First Train Robbery On The Pacific Coast

After spending some time examining the ground up and down the track he finally reached a point about a mile west where the small heel print and two of the larger ones left the track and led off to the north. The robbers had evidently walked for quite a distance on the railroad ties to prevent being trailed. The officer followed these tracks up Dog Valley Creek and over Dog Valley Hill, where it was easy trailing in the snow, into Sardine Valley, California. At the Sardine Valley House he gained valuable information. Three strangers had lodged there the night before. Two had left early in the morning and the other one was still in his room when a party of hunters from Truckee, led by James Burke, arrived at the house. They were well supplied with shotguns, and the stranger in the house at once mistook them for officers. Running out of the back door he hid in the barn. In the meantime a man had arrived from Truckee and reported the train robbery. The lady of the house then related to the hunters the particulars of the coming to her house of the three men late the previous evening. She said that one of the men was still there and seemed to be nervous and worn out. James Burke, although not an officer, concluded to arrest the man, who proved to be Gilchrist, a miner from Virginia City, who, up to that time, had borne a good reputation.

This, no doubt was his first venture in the “hold-up” business. He was taken in Truckee by the hunters.

The landlady of the Sardine Valley House gave the Washoe County officer a very good description of the other two men. She described them accurately and went into details about their clothing. Among other things she said that one of them wore “gambler’s boots; and from her description of the other man, the officer rightly guessed that he was John Squiers, an old stage robber whom the officers of Storey County had been trying to land for years.

He was heading for Sierra Valley where his brother Joe, an honest blacksmith, resided and where he thought he could rest in safety until the excitement caused by the robbery had subsided. After feeding and resting his horse, which had been on the go since daylight, the officer in about an hour took up the hunt for the other men.

It was now 10 o’clock at night and the snow was falling fast. The officer was out of his jurisdiction and unacquainted with that section of the country. He therefore found it necessary to procure a guide to put him on the right road to Sierra Valley; otherwise he might land at Webber Lake or Downieville many miles away. There were several men at the Sardine Valley House, but none of them had “lost any robbers,” and they refused to act as guides. A boy, however, volunteered for ten dollars to go with the officer as far as Webber Lake Junction and put him on the right trail to Loyalton in Sierra Valley, but with the distinct understanding that, in case the robbers were encountered, the boy was to turn back and let the officer fight it out alone. Nothing of the kind occurred, however, and at about midnight they arrived at the little town of Loyalton in Sierra Valley, California.

Arousing the landlord of the only hotel in the village, the officer made himself known and asked if there were any strange guests in the house. The landlord replied that he had one, and described him, but the description did not fit either of the men sought. The officer, however, thought best to take a look at the man and asked the landlord to show him to the room.

Sierra-Nevada Railroad Route, Courier and Ives, 1871

Sierra-Nevada Railroad Route, Courier and Ives, 1871

By this time, either from the cold or from the thought of a desperado being in his house, the landlord’s teeth were chattering, and he declined to go; but giving the officer a candle, told him the man was in room 14. The hotel had just been built, and had not been painted, and on account of the damp weather the doors were swollen and the door of room 14 could not be shut tight enough to lock. For this reason the occupant had placed a chair under the knob on the inside of the room and had gone to bed, probably feeling quite secure against intruders.

The officer after reaching the second story of the hotel readily found room 14, and noticing that the door stood partly open, he gently pushed it until the chair moved sufficiently to enable him to get his arm through the crack and remove the obstruction.

This he did without awakening the sleeper, and the first object that attracted his attention after entering the room was a boot, lying on the floor, with the little heel that had made the tracks he had followed for so many miles, and that afterward cut such an important figure in the trial of the robbers.

Pioneer Stage leaving Wells-Fargo, Virginia City, Nevada, 1866.

Pioneer Stage leaving Wells-Fargo, Virginia City, Nevada, 1866.

After entering the room the officer found his man sleeping like a log and first proceeded to remove a six-shooter from under his pillow without disturbing his slumbers, and also went through his clothes in search of further evidence to connect him with the robbery. Enough was found to assist in the later conviction of the men. When the officer finally aroused him to place him under arrest, he bounded from his bed and landed in the center of the room like a wild animal. Rushing back to the bed, he reached for his gun, but found it missing, while the officer, covering him with a Henry rifle, commanded him to get on his clothes, which he did without any further parley. He then was marched on ahead of the officer and down the street to a saloon where he was bound and placed under guard, while the officer went in search of the other man. The man arrested in the hotel proved to be Parsons, a gambler from Virginia City.

Proceeding on toward Sierraville, California, the officer found John Squiers at his brother’s house. The officer knew Squiers and believed that he would have some trouble in taking him “in the open.” Arriving at Joe’s house before daylight and before anyone was astir, he placed himself in the rear of the house, in the willows, and waited. Presently a man came through the kitchen and left the door ajar, proceeding to the barn with a pail on his arm, evidently about to do the morning milking. The officer slipped into the house through the kitchen and into four separate rooms where men were sleeping before he found the man he was looking for. Here again the officer had the luck to disarm the man without waking him, and gathering up his clothes and boots he aroused him and at the muzzle of the rifle drove him out of the house and then allowed him to put on his clothes.

While this was being done, the man who had entered the barn came out, and Squiers immediately yelled to him that he was being robbed. The household was soon in commotion and the crowd was growing noisy.

After securing the prisoner, the officer made a speech to the crowd explaining that he was an officer in discharge of duty and that he had arrested Squiers on suspicion of complicity in the train robbery. Squiers, however, knowing the officer, claimed that the latter had no right to make an arrest in California.

This view was concurred in by the crowd, especially as Joe Squiers, the brother of the captured man, was a respectable citizen of the valley, where he had many friends. It began to look bad for the officer. But a team was being hitched up and when it was ready and standing in the rear of the saloon, the prisoner was rushed into it and the officer succeeded in getting away from the crowd and eventually landed both Squiers and the other prisoner in the Truckee jail where Gilchrist already was confined.

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