Sunday, January 19, 2020

The Oar Ferry

The Canyon Diablo Train Robbers AND The Sheriff Buckey O'Neill Posse crossed the Colorado River at Lees Ferry.  The circumstances of their crossings will be told in a separate blog post.  Our challenge has always been to fully describe the ferry boat they crossed the river in.  In 1889, the ferry was oar powered.  Until January 19, 2020, we were unable to find a photo of Warren Johnson's oar-powered ferry. That's when Lyman Forsythe came to the rescue.  He sent us the photo below and merely asked "Have you seen the image of Buffalo Bill crossing at Lee's Ferry?"

Well, no, we sure hadn't.  Lyman's photo gift was a thunderbolt out of the blue.  We've been hoping for weeks to find a photo just like this.  Imagine our glee when we could not only look at Johnson's oar ferry but Buffalo Bill, too!  And can you imagine our glee when we became 99.999% certain that THIS is the Very Same ferry boat used for carry both the robbers and the posse across The Colorado River.  Lyman's Gift Photo today stopped us right in our tracks and we ignored all other plans.  We devoted the lion's share (pun intended) of our time this Sunny Sunday to collecting graphics and sources for this blog post.

First things first--THANK YOU, Lyman!  This is a fabulous photo and we're going to be able to all sorts of fun stuff with it. Comments are below each photo or and sources links are at the end of the post.
Above is the photo as it appear in our Facebook Messenger inbox this morning.
This is an enlarged clip we made from Lyman's submission. Using this view of the oar-powered boat we can guesstimate that it was roughly 40 feet long and 8 feet wide with 12 foot oars.  We will have an expert scale a more precise dimensional drawing.
And here's a tighter clip from the enlarged photo. Buffalo Bill is the guy with the goatee wearing the checked vest.  We were actually a lot more curious about the far guy on the back right.

We found another version of the photo from a different source.  Note the blurred human figure.  People had to stand very still to get their picture taken back in those days of long exposures. The blurred human obviously didn't get the memo.
Well, one thing led to another and we used some devious online voodoo and found a much higher quality scan of the photo located in of all places, The Buffalo Bill Center of The West!  We really wanted to take a close look at the geezer at the far right in the back of the boat.  Why?  Well, with the higher resolution scan, we can clearly see he is holding the "sweep".  It's a powerful steering device that when used on conjunction with the oars wold provide unerring navigation across a river such as The Colorado.


Oar powered ferries go way, way back in history.  By the 18th Century in America, they were widely used on Eastern Rivers.  Above is a model of a ferry said to have been used to help Washington cross the Delaware River in 1776.
Here's another view of the model as loaded with heavy artillery.
And a close up of the ferry ramp and oars.  If you look close at Lyman's Gift Photo, you will see striking similarities between the 1776 version and the 1880 rendition.
Of course, we really wanted to know when Buffalo Bill and his party would have crossed The Colorado River.  We learned from an article linked below that Buffalo Bill visited the North Rim of Gran Canyon in late 1892.  But when?  Luckily, we found a public domain copy of G.K. Woods famous book and narrowed it down somewhat.  Buffalo Bill and party were at John Hance's camp on November 14, 1892.  Chances are good that they crossed The Colorado River not long afterwards.
(Note: You can download a copy of G.K. Woods book using the link above. It's a classic!)

Here is a link to an excellent account of the Buffalo Bill North Rim trip.

Here's a link to the source of the model photos.

This is the source of the second view of the boat--the one with the blurred human.

Based on the article about Buffalo Bill's North Rim trip, it would appear the Lees Ferry boat photo was created by W.H. Broach.

Here is a great 2002 archives article about the Buffalo Bill trip as described by a historic Family from House Rock Valley.

Lyman also send a screen clip of an additional source of the original photo.  It appears to be located within the NAU archives and we hope to go look at it soon.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Paria River to Cannonville

The Canoyn Diablo Train Robbers eventually wound up in Cannonville, Utah, probably 7-9 days after the incident.  What transpired there will be subject for yet another blog post.  Travel from Lees Ferry to Cannonville via the Paria River was common in those days.  We found the following passage in "A History of Garfield County".  (See citatioin below.)  Additional commentary is located after the quoted excerpts.

"Local residents obtained some special items from Native Americans-particularly Navajos. South of Cannonville, following the Paria River to the Colorado River, was Lees Ferry, the only crossing of the Colorado for miles. As a result, many Navajos followed a well-worn trail between Utah and Arizona territories that led them through the community of Cannonville. They liked to trade at the local store and brought their mats, rugs, and blankets all beautifully woven from fibers of yucca, cane straw, and wool. They often brought mustang ponies that they caught from wild herds and then broke and trained for purposes of trade. Residents of Cannonville and the Native Americans usually got along quite well and the white settlers became accustomed to the frequent presence of the Indians."

