Some people just aren’t cut out for a life of crime.
An example of this is the case of two cowboys named Grant Wheeler and Joe George. In 1895, they decided to try their hand at robbing the Southern Pacific Railroad. The real loot was carried by rail, so why waste time robbing stages?
After carefully working out a plan, George and Wheeler purchased a box of dynamite and boarded the train. Five miles out of Willcox, Arizona, the desperadoes got the engineer to stop the train with the help of a .45 revolver. Piece of cake.
One of the outlaws uncoupled the express car from the rest of the train and ordered the engineer to pull forward. Wheeler and George then broke into the express car. The safe had eighty-four thousand dollars in cash and their hands were itching to get hold of it.
They must have been ecstatic to discover that the Wells Fargo agent guarding the loot had escaped. In addition to the unguarded safe, they also found bags of silver pesos used as ballast on the floor. Oh, heavenly days!
Working quickly, they placed sticks of dynamite around the safe and ducked outside to escape the blast. Unfortunately, the safe remained intact.
They decided to try again with extra dynamite but got the same results. The stubborn safe refused to give up its treasure.
If at First…
Not willing to give up, the bungling robbers decided to try yet a third time. This time, they used too much dynamite and blew the entire express car to smithereens. Pieces of lumber and thousands of silver pesos filled the air. Acting like shrapnel, some of the coins were embedded in telegraph poles. It’s a miracle the two men survived.
When the smoke cleared, they found that the safe door had been blown off, but only a few dollars had escaped the blast. The real booty was the Mexican pesos, but the silver coins were scattered all over the countryside.
Meanwhile, the train has rolled into town and sounded the alarm. The sheriff tried putting together a posse with no luck. Folks were too busy racing out to the scene of the crime to hunt for silver pesos.
…Try, Try, Again!
After licking their wounds, Wheeler and George decided to give train robbery another shot. No sense letting their harrowing experience go to waste.
A week later, they showed up to rob the same train and felt confident they knew what they were doing. This time they would make careful use of the dynamite.
The fourth times a charm—or is it?
Wheeler and George ordered the crew to separate the express car from the engine and passenger cars.
Everything went according to plan. You can almost imagine the two giving each other a high-five as they entered the express car. They were, however, in for a rude awakening. For the hapless duo soon discovered that the crew had reversed the order of the rail cars. Instead of the express car, Wheeler and George were left with the mail car. They had been duped!
For my book My Heart Belongs in the Superstition Mountains, my characters needed some transportation in Arizona during the territorial period after the Civil War. There weren’t any trains there yet, so stagecoaches it was.
The first stagecoach appeared in Arizona in 1857, and this mode of transportation had come to stay.
Before the Civil War, the Butterfield Overland Mail stagecoach line had a regular route across Texas and what is now New Mexico and Arizona, to southern California. When the war broke out, however, they abandoned it and used their northern route, through Kansas, Nebraska, and Wyoming.
But people still needed to travel in Arizona. When the war ended, the capital was at Prescott, which had remained Union territory. People in more populated southern locations, such as Tucson, needed to go back and forth to the capital. Several independent stage lines sprang up and developed their routes with varying success.
When I went to Prescott to do research for the book, the stagecoach problem was one of my focuses. The place where I found the most help was in the archives at the Sharlot Hall Museum. There I learned about several enterprising men who gave it a good try, and it was tough in those times.
The owners and workers found a great many obstacles to maintaining regular stage service over hundreds of miles of desert, and having to deal with increasingly hostile Indian tribes as well as the inhospitable terrain and climate. Indians stole hundreds of horses from mining operations and stagecoach stations. Some of the station agents had to haul in feed and water for the animals.
My characters attempted to make a stagecoach journey from Tucson to the fledgling mining town of Wickenburg, and from there on up to Prescott. As readers will see, this journey was interrupted several times.
The capital itself was a thorny problem during that period, and it was changed so often it got the nickname “Capital on Wheels.”
