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Train Robbers

Arizona The Youngest State

McClintock, 1913, page 475


 

March 21, 1889 an Atlantic and Pacific train was stopped at the 

Canon Diablo station by four robbers who, after searching the 

contents of the express strong box fled northward.  The scene 

of the robbery was in Yavapai County and so the trail was taken 

by Sheriff William O. O'Neill, with three deputies.  The posse, 

after a chase of 300 miles, consuming two weeks, finally sighted 

their men in Southeastern Utah, forty miles east of Canonville.  

Then came a pitched battle in which over fifty shots were fired, 

though the only effect was the wounding of one of the robber's 

horses.  The fugitives, leaving their horses behind, plunged 

into the mountains on foot, soon to be run down by the posse.  

The capture included William D. Sitrin, "Long John" Halford, 

John J. Smith and D.M. Haverick.  Upon them was found about 

one thousand dollars.  A rather amusing incident was the 

attempt of citizens of Canonville to arrest the desperadoes 

but the attempt failed, for the large citizen's posse was 

held up by the robbers and made to stack arms and retreat.  

The return to Arizona was made around by Salt Lake.  On the 

homeward journey Smith escaped through a car window.

 

Another train robbery, September 30, 1894, occurred near Maricopa 

where a through express was boarded by Frank Armer, a Tonto 

Basin cowboy, only 20 years old, who climbed over the coal of 

the engine tender and at the muzzle of a pistol stopped the 

train where a confederate Rodgers was in waiting.  Little booty 

was secured.  The two men, before this, had ridden in circles 

around the desert in order to throw pursuers off of their track, 

but Indians, taking  broad radius, soon picked up the trail.  

Rodgers was caught far down the Gila, and Armer was taken at 

the home of a friend, near Phoenix, after a battle with Sheriff 

Murphy and officers in which he was wounded.  At Yuma 

Penitentiary, under a thirty year sentence, he made three 

attempts to escape.  He dug a tunnel that was discovered 

when it had nearly connected his cell with the world beyond 

the great wall.  A second time, when he broke for freedom 

from a rock gang, he had to lie down under a stream of bullets 

from a Gatling gun on the wall.  A third time he secreted 

himself while at outside work and eluded the guards, but 

was run down in the Gila River bottom by Indian trailers.  

Finally, prostrated by consumption, he was released, barely 

in time to die at home in the arms of his mother.  Rodgers, 

sentenced to a forty-year term, served only eleven, then 

being discharged for exemplary conduct.

 

Grant Wheeler and Joe George on January 30, 1895 held up a 

Southern Pacific train near Wilcox and robbed the through 

safe of $1500 in paper money.  The safe was broken open by 

dynamite upon the explosive piled sacks of Mexican dollars, 

of which in the car they were about $8,000.  The result was 

satisfactory, the safe not only being cracked open but the 

express car nearly wrecked as well, the silver pieces acting 

upon it like shrapnel, sowing the desert around with bent and 

twisted Mexican money which also was found deeply embedded in 

telegraph poles and in the larger timbers of the car.  Sections 

of the telegraph poles and of the car, stuck full of silver 

dollars, like plums in a pie, were valued souvenirs for years 

thereafter in railroad and express offices along the coast.  

Yet only $600 was lost from the silver shipment.  The robbers 

escaped into the hills.  They returned for more on February 

26 when they stopped a train at Stein's Pass but made the 

mistake of disconnecting the mail car instead of the express 

car, so got no booty.  The trail was taken up by W.M. 

Breakenridge, then in charge of the peace of the Southern 

Pacific line in southern Arizona, who trailed Wheeler into 

Colorado and ran him down near Mancos April 25.  The next 

morning the outlaw surrounded and appreciating the 

hopelessness of his position after a brief exchange of 

shots with the pursuing posse, committed suicide.
 
 


 

 



 

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