"One local woman in particular did not view Indians as a threat. Nine Indians rode up to Matilda Willis Thompson's home one day while she was kneading bread. Her frightened children ran to the house to hide behind their mother's skirts. Forcing their way through the door, the Indians demanded food. She said they would have to wait until she finished baking the bread, but one eager intruder reached for a handful of dough. Matilda quickly grabbed a knife and brought it down, just missing the man's arm; she told him that if he tried that again she'd cut off his hand. She demanded that he and his friends go outside and wait. Amid the laughs and jeers of his companions, the offending Indian retreated to wait outdoors as he was told. Matilda finally brought out two freshly baked loaves and some meat for her uninvited guests and watched as they ate it with pleasure. From then on the Indians showed great respect for this frontier woman and would even leave some venison at her door when they happened to be passing by."

Source: Location 163 as found in:

There are only two ways to reach Cannonville from Lees Ferry via the Paria River.  One is very straightforward--simply riding horseback up through the Parian River Canyon and then following the river farther to Cannonville.  This may or may not have been the travel route for the robbers.  We contacted a BLM Staff person at Kanab to discuss this possibility.  He said the Narrows section of Paria River Canyon is currently blocked with a large rockfall.  The rockfall does not impede either hikers or streamflow but it would not be passable by a mounted rider.  Of course, there is no way of knowing whether that route would have been clear in 1889.

The other route would be to follow the Honeymoon Trail from Lees Ferry along the base of the Vermilion Cliffs past Jacob's Pools to House Rock Spring. The route would thence go north in House Rock Valley to intersect the Paria River neat the old Pahreah Townsite.  At that point, it would become easy to follow the river north to Cannonville.

Newell, Linda King; Talbot, Vivian Linford
"A History of Garfield County"
Utah Centennial County History Series
Garfield County Commission; Garfield County (Utah);
Utah State Historical Society; State History; Heritage and Arts

Friday, January 10, 2020

Posse rifles described

The Cody Firearms Museum houses the most comprehensive collection of American firearms in the world. The experts who Staff the museum are widely considered to be among the most knowledgeable firearms people anywhere to be found.  We once spent two days visiting The Buffalo Bill Center of the West and came away dazzled by the grandeur of the museums there.

We've been looking at the above timeless photo of Buckey O'Neill (second from right) for more than 30 years. In early January 2020 we thought perhaps we might solicit the learned advice of the Cody Firearms Staff regarding the make and model of each of the rifles in the picture.

Much to our surprise and delight, we received a kind and thoughtful reply from Dan Brumley, a Curatorial Assistant at the Cody Firearms Museum.  Dan said, "It is hard to tell in the picture, but my guess would be “St. Clair “ a Winchester Model 1873, “Holton” a Winchester Model 1873, “O’Neil” a Winchester Model 1886, and “Black” a Winchester Model 1876. Based on cartridges visible on the cartridge belts, I would guess the 1873’s to be in .44-40, the 1876 to be in .50-95, and I do not see rifle cartridges for an 1886 in O’Neil’s belt."

 Although Dan noted "These are just guesses,"  we will use his guesses in our forthcoming book about the saga.  Dan and The Cody Firearms Museum will also be cited in the "Acknowledgements" section of the book.  We are deeply grateful and appreciative of Dan's assistance.

The Center of The West can't really be seen in a mere two days.  We'd recommend giving it a minimum of a week...or longer.  The museum complex is truly a destination unto itself, well worth going to Cody just to see and enjoy.  Mere words can't possibly describe what you will see, feel and experience there.  We are looking forward to our next visit and we can guarantee you it will be considerably longer than just two days.

Here is the main website for the museums:

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Will C. Barnes

Will C. Barnes in Prescott in 1885.
Will C. Barnes is a larger-than-life enduring Arizona Legend.  If ever there was a Frontier Style Renaissance Man, Will C. Barnes would be in the running for Top Dog in that category.

Barnes wrote without doubt the most credible account of The Canyon Diablo Train Robbery (CDTR).  He was on the scene of the crime a mere 5 hours after it happened.  He and one of his cowboys had already been chasing the train robbers BEFORE they became train robbers!  Barnes account of the incident is a classic narrative published in the April 1930 issue of "The Arizona Review."