After the Confederate Territory of Arizona was formed in 1862, and in February, 1863 officially got Tucson as its capital with Jefferson Davis’s approval, Abraham Lincoln signed the law officially creating the Arizona Territory with Prescott as its capital. The territory was divided into north and south for a while, and for the rest of the Civil War it had two capitals.
After the war, in 1867, the capital was moved back to Tucson for the reunited Arizona Territory. At that time, Tucson was more developed than any other city in the territory.
However, in 1879, the legislature voted to move the seat of government back to Prescott. That move lasted ten years.
The capital had been located in each location for about the same length of time all told, and some people began to feel it should be moved to a neutral location, somewhere between Tucson and Prescott. By this time, more towns had been founded, and some of them mushroomed. Phoenix was not in existence at the time of my story, but twenty years later it was thriving. In 1889 the capital was moved permanently to Phoenix. Arizona became a state in 1912.
Today we can swiftly drive the length of Arizona in air-conditioned cars in a few hours. We can enjoy the vistas of the beautiful desert without discomfort. But our modern travels are a far cry from what Carmela Wade experienced.
About My Heart Belongs in the Superstition Mountains:
A Chance for Escape Takes Two Unlikely Allies on a Romantic Adventure through the Desert
Since she was orphaned at age twelve, Carmela Wade has lived a lie orchestrated by her uncle, pretending to be a survivor of an Indian kidnapping and profiting from telling her made-up story on the speaker circuit. But as she matures into adulthood, Carmela hates the lies and longs to be free. On a stagecoach in Arizona Territory, Carmela and her uncle are fellow passengers with US Marshal Freeland McKay and his handcuffed prisoner.
The stage is attacked. Suddenly a chance to make a new life may be within Carmela’s reach. . .if she can survive the harsh terrain and being handcuffed to an unconscious man.
Susan will give a copy of My Heart Belongs in the Superstition Mountains to one person who comments on today’s post, and a copy of Desert Moon to another commenter. The winners may choose to receive either print or digital format.
Susan Page Davis is the author of more than seventy published novels. She’s a two-time winner of the Inspirational Readers’ Choice Award and the Will Rogers Medallion, and also a winner of the Carol Award and a finalist in the WILLA Literary Awards. A Maine native, she now lives in Kentucky. Visit her website at SusanPageDavis.com, where you can see all her books, sign up for her occasional newsletter, and read a short story on her romance page.
Life on the open range could be a discomforting experience, what with outlaws popping out from behind the sagebrush without the slightest provocation, nesters “accidentally” mistaking a cattleman’s range for the quarter section they’d purchased, steers stampeding wherever they pleased, and wild animals running amok in settlers’ vegetable gardens—not to mention all those Indians to keep track of.
Things weren’t much easier for townies. For one thing, outlaws didn’t confine themselves to the countryside. Drunks stumbled out of saloons with reckless abandon, ladies of questionable virtue roamed the streets at will, and barbers pulled teeth or performed surgery like they knew what they were doing. Even church socials sometimes got out of hand.
At least folks in town could count on the law to keep things somewhat under control, right?
Finding a reliable lawman was anything but easy. El Paso, Texas, discovered that when it hired Dallas Stoudenmire as city marshal. Stoudenmire, a deadly gunman with a mean temper and a fondness for strong drink, insisted on starting fights and shooting people—some of them even criminals. As a young man, famed lawman Wyatt Earp stole horses. Between gigs as a county sheriff, town marshal, and city policeman, Earp ran faro tables, owned brothels, got arrested for a number of crimes, broke out of jail, led a vigilante group, and otherwise made a nuisance of himself. Pat Garrett may have been a straight arrow legally speaking, but he was unpleasant to be around. Even his fellow officers objected to his disposition: a refreshing mixture of arrogance and surliness.
