The Fairbank Train Robbery Posing as drunken cowboys the bandits opened fire on Milton as he stood in the open door of the mail car as it pulled into the station.

Fairbank Train Robbery True West Magazine
Fairbank Train Robbery by Cal Peters.

The railroad arrived in what became Fairbank in 1881. It was the closest rail link to the boom town of Tombstone which was at the time one of the largest cities in the West. The train station was the scene of a sensational attempted train robbery on February 15th, 1900 by five outlaws led by Three-Finger Jack Dunlap and Bravo Juan Yoas, all members of the Burt Alvord gang. The heist was thwarted by famous ex-Texas Ranger Jeff Milton, who was riding in the express car that day as messenger for Wells Fargo.

Posing as drunken cowboys the bandits opened fire on Milton as he stood in the open door of the mail car as it pulled into the station. Seriously wounded, Milton fell back inside the car behind a trunk. His gunfighter instincts took over and he grabbed a Wells Fargo shotgun.

Thinking he was dead the bandits raced towards open door. Three-Finger Jack was in the lead and he caught a load of buckshot in his mid-section. Bravo Juan saw it coming and just had enough time to turn around. He caught a load in the seat of his pants.

The outlaws went away that evening empty-handed. Three-Finger Jack was mortally wounded in the heist and a few miles from Fairbank his pals left him to die along the trail. Back at Fairbank a posse was organized and trackers easily picked up the trail leading to where Jack lay dying. Needless to say he was much-chagrined at being left behind and was only too willing to give the possemen enough information to arrest all the gang members including gang leader Burt Alvord.

Good hair is important for legendary status. My old mentor, Doc C.L. Sonnichsen used to say “If Burt Alvord hadn’t been bald-headed he’d have been as famous at Jesse James.”

Building Your Western Library With Leo W. Banks

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Marshall Trimble

Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian, board president of the Arizona Historical Society and vice president of the Wild West History Association. His latest book is Arizona’s Outlaws and Lawmen; History Press, 2015. If you have a question, write: Ask the Marshall, P.O. Box 8008, Cave Creek, AZ 85327 or e-mail him at marshall.trimble@scottsdalecc.edu