We'll cover Barnes report of the incident in a later post.  Today, we'd simply like to tell you about Will and establish his credibility as one of the most keen observers of frontier life and culture.
Will Croft Barnes was born in San Francisco in 1858 and spent his early childhood in a Nevada gold camp.  He came of age in Indiana and moved back to San Francisco to manage a sheet music store, earning $20 a week in gold.  While in San Francisco, Barnes became smitten with tall ships--those majestic sailing icons of the high seas.  He became determined to join what now known as the U.S. Coast Guard but was denied admission.  With renewed enthusiasm and bold self-determination, Barnes joined the U.S. Signal Corps in 1879 and quickly rose to the head of his telegraphy class.  Barnes was mighty proud of his Signal Corps uniform as his 1879 photo shows.After a brief assignment to San Diego, Barnes received orders to ship out to Fort Apache in the wilds of Arizona Territory.  Barnes wound up spending his entire military career at Fort Apache where his earned a Congressional Medal of Honor for his undaunted courage and bravery in action.  After a five-year stint in the Signal Corps, Barnes morphed easily into the role of an Apache County cattle rancher, a career he enjoyed for almost 20 years.

Barnes became heavily involved in Apache County and Territorial politics. His ranching prowess and connections led to a second career as the third highest ranking official with the brand new US Forest Service.  Barnes laid the very foundations of grazing policies that underpin today Forest Service range management philosophies and practices.

After retiring from federal service, Barnes devoted his life to writing about Arizona and Western topics.  He wrote the landmark reference "Arizona Place Names" and it was published by University of Arizona in 1935.  Barnes died in 1936 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.  Two years after his passing, an imposing piece of Phoenix Papago Park topography near today's Desert Botanical Gardens was named Will C. Barnes Butte.
In his life Barnes was a trained musician, soldier, telegrapher, cattle rancher, County Supervisor, Territorial Legislator, Chief of Grazing of the Forest Service and Secretary of the US Board of Geographic Place Names and a truly prolific writer.  Barnes enjoyed his life to the fullest and not long before his passing he wrote: "If I go tomorrow it will be the feeling that every day has been a joy and that I am "way ahead of the game."

Here are two reference links:

Note that in the above article there is a typo which created an incorrect date of Barnes enlistment in the Signal Corps.  It should be 1879 and not 1897.

Most of the information for this narrative was adapted from:

Barnes, Will C. Apaches & Longhorns. Edited by Frank Lockwood, Ward Ritchie Press, Los Angeles, 1941.

TEven though the above book is not in public domain, it can be found in its entirety here:

The main University of Arizona website for the book source is here:

Monday, January 6, 2020

The Escape

Early railroad tunnels were barely wide enough for the train to squeeze through.
Railroad builders didn't want to make a tunnel any wider than it needed to be.
Source of Raton Pass photo:
Even though Buckey thought he had an 'escape proof' plan, it didn't work out that way.  J.J. Smith slipped off his leg iron and jumped off the train at Raton Pass.  If ever there was a escape match made in outlaw heaven, Raton Pass would be it.  Back in 1889, the steam locomotive would have been going painfully slow up the whopping 3.5% gradient.  It's entirely possible the train was going so slowly, one could simply step off a car onto the trackside ballast.  To make matters even more escape-worthy, it was snowing up a blizzard outside!
Chances are almost certain that Smith jumped out while the train
 was climbing the steep grade before the actual tunnel.
Photo Source:

Back then Raton Pass was essentially in the middle of nowhere. Smith simply vanished into the night and wasn't found despite a somewhat long and convoluted manhunt. Buckey decided to continue transporting the three remaining captives to Prescott.

Accounts vary widely (and wildly) on what happened after Smith's daring escape from the train. While there is no way of knowing which details are true or false, we believe this summary is probably very close to the facts.

Smith apparently began stealing various horses while heading quickly in a southeasterly direction toward Red River Country.  At one point he made the mistake of stealing a fine and handsome horse from a remote Texas ranch.  Meanwhile soon thereafter, Smith supposedly encountered a starving young woman lost in a blizzard.  Supposedly, Smith decided to save the woman from certain death by exposure.  He led her to within visual distance to the ranch where he had stolen the horse.  She was able to make her way to the ranch and probably collapsed at the door.

Meanwhile, Smith proceeded on. When the rancher helped the woman back to stable condition she told her story.  Since supposedly the stolen horse was the rancher's favorite animal, he asked the local sheriff to put out the equivalent of what is known today as an APB---an All Points Bulletin.  Eventually, Smith rode into Vernon, Texas, and was at that point about 400 miles southeast of Raton Pass.  Some account say it was Smith's 9th day of travel from the point of escape. That's about the correct "miles per day" average for a man on horseback.
Traveling almost 400 miles from Raton Pass to Vernon, Texas, would have been quite an effort!
Source of map calcuations:
Supposedly, the Sheriff of Wilbarger County had received the APB and immediately recognized the horse.  Smith was arrested and jailed for horse stealing.  Meanwhile, the Wilbarger Sheriff soon learned of the region-wide search for Smith The Train Robber.  Since Smith resembled the telegraphed description, the Texas Sheriff contacted Buckey and provided details of the man in custody.

