Were stagecoach holdups common?
Michael C. Westlund
Stagecoach robberies were frequent occurrences, especially during the post-Civil War era.
In my home state, Arizona had 129 stage robberies between 1875 and 1903, with the worst cases occurring in the area around Tombstone and the Black Canyon Stage Line, from Phoenix to Prescott, which roughly follows Interstate 17 today. Of the roughly 200 stage robbers, 80 have been identified—79 men and one woman.
John Boessenecker’s latest book Shotguns and Stagecoaches, out this fall, focuses on the heroes who guarded Wells Fargo’s stagecoaches and trains. He says Wells Fargo stages were robbed nearly 350 times between 1870 and 1884.
He also dispels the myth that stage robberies all but vanished by 1890. In California alone, the express company was the victim of 74 stage robberies, as reported by Wells Fargo detective John N. Thacker. The last holdup of a horse-drawn stage out West took place near Jarbidge, Nevada, on December 5, 1916.
Across the frontier West, highwaymen usually robbed stages by selecting a site where the stagecoach would have to slow down. Then they approached the vehicle with guns drawn. More than half of stage robberies remain unsolved.
Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian and vice president of the Wild West History Association. His latest book is Arizona Outlaws and Lawmen; The History Press, 2015. If you have a question, write: Ask the Marshall, P.O. Box 8008, Cave Creek, AZ 85327 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.