December 27, 2015

1894 Gold Heist Foiled

James M. Dodson

While gold was stored at area mines, it was well guarded. But when it came time to ship the gold to one of the banks in Prescott, it was at its most vulnerable to robbery.

News of any gold shipments from the mines was impossible to keep secret. Newspapers would report on it. So when a gang of desperadoes from New Mexico suddenly showed up in town, the owner of the Little Jessie mine, John Jones, decided to take precautions for his upcoming gold shipment to the Prescott Bank.

He hired former Prescott marshal (effectively chief of police), James M. Dodson to escort and insure the safety of the gold shipment from the Big Bug area mine.

Soon, "Dodson's skill as a sleuth uncovered an advance plot." (*1) He learned that the gang of would-be-robbers had recruited the driver of the gold shipment!

However, instead of changing drivers, Dodson decided to hatch a ruse to foil the robbery.

Dodson had to plan carefully and quietly.  To help himself, Dodson hired a 23 year-old man named Homer Wood who mentored Dodson and whom Dodson could trust. He told Wood of his plan and Wood promised to carry out the ruse to the letter.

First, Dodson let it leak out when the shipment would take place. Then, at the appointed time, (5 a.m.) when the empty buggy would leave Prescott for the mine, Dodson showed up pretending to be hopelessly drunk.

The driver of the buggy, having been recruited by the robbers, must have thought that the heist was going to be easy when Dodson told him and Wood to go ahead without him.

Outside Prescott, the road forked at "3 Mile House." The left-fork was the easier, faster route to the mine. The right-fork went over many mountains and hills through the placer mine claims around Lynx Creek. It was at this fork that Wood leveled his gun at the driver and told him to pull off the trail into the brush to hide.

"The gun at his back forced the driver to follow the command and from behind a clump of trees, they waited noiselessly. The sound of horses finally reached them and they silently watched the dimly-lighted road as two buggies passed and took the left fork of the road." Two of the would be thieves were seen with rifles by their sides as they drove by. (*1)

Wood and the driver continued to wait. Dodson then rode up to Wood and the fast buggy and ordered the driver to take the right fork. The driver protested, but Dodson revealed that he knew the driver was part of the gang and forced him to continue ahead on the more difficult trail.

After first light, the two crooks who took the easier left-fork found that there was no buggy traveling ahead of them.  They then surmised that the gold buggy took the other fork.  Dodson hoped that the robbers would think they would use the same, more difficult "backroad" to the bank, setting up an ambush on the wrong trail. But Dodson couldn't be sure his plan would work. He still needed to be cautious.

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When the buggy reached the Little Jessie mine, it was loaded with the gold. Jones, the owner, got in the with the driver. They were followed by two armed men in a wagon, with Dodson on horseback and young Wood covering the rearguard. This time, they took the easier, faster trail into town. They kept 100 yards between each one of them to better defend against an ambush.

However, "no incident marred the return to Prescott, for Dodson's ruse had worked." (*1) The robbers did indeed set up an ambush for a gold buggy that would never come.

"As for Dodson, even though his plan was perfect to the last detail and the gang fell into his trap so completely, he seemed somewhat disappointed that a fight couldn't have evolved." (*1)

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Later in life, Dodson moved to Phoenix for his remaining years, where he died May 10th, 1907. His obituary stated: "He participated in the border warfare in Missouri during the war between the states and was a Confederate soldier. For about twelve years he was city marshal or chief of police of Prescott and had a well established reputation as a fearless officer." (*2)

Dodson was not only fearless, he proved himself to be clever as well.

Tourist Tips:

The Prescott National Bank is now a historic landmark in downtown Prescott at the corner of Cortez and Gurley streets. CLICK HERE for information & history of the bank.

(*1) Prescott Evening Courier; March 24, 1950, page 2 col. 2.
(*2) Prescott Evening Courier May 13, 1907 page 1 col. 5


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