Lame Johnnys Treasure - Canyon Springs Stage Robbery - 45 POUNDS OF GOLD!


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Jan 21, 2005
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Lame Johnny's Treasure - Canyon Springs Stage Robbery - 45 POUNDS OF GOLD!


Wyoming - Dakota Territory

Cornelius Donahue, aka John A. Hurley, aka Lame Johnny, was a famous outlaw of the Black Hills region. Lame Johnny was born in Philadelphia about 1850 and came to the Black Hills in 1876 to seek his fortune. Usually his "fortune" was found by rustling horses but occassionally he and his gang went after stagecoaches. His most famous robbery was probably the stagecoach robbery of the armored stage known as the "Monitor" - a special stage built for the Homestake mine bullion shipments, equipped with loopholes for guns and a treasure box bolted to the floor.

Details of Lame Johnny's movements before coming to Dakota Territory are sketchy at best. He attended Girard College in Philadelphia but this didn't pan out so he moved to Texas where he hoped to be a cowboy. Unfortunately he didn't do well as a cowboy due to his limp, ( he had a deformed foot, so he wore a special boot with extra high heel) and he turned to stealing horses. When things got too hot in Texas, Lame Johnny headed to Deadwood, where ironically he was hired as a deputy! Working as a deputy sheriff didn't appeal to Lame Johnny though, so he tried his hand prospecting Castle Creek. Not lucky enough to strike it rich on Castle Creek, Johnny found a job as a bookkeeper working for the famous Homestake mines in Lead. His luck turned sour when someone at the mine recognized him as the horse thief in Texas. Lame Johnny fled Homestake and set to work at his old career of stealing horses, cattle rustling and robbing a stagecoach when the opportunities arose. He formed up a gang including Archie McLaughlin, Charles Carey, Frank McBride, and Bill Mansfield.


The Monitor, a special "treasure coach" constructed in Cheyenne by A. D. Butler for the Cheyenne and Black Hills Stage and Express company, was covered with 5/16" iron plate and regular passengers were not allowed in it. Special guards were sent in the coach, referred to as "messengers" and famous gunfighters served in the role more than once including Daniel Boone May (known to all by his middle name Boone and considered the fastest gun in Dakota territory) and Wyatt Earp. On the fateful day of September 26th, the driver was Gene Barnett, with "Gale" (Galen) Hill riding shotgun. Inside the coach were Scott Davis and Captain Eugene Smith, along with Black Hills Telegraph company telegraph operator Hugh O. Campbell who was traveling to his new post at the Jenney Stockade station.

A considerable treasure was the shipment on the Monitor for this trip - including three gold ingots, one of 115 ounces, one of 183 ounces and one of 248 ounces, valued at $17.50 per ounce worth $9555, 1056 ounces of gold dust and nuggets valued at $13.75 per ounce worth $14,520, $500 in diamonds and $500 in jewelry, and $2000 in currency - a total value of $27,075.


<Gold bars from the Homestake Mine, Dakota Territory>

Lame Johnny's gang knew what time the Monitor was scheduled to arrive at Canyon Springs and timed their attack well. Shortly before the appointed time, one of the gang rode up to the station and asked for a drink of water. The station attendent, William Miner, started for the water and the bandit dismounting, got the drop on him. Miner was unarmed so had to comply, he was then marched to the granary and locked inside. The remaining four "road agents" arrived shortly after and the men made preparations for the arrival of the treasure coach Monitor. They knocked chinking out of the log walls of the stable near the door to make gun ports facing the spot where the Monitor would normally stop.

As the Monitor pulled in to Canyon Springs station right on schedule at 3 PM, not a man was to be seen. Canyon Springs stage station had a stable and a small living quarters for one employee. The normal procedure when the stage approached a station was for the driver to blow a horn, and the station attendant would quickly have a fresh team ready to go. Changing teams normally would take only seven minutes. However the attendant in this case, Miner, did not appear. Barnett and Hill dismounted from the coach, Barnett going to look for Miner and Hill chocking the rear wheels. At that moment gunfire erupted - Hill was hit in the left arm but managed to return fire as he scrambled to the barn. Hill, firing through the window of the barn using his good right hand, believed he had wounded at least one of the bandits possibly two. (He had not hit one of the bandits.) A rifle shot then hit, Hill punching a hole clear through his chest and knocking him to the ground, leaving him unable to continue the fight. He managed to crawl to the rear of the stable where he was out of the line of fire.

