Mormon Joe – The Robber

“Dick came with a sandwich in one hand and a can of coffee in the other. This reminded Barney of his lunch, and setting his torch down on the top of the cab, he scrambled down on the other side and hurried off to the sand-dryer, where the gang used to eat their dyspepsia insurance and swap lies.

“After listening a moment, to be sure I was alone, I stepped lightly to the cab, and in a minute the two heavy and dangerous packages were side by side again.

“But just here an inspiration struck me. I opened the front door of the cab, stepped out on the running-board, and a second later was holding Barney’s smoking torch down in the dome.

“The throttle occupied most of the space, but there was considerable room on each side of it and a good two feet between the top of the boiler shell and the top row of flues. I took one of the bags of gold, held it down at arm’s length, swung it backward and forward a time or two, and let go, so as to drop it well ahead on the flues: the second bag followed at once, and again I held down the light to see if the bags were out of sight; satisfied on this point, I got down, took my clothes under my arm, and jumped off the engine into the arms of the night foreman.”

“‘What did you call me for? That engine is not ready to go out on the extra,’ I demanded, off-hand.

“‘I ain’t called you; you’re dreaming.’

“‘Maybe I am,’ said I, ‘but I would ‘a swore someone came and called under my window that I got out at 2:10, on a stock-train, extra.’

“Just then, Barney and Dick came back, and I soon had the satisfaction of seeing the cover screwed down on my secret and a fire built under it — then I went home and slept.

“I guess it was four round trips that I made with the old pelter, before Kelly put this and that together, and decided to put me where the dogs wouldn’t bite me.

“I appeared as calm as I could, and set the example since followed by politicians, that of ‘dignified silence.’ Kelly tried to work one of the ‘fellow convict’ rackets on me, but I made no confessions. I soon became a martyr, in the eyes of the women of the town. You boys got to talking of backing up a suit for false imprisonment; the election was coming on and the sheriff and county judge were getting uneasy, and the district attorney was awfully unhappy, so they let me out.

“Nixon, the sheriff, pumped me slyly, to see what effect my imprisonment would have on future operations, and I told him I didn’t propose to lose any time over it, and agreed to drop the matter for a little nest-egg equal to the highest pay received by any engineer on the road. Pat Dailey was the worst hog for overtime, and I selected his pay as the standard and took big money, — from the campaign funds. I wasn’t afraid of re-arrest; — I had ’em for bribery.

“Whilst I was in hock, I had cold chills every time I heard the 313’s whistle, for fear they would wash her out and find the dust; but she gave up nothing.

“When I reported for work, the old scrap was out on construction and they were disposed to put me on another mill, pulling varnished cars, but I told the old man I was under the weather and ‘crummy,’ and that put him in a good humor; and I was sent out to a desolate siding, and once again took charge, of the steam ‘fence,’ for the robber of the Black Prince mine.

“On Sunday, by a little maneuvering, I managed to get the crew to go off on a trout-fishing expedition, and under the pretext of grinding in her chronically leaky throttle, I took off her dome-cover and looked in; there was nothing in sight.

“I was afraid that the cooking of two months or more had destroyed the canvas bags; then again the heavy deposit of scale might have cemented the bags to the flues. In either case, rough handling would send the dust to the bottom of the boiler, making it difficult if not impossible to recover; and worse yet, manifest itself some time and give me dead away.

“I concluded to go at the matter right, and after two hours of hard work, managed to get the upright throttle-pipe out of the dome. I drew her water down below the flue-line, and though it was tolerably warm, I got in.

“Both of my surmises were partially correct; the canvas was rotted, in a measure, and the bags were fastened to the flues. The dust had been put up in buckskin bags, first, and these had been put into shot-sacks; the buckskin was shrunken but intact. I took a good look around before I dared take the treasure into the sunlight, but the coast was clear, and inside of an hour they were locked in my clothes-box, and the cover was on the kettle again and I was pumping her up by hand.

“I was afraid something would happen to me or the engine, so I buried the packages in a bunch of willows near the track.

“It must have been two weeks after this that a mover’s wagon stopped near the creek within half a mile of the track, and hobbled horses soon began to ‘rustle’ grass, and the smoke of a campfire hunted the clouds.

“We saw this sort of thing often, and I didn’t any more than glance at it; but after supper, I sauntered down by the engine, smoking and thinking of Rachel Rokesby, when I noticed a woman walking towards me, pail in hand.

“She had on a sunbonnet that hid her face and she got within ten feet of me before she spoke — she asked for a pail of drinking water from the tank — the creek was muddy from recent rain.

