Spears exhibits Canyon Springs loot, is finally captured
by Ed Cook, Contributing Writer
Al Spears received a life sentence in Cheyenne today. He had pleaded guilty to murder in the second degree, in the killing of Hugh Campbell during the Canyon Springs’ robbery. Spears had been captured by Deputy U.S. Marshall M.F. Leach, a merchant of Ogallala, Neb. Earlier Leach had also helped catch the Big Springs train robbers, and he had given Laramie County Sherriff’s Seth Bullock the tip that led to “Reddy” McKemma’s arrest in Ohio.
While on the return trip from Atlantic City, Iowa, to Cheyenne with “Duck” Goodale’s loot, Stageline Superintendent Luke Voorhees had stopped to visit with Leach in Ogallala. The subject of Spears and his sudden wealth was discussed by Leach and Voorhees. Leach said that he suspected Spears of being one of Canyon Springs’ robbers. Spears had recently visited Ogallala and “exhibited ….a quantity of jewelry, several pistols and a considerable amount of bullion.” Voorhees had just been tipped off that Spears had written to Cheyenne about having a trunk of his sent to him. From this letter they were able to learn the whereabouts of the suspect.
In a few days Leach surprised Spears in the act of disposing of some of the stolen goods at Grand island, Neb. Spears was about to draw his revolver, but he looked up and saw that he was covered by Leach’s “murderous looking revolver.” Those who knew Spears did not think that he could be taken alive.
At the time of his arrest, Spears had on his person about $500, a quantity of jewelry and a gun that had been taken from Gale Hill after he had been wounded at the time of the robbery.
When he arrived in Cheyenne on Nov. 1, two women were there to inquire about recovering the value of their jewelry, which had been stolen from the treasure coach during the Canyon Springs’ robbery. They were asked to describe the jewelry and it was the same jewelry that had been found on Spears.
Spears told several stories about where the stolen gold was buried, but upon threats of hanging from Voorhees he said that it was buried under about three feet of dirt near Wood River, on the farm where he had been working. The next day after about a half-hour digging, Voorhees found the gold, valued at about $4,000.
On the way to Cheyenne, Spears had told Marshall Leach that the Canyon Springs’ robbery was his first and last venture of that kind. He said that he had been “coaxed into it by others,” and as he had been hard up all summer it did not take much coaxing.
The Cheyenne Daily Leader on Nov. 2 reported that Spears’ name had been “in possession of the officers” for several months, that he was a cattle thief , hard customer and his statement about it being his first venture “can safely be heard with a reasonable degree of allowance.”
(Information sources: “Empty Saddles, Forgotten Names—Outlaws of the Black Hills and Wyoming” by Doug Engebretson: “The Cheyenne and Black Hills Stage and Express Routes,” by Agnes Wright Spring.)