A shot came through the roof of the coach splintering wood and causing both bullet and wood shrapnel to hit Capt Smith grazing his skull and knocking him senseless to the floor of the coach. As Smith was bleeding profusely, messenger Davis thought him to be dead or dying so he returned fire on the bandits as fast as he could reload. Firing at the spaces between the logs, Davis decided to get out of the off-side door of the coach (the side away from the station house) and head for the cover of a huge pine tree where he could keep the outlaws pinned in the station. Campbell, who was un-armed, decided his best course was to stay with Davis so he also headed for the safety of the tree but strayed out from behind cover on the way and was wounded, falling to his knee. The outlaws then riddled Campbell with bullets and he fell over dead.

Davis called to Barnett (the driver) to either get off the coach and come to him, or to try to drive the coach away. Barnett tried to whip up the six-horse team but before he could get them started, bandit Frank McBride ran out to grab the horses. Davis fired a shot at McBride and hit him, causing him to throw up his hands and fall over backwards. McBride then crawled around the horses and back into the stable. Outlaw Charles Carey then came out using the coach for cover and ordered Barnett to get off the coach. Putting Barnett in front of him as a human shield, Carey then started advancing on Davis behind the pine tree. Carey and Davis yelled back and forth at each other, but Davis realized he could not take a shot at Carey without risking hitting Barnett so he lit out on foot for the nearest ranch which was Ben Eager's outfit, seven miles away.

The gang dragged the Monitor into the trees to work on it, Lame Johnny and his men apparently had little trouble prying open the supposedly theft-proof treasure box and transferring the contents, (see list above) loading the loot into a wagon in about two hours. The gang then split up* and disappeared into the hills, heading east into the canyons.

*All except Carey, who accompanied Frank McBride who was seriously wounded.

While this was going on, three relief messengers including gunfighter Boone May, Bill Sample and Jesse Brown were awaiting the arrival of the Monitor at the Beaver Creek stage station. When the stage had not arrived within a reasonable time, the three men jumped on horses and rode north to find out what had happened. Along the road they met Davis riding hell-bent for leather for help - he had borrowed a horse from Eager's ranch to ride for help. The four men then rode on north to the Canyon Springs Station where they found the Monitor standing abandoned with the treasure box emptied. They found Miner locked in the granary and the other employees tied to trees in the woods. *(Hill died several years later from complications arising from the wounds he received.)*


<"After the holdup" posed photo of Deadwood stage as it would appear after a holdup>

When word reached Deadwood a posse of ten well-armed men rode off in pursuit of Lame Johnny's gang. Posses were formed in many towns in Dakota and Wyoming to hunt down the bandits, and Homestake posted a fat reward for their capture. The news even reached New York City by the 27th and made the New York Times newspaper. Boone May partnered up with detective Noah Siever and Bill May along with several other freshly-deputized volunteers and picked up the trail of the gang in the area toward Pactola (now Pactola Reservoir) on Rapid Creek, and learned that the outlaw gang had bought a "dead axle" wagon (no springs, the type usually used for hauling heavy loads) from a local for $250 cash. The gang had bought the wagon to carry their wounded man (Frank McBride) - we can almost feel sorry for him as it must have been a real torture to ride in such a wagon, badly wounded!

Luke Voorhees, superintendant of the Cheyenne and Black Hills stage line, issued a notice of reward
"$2500 REWARD will be paid for the return of the money and valuables and the capture (upon conviction) of the five men who robbed our coach on the 26th day of September 1878 at Canon Springs (Whiskey Gap) Wyo. Ter. of twenty-seven thousand dollars consisting mostly of gold bullion. Pro rate of the above amount will be paid for the capture of either of the robbers and proportionate part of the property."

The US government put up a bounty of $200 per robber and the county commissioners put up a matching bounty. Gpvernor Howard offered a $1000 reward. (Some sources also say that Homestake also posted a large reward, I have not been able to confirm or disprove this.)


<Boone May, gunfighter of the Black Hills; Wyoming Division of Cultural Resources>

Boone May's posse trailed the gang east, past the boom-town of Rapid City and then out onto the prairie. When the posse got near the town of Wasta, they were joined by Seth Bullock with his posse. The combined posse then trailed the outlaw gang to a place near Pino Springs*, where some of the posse decided to lie in wait and jump the outlaws in the morning, despite the objections of Bullock.
*(near site of a tragic Indian massacre of a wagon train)*

By daybreak it was obvious that Seth Bullock should have been listened to - the gang had hit the trail during the night, abandoning the dead-axle wagon and burying the gang member who had been so seriously wounded in the robbery, later identified as Frank McBride, because he had died of his wounds. The posse split up to try to find the outlaw's trail, but lost it completely near Fort Pierre on the Missouri river so they had to quit and return to their homes.

Charles Carey seems to be the gang member who had doubled back on the trail into Wyoming and was caught near the site of the robbery, where he was summarily hanged on October 3rd. He had been recognized as the outlaw who had used Barnett as a human shield.

