Historical Details

Hat Creek Dateline: 1876/12/00

Courtesy of The Lusk Herald, 05/16/1990

Freighter is robbed by gang
by Ed Cook, Contributing Writer

An old freighter coming from Deadwood City stopped here on his way back to Cheyenne with this interesting tale...

With the year drawing to a close a great many people were leaving the Black Hills for the winter. The military forces had withdrawn and most of the freight teams would not run during the winter. However most of the merchants were pretty well stocked with necessary supplies.

Business had more or less stabilized, the telegraph line from Fort Laramie was in service and the Cheyenne Black Hills Stage line was going to try and run regular coaches all winter. There was no attempt by merchants to charge unreasonable prices, with one exception, the activities of "Coal Oil Johnny" Spencer.

During the late fall Spencer had quietly bought all of the kerosene (coal oil) available in Deadwood City. No one suspected his intentions until they were confronted with a demand of $3.75 per gallon to buy oil from him to use in their lamps and lanterns. The usual price was about 50 cents per gallon. His customers indulged in threats but paid the price.

Hearing of the situation in Deadwood, the old freighter loaded up his wagon with a large tank of coal oil and headed for Deadwood with his six-horse team. After delivering the oil and getting paid for it, the old freighter fell victim to a gang of shysters.

The gang of outlaws and thugs was lead by a big burly fellow known as "Ten Die Brown," other members included a sure-thing gambler called "Pancake Bill," a crippled confidence man "Kentuck," and a roughneck known as the "Miner" since he posed as a hard-working prospector. The "Miner" was usually trying to enlist capital for the development of "valuable" mining property and always had a pocketful of rich ore supposedly from "his" mine.

When the old freighter arrived with his precious cargo of oil, "Kentuck" visited with him and found out that he had some knowledge of ores from mining experience in Colorado. The "Miner" was introduced and produced "his" ore, the freighter at once saw that it was good.

The "Miner" said that he wanted to have a few tons freighted to Cheyenne for shipment to a Colorado smelter for testing, but he had only enough money to pay a reduced freight rate on a few tons. The freighter grabbed the "bait" since as soon as he was paid for the oil he would be going back to Cheyenne empty and could afford a low rate.

After some haggling they agreed on the amount to be paid for the hauling and set a time for loading the next day. That evening a meeting was set to arrange the final details. At that time "Kentuck" and the "Miner" escorted the freighter to the "Cubbyhole" where they were to take a final drink to bind the deal, "Ten Die Brown" was tending bar. Kentuck and the Miner began quarreling over which one of them would pay for the drink. The freighter then offered to pay and pulled out the roll of bills he had just received. Kentuck grabbed the roll, Miner got him by the throat and hustled him into the street. The place was instantly dark and locked. The freighter's attempts to retrieve his money were useless so he headed back to Cheyenne.

(Information source: "Pioneer Years in the Black Hills," by Richard B. Hughes.)

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