Francisco to locate a target for them. The rest of the gang hung around Roberts’ place awaiting word. This included Squires, Jones, Davis, James Gilchrist, Chat Roberts, E.B. Parsons and Tilden Cockerell. They only made one mistake, but more on that later.
      In San Francisco, Chapman finally found out about a Wells Fargo shipment in which he was interested. He sent a telegram to Jones that read: “Send me sixty dollars tonight without fail”. It was signed J. Enrique.
      This was what Sol had had been waiting for. Now he knew a valuable cargo would be on the Central Pacific heading that evening for Ogden, Utah. Sol rode to Roberts’ place with the news. That very morning, the Overland Express left Oakland in a billow of smoke. This was the No. 1 heading for Ogden. It was to stop in Reno. The express car was filled with $41,800 in gold coins, $8,800 in silver bars and lots of greenbacks.
      The shipment was the payroll for the Yellow Jacket Mine, near Virginia City. The gang gathered their provisions and rounded up their horses. Each man had two saddled mounts. They rode out to a spot on the tracks about a mile northwest of Hunter’s Crossing on the Truckee River. Arriving a little after sunset, the men spent the next hour building a rock and railroad tie barrier across the tracks. They hobbled the horses they would need later. Next they rode up the trail toward Verdi, west of Reno.
      The men decided to wait for the train by hiding in an abandoned mineshaft just outside the town. As they waited it began to snow. It got very cold. The hours went by. The train didn’t arrive. Several of those waiting were getting agitated. Naturally they had no idea that a freight train wreck near Truckee had caused a lengthy delay of the Central Pacific’s No.1.
      Just about the time they had decided to abandon their plan, they saw a light. The cycloptic lantern of Central Pacific’s No. 1 began to shine through the bitter cold of the swirling snow.
      The train was made up of a locomotive, express car, mail car, sleeper car and rear car. As it neared the small lumber town of Verdi, it slowed to a crawl. Davis and another masked man climbed into the cab of the locomotive and covered the engin crew with six-shooters. David Small, the engineer, surrendered at once.
      Another outlaw boarded the front platform of the express car, while two others took possession of the rear platform. The rest climbed on the sleeper car platform. Two brakemen saw the masked robbers and tried to intercede, but they retreated into the sleeper car when they realized they were out matched.
      The conductor soon saw something was amiss. As he came out the door of the sleeper he was forced back in by the masked men. He immediately went to the rear car to get a weapon.
      Davis figured the train had proceeded about half a mile east of Verdi during the past few minutes.
      “Give a whistle down brakes signal,” he told Small, sticking his shooter in the man’s ribs.
      His request was complied with almost immediately. The whistle down signal was one short blast of the whistle. It was used in the railroad business to tell brakemen to go to the platforms and begin the work of setting the brakes. But on this night, it was a signal to the robbers on the express car to cut the bell-rope and pull the coupling-pin at the rear of the car.
      “Give her steam,” said Davis to the engineer as soon as he knew the pin was pulled.
      Realizing what was being done, the engineer refused to pull out. But the feeling a cold muzzle restingl against his temple and hearing a hammer cocked, prompted him to obey the orders.
      “Stoke that fire,” Davis yelled to the fireman. The man was nearly frightened out of his senses. He didn't have to be told more than once to do anything. As Conductor Marshall returned to confront the men, he saw his train heading round the bend. The car he was on was slowing to a stop.
      “Frank,” he yelled at a brakeman, “run back to Verdi and telegraph the sheriff.”
      “Ok boss ,” replied the brakeman. He started up the tracks back toward Verdi. When he arrived, it was discovered the lines had been cut in both directions.
      Davis stood with the engineer as the train traveled down the tracks about eight miles. It now consisted of the locomotive, mail and express cars. It was around midnight. They were nearing Hunter’s Station.
      “Stop the train,” commanded Davis.
      The engineer heard the order as he saw the barrier the outlaws placed across the track. Small realized he had no choice and eased back on the throttle. The engine slowed to a halt about six feet shy of the pile on the tracks. After the train stopped, the other outlaws took positions on both sides of the Express Car. Davis and his companion kept the engine crew covered. The clerk in the express car was completely ignorant as to what was about to happen. He was busy with his paperwork. Suddenly, he realized that the train had come to a stop and wondered what was up. He heard voices from outside the car and then a loud knock on the cargo door.
      “Who’s there,” questioned the clerk?