Later on (October), Archie McLaughlin and Bill Mansfield tried to sell some of the stolen bullion in Deadwood. The two were arrested and packed onto a stagecoach to be taken to Cheyenne, where they would be tried for the robbery and murder. Unfortunately for McLaughlin and Mansfield, along the road the stage was stopped by a party of masked men (vigilantes) who threatened the men with a rope and got them to confess. Taken on to Cheyenne with a confession to convict them, the pair were held in jail until November 2 when it was learned that a trial could not be held for several more months and the two men were sent back to Deadwood. On November 3rd their bad luck dogged them and the men were dragged from the stage by five angry vigilantes near Fort Laramie on the Little Cottonwood river. The vigilantes who hanged them from nearby Cottonwood trees, leaving their bodies to be pulled down by a troop of soldiers that happened by too late to save them.

As a result of the rewards and the efforts of the lawmen hunting them, within six weeks Homestake was able to report that 60% of the loot had been found and returned. Only two of the huge gold bars remained lost. (Not sure which two)

Lame Johnny's luck did not prove to be much better than his gang members - for he was caught in Pine Ridge by Frank "Whispering" Smith and taken to Chadron (Nebraska) where he was put on the Sydney-Deadwood stage to be tried in Deadwood. Boone May was assigned to be a guard on the coach for the trip and Lame Johnny confided to several people that he was very much afraid of May. When the stage got to Buffalo Gap, Boone May unexpectedly left the coach and vanished leaving Whispering Smith in charge - but not far out of town a masked rider* stopped the stage and took Lame Johnny off - it was assumed that he had been "saved" by another member of his gang. The truth was that he had been taken by the vigilantes who promptly hanged Lame Johnny from a convenient Elm tree beside the creek which is now named after Lame Johnny, where he was found the next day by passing bullwhackers. His grave marker under the tree, now long gone, read

Pilgrim Pause! You’re standing on
The molding clay of Limping John.
Tread lightly, stranger, on this sod.
For if he moves, you’re robbed, by God

*according to another source, his grave marker read,
"Stranger pass gently o'er this sod,
If he opens his mouth, you're gone, by God."
(A pun on Johnny, who was known for having a big mouth!)

*Some sources say two masked men stopped the coach carrying Lame Johnny*

Lame Johnny's bad luck continued to dog him even after death, for some years after he had been hanged and buried, some ranchers dug up the remains (missing the head) and moved him to a new location, but removed the iron shackles and chains as well as his boots - which were were displayed in a Buffalo Gap store until a fire in the late 1880s destroyed both the store and the boots. One shackle ended up in the State Historical Society Museum at Pierre and the other went to the 1881 Historical Museum in Custer.

So what is left to find? Two gold bars, weighing up to [b 284 ounces[/b] have never been recovered. The bars clearly had to have been hidden by the gang somewhere between the Canyon Springs station and Pino Springs, where they had abandoned the wagon. Even the smallest bar, 115 ounces, would be worth well over $100,000 today!

Good luck and good hunting amigos, I hope one of you will soon find these lost gold bars! :thumbsup:


Full Member
Jan 12, 2006
Ottawa, Ontario
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Re: Lame Johnny's Treasure - Canyon Springs Stage Robbery - 45 POUNDS OF GOLD!

This is a great post Oro! Very interesting and certainly well researched as always my friend. 8) That's a nice cache of Gold out there just waitin' for someone. Maybe your work here will lead someone to it. :wink:




Gold Member
Jan 21, 2005
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Tesoro Lobo Supertraq, (95%) Garrett Scorpion (5%)
Re: Lame Johnny's Treasure - Canyon Springs Stage Robbery - 45 POUNDS OF GOLD!

MUCHAS GRACIAS amigo! :thumbsup: I tried to be conservative in the amount of gold that remains lost, for according to the old records, it could be a LOT more - like nearly 750 pounds! This story has a lot of conflicting information in the sources too - for instance the members of the gang are listed as different men in every source, with at least two saying that it was not Lame Johnny at all but Big Nose George (Parrott) and one claiming that George was in fact shot to death by Davis in the shoot out at the stage station, which is absolutely false. Another source claims Davis held all six of the outlaws at bay for hours, long enough for help to arrive and captured all six men on the spot - which is also totally false. I am fairly sure we can rule out Big Nose George as he was active elsewhere, but cannot PROVE that Lame Johnny was the actual leader of the gang either. As Lame Johnny was in fact hanged for being the leader of the holdup gang (lynched outside Buffalo Gap) I am fairly sure he was in on it though.

Thank you again for the kind words, good luck and good hunting amigo I hope you find the treasures that you seek! :thumbsup:
your friend,

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