Portneuf Canyon Stage Robbery
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Before the railroad barreled through
Territory, freight and stage lines provided transportation and movement of
trade goods, as well as gold, along the routes leading from
Holladay expanded his stage line
and though it provided a much needed service, the paths were fraught with
danger. The Portneuf Road, leading from Virginia City,
Idaho often carried gold from the rich
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.
outlaws met in a saloon in Boise City,
during May, 1865. Leading the "gang” was a man named Brockie
Jack who had recently broke out of a jail in
and had been hiding out on a nearby ranch. The next main member
of the group was
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
The Portneuf River south of Pocatello,
Matthew Trump, courtesy
On May 31, 1865, the
outlaws left Boise City headed toward the Portneuf Stage Route in
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,
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
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
Montana. For the next three days, the stagecoach traveled along the route,
where the Union Pacific Railroad would later be built, to Pocatello.
This image available for
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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