“Just as soon as she spoke, I knew it was Rachel, but I controlled myself, for others were within hearing. I walked with her to the engine and got the water; I purposely drew the pail full, which she promptly spilled, and I offered to carry it for her.

“The crew watched us walk away and I heard some of them mention ‘mash,’ but I didn’t care, I wanted a word with my girl.

“When we were out of earshot, she asked without looking up:

“‘Well, old coolness, are you all right?’

“‘You bet! darling.’

“‘Papa has sold out his half and we are going away for good. I think if we get rid of the dust without trouble, we may go to England. Just as soon as all is safe, you shall hear from me; can’t you trust me, Joe?’

“‘Yes, Rachel, darling; now and forever.’

“‘Where’s the gold?’

“‘Within one hundred feet of you, in those willows; when it is dark, I will go and get it and put it on that stump by the big tree; go then and get it. But where will you put it?’

“‘I’m going to pack it in the bottom of a jar of butter.’

“‘Good idea, little girl! I think you’d make a good thief yourself. How’s my friend, Sanson?’

“‘He’s gone to Mexico; says yet that papa robbed him, but he knows as well as you or I that all his bluster was because he only found half that he expected; I pride myself on getting ahead of a wicked man once, thanks to our hero, by the name of Hogg.’

“It was getting dusk and we were out of sight, so I sat down the pail and asked:

“‘Do I get a kiss, this evening?’

“‘If you want one.’

“‘There’s only one thing I want worse.’

“‘What is that, Joe?’

“My arm was around her waist now, and the sunbonnet was shoved back from the face. I took a couple of cream-puffs where they were ripe, and answered:

“That message to come and have that talk about matrimony.’

“Here a man’s voice was heard calling: ‘Rachel! Rachel!’ and throwing her arms around my neck, she gave me one more kiss, snatched up her pail, and answered:

“‘Yes; I’m coming.’

“Then to me, hurriedly:

“‘Good-by, dear; wait patiently, you shall hear from me.’

“I went back and put the dangerous dust on the stump and returned to the bunk car. The next morning when I turned out, the outlines of the wagon were dimly discernible away on a hill in the road; it had been gone an hour.

“I walked down past my stump — the gold was gone.

“Well, John, I settled down to work and to wait for that precious letter that would summon me to the side of Rachel Rokesby, wherever she was; but it never came. Uncle Sam never delivered a line to me from her from that day to this.”

Joe kicked the burning sticks in our fire closer together, lit his pipe, and then proceeded:

“I was hopeful for a month or two; then got impatient, and finally got angry, but it ended in despair. A year passed away before I commenced to hunt, instead of waiting to be hunted; but after another year I gave it up, and came to the belief that Rachel was dead or married to another. But the very minute that such a treasonable thought flashed through my mind, my heart held up the image of her pure face and rebuked me.

“I was discharged finally, for forgetting orders — I was thinking of something else — then I commenced to pull myself together and determined to control myself. I held the job in Arizona almost a year, but the mill company busted; then I drifted down on to the Mexican National, when it was building, and got a job. A few months later, it came to my ears that one of our engineers, Billy Gardiner, was in one of their damnable prisons, for running over a Greaser, and I organized a relief expedition. I called on Gardiner, and talked over his trouble fully; he was in a loathsome dobie hole, full of vermin, and dark. As I sat talking to him, I noticed an old man, chained to the wall in a little entry on the other side of the room. His beard was grizzly white, long, and tangled. He was hollow-cheeked and wild-eyed and looked at me in a strange, fascinated way.

“‘What’s he in for,’ I whispered to Gardiner.

“‘Murdered his partner in a mining camp. Got caught in the act. He don’t know it yet, but he’s condemned to be shot next Friday — tomorrow. Poor devil, he’s half crazy, anyhow.’

“As I got up to go, the old man made a sharp hiss, and as I turned to look at him, he beckoned with his finger. I took a step or two nearer, and he asked, in an audible whisper:

“‘Mr. Hogg, don’t you know me?’

“I looked at him long and critically, and then said:

“‘No; I never saw you before.’

“‘Yes; that’s so,’ said he; ‘but I have seen you, many times. You remember the Black Prince robbery?’

“‘Yes, indeed; then you are Sanson?’

“‘No; Rokesby.’

“‘Rokesby! My God, man, where’s Rachel?’

“‘I thought so,’ he muttered. ‘Well, she’s in England, but I’m here.’

“‘What part of England?’

“‘Sit down on that box, Mr. Hogg, and I will tell you something.’

“‘Is she married?’ I asked eagerly.

