Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Robbers Rock

Robber’s Rock
and the Last Stage Robbery in California

By Claudia East

            It was a warm afternoon on July 5, 1908, the three gentlemen passengers and one lady passenger jostled along in the Fort Jones bound stage.  The team of horses and the passengers had nearly made it to the top of the pass from Yreka.  Just as they were coming up on a sharp turn an armed masked man stopped the stage.  The driver, Fred ‘Cougar’ Vetterline thought about continuing on their way until the gunman cocked his gun and he saw the head and shoulders of another from behind the big rock with a six shooter pointed at his head.  According to old news accounts the bandit demanded the Wells, Fargo & Company strong box be thrown down. 

            After trying for a time the robber couldn't get the strong box open, so he asked the driver, Vetterline, if he could borrow his axe.  Apparently his response was, “sure, I’m not using it.”  The robber chopped the metal bound box open and removed an undisclosed amount of money and returned the damaged safe to the stage with all other documents and mail intact.  The robber did also lessen the load for the passengers and driver by taking their money and watches.  The driver, Vetterline, had $1.50 and after the robber took his money he told the thief he would need money to buy a drink in Ft. Jones once they got there, so the robber gave him back fifty cents.

            In the account of the robbery by the Yreka Journal one of the passengers gave an interview and explained “The bandit was a jolly fellow.  He joshed and talked with the passengers.  When he broke the driver’s axe he told him he was sorry and he would buy him a new one.”  The Journal went on to report that the robber was “a slender man of medium height and had a handkerchief over his face. The other robber was so concealed that no description of him could be given.”

            No one was ever arrested for this last stage hold up and there were no clues as to the identity of the robbers.  Following the incident there were all sorts of theories and ideas, even Black Bart was named at one point, even though his last robbery was 30 years earlier!  In the 1965 edition of The Siskiyou Pioneer one can find stories about this robbery and the theories that were presented by local historian and attorney at law, Fred Burton.

            Robber’s Rock can be located a short distance before the summit on Highway 3 between Yreka and Ft. Jones, just down on the Yreka side and towards the southern side of the road.  It isn't easily identifiable until one pulls off the shoulder of the road and looks.  The Humbug Chapter of E. Clampus Vitus has placed a plaque on the rock with a brief account of the robberies that were recorded at this spot. 

            This last robbery was not the cause of the namesake of this particular rock, there were others before, at least four documented robberies, but local lore claim there were many unrecorded hold ups there.   Today it doesn't look like much of a hiding place, but if one looks at the old road that goes down the hill from the rock and imagine what it took for a team of horses to pull that grade, and understand that road builders have filled in a lot of the grade and built road material around the foot of the rock, in addition to blasting off the top of the large boulder.

            Taking a drive up to Robber’s Rock is a pleasant drive and a visit to the rock and surrounding area can almost take one back to 1908.

*This article appeared in Jefferson Backroads, December 2012.  Copyright, Claudia East.

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