Published: February 13th 2013February 13th 2013
KINNEAR STAGE COACH ROBBERY
From Boot Hill Cemetery in Tombstone go northwestward towards Benson about seven and a quarter miles to a poor road on your left just past an older windmill on your right. Follow that road westward until you arrive at a locked gate on the boundary of the San Pedro River National Riparian Conservation Area. From the gate hike a mile further toward the west to the old railroad grade. The site where the Kinnear Robbery took place is in a wash half a mile further south. Drew's Station will be on the right about halfway down the old rail bed.
KINNEAR STAGE COACH ROBBERY
An attempt was made to rob the Kinnear Stage on the night of March 15, 1881. The stage coach was carrying a twenty-six thousand dollar shipment of silver from the Tombstone mines. Silver shipments of that size were not uncommon but the Wells Fargo Express Company tried to keep them secret. Raw silver ingots were heavy and cumbersome for robbers carry off and would be difficult to spend so they were far more tempting than they were lucrative. The robbers might not even have known that the silver ingots were aboard; that information was supposed to be kept secret. On the night of the robbery the stage driver, Budd Philpot, had taken ill. The express messenger, Bob Paul, took up the lines at Contention City and Philpot took hold of the shotgun. As they drew near Drew’s Station the bandits lurking in the cold ordered them to stop. Philpot got off a shotgun blast that wounded Luther King, one of the robbers, but in the return fire Philpot was killed and Bob Paul clattered off into the darkness. The robbers fired more shots at the retreating coach and one of them struck Pete Roerig, a passenger who was riding atop. The bullet struck Pete in the back and he bled out and died before reaching Benson. Two men were viciously killed but the robbery failed. As an “on call” U. S. Deputy Marshal, Virgil Earp had jurisdiction in cases that involved an interference with the mail. Virgil gathered up his brothers, Wyatt and Morgan, and they rode off in pursuit. The Earps were strictly townsmen who could not begin read sign or follow a trail. Before getting completely off track they did manage to capture the wounded man, Luther King, and persuade him to rat out his friends, Jim Crane, Billy Leonard, and Harry Head. Virgil sent King back to Tombstone and then he and his brothers rode off on a false trail and nearly perished in the desert. King quickly escaped from custody in Sheriff Behan’s jail and was heard from in Arizona nevermore again. Wyatt was opposing Behan in the upcoming sheriff’s election and badly wanted to capture the fugitive killers, Crane, Leonard, and Harry Head. From bitter experience Wyatt knew that the killers could easily elude him in the desert and make a fool of him so he came up with a nefarious plan to lure them into a trap. He approached Ike Clanton with an offer to give him the entire reward being offered by Wells Fargo for the apprehension of the killers. It amounted to $3600. Ike would have to steal quite a few Mexican cattle to make that much money so he agreed to the plan although he had no idea who they were or where the killers were hiding. Ike was a pretty leaky vessel for Wyatt to hold much faith in and he didn’t want his nefarious plan to go bust so he revised the plan and cut Ike out of the loop. The new plan involved a shady rascal named Joe Hill and a local rancher named Frank McLaury, who was known to broker stolen cattle. Hill was supposed to contact the killers with an offer to rob another stage coach and then after the robbery they were supposed to meet at McLaury’s to divvy up the booty and pick up fresh horses. Wyatt would have a posse waiting at McLaury’s to make the arrest. No mention of the reward was included in the offer presented to Hill and McLaury. They were willing to cooperate as a civic duty in the arrest of vicious killers that the community would be well rid of. Hill rode over to New Mexico to find the killers, but Leonard and Head had gotten themselves killed trying to rob a store in Hachita owned by the Hazlett Brothers. The Hazletts collected the reward but were both later gunned down by other outlaws. Crane had fled down to Mexico. He got himself killed in an ambush by Mexican soldiers in Guadalupe Canyon. He had stopped overnight with a group of drovers including Ike Clanton’s dad, Newman, who were driving a herd of cattle to market in Tombstone. The military ambush was done in retaliation for other border violence against citizens of Mexico. Outlawry along the border in the summer of 1881 was out of control. Wyatt’s nefarious plan fell apart but would surface in later court proceedings against the Earps because it involved both Ike Clanton and Frank McLaury. Outlawry in Tombstone was about to get out of control too and the Earps would be squarely caught with their pants down right in the middle of it. The feud that set off the Gunfight at O K Corral was really a feud between Ike Clanton and Doc Holliday. The Earp and McLaury brothers were pulled into it due to loyal friendships. Doc was an ill-tempered drunk with a death wish, and Ike was an ill-tempered drunk with a wide streak of yellow. When in their cups neither of them could keep their mouth shut. The feud originated in the allegation that Doc was a participant in the Kinnear Stage Coach Robbery. The allegation arose because Doc’s angry girlfriend, Big Nose Kate, drunkenly accused him of it. When she sobered up she retracted the statement, but by then all of Tombstone had heard about it. Ike latched onto it like a pitbull and gnawed it publicly whenever he could. Doc was just as sick of Ike’s loose talk as he was sick with tuberculosis. During the evening prior to the street fight Doc challenged Ike over those unfounded comments and Ike showed his yellow streak. He brooded about it during an all-night poker game and the following morning he picked up his guns and went swaggering around town making drunken threats against Doc and the Earps. Ike Clanton and his jackass mouth caused the street fight in which his brother, Billy, and the McLaury brothers were killed. Tombstone City Marshal Virgil Earp, his brothers, Wyatt and Morgan, and Doc Holliday were caught up in and reacted to the mob hysteria that resulted from Ike’s behavior. They were all charged with murder and, yes, they were guilty as sin. The photo shows the scene of the Kinnear robbery attempt. The stage coach was forced to slow down in order to climb out of the wash. The pilings in the wash supported the railroad tracks that also crossed there. Drew’s Station was a water stop for the railroad about a quarter mile north of the wash.