Thanks to dime novels, movies, and television, stage coach robbers have a significant place in the cast of characters we think of as part of the history of “the West.” These dramatizations, of course, were based on some fact. Stage coach robbers were a real threat along the trail leading from Sidney, Nebraska to the gold fields of the Black Hills.
This reporter’s account of an 1877 hold-up corroborates the stereotype of the considerate “gentlemen” robbers. “The coach that left Deadwood Monday morning was halted in the vicinity of the Cheyenne River. There were five passengers (all men), two express messengers, and the driver of the coach. In the Deadwood treasure box there was eleven thousand dollars in dust. Every person on the coach was heavily armed. As soon as the robbers halted the coach, one of the passengers excitedly put the muzzle of his rifle out of the coach window and fired at random. One of the highwaymen promptly shot the driver, the rifle ball hitting him in the left side. One of the messengers then shouted to the passengers not to fire again and imperil their lives by so doing.
“After that, the robbers had things their own way. They made the passengers alight, searched them, and took from them gold dust, currency, jewelry, and weapons to the value of two thousand dollars. They then turned their attention to the Deadwood treasure box. Finding they could not remove it from the coach, the took some powder and blew it open, obtaining the treasure therein. In the meantime, the passengers were all safely guarded at some distance from the coach. When the explosion occurred, the front of the coach was set on fire, but the flames were promptly extinguished. The passengers were nearly all veteran miners, and they said the robbers made as neat a blast in opening the box as they had ever seen.
“The highwaymen said the shooting of the driver was a mistake. They gave the wounded driver thirty dollars in cash and a gold watch they had stolen from one of the passengers, telling him not to give it up to the owner. They allowed the express messenger to retain a valuable revolver that had been given to him. They gave each passenger ten dollars in cash. One young man, from whom had been stolen a valuable gold watch (a keepsake) begged to be allowed to retain it, and they told him if he would send $250 to the Cheyenne river ranche, he could have his watch. Eight robbers…were seen by the passengers. The rest of the gang were undoubtedly in the immediate vicinity, guarding the horses.”