Nevada’s first train robbery happened near Verdi on the western edge of the state. Being the very first one, it attracted much attention. The second heist was just 20 hours later, 380 miles to the east. It was the same train on the same run on the same day but, by then, train holdups were suddenly very common. A description of the earlier crime was in the November 6, 1870 edition of The Elko Chronicle. About one a.m. the east bound express was stopped by ten armed men who took $41,000. There were $80,000 on board but almost one half of it was in silver, too heavy to carry away on horses. The Washoe County sheriff made up a posse of 20 men to pursue the robbers.
Later, when captured, two of the gang turned state’s evidence and got off free. Four were given 21-year sentences and the leader of the gang was slapped on the wrist with a ten year sentence that was, for some reason, reduced to three.
It goes without saying that communications were somewhat slower than today. On November 10 the Chronicle writers reported the second armed theft. News had arrived too late for inclusion in the earlier newspaper but they had news of the conclusion. It seemed impossible but the same train had the bad luck of later being boarded by several robbers who looted the mail car of registered letters and packages. This time in the Pequops, a few miles west of Toana. At least insult was not added to injury – the thieves were a different gang than the Verdi group.
While the crooks were going through the registered mail, the Wells, Fargo and Co. express messenger who had taken on thousands of dollars in Elko was in the other room of the car. He had not yet put the money in the safe. Quietly, he took the cash and hid it in a pile of freight and blew out his lamp. The robbers soon found him and demanded that he open the safe. He complied and handed over $3,100, a measly amount compared to the money he had hidden. A glove with name of Edward Carr on it and a brass compass engraved with William Harvey were found on the floor of the railroad car. Now the plot thickens. Carr and Harvey were two of six soldiers who deserted from the Third United States Cavalry stationed at Camp Halleck. They became, of course, the prime suspects in the second theft.
On October 13, Carr was at Sallie Whitmore’s house of ill repute on the Day Ranch two miles south of the military post. He got himself involved in some sort of fisticuffs and received the short end of the fracas. He hurried back to camp for his carbine and went back to Sallie’s place. He fired a round at a sergeant but hit poor old Sallie in the groin inflicting a fatal wound. Carr was arrested and taken to Camp Halleck. Constable William Baugh traveled to the base to transfer the prisoner to Elko. Soldiers threatened to take Carr from him and the constable hightailed it back to Elko for a posse. When he returned the next morning Carr and his guard were gone. A post muster revealed that six soldiers had deserted. Now they were wanted for train robbery.
There was a report of four well mounted and heavily armed men who passed by the Deep Creek station on the old Overland Telegraph road. The group turned east. A posse caught up with two of them, Leander Morton and Daniel Baker, on the road between Deep Creek and Salt Lake City. Morton, when apprehended, had on a pair of buckskin gloves marked in ink, “W.H. Harvey,” with the name of his company. Great clues! This connected the robbers to the train and to the deserters. Except that the bad guys were not the deserted soldiers. No knows what happened to them or how the bandits got the gloves and compass. It appears that desertion from the army was their only crime. One other man was soon arrested. In the November 30, 1870 edition of The Elko Independent it was reported that the Daniel Taylor, Daniel Baker and Leander Morton were indicted for highway robbery. They were charged with robbing Wells, Fargo and Co.’s express car and the U.S. Mail. The fourth member of the gang was never found.
More shenanigans. As reported by the Salt Lake Herald, Elko attorney J.S. Rand and Battle Mountain barrister M.S. Bonnifield, who were Taylor’s lawyers, traveled into Utah, found Taylor’s ill gotten gains, and got themselves arrested. Their excuse? They were after their fees for defending their client. Elko’s Independent editor commented “that the proposed Utah trial was hardly worth the powder. No jury could ever convict them of a serious offense. While their friends laugh at them for getting into such a foolish scrape, every man who knows them acquits them of any such offense as would call for judicial action.” The charges were evidently dropped because there are no more newspaper reports about them. On January 17, 1871 the three train robbers were convicted and sentenced to 30 years.
This story was taken from Howard Hickson’s Histories. Howard is Director Emeritus of the Northeastern Nevada Museum in Elko and his stories are true about Northeastern Nevada’s colorful past, written with wry humor and keen insight into the sometimes comic, sometimes tragic, sometimes downright eerie lives of cowboys, miners, and gamblers, villains and saints and men and women of both extremes, who’ve inhabited or passed through the region. The collection is a cultural treasure that Great Basin College has generously made available to the world via the Internet, for more information about Howard Hickson or to view more of his stories please visit http://www.gbcnv.edu/hickson/index.html.