by J.J. Lamb (part two).  Continued from March Vail Voice

Three train robberies east of Tucson in 1887 on the Southern Pacific Railroad’s main line that wound through Cienega Creek kept everyone on edge. After the August robbery, the posse, dispatched to find the bandits, discovered tracks leading towards Mountain Springs, located within present day Colossal Cave Mt. Park. The Sunday, August 14, 1887, Arizona Daily Star reported that, “In the cave where the robbers had had breakfast on Thursday morning, was found a gold ring, and at the Mountain Springs House, a number of giant caps (explosive devices) were found under the floor.”  Also, on this day, Virgil Earp, Wyatt Earp’s brother, passed through Benson to join the posse in search of the bandits. The series of train robberies along the Cienega section of the main line had everyone in the region on edge. The posse discovered more tracks from the small cave leading east to Pantano Station; they set up camp, intending to continue their search in the morning. Unfortunately, violent rains that night erased any remaining signs of the bandits’ trail.

The robberies were a hot topic of conversation in Tucson during most of 1887. It seemed that everyone had a theory about who the robbers were, and some special clue that would help solve the case. The Pima County Sheriff and other local authorities were joined by a Federal Marshal, and Wells Fargo detectives. They converged in Tucson to sort out the clues and continue the search.  In October 1887, an Atlantic & Pacific train robbery near El Paso, Texas finally solved the mystery and brought the bandits to account. Jake Smith and John Mayer, part of all of the hold ups, met swift justice during the attempted robbery. They were shot by Wells Fargo Express Messenger J. Earnest Smith, who was unlucky enough to be aboard all the held-up trains. He was hailed as a brave hero whose actions had saved property, and the lives of passengers. He was honored by Wells Fargo and by the city of El Paso with a special medal, a gold watch and monetary rewards. George Green, who had participated in the April 27th robbery, was tracked down and brought back to Tucson to stand trial. He pled guilty and was sentenced to five years in the Arizona Territorial Prison in Yuma

It is difficult to unravel all of the newspaper accounts of the 1887 hold ups. These stories have become part of local legend in the Vail area, especially at Colossal Cave. The continuing search to unravel fact from local lore is part of the allure of local history and discovering our unique stories.

People-Powered Community Curation with Vail Preservation Society

On Saturday, April 14th from 9:00-noon join us Between the Tracks™ for a Community Adobe Workshop at 13105 E. Colossal Cave Road. Bring your friends to this family friendly workshop to learn about a building technique used around the world, and in our own 1908 Old Vail Store & Post Office. Be ready to get your hands muddy as you learn from nationally recognized adobe expert, David Yubeta, who is retired from the National Park Service. You will be impacting Vail’s future as we begin working together to rehabilitate Vail’s oldest building. The 1908 Old Vail Store & Post Office and the 1935 Shrine of Santa Rita in the Desert are both on the National Register of Historic Places; together, they are Old Town Vail™. This is where our community began in 1880 as a Southern Pacific railroad siding. We will also be recording community stories. Be ready to share your Vail story.  For additional information email or call 520-419-4428.

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J.J. Lamb