On July 26, 1875, John Shine clicked the reins to spur his team of four horses up Funk Hill. The California sun shone hot on his ten-gallon hat, and he sweated inside his white shirt and leather vest as the stagecoach rattled along the rutted road.
A few minutes later, he pulled gently on the reins to slow his team as the coach rounded a bend in the mountain pass. In the haze of heat, he saw a man standing before him. He pulled harder on the reins, stopping the coach.
The man wore a long, soiled duster over his clothes. Over his head was a flour-sack with holes cut for eyes. In his hands was a double-barrel 12-gauge shotgun. In a deep voice, he said, “Please throw down the box!”
John Shine hesitated. His shotgun was under the seat. Could he reach it under pretence of grabbing the box and fire before the robber did?
The man then called, “If he dares shoot, give him a solid volley, boys!”
Shine looked around. Protruding from the boulders were six rifles. He reached beneath his seat, withdrew the strongbox, and tossed it and the mail sacks onto the ground. He called back to the passengers in the coach—two men, five women, and three children—“We’re being robbed. Don’t do anything stupid or you’ll get us all killed.”
One of the women inside the coach threw her purse out the window.
The robber picked it up, dusted it off, and handed it back through the window. He bowed and said, “Madam, I do not wish your money. In that respect I honor only the good office of Wells Fargo.” With a sweep of his hand, he dismissed Shine, who drove away, glancing back in time to see the man attack the strong box with a hatchet.
About half a mile further up the road, he stopped the coach, hopped off the driver’s seat, and told the passengers to stay put. Then he walked back to the site of the robbery to see if he could salvage anything.
Photo by Michael McCullough, Creative Commons via Flickr.