Bill Miner had quite the criminal career. He was raised in California and joined the Second California Cavalry in 1864. But military life didn’t suit him, so he soon deserted. Two years later, he was a convicted horse thief, spending four years in San Quentin.
Six months after his release, Bill and a few friends pilfered a Wells Fargo strongbox from a stagecoach. He and “Alkali Jim” Harrington were captured and tried in Calaveras County. They appealed their 10-year sentence because they’d been forced to wear leg irons. Their protest earned them a new trial but a worse sentence of 13 years in the pen.
Released in 1880, Bill went to Colorado and joined up with the Pond brothers as a stagecoach robber. A posse caught up with them, but Bill got away. The unlucky brothers were given suspended sentences—from the limb of a nearby tree.
Bill then went back to California, was captured by a Wells Fargo detective and put away for 25 years. Despite a futile jail break that got him a neck full of buckshot, Bill was released in 1901. He tried honest work for a time but found it uninteresting, so he took up a new trade, robbing trains. The Mounties caught up with him in British Columbia and, this time, he got life. “No jail can hold me, sir,” he told the judge in 1907.
Making good his boast, Bill went over the wall and headed for Pennsylvania and then Georgia, where he robbed a train. Captured again, he was given 20 years.
The last time Bill tried to escape, he walked several miles through waist deep water in the Georgia swamps. He told the guards who captured him, “I guess I’m getting too old for this sort of thing.”
For further reading, I recommend an excellent book on Bill Miner, The Grey Fox: The True Story of Bill Miner, Last of the Old-Time Bandits, by John Boessenecker and Mark Dugan, published by the University of Oklahoma Press in 1992.
Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian.
His books include The Arizona Trilogy and Law of the Gun.
If you have a question, write:
Ask the Marshall PO Box 8008, Cave Creek, AZ 85327
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