It was a Bingo for Buckey and he quickly obtained extradition papers from the A.T. Governor's Office and beat feet for Vernon, Texas.  Buckey was then able to safely escort his prisoner back to Prescott.  Smith contested the train robbery charges but was found guilty and sentenced to 30 years in the Yuma prison.

As legend would have us believe, the woman in the story was overcome with remorse for catalyzing Smith's capture.  She supposedly moved to Phoenix and pestered the Governor every day to pardon Smith.  Supposedly, the Governor finally relented and freed Smith who supposedly lived happily ever after with the woman.

There are many holes in many aspects of every facet of this part of the Canyon Diablo Train Robbery Story.  Due to the many inconsistencies and almost total lack of supporting primary sources, the so-called 'true story' will never be known.  At least one Buckey biographer went on record simply encouraging his readers to believe whatever they wanted to believe.  That's probably the only suitable approach for The Escape chapter of this saga.

Hopefully someday soon we will be able to provide some more verifiable details of this aspect of the complex story.

The north entrance to the Raton Pass Tunnel lies almost on the Colorado-New Mexico Line.  Todays I-25 runs almost alongside Raton Pass. The Pass is steeped in early historic travel and railroad lore.  Here is the Wiki for Raton Pass:

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Why not Go South?

When the Canyon Diablo train robbers were captured on or about April 1, 1889, the posse and outlaws were probably closer to Flagstaff than they were to the Milford, Utah, railhead.

So, why didn't Buckey and his men just head back to Lee's Ferry and then go through the Painted Desert back to Flagstaff?  The main reason is that Buckey didn't trust his odds of four-on-four.  If the lawmen let down their guard, even for a minute, one or more of the robbers could get the jump on them with possible disastrous results.

So, the decision was made to bring the robbers back through Cannonville and on to Panguitch where a skilled blacksmith fabricated leg irons for each of the captives.  Two of the men were chained to each other.  Each of the other two men had irons on each leg and a chain between the irons.

You can read a Deseret News item describing the leg irons and chains here:

At this point there was no thought to trying to take the captives back south.  They obviously couldn't ride a horse and the route between Panguitch and Flagstaff was long and difficult for a horse drawn wagon.

Instead, the chained-up train robbers were put into a farm wagon and carried to the railhead at Milford, Utah.  A standard size farm wagon box back then was 38 inches wide and ten feet, six inches long, easily adequate to carry four men sitting on the rough boards of the bottom of the box.

There is no record of how the wagon was obtained or how many horses pulled it or who drove it....or even what it might have cost Buckey to "rent" it.

There is likewise no record of when the posse and the captives were actually in Pangutch.  The capture is said to have taken place on or about April 1 and the entourage arrived in Salt Lake City on April 10.  That's about the correct number of days to travel from the capture site to Milford and take the train north.

Even though the captives were kept in irons and chains, one of them did manage to escape at Raton Pass, New Mexico.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

The Perps

Convicts #590, #592, #594 and #621 as photographed at the Yuma Territorial Prison in the 1890's.
All four were no-name cow punchers for the infamous Hash Knife Ranch before they became train robbers in March 1889.  Unbeknownst to the cowboys, the Arizona Territorial Legislature made train robbery a capital crime punishable by death just before the Canyon Diablo incident took place.  Harvick, Halford and Stiren all pleaded guilty to avoid the death penalty.  They were each sentenced to 25 years in the Yuma prison. Smith escaped in Raton Pass on the way to Prescott.  After his recapture in Texas, he was extradited to Arizona and fought the robbery charge.  Found guilty by a jury, Smith was sentenced to 30 years, mostly because of his escape.  All four were eventually pardoned.

We will eventually add more details about each of the robbers
J.J. Smith
John Halford
Dan Harvick
William Stiren

Source of photos is via:

Hietter, Paul T. “‘NO BETTER THAN MURDERERS’: The 1889 Canyon Diablo Train Robbery and the Death Penalty in Arizona Territory.” The Journal of Arizona History, vol. 47, no. 3, 2006, pp. 273-298. JSTOR,  

Friday, January 3, 2020

Getting word to Utah

Kanab circa 1889
So, how did people in so-called Dixie Utah learn the train robbers were coming their way.  Will C. Barnes wrote in 1929, "O'Neill sent a frowsy-headed Navajo kid with a message to the railroad people at Winslow, telling them the direction taken by the robbers and urging that the settlements in Southern Utah, towards which they were undoubtedly heading, be wired of the fact and the officers in that region put on the lookout. "

Telegraphs sent out of Winslow would have reached the Deseret Telegraph Company, an extensive Utah communications network that began in the 1860's.  Kanab was on the far southern end of those telegraph wires.  When word was received in Kanab, messengers would have carried the news to the far flung villages of the area.  Cannonville would have been a priority to get word to since the Paria River was a long-standing travel corridor carrying horsemen north from Lee's Ferry.

