The Star Line Nail and Transportation Company operated a stagecoach line, which traveled a regular schedule between Prescott, Arizona and Santa Fe, New Mexico. Primarily catering to the United States Army, the stage line carried troops, supplies and sometimes, the army’s payroll between Fort Wingate, New Mexico and Fort Whipple, Arizona.
In 1874, Samuel Wharton and Thomas Horton held up the stage just northwest of Albuquerque, escaping with $50,000 in gold coins intended for the army payroll. Traveling north on horses stolen from a Navajo Indian herd, they passed through Largo Canyon before reaching the San Juan River near Blanco.
Riding swiftly and covering quite a distance, they were surprised when they looked behind them and saw the cavalry in hot pursuit. Panicked, they buried the gold near a rock shaped arch and fled.
However, they were captured just a short time later. Identified by two Navajo guides as having been the men who stole the horses, Tom Horton and Samuel Wharton were tried and sentenced to forty years in the New Mexico Territorial Prison.
While in prison, Tom Horton died, but Samuel Wharton lived to be released. Thirty-five years after the theft he returned to Aztec, New Mexico spending the summer riding the countryside of San Juan County. Reportedly he could never find the exact place where they had stashed the gold. The rock shaped arch is said to be hidden in Slane’s or Potter Arroyo between Aztec and Blanco.
Aztec, New Mexico is located in northwest New Mexico. Blanco is about 17 miles to the southeast of Aztec.
Reader Update, January, 2006: Thanks to our reader, Douglas McCleary, this legend is most likely just that – a legend. The loot taken, which would have probably included not only Army payroll, but also payment for Bureau of Indian Affairs employees, would have been grounds for a Federal trial for Mr. Horton and Mr. Wharton. Mr. McCleary did a little research on this tale by contacting the New Mexico State Archives who was unable to locate any criminal cases in any of the counties where the outlaws might have been tried. Additionally, the New Mexico Territorial Prison census of 1884 shows no prisoners sentenced for stagecoach robbery. Mr. McCleary worked at Fort Wingate as a firefighter until the base closure of 1993. Thanks for the update Mr. McCleary!