The only public transportation before 1869 was the Stagecoach, and most areas were served by the interconnecting stage lines. Naturally they were an obvious and tempting target for outlaws, especially those who were just breaking into the bandito business. In 1869, when the transcontinental railroad was completed, the stagecoach was the only form of public transportation available. The stagecoach system remained the best way to travel most of the remote areas in the Rocky Mountain west into the early 1900’s.
The best travel money could buy until 1869! Since many of the local mining companies transported their payrolls by stagecoach, criminals had a pretty good chance of riding away with gold dust, gold bars, and gold coins after robbing a stagecoach. These valuables were usually stored under the stagecoach driver’s seat in a strong box. Hollywood writers to the contrary, irregardless of the value of the strong box, bandits would nearly always take money, jewelry, watches, or any other valuables from the passengers.
As a stagecoach traveled along a trail or road far away from any town or stage station, robbers, highwaymen, road agents, bandits could come out of their carefully selected ambush spots and hiding places, point their guns at the driver, order him to stop, then they would demand that he throw down the strong box. The bandits would then divide up the loot (most stagecoach strongboxes weighed between 100 and 150 pounds when filled) and then ride away.
In 1879, the stagecoach line in Leadville Colorado started having a lot of trouble with robberies. The stage would sometimes carry gold shipments between Leadville and Buena Vista, Colorado. Somehow, a lone gunman seemed to always know when there would be gold on the stage, even though this information was a closely held secret and only known to the local head of the stage line and the Sheriff’s deputies. The stagecoach company decided to catch the thief by planting false information among the staff and a few of the sheriff’s deputies.
As had been expected the masked road agent came out of hiding to ambush the stage. Several of the guards that had been hidden inside the stagecoach jumped out and shot the robber. When they pulled off the robber’s mask, they discovered that it was the wife of one of the deputies! The deputy was so shocked and embarrassed, he buried her beside the trail where she was killed instead of bringing her body back to town. Her headstone can be seen from the highway a few miles south of Leadville: My Wife Jane Kirkham died March 7, 1879 Aged 38 years, 3 months, 7 days.