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The Lone Highwayman Of The Chowchilla

One Carl P. Russell researched and penned 100 Years in Yosemite, the Story of a Great National Park, the first copyright in 1931 with several reprints over the years. In the chapter “Stagecoach Days” he reprints and article from D. J. Foley’s book Yosemite Tourist of July 10, 1906. The following is an “account of a robbery that brings the melodramatic influence of highwaymen into the very end of the period of stage coach days. It was entitled Five Stages Held Up by the Lone Highwayman of the Chowchilla, An Event Full of Excitement and Interest,’ and reads:

“This is the story of a plain, ordinary ‘hold-up’ of the Raymond-Wawona-Yosemite stages; and the time was Saturday afternoon at ten minutes of four. The place was about six miles this side of Ahwahnee, upon the side of the Chowchilla Mountain, about a mile and a half this side of where a similar, but less important event took place last August.

“The point, carefully selected by the bold robber was an ideal one. The road here is in the form of the letter S, flattened out, and he selected the upper part of the letter, about all of the other parts being visible.

“The first stage was in charge of Will Palmer, one of the new drivers. Puffing and sweating, the team of four were rounding the turn in the road, when Walter Brode, who, with Mrs. F. J. House, occupied the front seat, yelled: ‘Hold up!’ For up the road a hundred or more feet away he saw the fellow jump out from behind some brush and, with his old 44 Winchester up to his shoulder, he was advancing toward them. And in tones, musical and soft but determined, he said: ‘Throw out that box!’

“The driver was not aware of the presence of the express box, but it was there and Mr. Seth Hart threw it out like a gentleman. ‘Get out of that stage,’ came the cool, determined command, supplemented with the ugly-looking 44. And out they got. Then he requested one of the ladies, Miss Bowen, to ‘pass the hat around,’ which she did under protest.

“The other stage was then about due and so he moved down the road a bit to a point where he could keep them well ‘covered,’ and yet not be seen by the approaching stage. In the meantime all their hands were up, for that big ’44’ was pointed their way.

“Around the turn came the second stage with ‘Josh’ Wrenn as driver. No especial importance was attributed to the unusual sight, believing it to be a joke. But the illusion was quickly dispelled when out rang that soft and musical command: ‘Get out of the stage,’ and out they got, the vicious-looking 44 being much in evidence. He lined them up with the others and then ordered a boy of about fifteen to ‘pass the hat around.’ The boy was badly scared, and justly, too, and was about to comply with the request, when up spoke C. E. McStay, a well-known business man of Los Angeles, who very kindly offered to take the boy’s place.

“To this the robber consented, not suspecting the ‘job’ that was so quickly put up on him. For ‘job’ it was, and one, too, that saved the passengers many dollars and valuables. ‘I quickly thought of and settled this proposition,’ said Mr. McStay. ‘If that boy passes the hat and searches us, for this is what he was ordered to do, he will not use any discretion, and we will all be heavy losers; whereas, if I can do that honor I shall take but little, unless I have to.’

“All this and more, too, was thought out by Mr. McStay in less time than it takes to write this, and so he acted at once, and to him is due the credit of the ‘buncoing’ that followed; for this mild-mannered, soft-voiced Lone Highwayman of the Chowchilla was most thoroughly ‘buncoed’ in this change of ‘hat passers,’ and he suspected it even before the first stage was ordered to ‘move on.’ But that’s another story.

“And so in the fullness of his nerve—it’s the real California—Los Angeles kind, too, Mr. McStay became the apparent Chief Assistant of the Lone Highwayman of the Chowchilla. The third stage drove up in due time with the experience of the second stage duplicated. The fourth wagon had a load of ladies, and he did not order them to get out. Tho thus honored it was from this wagon that he secured most of his coin. The passengers of the fifth wagon ‘lined up’ with the others. On this stage, in charge of the driver, Ed Gordon, was a sack, for the Sugar Pine Mills, with over $500 in it. From the zig-zag below they saw the crowd ‘lined up’ and they, suspecting the cause, helped the driver to hide the sack under the cushion of the seat.”

Kay Good for the Coarsegold Historical Society/Historic Museum

31899 Highway 41

559-642-4448. CHS@STI.NET

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