Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Hold-up of the Spearfish - Miles City Stage

Ninety people braved a cold, snowy night on Jan 3, 2014 at the Spearfish Area Historical Society program to hear Paul Higbee tell the tale of the Miles City to Spearfish stage coach robbery on a similarly cold, snowy night in Feb 17, 1894. 

The stage coach was an open buckboard with no passengers and it was carrying U.S. Mail holding cash.  The stage was coming from Miles City headed to Spearfish at about 11pm on a Saturday night and was about where BHSU campus is now when they turned a corner and two gunmen stepped out. It was dark with no moonlight.  Ernest Flynn was the driver.  The gunmen had pistols.  One was tall and the other short.  The tall man told Ernest that he didn’t want to hurt him.  He said he just wanted the mail, then asked for Ernest’s money, his watch and his tobacco.  Ernest gave all up to the robber and then asked for his tobacco back and got it back.   After reporting the robbery, the authorities went to the site but the snow had covered all tracks.

The Post Office assigned the case to employee M.C. Fostness from Des Moines who arrived a few days later.  The first suspects were two strangers in town, one tall and the other short.  But, they had a good alibi as they had just gotten employment in Deadwood.  The second suspect was a businessman from Sundance who had broken into a barn and pawned a watch.  It turns out the watch was not the stolen watch, so he was cleared.  The third suspect was driver, Ernest Flynn, himself.  M.C. Fosnes set up an elaborate “dummy envelope” planted on the appropriate delivery line.   Ernest did not take the bait and was cleared also.

Finally, a year and a half later, a jail talker spilled the truth about what had happened and the robbers were convicted within 30 days.  Tom Pitts was the talker and happy to talk.  Ulysses Pitts was his cousin.  Ulysses, his wife, Sally, and her son had moved to a rented farm near Beulah.   They took in a border whose name was George Hayes.  George fell in romantically with Sally.  It was a small farm.  They had no money so Sally set up the idea to rob the stage and tried to get Ulysses and George take up her cause.  The first night failed as Ulysses and George came back saying it was too cold.  Sally was mad and three nights later, the robbery occurred. 

The trial took place in Sioux Falls against Ulysses and George.  Sally was not charged.  Ulysses got five years, spent one year in the penitentiary and then got out on a pardon by President McKinley.  George spent eight of his life sentence in the pen.  Sally and her son were not seen again.