Some men found a badge to be an excellent disguise for nefarious activities. Take these guys, for example:
In 1856, at the age of 24, Plummer became the marshal of Nevada City, Calif., the third-largest settlement in the state. In 1859, the marshal killed the husband of a woman with whom he was having an affair. Sentenced to ten years in San Quentin, he received parole in six months and immediately joined a gang of stagecoach robbers.
In January 1862, Plummer formed his own gang and began hijacking wagons transporting gold out of mining camps. When that enterprise petered out in January 1863, Plummer relocated to the newest gold rush in Bannack, Montana. There, he formed the Innocents, a network of road agents that numbered more than 100 men within a few short months.
In May 1863, Plummer lost a sheriff election and subsequently threatened his rival until the man high-tailed it, fearing for his life. Plummer took over the sheriff’s job and right away appointed two of his Innocents cronies as deputies. Oddly, crime dramatically increased. In about nine months, more than 100 murders occurred and robberies, assaults, and assorted other crimes reached unprecedented levels. All the while, Plummer—under the guise of cracking down on lawlessness—hanged witnesses.
On January 10, 1864, having had enough law enforcement for a while, fifty to seventy-five vigilantes rounded up Plummer and his two deputies and hanged them in the basement of a local store.
Burt Alvord and Billy Stiles
Burt Alvord, Yuma Territorial Prison, 1904
In the 1890s, Alvord and Stiles served as deputy sheriffs in Willcox, Arizona. Unsatisfied with their salaries, the two began robbing Southern Pacific Railroad trains to supplement their income. Emboldened by pulling a number of successful jobs, they undertook their most daring escapade on September 9, 1899, in what came to be known as the Cochise Train Robbery. Instead of clinging to tradition and stopping the train on a lonely stretch of track in the middle of nowhere, Alvord and Stiles had five members of their gang blow up the safe while the train was stopped in the town of Cochise. Alvord and Stiles, maintaining their law-enforcement decorum, were part of the posse that unsuccessfully attempted to apprehend the robbers in the Chiricahua Mountains.
About five months later, on February 15, 1900, the gang struck again, in broad daylight in the tiny town of Fairbank, Arizona. While the train was stopped at the station, the Alvord-Stiles gang approached the express car, guns drawn, only to find the messenger responsible for the safe unwilling to abide such rude behavior. During the gunfight that erupted, two of the five gang members were wounded and one ran away. The messenger, also wounded, hid the safe’s key before losing consciousness. Unable to find the key and without a single stick of dynamite between them, the rest of the gang vamoosed.
Fairbank, Ariz., railroad depot circa 1900
Once again, Alvord and Stiles rode with a posse to track down the outlaws, one of whom was injured so badly he had to be left behind about six miles outside town. Despite Alvord’s and Stiles’s attempts to misdirect the pursuers, they stumbled across the wounded man. Before he died, the outlaw fingered Alvord as the ringleader. Stiles confessed and turned state’s evidence, allowing him to remain comfortably outside the bars while Alvord cooled his heels inside. A short while later, Stiles broke Alvord out of the hoosegow and the two of them lit a shuck for Mexico.
The Arizona Rangers invaded Mexico and, in 1904, engaged the two now-expatriates in a gun battle. They captured Alvord, but Stiles got away. After a brief stint in the Rangers under an assumed name, Stiles was killed a few years later while working as a lawman in Nevada, also under an assumed name. Alvord did two years in Yuma Territorial Prison and took it on the lam for Panama upon his release.
Steam train, 1898
In 1898, Fort Worth, Texas, Assistant Police Chief Grunnels talked a gang of Oklahoma bank robbers out of robbing a local diamond merchant and into robbing a train in Saginaw, Texas, instead. Grunnels masterminded the operation, planning to apprehend the bandits after they made off with the money, then collect the reward and keep the loot.
The Apple Dumpling Gang might have performed the train heist with more aplomb. While crawling across the top of the coal tender to reach the engine, the gang’s leader slipped and accidentally discharged his pistol. His minions mistook the misfire as their signal to hop on the train and commence whatever mischief their roles required. Chaos ensued.
