Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Last Stagecoach Holdup

The summer of 1914 may have truly marked the end of the old west. Why, because that was the year of the last stagecoach holdup, and it took place near Shoshone Point in Yellowstone Park. Other places claim the last holdup, including one of the Cheyenne-Deadwood Stage and one in Nevada, but I like this one. The year marked the end of the horse’s only transportation in the park, as cars came for the first time the next year, and a year after that, 1916 would mark the end of the coaches in the park.

I like this bit of history because the robber, Edward Trafton, (Ed Harrington) did not just hold up a stagecoach, he held up fifteen in a row. The stages carried tourists seeing the sights of the park, and the sixteenth coach, sniffing out something bad, turned around and went for help.

Wearing several layers of extra clothes and a black mask,Trafton stopped each coach rustled out the passengers and asked them, while holing a rifle, to put their money in a sack lying at his feet. For his days work he collected a little over nine hundred dollars and jewelry worth another one- hundred and thirty dollars. Trafton, a ladies’ man, or one who believed he was, laughed and asked the ladies to hide their jewelry, he was only interested in cash. Not sure how or why he ended up with more than a hundred dollars worth anyway, maybe he didn’t like some of the women as much as others.

Trafton had so much fun holding up a stage every half hour that he even allowed some of the passengers to take his photo. Not sure Tafton was the smartest of outlaws, but he likely believed he was, because of this day, famous, and needed to secure his place in history. It did secure a place but maybe not what he had in mind.

The well photographed outlaws next stop was Leavenworth, where he rested up for five years. He died more than a decade later
with a letter in his pocket claiming he was the cowboy Owen Wister based the Virginian on. More likely, if Wister ever met him and put him in the famous novel, he was one of the bad guys or less than bright characters in the story. Trampas?


Ron Scheer said...

Great story. The true-life Virginian was a matter of great curiosity in the years after the publication of that novel. Wister claimed there was none, yet there are theories he made a buddy of one of the trail guides he used on hunting trips. Then there was a falling out, as the guy seemed to abuse the privileges of friendship.

The early scenes in the novel show a young cowboy capable of this kind of roadside robbery, but Wister has him clean up his act and grow into a model citizen.

I just finished reading a western novel published in 1913 that has a train robbery at the beginning (a lot like the one you describe) as well as an automobile or two. That's an interesting point in history - the overlapping of horses with cars as modes of transportation.

Cheyenne said...

I can see the reasoning behind that! However, Tafton was just a good businessman! Why oh why were there no guards on these stagecoaches? Still great story!

old guy rambling said...

Ron - this was an odd time in the old west. Horses to cars and trucks. My dad used to talk about this time - lots of good stories. Cheyenne, I think because these were short run coaches they had no guards--you know the old, "this will save money stuff."

A man called Valance said...

Enjoyed. Nicely told Neil. Thank you. Nice fella that Trafton.

Nancy said...

Mr. Trafton was my grea -great uncle. The stories that have I had throughout the years are some what different than this one. The ladies man part-I hear was true. The family stories are much more adventurous!!