June 22, 2017

Edwin B. Trafton, "...aside from his outlaw traits was a pleasant companion..."

Zoe Ann Stoltz, MHS Reference Historian, came across a fascinating true crime story from 1914 Yellowstone Park.  It seems there was a man, Edwin B. Trafton, who robbed at least 15 stage coaches on the same day.  As her research developed, it became clear that this was but one of Edwin's exploits.  Instead of trying to reduce him to a single post, we're trying something different today at Montana History Revealed. Edwin's story has been divided into a 6 part series.  Read one or read them all.

Delinquent Boy and Horse Thief
Stealing from Momma
How Do You Rob 15+ Stagecoaches in 1 Day
Talking with the Tourists
Will Someone Please Catch This Man
Released for Good Behavior

Edwin B. Trafton - Delinquent Boy and Horse Thief

Part 1 of Edwin Trafton series by Zoe Ann Stoltz, Reference Historian

Born in New Brunswick, Canada in February 1857, Edward B. Trafton  discovered his affinity for theft early in life. At the age of ten, Edwin  was in the Denver Home for Delinquent Boys for theft.   After his release, he lived and worked with his mother and step father at their Denver boarding house, purchased with the proceeds from the sale of their Canadian farms.  For several years Edwin honed his larceny skills by stealing from the boarders.   Although often discovered, his mother Annie Knight continuously protected him from the law and consequences.   At the age of 20, Edwin became convinced that he was destined to become rich in the South Dakota Black Hills. After stealing food, cash, and a horse from his parents, he headed north. [1]

Not long after discovering that success in the gold fields demanded work, Trafton settled in Teton Valley, Wyoming.  Although ostensibly farming, he soon joined the Conant Gang of horse thieves.   By 1887, however, area ranchers tired of losing livestock took steps to round up the gang.  Found guilty, Trafton served just two years of a twenty-five year sentence. As explained by long time area resident, Trafton “ . . . was a clever fellow and aside from his outlaw traits was a pleasant companion. He elicited sympathy from people and petitions were soon signed for his release.” [2]

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[1] Wayne Moss, “Friend or Faux?”  Teton Valley Magazine, 3 November 2015, http://tetonvalleymagazine.com/history-stories/friend-or-faux/ (30 May, 2017) 
[2] Ibid. 

Edwin B. Trafton - Stealing from Momma

Part 2 of Edwin Trafton series by Zoe Ann Stoltz, Reference Historian

Previous

After serving time for horse theft as part of the Conant gang, Edwin Trafton spent the next two decades attempting to balance his criminal tendencies and family life. He married Minnie Lyman on July 3, 1891. They had five children, four girls and one son.

Following another two year prison sentence, this time for cattle rustling, the couple attempted homesteading, sheep ranching and operated a boarding house in Idaho’s Teton Basin. [1] Edwin even served as a postal carrier for the area.
Herald Democrat (Leadville, CO), May 3, 1910 p1
Retrieved from
Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection

In the fall of 1909, Edwin and Minnie now living in Denver set their sights on Annie Knight, Edwin's mother.  He convinced Annie to allow him to take control of several thousand dollars as well as the sale of her house. Surprisingly the couple soon reported that a satchel containing several thousand dollars had been stolen from them during a ride in a street car. [2] Maybe Annie finally realized the truth about her son.

The following May, Edwin and Minnie were found guilty of fraud and the theft of $7200.00 from his mother. [3] Minnie was released in February, 1912, and Edwin the fall of 1913. Reunited after serving their respective sentences, they attempted to settle in Rupert, Idaho.


[1] Wayne Moss, “Friend or Faux?”  Teton Valley Magazine, 3 November 2015, http://tetonvalleymagazine.com/history-stories/friendorfaux/ (30 May, 2017); Land Patent
[2] “Careless Couple Robbed of $10,000 on a Denver Street Car,” Cheyenne State Leader, 2 October 1909, pg.1 & 2 and “Sends Her Son to Prison,” Colorado Springs Gazette, 3 May 1910.
[3] “Sent to Prison for Stealing from Mother,” The Laramie Republican, 10 May 1910, pg. 1, and “Sends Her Son to Prison,” Colorado Springs Gazette, 3 May 1910. 

Edwin B. Tafton - How Do You Rob 15+ Stagecoaches in 1 Day

Part 3 of Edwin Trafton series by Zoe Ann Stoltz, Reference Historian

Previous


Although Edwin Trafton tried to settle in Rupert, Idaho with his wife after their release from prison, a life of crime still called. Within months, he had disappeared from a legitimate job at Jackson Lake near Moran, leaving a larcenous trail behind.  As he departed from Jackson, he stole two horses, a roan and a gray. Unknown to Edwin, one of the horse had thrown a shoe leaving unusual tracks. On his way into Yellowstone, Edwin shared a camp site with J. Martinez. Before parting ways with his host, Edwin robbed Martinez of food and his best saddle. [1]

Postcard showing Old Faithful Lodge, circa 1909
On the morning of Wednesday, July 29, 1914, Edwin pulled a rifle on the first of at least 15 tourist-filled stagecoaches (reports vary from 15 to 26). The tour coaches, which left at 15-20 minute intervals from Old Faithful lodge, traditionally paused at the Shoshone Point promontory to allow occupants to enjoy the lake view.  As each coach approached, Trafton ordered the occupants to disembark and the drivers to pull the coaches ahead.  He instructed the tourists to place their valuables onto a coat spread on the ground. Trafton then forced his victims to sit on the ground. He repeated the process with each successive stagecoach until finally an oncoming driver recognized the situation and turned to warn authorities. At that point, Edwin disappeared into the woods completely unconcerned by the fact that British tourist Estelle Hammond and Anna Squire of Illinois had taken photos of him sorting his loot.

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[1] “Wonderland Tourists Relate Thrilling Hold-up Stories,” The Livingston Enterprise, 1 August 1914, pg. 1 & 8 and “Yellowstone Park Bandit Arrested,” Livingston Enterprise, 25 May 1915.

Edwin B. Trafton - Talking with the Tourists

Part 4 of Edwin Trafton series by Zoe Ann Stoltz, Reference Historian

Previous

The Livingston Enterprise
August 1, 1914
 A small crowd gathered at Livingston's Northern Pacific depot to ask victims of Edwin Trafton's Yellowstone Park stagecoach robberies for their first hand accounts. Many of them were anxious to share their adventures. [1] Their stories ranged from horrific to hilarious.

While he assured the stagecoach drivers that he was “not going to take their money,” because they “worked as hard” as he did [2], the passengers were not so lucky. After a self-professed suffragist settled herself on the roadside, she lost control of her anger with a shout at Trafton that “this is what we women get . . . when compelled to let a little man like you to take away our rights and force us to give up our money.” [3]  The bandit scolded the suffragist that she was “butting into his game.” [4]   He then ordered her to return to the coach and forfeit any remaining cash.  The tirade cost her $75.00.

During a confrontation with a Missouri woman who refused to leave her coach and children, the bandit reassured her that he “loved children,” and would not hurt them.  Although he guaranteed the children’s safety, he did not hesitate to take their mother’s money.


[1] “Wonderland Tourists Relate Thrilling Hold-up Stories,” The Livingston Enterprise, 1 August 1914, pg. 1 & 8. 
[2] “Wonderland Tourists Relate Thrilling Hold-up Stories,” The Livingston Enterprise, 1 August 1914, pg. 1 & 8 and “Yellowstone Park Bandit Arrested,” Livingston Enterprise, 25 May 1915.
[3] Ibid., pg. 8.
[4] Ibid., pg. 8.