Meanwhile, Grunnels and a cadre of Fort Worth police officers not in on the plan raced to the rescue of a train that had yet to be robbed. The discombobulated robbers scrammed. The Fort Worth Police Department became suspicious when it discovered Grunnels reached the scene of the crime before the crime had been reported. Grunnels was fired and indicted, but he disappeared before trial.
The heroes in the two novellas that compose Robbing Banks, Stealing Hearts could give lessons in how to fail at outlawry to all of the compromised lawdogs above. So, here’s my question for this month: If you were going to commit a crime in the Old West, what crime do you think you could pull off? Bank or train robbery? Horse or cattle rustling? Murder for hire? Spitting on the sidewalk? Something else? I’ll give an e-book of Robbing Banks, Stealing Hearts to one of y’all who’s brave enough to expose your criminal dreams.😉
Everyone should have career at which they excel. At failing to commit crimes, nobody is better than Laredo and Tombstone Hawkins. Maybe they can bumble their way into love.
The Worst Outlaw in the West
Laredo Hawkins has one ambition: to redeem his family’s honor by pulling the first successful bank robbery in the Hawkins clan’s long, disappointing history. Spinster Prudence Barrett is desperate to save her family’s bank from her brother’s reckless investments. A chance encounter between the dime-novel bandit and the old maid may set the pair on a path to infamy…if either can find a map.
Haunted by his kin’s tradition of spectacular failure, bank robber Tombstone Hawkins is honor-bound to prove his family tree produced at least one bad apple. When carnival fortuneteller Pansy Gilchrist tries to help, she accidentally summons a pair of dishonest-to-goodness ghosts. Getting into the spirit of a crime is one thing…but how do you get the spirits out?
One of my favorite Western characters is the man who won the respect of hostile Apaches, captured Geronimo without a shot, served as the mayor and newspaper editor of Tombstone, Arizona and was a lifelong friend of Wyatt Earp. John Phillip Clum (1851-1932) was a bundle of chutzpah, energy and courage whose accomplishments became the stuff of legend.
Clum arrived in Arizona on February 26, 1874, as the newly appointed (and very young) Indian Agent for the San Carlos Apache reservation. The Apaches, until recently on the warpath, had been abused by previous agents who used their position to line their pockets. The Army, assigned to keep the Indians under control, only added to their animosity.
Clum was determined to change things. At San Carlos he treated the Apaches as friends, set up an Indian Police department and a system of self-rule. His charges nicknamed him “Nantan Betunnikiyeh” meaning “Boss with the High Forehead” because he was losing his hair. On April 21, 1877, Clum along with 100 Apache Police captured the marauding Geronimo in New Mexico and brought him to San Carlos. It was the only time Geronimo was ever captured at gunpoint, and it was done without a shot being fired on either side. Geronimo and his small band left again, to be recaptured by the Army in 1886. By then Clum had quit his job. Frustrated by an uncaring Indian Bureau and harassment by the Army, he resigned on July 1, 1877.
Before this, however, he organized a “Wild Apache” show and, in 1876, took a number of his charges on the road. They raised the money for this trip by putting on “Entertainments” in Arizona. Back East the Apaches were well received, but tragedy struck in Washington, D.C. when Taza, son of the great Cochise, sickened and died of Pneumonia. The Apaches finished their tour and returned home. Clum, who’d resigned his post, took it up again until the following year.
Clum and his wife moved to Florence, Arizona where he ran a weekly newspaper. Following the great silver strike, they moved back to Tombstone where, in 1880, he began publication of The Tombstone Epitaph. In 1881, when the town was incorporated he became its first Mayor. During this time he became friends with Wyatt Earp. Because of this friendship he was almost assassinated after the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
After the famous shoot out, the Earps and their friends, including Clum, were labeled as undesirables. Clum left Tombstone and later served as Postal Inspector for the Territory of Alaska. In later life he worked giving lectures and promoting tourism for the Southern Pacific Railroad. In 1928 he moved to Los Angeles where he died in 1932, at the age of 80.
