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


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


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


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.

Edwin B. Trafton - Will Someone Please Catch this Man

Part 5 of Edwin Trafton series by Zoe Ann Stoltz, Reference Historian


After the Yellowstone stagecoach robberies, Trafton spent time with his in-laws and took Minnie to Salt Lake City where he stole a new touring car. But government officials were following his trail, conducting interviews, and compiling evidence. Department of Justice Special Agent James Melrose was ultimately responsible for the arrest. Melrose followed up on rumors of the hold up of Mr. Martinez, traced the unusual horse tracks back to Trafton, and connected jewelry from the robbery to Trafton. An affidavit submitted by Minnie stating her husband had admitted to the robbery and that she later found jewelry in her husband’s possessions was the final nail in the coffin.  Trafton was taken into custody May 1915. [1]

The evidence against Edwin during the December 1915 trial in Cheyenne was overwhelming. Not only did Melrose present his carefully compiled evidence, but several of Trafton’s victims, who had sat for several hours and witnessed him threaten scores of fellow tourists, identified him. The prosecution was so confident that the photographs taken by Hammond and Squire were not even shown. Following the inevitable guilty verdict, he was sentenced to five years at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary. [2]
The Livingston Enterprise.
December 14, 1915

[1] “Yellowstone Park Bandit Arrested,” Livingston Enterprise, 25 May 1915, pg. 8. [2] "Yellowstone Park Bandit Arrested,” Livingston Enterprise, 25 May 1915 and “Man 63 Years Old Found Guilty of Sensational Yellowstone Hold-up,” The Kemmerer Republican, 10 December 1915; “Five Years in Pen for Trafton,” Livingston Enterprise, 14 December 1915, pg. 1.

Edwin B. Trafton - Released for Good Behavior

Part 6 of the Edwin Trafton series by Zoe Ann Stoltz, Reference Historian


Teton Valley Magazine, 3 November 20015,
accessed May 4, 2017,
Although Edwin Trafton was convicted of the Yellowstone stagecoach robberies during his 1915 trial, he didn't serve his entire five year sentence. Early in October 1919, Edwin wrote to James Melrose, the Department of Justice Special Agent whose investigation led to Edwin's arrest.  The letter explained that due to his good behavior Edwin was being released from prison a bit earlier than planned. He assured Melrose that he had spent his time in prison making plans for his future. [1]

However, this time Edwin couldn't return to his wife. After divorcing Trafton while he was in prison, Minnie added insult to injury by marrying a policeman and left Idaho with their 14 year old son, Edwin Jr.  Additionally by August of 1920, all four of his daughters were married. [2] Instead Edwin made his way to California perhaps in hopes of finding family or of selling his much-exaggerated life story as a movie script.

On a hot day in August of 1922, in need of escaping the Los Angeles heat, he ordered an ice cream soda.  While sipping the cool drink, Edwin B. Trafton died.   An inglorious end to the man who incapable of leading a life without larceny.  But, as the Yellowstone Bandit, he gave 165 Yellowstone stagecoach tourists stories enough to fill a lifetime.

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[1] “Yellowstone Bandit Released by Jail,”  Northern Wyoming Herald, 8 October 1919, pg. 4. 
[2] Wayne Moss, “Friend or Faux?”  Teton Valley Magazine, 3 November 2015, http://tetonvalleymagazine.com/history-stories/friendorfaux/ (30 May, 2017) ; Utah & Montana Marriage License Indexes. 

June 15, 2017

EXTRA! Montana Newspaper Stories 1864-1922: The Railroad Arrives!

The first rail line into Montana, the Utah & Northern Railroad over Monida Pass to Butte, was completed in 1881. Together with the completion of the Northern Pacific Railway in 1883, it heralded a new day of transportation for both people and goods. The Federal government greatly aided the railroads by awarding them tracts of land along the expected routes. The railways connected Montana towns with each other and with the rest of the nation, and they facilitated the expansion of mining and manufacturing.

Key dates

1864—The Pacific Railroad Act of 1864 charters construction of a Northern Pacific link from Lake Superior to the Pacific Coast.
1881—The Utah & Northern Railroad drives its first train into Butte, successfully linking Montana with the transcontinental line in northern Utah.
1883—A ceremony at Gold Creek, Montana Territory, commemorates the completion of the Northern Pacific Railway. Former President Ulysses S. Grant attends.

