Placerville Heist an Important Part of Local History
● By Jerrie Beard
photo courtesy of jcs-group.com
California gold is reported to have helped finance the Union Army during the Civil War; it was silver bullion from Nevada, however, that Southern sympathizers from the San Jose area were after when they robbed two stagecoaches in 1864. The holdup occurred at what is now referred to as Bullion Bend on the Pony Express Trail in present day Pollock Pines.
On the evening of June 30, 1864, eight men armed with shotguns and pistols stopped two of the stages of the Pioneer Stage Line about 2.5 miles east of Sportsman’s Hall. The men made off with several bags of bullion and the treasure box of Wells Fargo & Company. They left the stage driver with a receipt stating, “This is to certify that I have received from Wells Fargo & Company the sum of $___ cash, for the purpose of outfitting recruits enlisted in California for the Confederate States Army. R. Henry Ingrim, Capt. Comg. Co. C.S.A. June 1864.”
Upon their arrival in Placerville, the stage drivers alerted Sheriff William Rogers of the robbery. He and Deputy Sheriff Joseph Staples, Constables Van Eaton and Ranney, and several policemen and attaches of the stage company were soon in pursuit of the robbers.
On July 1, two of the bandits were arrested without incident at Thirteen Mile House (near the present location of the Chevron station on Pony Express Trail in Pollock Pines). The men had overslept and were arrested while still in bed.
Deputy Sheriff Staples and Constables Van Eaton and Ranney tracked the rest of the bandits to the head of Pleasant Valley where Van Eaton headed back to gather reinforcements. Staples and Ranney continued on to Somerset House on the road to Grizzly Flat. They found the six men lodged at the house, and Staples stormed their room calling for their surrender. He was fatally shot in the ensuing gunfight, and Ranney was wounded as he attempted to escape. The robbers then took the officers’ money, watches, weapons and mounts, and fled—leaving one of their companions, Thomas Pool, behind severely wounded.
Pool provided information on the conspiracy, as well as names and descriptions of the outlaws. They were tracked to San Jose and Santa Clara County, and within a month, all were either arrested or killed in the attempt to capture them. With Pool’s assistance, all of the stolen bullion and most of the gold dust was recovered and the Confederate organization was broken up.
In November 1864, Pool and another of the robbers were tried in Placerville. Both were convicted and Pool was sentenced to hang for the murder of Joseph Staples. The remainder of the men were tried in Santa Clara County and acquitted.
Deputy Sheriff Staples, the first El Dorado County Deputy Sheriff killed in the line of duty, was buried on Saturday, July 2, in Placerville’s Union Cemetery on Bee Street. Rev. Mr. Pierce officiated the funeral, which was held at the Neptune Engine Company No. 2 firehouse. Staples’ headstone reads: “Joseph M. Staples, Deputy Sheriff of El Dorado County; killed in attempting to arrest the Placerville Stage Robbers, July 1, 1864; aged 38 years.”