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Historical True Crime June 9, 2004



The most detailed description of an Idaho stagecoach robbery that has survived was written by one of the robbers himself. John W. Miller wrote this confession, preserved in Ada County criminal records:

"We had several talks about robbing stages prior to Feb. 2, 1876, but made no definite arrangements until a night or two before then."

These lines are part of a lengthy account by Miller of how he met and teamed up with a handsome rogue named Tarlton B. Scott to hold up the Boise to Silver City stage.

"We, Scott and me, went to the first bridge crossing Boise River on the night of Feb. 2, 1876, armed with shotguns and revolvers each. We were concealed when the stage come along, that is I was, I was on the left side of the road going from Boise City, Scott was on the right side between the house and the bridge. I was lying down concealed behind a log. Scott ordered the stage to halt, ... the stage stopped and Scott said 'throw her off.' The driver threw off the express box and Scott said drive on. After the stage went on, I guarded the bridge while Scott opened the box. He opened the box with an old axe—it did not take him very long. Scott took the contents out of the box, and took charge of it for our common use. We found money in the box. There was $345 and six bits in the box, I think. There was some gold, some silver and some currency. There was one $50 gold note, I know, and two $50 bills. Scott counted the money after we went to the cabin."

Before he was arrested and brought to trial the daring Scott had robbed two more stagecoaches all by himself that spring. On December 26, 1876, he was sentenced to serve seven years in the Territorial Penitentiary at hard labor. That probably meant quarrying sandstone from the hills west of Table Rock. These quarry workings are still visible, as are wagon trails coming down to the Old Idaho Penitentiary. Prisoners with teams of horses hauled the rough stone to shops there where it was cut into blocks for building. Much of it was used to build the penitentiary itself.

John Miller, from whose confession we have quoted, was given five years at hard labor, even though he had only participated in the first of Scott's holdups. He obviously got no credit for his full confession. Apparently the formula for sentencing was five years for one robbery and one year for each robbery thereafter.