Robin Hoodlums
Northeast Nevada Stage Robberies (1869-1870)

     "Throw down the box!" were dreaded words to leather-popping stagecoach drivers. To the man, they all knew that to resist was an open invitation to a permanent case of lead-poisoning. The Wells Fargo and Company strongbox was always hauled out of the front boot and dropped to the ground.
     One of the more popular myths of the Old West is that most of the highwaymen robbed the rich, in this case Wells Fargo, and gave to the poor. Not so! More often than not the pillaged lucre went into the robbers' jeans.
     In September, 1869, Hill Beachey's Hamilton stage was held up by four masked men. When the treasure box yielded nothing the quartet turned to the lone passenger and demanded he hand over his money. Lewis Ashlin reluctantly gave the brigands his last five dollars and told them so. Feeling sorry for him, they handed back $2.50. In this instance the crooks robbed the poor and then returned half to him. Sounds like the recent "tax relief" checks from the government.
     This wasn't the case when a trio of holdup men hit the Beachey, Wines and Company Rail Road Stage Line about two miles out of Elko in the spring of 1870.

A stage could be a wagon, buckboard or mudwagon.
   A short lesson on stages. They weren't always stage coaches.     
   In northeast Nevada a stage could be a wagon, buckboard, a
      stage coach, or, frequently a mudwagon (shown above).
 A mudwagon was suspended like a wagon and was better suited
     for our roads. Two of these are on display at the museum, the  better one is just inside the main entrance.
Photograph from the
collections of the Northeastern Nevada Museum, Elko.

     It was almost dusk. Charley Haynes was at the reins, a bit poetic don't you think? Anyway, Charley was cussing the team up the side of a ravine when three men stepped from the sagebrush and demanded the strongbox.
     Haynes didn't take any time to debate the pros and cons of loyalty to the company. He immediately reached under his seat, grabbed the chest that contained $3,100 with both hands and tossed it over the side. He was told to drive on. Finding no fault with that order, Charley cracked his whip. The coach, with its eight passengers, left the scene in a cloud of dust generated by 24 hooves and four wheels.
     Wells Fargo immediately put up a reward of $1,500 for recovery of the money and $750 for the arrest and conviction of the dirty perpetrators. Company detectives, noted for their tenacity and with an arrest record almost equal to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police up north, descended on Elko, confident they would soon apprehend the culprits.
     Elkoans were justly proud when their own, Sheriff Ben Fitch, solved the case and arrested the robbers. In fact, there was some snickering around town when Ben beat the big city Wells Fargo agents to the punch. Within a month of the stickup he had three miners behind bars in his jailhouse. Arrested were Servetus Quinton, John Watson, and Washington Waller.
      Ben was lenient with his prisoners. He allowed them to hang illustrated newspapers, like Harper's Weekly, on the cell walls. He also had the habit of tapping the news sheets daily to check the condition of the wall behind the papers. On June 14, he routinely rapped the pages on the wall in Watson's cell and heard only the rustle of paper. John had found a soft place in the wall and had gone back to his prior occupation, mining. He had dug a hole all the way to daylight and was waiting for dark to crawl through to freedom.
     About that time, Servetus decided to turn stoolie and the plight of Watson and Waller became blacker. Servetus escaped punishment while his partners were sentenced to a quarter of a century toiling in the sandstone quarry at the state prison at Carson City.
     After District Judge George D. Keeney passed sentence, both men looked relieved. Watson, who had been convinced while listening to the district attorney that he deserved hanging, approached the judge and thanked him for being so lenient.

Howard Hickson
July 27, 2001

Source: Various issues of the Elko Independent, 1869-1870.

   ©Copyright 2001 by Howard Hickson. Permission to use is given but, if any portion or the entire article is quoted, proper credit must be given.

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