We can find no evidence that Cannonville itself was connected to the Deseret Telegraph network.  Therefore it's a reasonable speculation that someone carried the news in person to the people of Cannonville.

Will C. Barnes and his cowboy Broadbent had dutifully trailed the train robbers across the Painted Desert when they finally met up with Sheriff Buckey O'Neill and his three-man posse.  Here is the full passage from Barnes' account regarding his meeting with O'Neill's group.

"There on the Navajo Indian reservation we ran into & wild-eyed shrill voiced Navajo squaw herding a band of sheep. Like most Navajos she spoke considerable Spanish. "Had she seen any mounted men recently." She certainly had. Four she held up four fingers-“Belicanos"-Americans, had visited her camp while she was out with the herd and feasted upon everything eatable in it. Also they carried off with them a whole mutton she had killed and dressed that morning and left hanging in a cedar tree. She was somewhat mollified by finding three silver dollars lying on her bed which the raiders had left to pay for her hospitality.

Here O'Neill and his party overtook us. It consisted of the Sheriff Bucky O'Neill, his Flagstaff Deputy, Jim Black, and two Santa Fe special officers-Fred Fornhoff and Carl Holton. Our horses were about worn out, and we, too, were considerably the worse for wear, and mighty glad to turn the trail over to him. They were well mounted and had a good pack mule on which to carry grub and bedding; two things we had sadly lacked. As near as we could learn from the squaw the robbers were about out of horse-flesh themselves and were not making any fast time.

From this point O'Neill sent a frowsy-headed Navajo kid with a message to the railroad people at Winslow, telling them the direction taken by the robbers and urging that the settlements in Southern Utah, towards which they were undoubtedly head. ing, be wired of the fact and the officers in that region put on the lookout. We bade the O'Neill party good-bye and good luck and struck across country for Holbrook, which we reached several days later, ourselves and horses about all in.

O'Neill reached the Crossing at Lee's Ferry to learn that the fugitives had crossed only two days before. The ferryman was mad clear through. The robbers had coaxed a man by the name of Will Lee, with whom they had struck up an acquaintance along the way, to cross on the boat ahead of them and then by waiting for night, steal the boat and cross the four robbers while the ferryman was asleep. In this way they hoped to get across without leaving any trace behind at the ferry. It leaked out, however. On April 13, 1889, a correspondent of the Deseret News at Salt Lake published a story detailing the way the robbers crossed. The big ferry-boat had been hauled out of the river for repairs, which delayed the sheriff's party a few hours, but were finally ferried across together with their horses and plunder and took up the trail on the north side of the river."

To read all about Deseret Telegraph see:

Arrington, Leonard J. “The Deseret Telegraph--A Church-Owned Public Utility.” The Journal of Economic History, vol. 11, no. 2, 1951, pp. 117–139. JSTOR

Thursday, January 2, 2020

The Long Way To Prescott

If you think it was a long and winding trail from Cannonville to Milford, check out the long and winding  way home to Prescott!  That's right, Buckey and posses took the prisoners from Milford to Salt Lake City, Denver, Albuquerque and then across New Mexico and Arizona to Seligman to catch the Prescott & Arizona Central Railroad for the final leg home.

Note that this Mapquest map uses modern highways for that route.  In 1889 it was all by railroad so the routes would be slightly different.  However, you definitely get the picture from this map. 

Getting to Milford

The map above shows our current "best guess" as to the route Buckey and the posse escorted the robbers to the nearest railhead at Milford, Utah.  The red arrow indicates the most likely area of their capture.

Following their capture, they were taken back through Cannonville and then on a well-traveled wagon road to the tip of the Paria River drainage onto the Paunsaugunt Plateau.  Today's Utah Highway 12 is laid down almost precisely on the 1880's wagon road down through Red Canyon and on to what's now US 89.  The route between Cannonville and Panguitch today is almost identical to what it would have been in 1889.

After getting fitted with leg irons in Panguitch, the posse and their captives took a long and circuitous route from Panguitch to Milton.  They rode ten miles north and then turned west on what is today's Utah Highway 20.  Upon reaching Bear Valley, they would have turned left in a southerly direction and followed a natural route to a point just north of Paragonah.

A few miles south of Paragonah, they would again head almost due west to reach a natural route through a low mountain range. The route is known today as the Parowan Gap and it likely has served as a human travel route for thousands of years.  After exiting the Gap, the lawmen and their captives would have simply turned to the right and followed a wagon road to Milford about 32 miles north.
Parowan Gap has 100's of petroglyphs.

