|Portneuf Canyon, ca 1872. National Archives.|
One key discrepancy involves what “participant” Frank Williams was doing on the coach. Later narratives asserted that he was actually driving the stage. But the contemporaneous Idaho Statesman account (July 22, 1865), gleaned from an earlier Utah newspaper item, said, “The passengers booked for Boise were Frank Williams (a former stage driver) …” [and others]. That article also identified the driver as one Charley Parks, whom later accounts claimed was the “shotgun messenger.”
Suddenly, a heavily armed man leaped onto the road and ordered the driver to “Halt!” Then, according to the same report, six more bandits sprang from the brush along the sides. Wanting to protect their treasure, several passengers drew revolvers and fired. The blast of return shots wounded the driver and killed or mortally wounded four passengers. One of the murdered men was merchant David Dinan (sometimes referred to as Dignan). East Idaho pioneer Alexander Toponce recalled, "My friend Dignan had twenty-seven buckshot in his body."
In the confusion, Frank Williams and another passenger, James B. Brown, escaped into the thick brush. The bandit fusillade missed the last passenger, a man named Carpenter, but he was covered in blood from those who had been shot. A few more men appeared, leading horses, and the robbers galloped off. They left the severely wounded driver and Carpenter, figuring both would soon die. After the robbers disappeared, Carpenter freed two stagecoach mules, helped the driver onto one, and they rode for help.
Unfortunately, the greater part of eastern Idaho – 10 million sparsely-inhabited acres – had virtually no conventional law enforcement at the time. Driven to desperation by the rampant crime, citizens formed vigilance committees. Thus, it was the vigilantes, along with agents from the stage line, who pursued the perpetrators.
Investigators first carefully checked the two passengers who had somehow fled unscathed through a fusillade of shots. When Brown was cleared, suspicion focused on Williams, who had since left the area. The vigilantes trailed him first to Salt Lake and then into Colorado.
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Watchers observed that the man was throwing money around with abandon – far beyond the means of an ordinary stagecoach employee. Then Williams must have spotted the surveillance because he abruptly fled toward Denver. Caught on the trail, he quickly confessed his role, which was to tip off the gang when the stage carried a big haul.
Williams named his accomplices, who he claimed had told him there would be no violence. Unmoved by the man's purported remorse, the vigilantes hanged him, and pinned a warning note to the body. They then tracked down five of the men Williams had identified and unceremoniously strung them up too.
The fate of the remaining 2-4 bandits is unclear, although two may have met their fate for other crimes. Investigators had much less success with the loot, which the crooks apparently spent even faster than the clueless Williams.
|References: Barzilla W. Clark, Bonneville County In The Making, (Idaho Falls 1941).|
|J. V. Frederick, Ben Hollady, the Stagecoach King, Arthur H. Clark Company, Glendale, California (1940).|
|N. P. Langford, Vigilante Days and Ways, Montana State University, Bozeman (1957). Original publication in 1890.|
|Alexander Toponce, Reminiscences of Alexander Toponce, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman (1971).|
|R. Michael Wilson, Great Stagecoach Robberies of the Old West, a TwoDot® Book, Morris Book Publishing (2007).|