“‘No, lad, she ain’t, and what’s more, she won’t be till she marries you, so be easy there.’

“Just here a pompous Mexican official strode in, stepped up in front of the old man and read something in Spanish.

“‘What in hell did he say?’ asked the prisoner of Gardiner.

“‘Something about sentence, pardner.’

“‘Well, it’s time they was doing something; did he say when it was?’


“‘Good enough; I’m dead sick o’ this.

“‘Can’t I do anything for you, Mr. Rokesby — for Rachel’s sake?’

“‘No — yes, you can, too, young man; you can grant me a pardon for a worse crime nor murder if you will — for — for Rachel’s sake.”

“‘It’s granted then.’

“‘Good! that gives me heart. Now, Mr. Hogg, to business, it was me that robbed the Black Prince mine. I took every last cent there was, and I used you and Rachel to do the work for me and take the blame if caught. Sanson was honest enough, I fired the mill myself.

“‘It was me that sent Rachel to you; I admired your face, as you rode by the claim every day on your engine. I knew you had nerve. If you and Rachel hadn’t fallen in love with one another, I’d ‘a lost though; but I won.

“‘Well, I took the money I got for the claim and sent Rachel back to her mother’s sister, in England. You may not know, but she is not my daughter; she thinks she is, though. Her parents died when she was small, and I provided for her. I’m her half-uncle. I got avaricious in my old age and went into a number of questionable schemes.

“‘After leaving New Mexico, I worked the dust off, a little at a time, an’ wasted the money — but never mind that.

“‘It was just before she got aboard the ship that Rachel sent me a letter containing another to you, to be sent when all was right — I’ve carried it ever since — somehow or other I was afraid it would drop a clew to send it at first, and after it got a year old, I didn’t think of it much.’

“He fumbled around inside of his dirty flannel shirt for a minute, and soon fished up a letter almost as black as the shirt, and holding it up, said:

“‘That’s it.’

“‘I had the envelope off in a second, and read:

“‘Dear Joseph:

“‘I am going to my aunt, Mrs. Julia Bradshaw, 15 Harrow Lane, Leicester, England. If you do not change your mind, I will be happy to talk over our affairs whenever you are ready. I shall be waiting.


“I turned and bolted toward a door when Gardiner yelled:

“‘Where are you going?’

“‘To England,’ said I.

“‘This door, then, sir,’ said a Mexican.

“I came back to the old man.

“‘Rokesby,’ said I, ‘you have cut ten years off my life, but I forgive you; good-by.’

“‘One thing more, Mr. Hogg; don’t tell ’em at home how I went — nothing about this last deal.’

“‘Well, all right; but I’ll tell Rachel, if we marry and come to America.’

“‘I’ve got lots of honest relations, and my old mother still lives, in her eighties.’

“‘Well, not till after she goes, unless to save Rachel in some way.’

“‘Good-by, Mr. Hogg, God bless you! and — and, little Rachel.’

“‘Good-by, Mr. Rokesby.’

Union Pacific Train, late 1800s

Union Pacific Train, late 1800s

“The next day I left Mexico for God’s country, and inside of ten days was on a Cunarder, eastward bound. I reached England in proper time; I found the proper pen in the proper train, and was deposited in the proper town, directed to the proper house, and street, and number, and had pulled out about four yards of wire attached to the proper bell.

“A kindly-faced old lady looked at me over her spectacles, and I asked:

“‘Does Mrs. Julia Bradshaw live here?’

“‘Yes, sir; that’s me.’

“‘Have you a young lady here named Rachel R?’

“The old lady didn’t wait for me to finish the name, she just turned her head fifteen degrees, put her open hand up beside her mouth, and shouted upstairs:

“‘Rachel! Rachel! Come down here, quick! Here’s your young man from America!'”

John A. Hill and Jasper Ewing Brady, 1898. Compiled and Edited by Kathy Weiser-Alexander/Legends of America, updated July 2021.

Author & Notes: This tale is adapted from a chapter of a book written by John A. Hill and Jasper Ewing Brady, entitled Danger Signals, first published in 1898, and again in 1902 by  Chicago Jamieson-Higgins Co. The tale is not 100% verbatim, as minor grammatical errors and spelling have been corrected.

Also See:

An Encounter with Train Robbers (Hill and Brady 1898)

Bill Bradley, Gambler And Gentleman (Hill and Brady 1898)

Blue Field, Arizona & An Indian Scrimmage (Hill and Brady 1898)

Some Freaks of Fate (Hill and Brady 1898)

The Railroad in the American West (main page)

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