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Published: January 29th 2013
Get on I-10 eastbound in Tucson and go out to Wentworth Road. Follow the signs to Colossal Cave State Park. Be sure to visit La Posta Quemada while you are there. The spring where the bandit's first hideout was is located nearby. Pantano is where the black water tower is on the south side of Marsh Springs Road. Pantano is the Spanish word for "marsh".
One of the saltiest gunmen who ever lived was a Jewish Irishman named James Levy. He was just an ordinary guy working as a miner up in Pioche, NV. On May 30, 1871 he witnessed the street shooting of Jim Gossan by Mike Casey. On his deathbed Gossan made a bequest of five thousand dollars to the man who avenged him by killing Casey. At the inquest Casey claimed self-defense, but Levy testified that Casey shot first. Casey challenged Levy to a fight and during the gunplay Levy grazed Casey in the skull, then shot him in the neck, and was busily bashing in his skull with his empty gun when a friend of Casey’s, Dave Neagle, ended the assault by shooting Levy in the jaw. Casey died, but Levy recovered, was cleared of any wrong doing, and collected the five grand. Neagle later became a well-respected lawman in Tombstone. Levy went on to become a “pistoliferous” gambler in Virginia City, Cheyenne, Leadville, Tombstone, and Tucson. In Cheyenne he got into a dispute over cards with another gambler, Charlie Harrison. Charlie was fast with a gun but when violence erupted between the two Charlie drew and fired twice, missing both times, while Levy drew his gun, took deliberate aim, and calmly blew Charlie into the nether regions. That gunfight gave rise to the TV character of Matt Dillon. When Levy arrived in Tombstone he was rumored to have survived 16 gunfights. Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson, perhaps on the advice of Dave Neagle, both regarded him as an extremely dangerous man. Levy did not remain long in Tombstone, also perhaps on the advice of Dave Neagle, before moving on to Tucson. In the Fashion Saloon on June 5, 1882 Levy got into a row with a faro dealer named John Murphy. They agreed upon the civilized recourse of fighting a duel the next day. Levy was not worried about it, but Murphy was when he learned of Levy’s deadly reputation. Later in the evening Murphy gathered in two pals the three of them ambushed Levy in front of the Palace Hotel and killed him graveyard dead. They claimed self-defense but Levy was unarmed and all three of them were taken into custody on charges of murder. They later bribed a jailer to let them escape, and the jailer told them of a great hideout he knew of named Colossal Cave. They disappeared into that cave to be heard from in Arizona nevermore again.
The first railroad train that got robbed in Arizona was the westbound #20 just west of Pantano Station. It took place before moonrise on April 27, 1887. Four bandits stopped the train by blowing up explosives on the track, using red lanterns and then firing their guns into the rail cars. They then persuaded the Wells Fargo Express Messenger, Charles F. Smith to open the express car, disconnected the passenger cars behind the express car, left the entire crew and the passengers stranded in the desert, then left aboard the engine. A safe distance down the line they ransacked the express and mail and made off with a fair amount of booty, but Smith had time to hide most of the valuables inside the stove and the bandits did not find it. They rode the engine to a point nearer the outskirts of Tucson, then threw the engine into reverse and sent it back toward Pantano. The posse quickly found the train where it had run out of steam and stopped but no trace of an escape route was found. While the posse was busily beating the bushes for the bandits, they were all back in town whooping it up in gin mills and consorting with soiled doves. Three more trains were robbed over in Texas during the summer, but on August 10, the Westbound #20 was robbed again at the same place west of Pantano, using the same methods as before except this time only half the number of sassy bandits was needed, the engine got derailed, and Smith refused to cooperate until he was beaten near senseless. As they were bringing Smith around to their way of thinking one of the two bandits mentioned that the trick with the stove wouldn’t go this time. The bandits made off with a fair amount of booty once again, but this time the soiled doves didn’t see any of it. The trick with the locomotive wouldn’t go this time either. With the locomotive disabled as it was they had left themselves stranded far from the nearest gin mill. It was country that they knew because they had planned the April robbery at a spring nearby. Luckily for them they made it back to that spring in the darkness without stepping on any rattlesnakes. Next morning they moved their hideout to Colossal Cave, but a sheriff’s posse soon arrived and blocked the entrance to the cave. The posse was hoping to wait there until the bandits surrendered, but those wily bandits snuck out a back way during a fierce rainstorm and went to Texas where they robbed another train in October. Two of them were killed by the express messenger and the rest finally brought to justice. The booty was never found and treasure legends inside Colossal Cave persist to this very day. The photo shows the entrance to Colossal Cave. At the time of those train robberies Grandpa Bill’s Dad, Lyman Wakefield, and his uncle, William Lewis Wakefield, operated the store and stage station at Pantano. Two years later Lyman was elected sheriff of Pima County.
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