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Texas | Columns

"Hindsights" by Michael Barr

Looking back at:
Robbing
the Fredericksburg Stage

Michael Barr
Mark Twain's book Roughing It paints an ugly picture of travel by stagecoach. The ride was bumpy, dusty and claustrophobic. Passengers had no time to relax and enjoy the scenery. They were too busy holding on for dear life. Every bump in the road was a jolt to the kidneys.

Riding on the tailgate of a pickup across a plowed field comes to mind.

Stagecoach companies made little effort to accommodate passengers. Mail contracts paid the bills. If a few passengers went along, they were tolerated. They could even sit down if they could find room among the stacks of mail bags.

Not only was the ride a pain in the hindquarters, bandits lurked in the darkness, like hungry cats at a bird bath.

In March 1882, the architect Alfred Giles was traveling by stagecoach to Fredericksburg from San Antonio. Giles designed the Gillespie County Courthouse and was on his way to Fredericksburg to put the finishing touches on his latest project.
Alfred Giles portrait
Alfred Giles
Courtesy Institute of Texas Cultures

The stage left San Antonio early that morning. It traveled to Boerne; then swung north in the direction of Sisterdale With a little luck, the stage would slide to a stop in front of the Nimitz Hotel by 11 o'clock that evening

It was a beautiful moonlit night when the stage reached the Gillespie County line. Giles, the only passenger, rode on top with the driver.

At 9:15 that evening, 3 and miles southwest of Fredericksburg, two bandits leaped from the brush and ordered the stage to halt.

A quick look at Google Maps puts the location near the Pedernales crossing on the Old San Antonio Road.

One bandit stood 10 feet away, as still as a tombstone - his nickel-plated six-shooter, full cocked, gleaming in the moonlight. The bandit-in-charge checked the coach for passengers and when he found none, ordered Giles and the driver to climb down from the driver's box.

Giles, the wealthy London architect, took the episode in stride. He had been in Texas long enough to know that a stage holdup, while somewhat unnerving and certainly annoying, was one of the hazards of frontier travel.

On this night the bandit-in-charge was unusually charitable. He took $20 from Giles, but allowed the architect to keep his watch and diamond ring - gifts from his mother in London.

After standing for 15 minutes with hands in the air, Giles complained that his arms were tired. The bandit let Giles lower his hands to his side.

When Giles remarked that the cold night air had given him a chill, the bandit allowed Giles to retrieve his overcoat from inside the coach.

"He even helped me on with it," Giles told a San Antonio reporter.

Except to check for weapons, the bandits never bothered the driver. They were men of principle. They never robbed from working stiffs like themselves.

Then, just as the bandit-in-charge ripped into a mail sack, he heard the sound of pounding hooves and creaking harnesses coming from the direction of Fredericksburg. The night stage to San Antonio was right on schedule.

"Quick, get under that tree," the bandit told Giles and the driver, "Remember, if shooting starts, you'll get it first."

"If the shooting starts," Giles assured the bandit, "I'm getting BEHIND the tree."

The bandit waived the southbound stage to a halt. He ordered the driver and one passenger to step down; then checked both men for weapons. To his surprise there wasn't a firearm in the entire crowd.

The bandit quickly rifled through the mail. He found a small amount of money and was grateful for it.

"God is good to the kid," he said as he put the money in his pocket. "Every damned fool has his profession. Stage robbing is mine."

He then ordered drivers back to their boxes and when all were seated called out "Now drive like hell."

The smile on his face reflected, in his mind at least, a job well done. He and his partner robbed two stagecoaches in one night without firing a shot.

A stage robbery, after all, was just business. No need to be unpleasant about it.

Michael Barr
"Hindsights"
May 15, 2018 Column

Sources:
"The Stage Robbery - As Related by Mr. Alfred Giles," San Antonio Evening Light, April 3, 1882.

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