What was probably the greatest stagecoach robbery of the Twentieth Century in terms of people (174) and coaches (17) occurred in Yellowstone Park on August 24, 1908, but the bandit grossed only about $2,000 in cash and jewelry. The holdup man was never caught. A similar robbery of 14 coaches occurred on July 29, 1914, but the holdup man was caught. Here’s how the park superintendent described the events of 1908.
The unfortunate event, the hold-up of seventeen coaches, surreys, and spring wagons on August 24, and the robbery by one man or many of the passengers therein at a point on the main road between Old Faithful Inn and the Thumb of Lake Yellowstone, and about 4 1/4 miles distant from the former, took place about 9 a. m. on August 24.
In accordance with the established time schedule, the first coach of Yellowstone Park Transportation Company loads at Old Faithful Inn at 7.30 o’clock in the morning; after all coaches of that company have been loaded, the Monida and Yellowstone Company coaches are loaded at same point and follow after. These are followed in turn by the coaches of the Wylie Permanent Camping Company—all on the road eastward toward the Thumb.
This was the order of travel on morning of August 24. As a precaution against dust and against accident on grades, drivers are instructed to maintain a distance of approximately 100 yards between coaches. On the morning in question eight vehicles were not molested by the robber. It appears that the trooper on patrol passed the point where the robbery took place ahead of the first coaches. The interval between the eighth and ninth coaches in order of travel was rather extended, with an angle of the road intervening in a narrow defile, thickly wooded on either side. The ninth vehicle was stopped by the robber with repeating rifle at a ” ready; ” and in vulgar, blasphemous language he ordered a young man down from the box seat and made him carry a sack alongside the coach—into which passengers were commanded to deposit their money and jewelry. This was repeated with each of the sixteen vehicles following. No one received physical injury excepting one passenger, whose actions did not suit the robber and who was disciplined by a stroke on the head with the gun, which was discharged at the same time. The injury was not reported serious. Four of the looted coaches belonged to the Yellowstone Park Transportation Company, five to the Monida and Yellowstone Stage Company, and eight to the Wylie Permanent Camping Company. As near as can be learned by the separate memoranda handed in by the passengers the losses sustained by them in the robbery aggregated $1,363.95 cash and $730.25 in watches and jewelry. Upon being liberated the first coach of those robbed drove rapidly to the camp of the road sprinkling crew, located about 2 miles east of the hold-up point, where notice was given and a messenger dispatched to Old Faithful Inn—distant 6 miles—with news of the robbery.
The agent of the Yellowstone Park Transportation Company at the inn telegraphed the news to all stations in the park and notified the detail of soldiers stationed at Upper Geyser Basin, within a few hundred yards of the inn. He also states that he notified the officer in command of a troop of cavalry camped in the Lower Basin, about 9 miles distant by the old road. Telegraphic notice was received at Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and immediately transmitted to my office by telephone. The message was repeated to Major Allen, who was up in the park, and he was requested to give the matter his personal attention. All guard stations were warned and instructed and two scouts present at Mammoth were dispatched to the scene. They made the ride (49 miles) in four hours. Major Allen, who was in the park with General Edgerly, came into Mammoth the same evening, and on the following morning reported that he had given the necessary orders to his troops by telephone and telegraph from Norris. The robber was on foot, and disposed of a few pocketbooks and purses near the scene of the robbery, where they were found in a clump of bushes. One of these contained valuable papers and all were returned to their respective owners.
The trail could only be followed a short distance. The robber had apparently taken off his shoes and passed into a densely wooded region. All United States marshals, sheriffs, and peace officers in surrounding States, counties, and towns were duly notified and given description of the robber, as nearly as could be ascertained from tourists and drivers in the hold-up.
All passengers in their excitement blamed the soldiers. The character of the country is such that the entire Army of the United States could not prevent an evil-disposed man from entering the park with a gun.
On the date of the hold-up one troop was on practice march in the park and was camped within 10 or 12 miles from Old Faithful Inn. One troop has been camped in Lower Geyser Basin all the season and one troop has been camped on Yellowstone River within a mile of Lake Hotel all the season.
So far it has been impossible to locate an escaped criminal who was convicted of poaching in the park and escaped from confinement in the military prison at Fort Yellowstone in October last. There seems to be a well-grounded suspicion that he is the perpetrator of this daring highway robbery. It is a slow and difficult task to conduct a systematic search for this criminal, without funds for expenses, by correspondence alone. The detectives in adjacent States, with whom I have corresponded since the robbery, work for a per diem and expenses and not for rewards offered, and although they have been informed that this office has no money for that purpose, they have never hesitated to give any information in their possession in regard to this particular matter.
— Report of the Superintendent of Yellowstone National Park. Department of Interior, Yellowstone Park, Wyoming, October 15, 1908.
— Photo, Yellowstone Digital Slide File.
— You might also enjoy.
- Sidford Hamp’s description of a stagecoach robbery in 1872.
- Lester Piersdorff’s recollections of later stick-ups.
6 thoughts on “A Tale: Lone Outlaw Holds Up Seventeen Stagecoaches — 1908”
Interesting account. It is surprising that similar robberies weren’t more common if authorities lacked resources to track perps. Thanks for your history lessons, Mark.
Pingback: A Tale: The Facts Are Tangled, But The Stagecoach Robbery Stories Are Fun « M. Mark Miller
Pingback: A Tale: “Get Out and Throw Up Your Hands” « M. Mark Miller
My relatives (Fishburne from Roanoke,VA) who were among those robbed. I have recently located a copy of the minutes of a meeting of the victims held at Lake Hotel, Yellowstone National Park, at 8:30 pm on 8/24/1908, a list of the victims (some with addresses) and their losses, their accounting of the robbery,a resolution to the Hon.James A. Garfield,Secretary of the Interior to make a suitable investigation of the facts to see if there had been a neglect of duty by the park guardians, any means of redress and compensation from the government, and steps to insure greater safety in Yellowstone Park.The victims also offered sympathy to Mr. P.H. Gaskin, a student at the University of Virginia, who was apparently ordered by the robber to hold the bag in which all valuables were placed. Yes indeed, the victims were not happy as a resolution on the incompetence towards the military authorities in charge of the park was also included.
Hi John —
I have copies of some notes and correspondence from the New York Observer that summarizes some of the complaints about the Yellowstone stagecoach robberies of 1908. Apparenently, Charles Agustus Stoddard, a correspondent for the Observer, was among the victims and took the lead in sending complaints to the Secretary of Interior, President Theodore Roosevelt and others. I’d be glad to share these materials with you. Perhaps you could send me copies of the information you have.
If you’re interested in a swap, please email me at email@example.com. [note the two leading M’s, MMarkMiller]. I hope to hear from you soon.
Hello mate nice ppost