The most likely scenario for each day's travel after the capture would have been:

Day 1:  Capture and Camp near site of capture
Day 2: Return to Cannonville
Day 3: To Panguitch
Day 4: To Paragonah
Day 5: To Milford

The entourage arrived in Salt Lake City on April 10.  We will dig deeper to attempt to box in the date of the capture.  Interpolating between the date of capture and the arrival in Salt Lake will help us better understand the probably travel itinerary.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020


Photo above is a screen clip from the Sergio Leone's 1968 "Once Upon A Time In The West"
It looks remarkably similar to what 1889 Milford, Utah, must have looked like.
After the dramatic capture of the train robbers, Buckey and his three man posse faced a tough challenge: what to do with their captives?  Buckey immediately ordered the rag tag entourage to head to Panguitch.  There a blacksmith fitted the robbers with custom made leg irons.
Milford map circa 1889.

And then what?  Well, Buckey correctly foresaw big trouble if he tried to get the robbers back down to Lee's Ferry and across the Painted Desert to Prescott.  Talk about a recipe for trouble!  So, he wisely decided to take the prisoners to Milford, Utah, the nearest railhead to Panguitch.
Some reports have said he took the prisoners to Marysvale.  However, Marysvale didn't become a rail head until the year 1900.  Milford was reached by the Utah Southern Railroad in May 1880.  It was a long and tough haul over some low mountains into the alkali desert beyond.  Milford lay about 100 miles from Panguitch so it had to be a 2-3 day trip to the rail head.  And a dusty one at that.

Milford's residents and business people had long ago growth accustomed to watching for dust clouds on the horizon.  Such a dust cloud meant someone was coming to visit.

In 1889, Milford was basically a ghost-town-in-the-making.  The incredibly rich Horn Silver Mine west of town had physically collapsed in 1885, burying forever the rich lode ore deep beneath the San Francisco Mountains.  Frisco, a once ribald, lawless mining camp went from 6,000 people to almost none by 1889.  Milford population plummeted as well and barely 500 people remained to attempt to scratch a meager living out of the dusty, waterless land.

Indeed a writer for the "Deseret News" said in the spring of 1889, "Milford is almost deserted. But for the presence of the railway, it would present a forlorn appearance. The expectations entertained of the place when the road first reached it---that it would be a modified Cheyenne---have long since vanished into thin air; indeed, all the boom it ever had was the prestige imparted by the enterprise and capital of the Utah Central Company, and this, with all its aid and influence, could not evangelize a naked, barren plain into a bounding metropolis."

In to this "almost deserted" town rode a group of eight men swirling dust and looking like something out of a Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western.  In April 1889, Milford almost certain resembled a movie set for one of Leone's famous movies.  Somehow Buckey and his possemen got their prisoners loaded onto a Utah Southern train and headed north to Salt Lake City.
Utah Southern R.R. train circa 1889 in Milford, Utah.
The crude screen clip above is from a 1957 Masters thesis about the history of Milford.  From the general outline of the depot at right, we can reasonably speculate the Milford depot resembled the Utah Southern depot below at Provo.

Source of Milford information:


 The Canyon Diablo Train Robbery Story actually begins somewhere south and east of Winslow.  The four robbers broke into a cabin owned by Will C. Barnes.  Barnes and cowboy William Broadbent were trailing the burglars all day March 19.  Due to a blinding blizzard, the duo decided to knock off their pursuit and head into Winslow.  As Barnes noted in his account of the robbery, "With our horses comfortably located in Breed's Corral in Winslow, a bed engaged at "Doc" Demorest's Hotel and a supper at the Harvey Eating House, we felt considerably better."
 Winslow in 1889 wasn't much of a town. It's official 1890 Census population was 363.  The maps here are 1892 Sanborn Fire Insurance maps.  Chances are good that Winslow looked like this in 1889.  The Arizona Central Hotel was the only two story building on Railroad Avenue. Five saloons faced the Atlantic & Pacific rails.  A couple of corrals were located a block behind the hotel.  A small, wood frame Fred Harvey restaurant was located south of the Hotel.  The railroad roundhouse loomed about a football field's length west of the hotel.Source of map:
Using Barnes quote, we are able to see the layout of those three businesses.  "Doc" F.C. Demerest is credited as having established Winslow in 1880 by starting a business in a tent.  It's a reasonable speculation that the Arizona Central Hotel was his.  Meanwhile, another early settler J.H. Breed built the settlement's first stone building.  It's highly likely those two corrals in the red box were his.  The Harvey Eating House was located across a siding track on the other side of Railroad Avenue.

The 1892 Sanborn map indicates the lunch and dining rooms were located in a one story frame building with a corrugated metal roof.  This Harvey Eating House predated the eventual construction of a substantial Harvey House which would have included living quarters for the famous Harvey Girls.
 This postcard is dated 1912 so Winslow has considerably more two story buildings on Railroad Avenue.  However, you can still see a glimpse of the railroad roundhouse on the right side of the card.  Chances are pretty good that the far two story building in the lineup was the Arizona Central Hotel back in 1889.

