Richard Barter, also known as Rattlesnake Dick and Dick Woods, was born in
Quebec, Canada, the son of a British officer around 1833. Though little is
known of his early history, he was said to have been a reckless sort of
days, he migrated there in 1850, accompanied by an older brother and an
old man who was some sort of relative. Settling in at Rattlesnake Bar, a
small mining camp in Placer County, the brother and other man soon
returned to Canada. But, Dick remained at the camp, working for
other miners and doing a little prospecting on his own.
However, Barter was unsuccessful in his
quest for gold and soon decided to turn to a life of crime. He
began with rustling horses but was as unsuccessful at that as he was
at finding gold. In no time, he was arrested and sent to prison
for two years.
When he was released he formed a gang made
up of brothers, Cyrus and George Skinner, along with several others. In 1856,
Barter learned from a drunken mining engineer that large gold
shipments were being sent down Trinity Mountain from the Yreka and
Klamath River Mines.
Barter sent George Skinner and three
others to intercept the gold shipment, which was packed on mules. George and the other bandits stopped the mule train outside of Nevada
California holding guns on the muleskinners. Meekly the men
turned over $80,600 in gold bullion to Skinner and his men, without a
shot being fired.
The bandits then made off with the
shipment to keep a rendezvous at Folsom with Barter and Cyrus Skinner. However, George Skinner found it next to impossible to take the heavy
gold shipment down the mountain passes without fresh mules. Soon, he split up the gold shipment burying half of it in the
Making their way to Auburn, the
outlaws were soon intercepted by a
Wells Fargo posse and gunfight
ensued. In the melee, George Skinner was killed and his
confederates fled. The lawmen recovered $40,600 of the stolen
loot and though they searched diligently, they failed to find the
In the meantime,
Rattlesnake Dick and
Cy Skinner weren’t at the rendezvous point in Folsom, as they had just
been jailed for stealing mules. When they were released, Barter
immediately sought out George Skinner to obtain his share of the gold
shipment, only to find that Skinner had been killed. Cy Skinner and
Barter spent the next several weeks trying to find the buried gold
before they finally gave up.
Both men soon went back to robbing
stagecoaches but their luck soon ran out. On July 11, 1859,
Sheriff J. Boggs trapped Barter and Skinner in a mountain pass near
Auburn, California. Boggs fired a shot right into the heart of Rattlesnake Dick, killing him instantly.
Skinner was wounded,
but lived to be taken into custody and given a long prison sentence.
The treasure has never been recovered.
Kathy Weiser/Legends of
America, updated May, 2017.
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