Where there was gold,
there were often as many
as their were honest prospectors – men who found it much easier to use a
gun rather than a pick and shovel.
Such was the case of
who made his fortune by preying on the many gold and silver laden stages
traveling from the Sierra foothills to
and Stockton in the late 1870’s. Thought to have robbed over 20 stages
during his outlaw
made his first major mistake when he teamed up with an outlaw
named W.C. "Bill" Jones, who went by
the alias Frank Dow. Jones, who had served a stretch at San Quentin before meeting up with
was a dangerous drunk.
Their first robbery could
not be considered a monumental success as they took from the
Express only $88 and three watches from the passengers. But this did
not stall their enthusiasm, as on their next robbery, they walked away
with more than $15,000.
Ranging as far as Carson City,
robbed six stages in less than four months as the tales of their
hold-ups marched across the pages
of San Francisco papers. Adding great interest to the stories
appearance and mannerisms. Not the typical outlaw,
was well dressed and extremely courteous when ordering
guards to throw down the strongbox. Jones, on the other hand,
was a full-bearded, beastly looking man, with a deep-pitched voice
that frightened both guards and passengers alike. While Jones
held the driver and guard at bay,
Sharp would line up the passengers and apologetically announce "A thousand
pardons for the inconvenience I have caused you, but you see these are
the hazards of my profession. We must relieve you of your valuables."
He was such a gentleman that he sometimes even returned valuables to
weeping females. Afterwards, he would make a gracious bow, "thanking”
them for their kindness, before the pair would make a clean getaway.
No one ever got hurt
during these "polite” robberies, at least until the morning of
September 5, 1880. Stopping the Wells Fargo Express traveling
to Carson City, Jones fired two shots, killing one of the stage
horses. Mike Tovey, the stage guard, returned the fire, killing Dow,
who was thought to have been drunk at the time.
then continued with the robbery, leaving Dow’s lifeless body in the
road and stage stranded by the dead horse still attached to the team.
offering a $3,000 reward for
began appearing all over
which caused lawmen and bounty hunters alike, to aggressively trail
was finally captured in San Francisco. Waiving extradition, the outlaw
was taken back to Aurora, Nevada
in chains. Charged with six robberies against Wells Fargo, a
lynch mob gathered outside the jail night after night while
awaited trial. Sharp,
who was known to bury his stolen hordes, was questioned intensely
regarding their whereabouts, but
refused to talk. In November, 1880 when a guard came to check on
him, the man had vanished along with a
15 pound iron ball
chained to his leg. Having worked a few bricks out of the jail
wall, no one had seen him escape.
The award for his arrest was immediately
increased to $5,000 and the posses were on him in full force. After being aggressively trailed for several weeks and tired, hungry,
finally turned himself in to the Sheriff at Candelaria, Nevada.
was then returned to Aurora, where he was convicted of five counts of
robbery. When he refused to tell where the hidden loot was
buried, an unsympathetic judge sentenced him to 20 years in the
was taken to the state prison in Carson City where he tried to escape
several times within the first few months. Finally, he settled down
to be a model prisoner and in 1881 attempted to get a pardon, without
success. Continuing to look for ways to escape, he finally made it
in 1889 and was not heard from in over four years. He was again
apprehended in Red Bluff, California,
on October 3, 1893 and returned to prison.