We will continue our search for an 1889 street scene photo of Winslow.  We also hope to find a photo of a representative early one-story Harvey Eating House.  We've been unable to find any definitive additional information on either "Doc" F.C. Demerest or J.H. Breed.  Note that Barnes spelling of Demerest's name is incorrect.

Milford, not Marysvale


All these years....maybe 35 of them...I have been repeating a historical falsehood. Dang! That's the trouble with history. You have to check facts. You can't operate under assumptions or fall into the "he said, she said" trap. Long ago, I read that the posse took their captives to Marysvale, Utah, the nearest railhead after their capture in the Wahweap Creek drainage.

But that's oh, SO WRONG! The railroad didn't reach Marysvale until 1900, 11 years after the Canyon Diable Train Robbery. The posse had to take them to Milford, Utah, where the Union Pacific reached by rail in 1880! Even when I read this week in Keithley's book that the posse took them to Milford, the Marysvale myth was so entrenched that I thought, "HA! Keithley sure got that wrong." Nope, I got that wrong!

Robbers descriptions

We found a physical description of the four robbers in Salt Lake City's April 13, 1889 "Deseret News". We were able to actually convert the picture of the newspaper story to real text word processor text. Here 'tis:

"The prisoners are a decidedly hard-looking quartette. Clark is about five feet six inches high, medium complexion, slender build, and about 32 years of age. Quince is about 38 years old, dark complexioned, near six feet in height, and weighs about 160 pounds. Smith is also dark complexioned, five feet eight inches high, sharp nosed, and is slightly lame in the left leg. Stirer is aged about 38, is 5 feet 9 inches high, light complexioned, very small eyes, prominent nose, heavy build, and walks with a swagger. He keeps his eyes on the floor most of the time, but occasionally glances up without raising his head. Smith and Quince were chained together by the feet; Stirer and Clark each had a set of irons on. When spoken to they would seldom reply, and when they did it was in a most surly tone. They evidently think the game is up with them, and are as sullen as though the death penalty had already been pronounced. In the afternoon their Irons were taken off' by a machinist and the men took a bath. The manacles had been fastened on by ą blacksmith at Panguitch, Garfield County, this precaution being taken that they might be given no chance of escape."


Monday, December 30, 2019

The Moon Phase

Some accounts say The Canyon Diablo Train Robbery took place under the full moon.  That's not quite true.  The full moon occurred on March 17.  The moon light on March 20 was still quite bright but it wasn't technically a full moon.  Now we have to figure out where in the sky the moon was located at 11 PM.

Atlantic & Pacific Train Schedule

Numerous accounts of the CDTR say the train pulled into Canyon Diablo at precisely 11 PM.  That would check out with the official schedule printed in Flagstaff's "Arizona Champion" newspaper.  The Eastbound train left Flagstaff at 9:15 PM and was scheduled to arrive in Winslow at 11:30 PM.


The Night of the 100th Anniversary

So, you have to realize The Canyon Diablo Train Robbery is not new with me. It goes back to the mid-80's...or even earlier, I can't remember. Reading the story for the first time left such an indelible impression on me I couldn't ever forget it and never have. It's always been sort of a Mile Stone in my pantheon of Life Stories. It defines what I've always thought Arizona and The West was All About.

So, let's rewind ourselves into the Way Back Time Machine. I had a Dear Friend Shawn. He and I were returning from Lees Ferry after shuttling a vehicle north. As day turned to night, I told Shawn about The Canyon Diablo Train Robbery and how it happened 100 years ago that very day. Shawn was intrigued and absorbed by the story and kept prodding me for more. Of course, I had more, and poured forth all I knew.

As we approached Flagstaff, I proposed to Shawn the idea that we drive out to Canyon Diablo on the 100th Anniversary of The Robbery to just stand there and "soak it all in". Shawn was totally ALL IN on the idea.

So, we refueled with gas and adult beverages and headed east on I-40, chattering all the while about what it would have been like 100 years ago. As chance would have it, conditions in 1989 closely replicated those in 1889 on the same day.

If you've ever been to Canyon Diablo you know it ain't easy going to get there. It's a rough anatomy road that takes some fortitude to navigate, especially at night. So we bounced ourselves over the sharp-edged limestone and drew ever closer to our goal.

As we strained our eyes, we thought we could see a glimmer of light someplace. I stopped the 4x4 truck and turned to Shawn. I said, "Wouldn't it be great if we could find a place to truly tell the story?" He took another sip of his adult beverage and nodded.

We proceeded on and, as we approached the railroad tracks the tiny light grew ever brighter. We parked the truck and I said, "Let's go rally up whoever is in that caboose."

So, we stumbled over the rough limestone to the caboose and I climbed up the steps and banged on the door. A wide-eyed young man opened the door and yelled out "What do you want?"