From the newspapers

To find more

Search for the following terms in combination, proximity, or as phrases: northern pacific railroad, utah & northern railroad, great northern railway

June 8, 2017

Ratifying the 1972 Constitution

by Natasha Hollenbach, Digital Services Technician

This post is in honor of the 45th anniversary of the election to ratify the 1972 Montana Constitution.  All images of Con Con Monty come from The Proposed 1972 Constitution for the State of Montana published as a 12-page supplement in 13 daily newspapers across the state.[1]

Pundits have lauded the 1972 constitution as a progressive model for government covering issues as broad as privacy and environmental protections. In addition, the range of delegates at the Constitutional Convention has also been the topic of much discussion.  However, those of you who remember the election to ratify it in June 1972 may recall a different story…

During the Con Con, the Public Information Committee worked with the media to ensure that the public stayed informed on the development of the new constitution.  As part of this work, they set aside part of the Con Con budget to be used after the convention to educate the public about the new constitution in the run up to the vote on ratification.[2] Prior to adjournment, delegates adopted Resolution 14 that create a committee with the authority to complete the administrative and public education duties of the Con Con using the previously appropriated funds.  However, as soon as the Con Con adjourned opponents of Resolution 14 challenged the right of the committee’s use of the money before the Supreme Court, arguing that access to the money ended upon the conclusion of the constitutional convention. The supporters of Resolution 14 pointed out that the Con Con had an obligation to inform the public about the proposed constitution. The Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs since voters had already received the proposed constitution along with explanations of what changed fulfilling the public education requirement.[3]

Instead delegates raised independent funds to support education efforts and donated their own time to travel around the state boosting for the new constitution at town hall meetings, panel discussions, and organization meetings. Not all delegates supported ratification however.  Even though all 100 delegates signed the final document, after the Con Con several campaigned against ratification [4] and they weren’t alone in their opposition.  Across the state citizens wrote letters to their local newspapers expressing concern about the proposed constitution. Whether individuals focused on the lack of a maximum property tax levy, the possibility of a gun registration law, ability of the legislature to pass a sales tax, or any other specific issue, Walter A. Stamm in a letter to the Daily Tribune-Examiner of Dillon published June 1, 1972 sums up the main concern.  “Some advocates say that the old constitution had too many restrictions; I would say that the new constitution 
has too few limitations.” 

On June 6, Montanans went to the polls for two separate elections: the constitution and the primary. The constitution vote was close. The returns showed 116, 415 (50.55%) in favor and 113,873 (49.44%) against the new constitution. A difference of only 2542 votes.  Of the 56 counties, only 12 returned a majority in favor of the new constitution.  Opponents of the new constitution argued that since the 1889 Constitution required “a majority of the electors voting at the election” for ratification and given that 6,756 ballots went unvoted, the vote failed to pass.  Governor Forest H. Anderson declared the election valid, the Montana Supreme Court ended up validating the election results in a 3-2 decision on August 18, 1972.[5]

[1] These images come specifically from the May 19, 1972 issue of Daily Tribune-Examiner from Dillon.  Images provided by MONTANA NEWSPAPERS, Montana Historical Society, Helena, Montana.  Other newspapers which included this supplement are The Billings Gazette, Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Montana Standard, Great Falls Tribune, Daily Ravalli Republican, Havre Daily News, Helena Independent, Kalispell Inter Lake, Lewistown Daily News, Livingston Enterprise, Miles City Star, and the Missoulian.
[2] Montana Centennial Commission – 1989.  100 Delegates Montana Constitutional Convention of 1972. Dallas: Taylor Publishing Company, 1989.
[3] Supreme Court Case No. 12260. State Ex Rel. Kvallen vs. Graybill. 1972. Accessed in the Montana Supreme Court Cases database, Available through the State Law Library of Montana.  https://searchcourts.mt.gov/
[4] “More Delegates Say No to Document.” Daily Tribune-Examiner (Dillon, Mont.), 01 June 1972, located at <http://montananewspapers.org/lccn/sn85053036/1972-06-01/ed-1/seq-1/>, image provided by MONTANA NEWSPAPERS, Montana Historical Society, Helena, Montana.
[5] Supreme Court Case No. 12309. State ex rel. Casmore v. Anderson. 1972. Accessed in the Montana Supreme Court Cases database, Available through the State Law Library of Montana.  https://searchcourts.mt.gov/