Historical Details

Cold Springs Stage Robbery in 1878 Was Most Daring

Courtesy of The Lusk Herald, 08/17/1961

By Jim Griffith, Sr.

In the Lusk Museum, located in the rear of the Gautschi Standard filling station in Lusk, is a relic of the most daring stage robbery that ever occurred on the Cheyenne & Black Hills stage line. It is the strong box, which was supposed to be impregnable for at least 24 hours, was broken open after the hold-up and its contents taken by the heavily armed road agents. General opinion is that the box was taken to some secluded spot and broken open after the hold-up at Cold Springs.

Harold Bonsell, son of Bill Bonsell, pioneer resident of Niobrara County, who operated the OW ranch, brought the box to Lusk and turned it over to Ralph Olinger, who in turn gave it to the Lusk Museum, erected by the Lusk Lions Club, where it is now on exhibition.

For many years the box battered and rusty with age, had lain out on the prairie at the CR ranch. There it was found by Harold Bonsell, who brought it to the OW ranch and placed it in the barn, where it was used for many years as a receptacle for nails, old horse shoes and other “junk” items usually accumulated at a ranch.

Knowing Ralph Olinger was interested in historic relics, he brought it to Lusk and made Mr. Olinger a present of it. There is little doubt that this is the same strong box that figured in the Cold Springs robbery. This theory is confirmed by Russell Thorp, son of the one-time proprietor of the stage lone, and considered one of Wyoming’s chief authorities on historical lore, particularly that affecting the operation of the stage line.

The box shows unmistakable evidence of having been broken open with a sledge hammer for the combination is smashed in, one hinge is broken off, and otherwise shows evidence of having at one time fallen into unfriendly hands.

The Cold Springs robbery was one of the most sensational Cheyenne & Black Hills stage robberies ever perpetrated by road agents.

Luke Voorhees, the then proprietor of the stage line, has written an excellent account of the robbery, and his description is perhaps more graphic and authentic than any that could be turned out by our present-day historical writers.


Here is the account if the robbery written by Mr. Voorhees:

“The morning of September 19, 1878, our Cheyenne & Black Hills treasure coach (as it was called, as I permitted no passengers to ride on the coach that carried the gold) left Deadwood for Cheyenne with $37,000 mostly in gold dust and gold bars, there being only $3500 in currency, in charge of Scott Davis, captain of the armed guards, or messengers, who on that day were Scott Davis (captain), Gale Hill, Captain Smith and Donald Campbell, messengers; Mr. Ward, division superintendent, whom I had given specific orders to accompany the treasure coach to Hat Creek station, which took 48 hours, day and night.

“Ward only remained with the coach to the Pleasant Valley dinner station, where he turned back to Deadwood, disobeying my orders. On the arrival at the first station south of Pleasant Valley, which was Cold Springs, about 3:00 o’clock in the afternoon, in broad daylight, the driver pulled up to the front of the barn where the stock tender would usually unhitch the six horses, and change for six others (which was usually done in seven minutes).

“The stock tender, not being in sight, Gale Hill, who was riding with the driver, after having called to the station tender, jumped down to see what had become of him, when the road agent, who had knocked the chinking out between the logs (the barn being made of pine logs), the front of the stable being only about ten feet from where the stage stopped, fired, hitting Gale, and severely wounding him, breaking his left arm, and one wound through his right breast and lung, knocked him out. Another shot killed Campbell. Captain Smith’s head was slightly grazed and he called out that he was killed. Scott Davis said to Smith ‘Quit your damned noise”, when Smith insisted that he had been killed. This all occurred in broad daylight, Davis, of course, not expecting any attack before dark. He (Davis) immediately jumped out of the coach door on the opposite side from the barn and robbers. Getting behind a large pine tree standing near the barn, before the robbers came out of the stable, so Davis, who was always cool in such fights, had some show, as he did not know how many there were in the barn. (There were four of the road agents, as well armed). They knew that Scott would kill some of them before all of them could get him. The leader of the road agents called to Davis to surrender, they keeping behind the stage coach and teams, which the driver was ordered by the robbers to keep from running away while the shooting was going on.

“Scott told them his orders were ‘never surrender’ and he would see then in hell first.

“The leader then said he would get him some way, so he told the driver to get down from the stage. The road agent pushed him around toward the tree that Scott was using as a fort, the road agent stopping behind the driver so Davis could not shoot the robber without shooting the driver.

“When the road agent and driver were within ten feet of Davis he told them to stop and no go an inch further or he would kill them both. The driver cried ‘For God’s sake, Scott, don’t shoot”, but Davis said, ‘I will kill you both if you move any nearer toward this tree,’ which they knew he would do as a last resort.

“I had provided the treasure coach with steel lining on each side to protect the messengers from night attack. I had also provided a burglar safe, bolted to the bottom of the front boot, which was guaranteed to stand any burglar outfit or road agent’s kit at least 24 hours. Scott Davis, being confident that the treasure was safe, on a proposition from the robbers that if Scott would leave then and go down the road toward then next station, that there would be no more shooting and that the robbers would not attempt to prevent him from leaving. Davis believed he could reach the next station where Boone May, Jesse Brown and Jim Brown were awaiting the coach for the night drive. The driver for the night drive was Tom Cooper, now employed at the Cheyenne depot, who was then, I believe, the best and coolest driver I ever knew, and never shirked any danger.

“We recovered the greater part of the gold dust and gold bars, as my men were after the robbers so hot that they dropped most of the gold, as they could make better time in getting away. From that time Scott Davis kept his guard of six with the treasure coach as I gave strict orders to do so, I myself making many trips with them. Lame Johnny and the three others disappeared and the Cold Springs robbery was the last of the heavy work of the road agents. “

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Related/Linked Records

Record Type Name
Obituary Bonsell, Harold (01/16/1896 - 05/05/1956) View Record
Obituary Olinger, Ralph (05/20/1885 - 02/06/1965) View Record
Obituary Thorp, Russell (07/23/1877 - 10/26/1968) View Record
Obituary Thorp, Russell (08/07/1927 - 10/27/1977) View Record
Obituary Voorhees, Luke (11/29/1834 - 01/16/1925) View Record
Obituary Thorp, Russell (10/22/1844 - 09/03/1898) View Record