How common were stagecoach robberies in the Old West?

Katrina Devereaux

Mesa, Arizona

In Arizona alone, 129 stage robberies took place between 1875 and 1903. Or maybe the number is 134, since five of them involved two coaches each.

During that period, more than 200 people engaged in the stage robbing business in Arizona. Since more than half of those holdups were unsolved, most of the miscreants remain unknown. Eighty of them were identified-—79 men and one woman, Pearl Hart, the “Girl Bandit,” who, in 1898, pulled one of the last stage heists in the American West.

The worst areas for stagecoach robberies were around Tombstone and the Black Canyon Stage Line from Phoenix to Prescott, which follows I-17 today.

The movies usually portray stage robberies as involving a number of mounted men chasing down their target—and that’s wrong. Only three of the Arizona holdups went down that way. The rest were robbed by highwaymen afoot. They’d select a site where the stagecoach had to slow down, and they’d walk up to the vehicle with guns drawn.

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