I told him we just wanted to tell The Story of The Canyon Diablo Train Robbery on the occasion of the exact 100th Anniversary of its actual occurrence and we NEEDED a place to tell the story and could we please come in!

Well, he didn't know what the hell we were talking about but he somehow trusted us and let us into his caboose which at that time had a glowing fire in the stove and was as warm and toasty as you could imagine.

Shawn sat down on a bench and the caboose guy kept a wary eye on me. And then I launched off. Man, I launched off. I told The Story of The Canyon Diablo Train Robbery better than its ever been told before or since. NOBODY could ever match me on that night's rendition of the story, I let it ALL loose like some volley from The Story Gods.

Even as I told The Story that Night I was actually listening to myself and thinking to myself, "Gosh, where did you get THAT?" But it was so good.

SO Very Good.

We climbed off that caboose that night and each went our own way to Destiny.

And Then tonight....The Guy in The Caboose Comes Back!

Oh! My! Gosh!

Why Buckey?

Photo by Ellen Jo Dahlberg Roberts
Some People I'm sure are asking themselves, "Why is this guy featuring Buckey O'Neill? He's been dead for 121 years."

Buckey is My Personal Hero and there's so much more to say about that. I began my political career in 1986 and the results helped forever change The Face Of The Verde River. In 1988 I ran again, just like Buckey did back in his day. And those results, too, cemented forever the gains I had made for The Verde. I channeled Buckey every day. That's what you do when you have a Hero.

In the 1988 Election, since I was running for US Congress, The Arizona Republic was required to interview me and write and publish an article on me. The newspaper had long since developed a "stock" series of questions. So, one of the questions the reporter asked me was "Who Are Your Heroes?"

I was running as an Independent so I could have whoever Heroes I felt like! My Heroes were (and forever are) Sharlot Hall and Buckey O'Neill. It was SO great to see The Arizona Republic publish my answers to their candidate survey. I know danged well that raised the reporter's eyebrows when I answered his question!

ALL the other candidates replied their Heroes were Ronald Reagan or John Kennedy, depending on political party, of course.

It's 31 years later and my answer would still be the same. Two Of The Greatest People to EVER set foot on Arizona Soil!

Canyon Diablo Atlantic & Pacific R.R. Station

 It's been a Great Day for piecing puzzle pieces together. We just added another piece to the jigsaw puzzle.

Well, the telegrapher at the tiny Canyon Diablo Station played an important eye-witness role in The Canyon Diablo Train Robbery. He "thought" about the idea of bagging himself some train robbers and collecting the fat reward but, as he sneaked around the building, one of the robber spotted him and winged a pistol bullet his way. That cured the telegrapher of any desire for reward money.

Naturally, we've always been curious as to what that building looked like and how the telegrapher was situated. Ralph Keithley's 1949 book includes a fuzzy photo on Page 107 that purports to show the original 1889 building.

Naturally, that caused us to dig into the "standard plans" so common with railroads. Was that building within the specifications of the design genre back then? Sure enough, we found an excellent article describing small station design and the Canyon Diablo building would have been well with the ubiquitous dormer bay structures. We would imagine the railroad had a series of plan sheets each scaled according to the size needed for any particular site.

Source of station plan information:

Canyon Diablo Train Robbery Project Explained

So, what's the deal here? What's going on with the 1889 Canyon Diablo Train Robbery? Well, we've finally decided to write a book about it. We've been threatening to do so for at least 20 years, maybe 30, we can't remember.

For years we struggled with how to retell the story and whether to make it a fictional rendition or to stick with the facts.

Finally, after a few decades of deliberation, we've decided to simply be an Editor. We will assemble various account of the fabled incident and describe how each account may or may not stray from the facts. Of course, the so-called "facts" are relatively few and far between. There are so many mythical accounts of the saga it's difficult to separate fact from fiction.

That's why it makes a whole lot more sense to simply attempt to be an impartial referee rather than an author trying to reinvent the wheel.

Heck, there is so much stuff relating to this story, it will take a good size book just to corral it all between two covers!

It's really fun to revisit a legend that I first learned about in the mid-80's. Much of my own memory fogged facts from yesterday. SO I am relearning the story anew. The whole project will take an long and undetermined amount of time. However, since it's one of my all-time favorite stories and one that I never tire of reading, reciting and reflecting, it's all an immense amount of fun.

The group of four men is the posse that captured the robbers in Wahweap Canyon (discussed earlier today). My Hero Buckey O'Neill is second from right in the group.

The solitary individual is the incredibly famous Will C. Barnes. Barnes figures prominently in the Canyon Diablo Train Robbery Story but that incident was just a mere a fly speck in his amazing overall life story.

Studying Buckey's Life Story and the robbery saga has brought all these guys to back to life in my mind's eye and spirit.