Clum’s early adventures were made into a 1956 movie, “Walk the Proud Land,” starring the perfect actor to play Clum, Audie Murphy.
This book, one of my favorites, is set in Arizona in the time of the Apache wars. The cover is a true classic. Painted by Pino, the most famous cover artist of the early 1990’s it also features the great cover model John DeSalvo.
The story is a classic, too. Half-Apache scout Latigo flees for his life after being framed for murder. Wounded, he collapses on the doorstep of the widowed Rose. Alone with her baby, should Rose help this man or turn him over to the law?
The book is now available in e-book format. Here’s a purchase link if you’d like to learn more.
Have you ever stepped into a place where you felt like you’ve been there before, yet you know it’s impossible? I experienced that at the Weatherford Hotel in Flagstaff, Arizona.
I just got home from the Romance Writers of America annual conference in Anaheim, California. We had a great trip and enjoyed meeting many of my favorite authors. I was fortunate enough to travel with fellow Filly, Linda Broday, and one of our frequent guests, Jodi Thomas. We had a ball. On the first night we stopped in Flagstaff, Arizona, and had dinner in one of the original hotels … the Weatherford. Many of you know that we’re from the Texas Panhandle and there’s a town in North Texas named Weatherford, so my first comment was “Wonder if this has any connection to Weatherford, Texas?”
To my surprise, I learned the hotel was originally built by a native of Weatherford, Texas.It’s a unique building, but unlike many early frontier structures it is made of stone and brick with a stucco façade. But there is a reason. Like most frontier towns built of wood, disastrous fires plagued early Flagstaff. After a particularly bad series of blazes in 1897, the city passed an ordinance requiring all buildings in the downtown business area to be built of brick, stone or iron. Among the new buildings appearing in 1898 was the Weatherford Hotel, built by John W. Weatherford (1859-1934) and yes he was a native of the North Texas town of Weatherford but not the founder. The original structure housed a general store on the first floor and the Weatherford family upstairs.
In March 1899, Weatherford began construction of a brick three-story hotel addition, with a grand opening on New Year’s Day 1900. For years, the Weatherford Hotel was the most prominent hotel in Flagstaff, entertaining guests such as artist Thomas Moran, publisher William Randolph Hearst, and writer Zane Grey. Grey’s famous novel “The Call of the Canyon” was written in the now Zane Grey Ballroom on the third floor.
A beautiful sunroom occupied part of the top floor and was used for dances and parties, while numerous civic groups engaged the downstairs. A three-sided balcony, visible in the 1905 photograph hanging in the hotel was damaged by fire and removed in 1929, along with the original cupola. At various times, the hotel housed a restaurant, theater, and billiard hall and radio station.
When transcontinental telephone service first reached Flagstaff about 1910, a small brick building with a three-bay façade of red Coconino sandstone was erected south of the Weatherford to serve the telephone company, becoming part of the “Weatherford Block”. The building served its original purpose until around the 1930’s when it underwent the first of two modernizations. The sandstone façade was resurfaced with stucco in a modified art-deco style, and in the 1950’s aluminum siding was added. It was known for some years as the “Le Brea Café”, an establishment whose character does not appear to have elicited any significant historic recollection.
Henry Taylor, the present owner, purchased the hotel in 1975 in an attempt to keep it from being demolished, at a time when the downtown area was in an acute state of disrepair and decline. Today, one would not believe the area could have ever been in that condition. Since then, Henry and his wife Pamela (Sam) have been continually renovating the structure, with the goal of restoring the hotel to its original grandeur.
The café façade renovation completed in 1995 restored the appearance of the original 1909 Telephone Exchange. The building is beautiful with a simple elegance and casual ambience after it was returned to the reminiscent of Flagstaff at its turn of the century heyday.
Have you ever felt like you stepped back into time when you visited a place?
I will give away a copy of Give Me a Texas Outlaw, to one person who leaves a comment today.