Colfax area was hotbed for stagecoach stick-ups

By: Nancy Hagman, Colfax Record Correspondent
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?Throw down the box,? they would say to the stagecoach driver. The team of six horses pulling a wagon was a common site in Illinoistown during its heyday as a miner?s supply station. Because gold needed to get to San Francisco, Wells Fargo started a delivery company early in the gold rush years. Passengers were actually secondary in this shipping business. So, it became a common event that those who could not succeed by their own means took advantage of the vulnerable transports. One of the earliest robberies took place May 25, 1860 when the stage from Illinoistown to Iowa Hill was held up by five or six highwaymen within a mile-and-a-half of its destination. The treasure box contained $11,000. On July 27, 1873, Bob Scott was en route from Colfax to Grass Valley when four masked men relieved him of the box in his charge. Wells Fargo lost $7,078 and immediately offered a $2,500 reward for the men?s capture. Wells Fargo and Company opened their business in San Francisco in 1852. Shortly after in the same year they established offices in Auburn, on Commercial Street. About the same time, Ophir and Yankee Jims offices were opened as well. The Iowa Hill station was established in 1855. Foresthill in 1858, Dutch Flat in 1859. Illinoistown and Gold Run got their offices in 1864. Eventually, Blue Canyon, Emigrant Gap, Cisco and Michigan Bluff joined the chain. Within a few years, Wells Fargo agencies covered the entire West and Mexico, and they became prime targets for ne'er-do-wells. By 1875, there were so many holdups that editors were warning residents to carry cheap watches and no money or valuables while out on the roads. On April 16, 1875, Matt Dailey from Nevada City and Scott (first name unknown) of Grass Valley were headed for Colfax, in tandem for mutual protection. They had just bridged the Bear River at Taylor?s Crossing when two armed men with charcoal-smeared faces stepped in their path. They gave the apology that they had turn into road agents because the Chinese were taking all the jobs. They reportedly showed some compassion by not robbing one of the passengers who had his arm in a sling. They did, however, break a code of the road by relieving the drivers of their valuables. The odd thing is they left the Wells Fargo box untouched. In those days, lawmen had to pay their own expenses. This would have discouraged a search for the highwayman except that the company offered a reward even though they had no losses. It was in their interest to discourage the practice. Placer County Sheriff McCormick arrested one man; he was apprehended in the town of Washington in Nevada County, but later released. The real culprits were never found. Thought to be the last of these incidents in this territory occurred on July 3, 1901. Driver Henry Crockett was heading for Michigan Bluff when his way was blocked, about 10 miles out of a place known as Butcher Ranch. The robber had his head covered with a burlap sack and witnesses said he looked like a silly scarecrow. For this reason, Crockett did not take the man seriously. To prove his intent the gunman shot Old Joe, the team wheel horse. After taking the goods from the passengers, the bandit ordered Crockett with the familiar command, ?Throw down the box!? Though the man was later identified, stories conflict as to whether he was ever captured. The box was later recovered on a bar on the American River, smashed open, the contents gone. Old Joe was buried near where he was killed and his grave was marked with a monument.