Published: February 2nd 2013February 2nd 2013
From the visitor center in Lordsburg go west on I-10 about 19 miles to the Steins Pass exit. It is an amusing old ghost town. Some days it is open and some days it isn't. The robbery site is two miles along the tracks to the west. It would be at a small wash near the hill in the picture. The wash would have been a likely spot for the robbers to have gathered fire wood.
Tom Ketchum and his merry band were broke as usual. They figured on robbing a train as a simple solution to their poverty, and as usual they figured to rely upon their malicious animal magnetism rather than upon any sort of native cunning to pull it off. Just past 6pm on Dec 9, 1897 two of the outlaws, Dave Atkins and Ed “Shoot ‘Em Up Dick” Cullen, entered the train station at Steins Pass. Momentarily they make small talk with the depot agent, Charlie St John and his wife Daisey. When they figure it is safe to do so the outlaws pull their guns and rob the petty cash box of $9. Sam Ketchum arrives at the station about 8pm and they decide to rob the express office too. The cash box there contained $2. It was post office money and taking it was a federal offense. Just before 9pm Tom Ketchum and Will Carver arrive after having cut the telegraph lines. As the Westbound #20 approached up the grade from Lordsburg St John was forced at gunpoint to signal the train to stop. When the conductor and brakeman entered the station to pick
The attempted train robbery took place rat cheer.
up the express they too were taken captive. Tom and Will took all five horses two miles further down the line and lit a couple of goodly bonfires, one on each side of the track. Sam, Dave and Ed mounted the cab and instructed the engineer, Ed North, to stop at the fires. So far malicious animal magnetism was working just fine. The railroad, however, had heard rumors of a robbery attempt and had taken the precautions of sending agents into the field for rapid pursuit, and mounting additional express guards. When the train stopped a second time the express guards knew a robbery was in progress and got ready for a fight. North was sent back to disconnect the passenger cars but when he did so it locked the air brakes and the entire train was immobilized. The bonfires provided excellent backlight to expose the movements of the outlaws and in the ensuing gun battle all of them were wounded by shotgun pellets. Ed Cullen was killed by them with a shot to the forehead. It was his first foray into lawlessness. Ed’s pals abandoned his body where it fell onto the tracks and fled the scene bleeding and still broke. It was a typical Tom Ketchum style failure. They left a clear trail and lawmen from both New Mexico and Arizona were soon on it. During the pursuit they found a wounded horse that had also been abandoned. With the horse they found a bloody pair of overalls with a pellet hole in the right leg. They also found a bloody handkerchief with a monogram of “TK”. The trail led officers directly to a ranch in Tex Canyon near the south end of the Chiricahua Mountains. An unsavory group of cowboys were found there, and one of them, Walter Hovey, had a fresh gunshot wound in his right leg. Under intense scrutiny by the lawmen those cowboys all told conflicting stories about the gunshot wound to Hovey’s leg. In the end all of the cowboys, Walter Hovey, Bill Warderman, Leonard Alverson, Tom Capehart, Henry Marshall and the ranch owner John Cush were taken into custody. The real robbers were watching nearby from a rocky hilltop known as the Wildcat. When the coast was clear they galloped off to further misdeeds elsewhere. Train robbery was a hanging offense in New Mexico, and the cowboys were all acquitted by a Silver City jury. They were, after all, innocent of robbing the train. They were guilty of abetting the robbers, and of robbing Mexican smugglers which is how Hovey got his gunshot wound. The presiding judge was furious at the acquittal and filed charges against Hovey, Warderman, and Alversen for the two dollar mail robbery. They were convicted by a Las Cruces jury and sentenced to hefty terms in the Santa Fe Territorial Prison. Sam Ketchum was eventually brought to justice and on his deathbed in that very same prison he testified that the three cowboys were innocent. Before he swung through the gates of hell Tom Ketchum also admitted to robbing the Steins Pass train and tried to exonerate the three innocent cowboys. They were finally pardoned by President Teddy Roosevelt. Tom Capehart decided that if he was going to be known as a train robber he ought to rob a train. He had joined the group of Wild Bunch outlaws that George Scarborough and Walter Birchfield surprised at Triangle Springs. Scarborough was a member of the posse that made the erroneous arrests. In the gunfight at the spring Scarborough was wounded in the right leg also. By the time he could reach medical attention an infection had set in and the leg had to be amputated. He died in Deming of complications from the surgery. The photo shows the site of the train robbery two miles west of the Steins Pass Station. Steins Summit is the highest point on the mainline.