The Cochise Train Robbery
James Harvey McClintock in 1913
For a while,
train robbery was popular in
despite a statute passed, though never enforced, making the crime
punishable by death. One of the most daring train robberies occurred about
midnight, September 9, 1899. Express Messenger Charles Adair, who had
killed an over adventurous train robber on the same run the year before,
stepped to the door as a westbound Southern Pacific Express train reached
the small station of Cochise. As he looked out it was into the muzzle of a
revolver and he and the train crew were soon lined on the platform
with their hands in the air. The express car was detached and run a couple
of miles westward. The messenger was known to be ignorant of the safe
combination so the safe was opened with dynamite. The loot was rich,
comprising a bag full of gold and currency with value of at least $10,000.
The four men involved fled into the Chiricahua Mountains,
unsuccessfully followed by posses headed by Sheriff Scott White and
The truth concerning the Cochise robbery came out a few
months later on February 21, 1900, following a supplemental train robbery,
that of the express car of a Benson-Nogales train, which was held up at
The hero of the affair was Express Messenger
Jeff D. Milton, who fought until
incapacitated by a bullet wound that terribly shattered an arm. The
wounded messenger, who was given the highest praise for his defense of his
trust, in previous days had been a cattle association detective, a customs
inspector and chief of police at El Paso,
The bandits numbered five. One of them was captured the next morning six
Tombstone, where he had fallen from his
horse and was abandoned by his companions. He was
Jack Dunlap, alias Three-Fingered Jack, a
well known cowboy horse thief. He died a few days later in the
Tombstone hospital, having received a
buckshot load from Milton's shotgun.
In a pass of the Dragoon Mountains Sheriff Scott White
captured three of the others, who proved to be the leader, Bob Burns and
John and Lewis Owens. With them was the booty, which consisted of only 17
Mexican pesos. The robbers had expected that the Fort Huachuca payroll
would be in the express car safe. Soon afterward the score was made
complete by the arrest at Cananea of Tom Yoes, alias "Bravo John" who had
been shot in the leg.
Jack Dunlap died, he gave the officers
the first information concerning the Cochise robbery, implicating
Constable at Wilcox and William Downing, a well-to-do cattleman. There was
some humor in the situation owing to the fact that
had been one of the noisiest and most active pursuers of the train
William L. Stiles, Deputy Constable at
confessed the details of the whole affair. He and another cowboy, Matt
Burts, did the work alone, but the job was planned and supplies for it
were furnished by
had provided the dynamite, secured by breaking into a Wilcox powder house.
Immediately after the job was done, the spoil was taken to
and Downing at Wilcox for division.
received only $480 for his share and consequent dissatisfaction is said to
have been the reason for his confession. It is evident, however, that
suffered from remorse, though not for his crimes.
merely a witness for the Government,
was allowed some liberty. He repaid their confidence in April, 1900
by entering the
Tombstone jail and after shooting the jailer
through the leg, releasing
and "Bravo John."
to leave and Burts, who had been arrested in
happened to be outside at the time with a deputy sheriff. So the trio hung
upon them all the weapons they could find in the sheriff's office and took
to the hills on stolen horses.
They were next heard of at
ranch near Wilcox, where they made an announcement that they proposed to
rob a few more Southern Pacific trains. When the Tombstone Prospector
criticized the sheriff's office in connection with the escape, the
sheriff's brother replied by hammering Editor Hattich over the head with a
revolver. In addition to various rewards offered by the sheriff and
territorial authorities, W.C. Greene offered $10,000 for the capture of
the two outlaws, who were understood to have dislike Greene immensely.
surrendered in 1902, tired of the free life of a roving bandit and
expressed himself well pleased at being back where he would be sure of
three square meals a day. He had been in the bandit business three years
since he laid the plans for the train robbery at Cochise. He had spent
most of the intervening time in Sonora, where
Captain Burton Mossman of the
Arizona Rangers followed and secured
expression of a wish to return to the United States if assured of
reasonable clemency. But it was to his old friend, Sheriff Del Lewis, that
the surrender was made on the border near Naco.
way was made easier by the fact that he had assisted in the capture of
Chacon, a notorious Mexican murderer. At
Tombstone he was discharged from custody,
owing to the events of the territorial statute that provided death as the
only penalty on conviction of train robbery, but he was rearrested and
taken to Tucson on the charge of interfering with United States mails.
came into the limelight again in December, 1903 when they dug out of the
Tombstone jail and for the second time
escaped. A week before
had been convicted on the charge of robbery of the mails. He had been held
Tombstone merely as a witness in the case
Captain Burton Mossman of the
later was taken at Naco but had only two years' imprisonment, managing to
evade arrest on other charges at the time of liberation at Yuma. He is
said to have made his way to Panama, where he bossed Spanish speaking
laborers for a while, afterwards departing for Argentina.
When William Downing was tried on a charge of train robbery
he was acquitted for the reason that conviction would have meant hanging,
but on another charge he served a seven year term. Downing was happily
removed from necessity and used bad judgment in defying Territorial Ranger
Speed, after terrorizing Wilcox for months. After his death it was learned
that he had been a member of the notorious
Sam Bass Gang of
and had been driven out of that state by Texas Rangers. In
he had served two penitentiary sentences, one for train robbery and one
for shooting Robert Warren. Burts went to Yuma for a term and was followed
who surrendered in the summer of 1900. The latter was reported killed in
December, 1908 while working in Nevada, where he was known under the name
of Larkin. The killing was said to have been assassination, the man shot
in the back while leading a horse.
James Harvey McClintock in 1913, compiled and edited by
of America, updated October, 2012.
Notes and Author: James Harvey
McClintock was born in Sacramento in 1864 and moved to
the age of 15, working for his brother at the Salt River Herald
(later known as the Arizona Republic). When McClintock was 22
he began to attend the Territorial Normal School in Tempe, where he earned
a teaching certificate. Later, he would serve as Theodore
Roosevelt’s right-hand-man in the Rough Riders during the Spanish-American
War and become an
Between the years of 1913 and 1916,
McClintock’s published a three volume history of
called Arizona: The Youngest State (now in the public domain,)
in which this article appeared. McClintock
continued to live in
until his poor health forced him to return to
where he died on May 10, 1934 at the age of 70.
Note: The article is not verbatim as spelling
errors and minor grammatical changes have been made.
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