      “Marshall,” lied the outlaw at the door.
      Figuring the conductor was outside, the clerk unhooked the lock and pulled the door open. To his surprise, instead of Marshall, he saw the muzzle of a double-barreled shotgun.
      “Throw up your hands,” yelled the voice behind the gun.
      He reached for the heavens. Fearing for his life, he backed up as well. He watched several masked men enter the car. The outlaws were surprised to see the Wells Fargo safe wide open.
      “Sit down in the corner. Shut up and you won’t get hurt.”
      He quickly compiled and watched the men throw the sacks of gold out the door. While doing so, gold coins were scattered on the floor. The robbers completely ignored the sacks of silver that were also in the safe. This entire process took but a few minutes.
      “Thanks for keeping your mouth shut,” laughed Squires.
      “Yeah, we didn’t really want to kill ya,” teased Jones.
      The outlaws stuffed the $20 gold pieces into their saddlebags. They loaded their booty on their horses and disappeared into the darkness. Before going their separate ways, the gang members hid most of the booty at a quarry near Granite Hot Springs.
      After the robbers left the express car, the clerk heaved a huge sigh of relief. He began to gather up the coins that were left behind. He wondered why they didn't take the bars of silver.
      Small and the fireman ran back to see if the Express Clerk was alright. They knocked on the mail car to see if the Postal Clerk inside was unharmed as well. Seeing that both men were safe, the two began clearing the tracks.
      Meanwhile, back up the line, Conductor Marshall and his lone brakeman used the manual brakes to allow the passenger cars to drop slowly down the grade. He had no idea what to expect, but went ahead anyway. Arriving at the scene of the robbery, he saw Small and the fireman clearning off the track. Marshall ordered his crew to reconnect the cars. Small slowly opened the throttle and they rolled on, reaching Reno at 12:30 am. Conductor Marshal checked his watch. He noted they were only thirty minutes late.
      According to newspaper accounts the next day, the Express Car clerk was quoted as saying, “When the door opened I looked into something which resembled two stove-pipes”
      Later that day the Gold Hills News reported: “The most high handed god fearing robbery ever perpetuated on the Pacific Coast occurred on the Central Pacific Railroad.”
      Another newspaper account noted that: “Every enemy of law and order was vociferous in praise of the boldness and nerve of the perpetrators of the robbery, and Nevada acquired the dubious credit of being the first State in the Union that could produce a set of outlaws daring enough to stop and rob an express train."
      Almost immediately that morning, a reward offering more than $40,000 was offered. Naturally, numerous lawmen, as well as ordinary citizens and groups of shady characters, began to make plans to outwit and catch the bold train robbers.
      Ironically, several hours later, a few hundred miles up the track, Central Pacific's No. 1 was about to be victimized again by other bandits. The small brisk locomotive with red trim and balloon stack is now pulling a Silver Palace car, a little yellow day coach as well as a combined baggage and express car. The latter is loaded with the U.S. mail, packages and currency. So just 20 hours after the first west coast train robbery comes the second such event. This time it occurs in Pequops, a few miles west of Toana, near the Utah line, 320 miles east of the original crime scene. The highwaymen included Daniel Taylor, Leandor Morton, Daniel Boone Baker and another man. They boarded the train and took over just as was done hours earlier. Taylor and his companion kept the engine crew covered.
      Morton and Baker hit the express side of the special railroad car. While the outlaws were going through the registered mail in the express compartment, the Wells Fargo agent was equally busy in the baggage compartment. He had just taken in several thousand dollars at Elko, Nevada, which was not yet in the safe. Hearing the commotion nearby, he quickly hid the cash under a pile of freight. He blew out his lamp and kept very quiet, hoping to go unnoticed. Suddenly the door opened. First the barrel of a pistol entered the hiding place. Morton covered the room as Baker entered with an oil lamp. They saw the man cowering in the corner.
      “Get over there and open that safe,” commanded Morton.
      "Ok, ok," said the agent as he moved to the safe and placed his fingers on the knob. He turned it first left, then right and left again until he heard a final click. He reached for the handle and opened the door.
      "Get outta my way," yelled Morton.
      The clerk scrambled back to the corner while Morton took $3,100 out of the safe. All the while the clerk was chuckling inside because this scary outlaw was getting such a measly sum. If that bastard only knew about what he had just hidden away.
