Armed and wearing masks, five gunmen bolted from a stand of Ponderosa pine, surrounded the Canyon Diablo-Flagstaff stagecoach, and told the driver to “throw down the two heavy mail sacks.”

"Inside Job" 

The stagecoach driver couldn’t conceal his surprise. Of the four mailbags aboard, the two heaviest contained a large quantity of gold and silver ingots and coins.

Well-Fargo, weary from a series of stagecoach robberies, had decided to hide the valuable cargo inside mailbags rather than a treasure chest in an effort to discourage a possible hold up. 

The strategy failed. Historians labeled the May 10, 1881, robbery an “inside job” because only Wells Fargo employees knew about the mailbag ploy.

The shipment of about $125,000 originated at a bank in Albuquerque, New Mexico, destined for a San Francisco bank.

The highwaymen didn’t bother robbing the passengers. After securing the treasure, they left and traveled north into the high country of Arizona Territory to a log cabin at a place later called Veit Springs.

Since the robbery involved the U.S. Mail, authorities formed a large and heavily armed posse that included federal troops. The lawmen tracked the outlaws to a cabin tucked away among high Aspen trees where the two sides engaged in a withering exchange of gunfire. 

When the smoke settled, all five bandits were dead. Members of the posse scoured the cabin and the grounds around it but found none of the stolen loot.

Over the years, authorities and treasure hunters conducted numerous searches—from the scene of the holdup to the log cabin where the gunfight took place but found nothing. Not a single coin. 

Years later, on an afternoon in 1913, a local character named Short Jimmy McQuire strolled into Black’s Saloon in Flagstaff with news everyone had been waiting to hear.

McGuire bragged about locating the stolen shipment buried near a spring.

Short Jimmy, who never accumulated much wealth during his life, started buying drinks for everyone with a few gold coins he fished out of his pocket. His generosity, however, was short-lived.

According to Richard M. Patterson in Historical Atlas of the Outlaw West, “After his fourth drink, McGuire became ill and collapsed  . . . apparently from a heart attack. His pockets were stuffed with coins, more money than he had ever been seen to carry.”

Treasure hunters raced to the Veit Springs location. They found McQuire’s campsite but failed to locate any of the treasure. 

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2 comments to “INSIDE JOB”

  • Lance Miles

    Wow, another tantalizing “gold fever” tale. I love it! Makes me want to saddle up and head down to Arizona to go gold hunting. I’d love to find it just for the historical value alone. I love western history and you tell it so well. Thank you , sir.

  • Thanks so much for the compliment, Lance. Glad you enjoy the stories.

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