John and Charles Ruggles came from a respected family in Tulare County, California. Charles attended college, but John was seemingly a “problem” from a young age. The boys’ father had high hopes for Charles but little faith in John as he was already in trouble with the law, arrested and imprisoned for robbery while still a very young man. However, when Charles graduated from college, John was released from prison and began to corrupt his younger brother, who had never committed a crime.
He soon talked Charles into making his living the “easy way” by robbing a stagecoach. On May 14, 1892, the pair waited for the Redding & Weaverville Stage just outside of Redding, California, intent upon taking a strongbox filled with some $5,000 in gold coins.
The stage, driven by John Boyce, headed east in the late afternoon on Middle Creek Road from Shasta to Redding. Its only passenger was George Suhr, riding up front with the driver. However, the stage guard, who also acted as the stage messenger, Amos “Buck” Montgomery, was riding inside the coach. When the stage came to a sharp curve in the road, it slowed, and out of the trees stepped Charles Ruggles. Wearing a long coat and a bandanna covering his face, he pointed a shotgun at the driver. When he ordered Boyce to stop the stage and throw down the strongbox, Boyce immediately complied, heaving the heavy box to the ground.
Almost simultaneously, a blast sounded from inside the coach as Montgomery fired his shotgun, riddling Charles in the face and upper body with buckshot. As the bandit fell, he returned the fire, hitting Boyce and Suhr in the legs.
Suddenly, hidden nearby, John retaliated by firing shots into the stagecoach. He hit Montgomery, who would die just hours later from his wounds. Frightened by the blasts, the horses ran, pulling the stage behind them.
Believing his brother was dying, John grabbed the heavy strongbox, hid it nearby, and fled. When the stage reached “civilization” to tell their tale, a posse was formed who quickly found Charles. Though severely wounded, they took him to the Redding jail, where his injuries were treated.
John made a clean getaway for a short time, winding up at his aunt’s house in Woodland. However, when she learned he had robbed a stage and killed a man, she kicked him out and reported him to the local sheriff. Six weeks after the robbery, on June 19, John was arrested while sitting in a restaurant in Woodland. Returning to the Redding jail, John was surprised to find his brother alive and recovering from his wounds.
To save himself and his brother, John told the authorities that the stage guard, Montgomery, was in cahoots with them. He also revealed where he had hidden the gold, telling authorities that he had hidden it in Middle Creek. Attached to the strongbox was a floating device within a foot of the top of the water that would help him find it later.
Both John and Charles being handsome and charming, drew the attention of the local ladies, who began pampering them. Some brought cakes and fruits, others gave them flower bouquets, and allegedly, the pair even received marriage offers.
This, of course, enraged the local men who were already upset over the killing of Montgomery. On the evening of July 24, 1892, a vigilante mob of some 40 men stormed the jail. The lone jailer, George Albro, could do nothing as the men blew open the safe that held the jail keys.
As the lynch mob forcibly took the pair from the jail, John Ruggles offered to divulge the stolen loot’s location if the mob would free his brother. “Spare Charley, and I will tell you,” John Ruggles said.
But the lynch mob wouldn’t hear of it, dragging the men to a tree next to the Redding Blacksmith shop at the northwest corner of Shasta Street and the railroad tracks. John was 33 years old, and Charles was just 22.
The following day, Redding residents found the two bandits hanging by their necks. The bodies stayed there for three days as passengers on nearby trains viewed their gruesome remains.
A local newspaper editorial said that justice had been fairly meted out and further:
It was a disagreeable job, but under the circumstances appeared to be necessary for the public good and is an example to the courts.
As to the stolen treasure, an express pouch was later found near Lower Springs with all the letters intact; however, the gold was never recovered. Middle Creek is about six miles west of Redding, California.
© Kathy Alexander/Legends of America, updated March 2023.