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Portneuf Canyon Stage Robbery

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Before the railroad barreled through Idaho Territory, freight and stage lines provided transportation and movement of trade goods, as well as gold, along the routes leading from Montana to Utah.


In 1864, Ben Holladay expanded his stage line through Idaho, and though it provided a much needed service, the paths were fraught with danger. The Portneuf Road, leading from Virginia City, Montana to Pocatello, Idaho often carried gold from the rich Montana mines and soon became the target of thieves hiding out in the forested areas along the trail.


Such was the case on July 26, 1865.


Carefully planned, four outlaws met in a saloon in Boise City, Idaho during May, 1865. Leading the "gang” was a man named Brockie Jack who had recently broke out of a jail in Oregon and had been hiding out on a nearby ranch. The next main member of the group was Big Dave Updyke, who had been elected Ada County Sheriff just a few months previous. Parading as a descent citizen, he was known to have consorted with felons and was watched closely by the Payette Vigilance Committee. The third member was a man named Willy Whittmore, who was known for his quick temper and deadly aim. The fourth man was a little known player that went by the name of Fred Williams.




Portneuf River south of Pocatello, Idaho

The Portneuf River south of Pocatello, Idaho, photo by Matthew Trump, courtesy Wikipedia




On May 31, 1865, the four outlaws left Boise City headed toward the Portneuf Stage Route in eastern Idaho, more than 200 miles away. Making camp at Ross Fork Creek near Fort Hall, the men worked out the details of the hold-up. Fred Williams was sent to Virginia City, Montana to gain information about the gold shipments. Once he was sure that the stage line would be carrying the precious cargo, he was to purchase a ticket and ride along as a passenger.

In the meantime, the other three bandits traveled south along the stage road, looking for the perfect place for the hold-up. A few miles south of present-day Pocatello, Idaho, the trio found a narrow canyon that was heavily timbered, rocky, and filled with brush. Determining that the location provided everything that was needed, the bandits began to work out the details of the robbery. They soon gathered a number of large boulders that would be utilized to block the stage road, hiding them out of sight until they were needed. Additionally, they decided that Willy Whittmore, armed with a new Henry repeating rifle, was to shoot the lead horses if the driver found a way around the roadblock.

With the details worked out, the three bandits returned to Ross Fork Creek to wait for their accomplice, Fred Williams. It would be nearly two weeks before they received any word.

On July 21, 1865, the stagecoach left Virginia City with seasoned driver, Charlie Parks, and seven passengers, including one calling himself Fred Williams.


Crossing the Ruby Mountains, the stage spent its first night at the Corral Station near present-day Dillon, Montana. For the next three days, the stagecoach traveled along the route, where the Union Pacific Railroad would later be built, to Pocatello.


Early stagecoach

Early stagecoach. This image available for photographic prints

 and downloads HERE!


On the fourth evening of their journey, the stagecoach stopped at the Sodhouse Station to overnight. After the passengers had completed their evening meal, Williams excused himself and headed toward the Ross Fork Camp. The other outlaws were ecstatic to hear the news that two large strongboxes, laden with gold, were being transported on the stage. After a celebratory drink or two of whiskey, Williams headed back. No one had even noticed he was gone.


On July 26, 1865, the coach set out once again. Around midday, it reached the stream near the place that the three outlaws were hidden in the brush. Slowing down to cross the water, the coach traveled through, went up the bank, and stopped. There, across the road were the boulders the bandits had placed to stop the coach. Suddenly, the outlaws appeared from their hiding places with guns raised.




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