      Sticking the clerk’s revolver in his belt, Morton said “Keep you head inside this car and you won’t get hurt.”
      Baker followed Morton out the car door. The bandits mounted up and disappeared in a cloud of dust.
      When he knew the bandits had ridden away the clerk surveyed the scene. The engineer and train crew came back to see if the clerk had been harmed. What they saw was the man doubled over laughing.
      "Those dumb bastards just rode outta hear with a paltry $3,100," bellowed the clerk, holding his sides. "I hid all the cash from Elko under some freight and they didn't even find it."
      "Well I'll be damned," chuckled the engineer.
      They all had a good laugh at the robber's expense. As the engineer got the train underway, the agent jumped back into his car. Taking stock of the situation, he found a glove bearing the name of Edward Carr. He also found a brass compass engraved with the name William Harvey. He set them aside to turn over to Elko County Sheriff Fitch.
      When word of this second stick up hit the streets the next morning, it was assumed by most folks that the crimes were committed by the same party. Until the culprits were apprehended, no one knew for sure. And apprehended they were.
      When Fitch looked over the evidence given to him by the Wells Fargo agent he was intrigued. He wanted to know more about Carr and Harvey of the Third United States Cavalry. Naturally, they were his prime suspects. He rode out to Camp Halleck. He discovered Carr and Harvey were two of six deserters missing from the post. He was told that on October 13, Carr had been at Sallie Whitmore’s sporting house on the Day Ranch some two miles south of the military post.
      Carr got in a fight with his sergeant and got his “ass kicked.” Leaving the house of ill repute, he quickly rode back to camp to retrieve his carbine. He returned to Sallie’s place planning to kill the man that beat him up. He entered the premises, spotted the sergeant and took a shot at him. The sergeant saw him raise the rifle and dove for the floor. Unfortunately for poor old Sallie, Carr missed his target and hit her in the groin. The wound proved fatal. Carr was arrested and taken to the post. Local law enforcement was contacted at Elko. When Constable William Baugh went to get Carr for trial, other soldiers prevented the lawman from taking him. Baugh quickly retreated to Elko to gather a posse. Returning the next morning with several heavily armed men, he learned that Carr was missing. The post commander called a muster which revealed that six soldiers had deserted. Now the plot thickens.
      A report came in almost immediately that four well mounted and heavily armed men passed by the Deep Creek station on the old Overland Telegraph road. They turned east. Fitch formed a posse and went to talk with the men. They caught up with two riders on the road between Deep Creek and Salt Lake City. They turned out to be Leandor Morton and Daniel Baker.
      “Hold up there a minute boys,” yelled the sheriff, “we have a question or two we’d like to ask.”
      “What’s the problem,” replied Baker.
      “We are looking for some men that robbed a train not far from here,” Fitch said. “Who are you boys?”
      “I’m Daniel Boone Baker and that’s Lea Morton.”
      “What do you boys do?”
      “We’ve been prospecting hereabouts,” said Morton.
      The lawmen looked the men over. They did not appear to be prospectors. He noted Morton’s buckskin gloves. They were marked in ink with “W.H. Harvey”. This was a great clue for Fitch. It possibly connected Morton to the robbery of the train and perhaps to the whereabouts of the deserters.
      “Where’d you get those gloves?”
      “I won them in a card game awhile back.”
      “They belonged to a cavalry man named Harvey. He and another soldier, Carr, are missing from their command. Do you recall your card game with Harvey? Were there any other soldiers in the game or hanging around?”
      “I don’t recall a man by either of those names. What’s this all about anyway?”
      “Well four men robbed a train not far from here. Evidence left at the robbery points to Harvey and Carr. We haven’t been able to locate them. The gloves you have belonged to Harvey.”
      “Sorry I can’t help ya, sheriff. I don’t have any description of the man I won the gloves from. I don’t recall playing cards with any soldiers. I can’t believe a train was robbed. Hell, who would try to rob a train anyway?”
      Fitch arrested Morton and Baker on suspicion of train robbery. It appeared to him that desertion from the army was the only crime committed by Carr and Harvey. He figured Morton and Baker knew exactly where the two soldiers were. But he didn’t expect them to talk. Daniel Taylor was caught a short while later.
      The three of them were indicted for robbing Wells, Fargo and Co.’s express car and the U.S. Mail. The fourth member of their gang was never found. On January 17, 1871, the three men were convicted and sentenced to 30 years in the Nevada State Prison.