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Can you find east Idaho’s blood-soaked treasure?

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The stagecoach at the center of this story possibly looked the one in this picture, which was taken around 1913 in Yellowstone National Park. | Courtesy Library of Congress

Somewhere in east Idaho is a bloody treasure worth millions of dollars. That’s the legend, anyway.

The treasure is gold that was last seen in transport between Virginia City, Montana, to Salt Lake City by Overland Stage Line in 1865.

This robbery was brought to you by the Boise-based Picket Coral Gang, led by either Brockie Jack or Jim Locket. Also in the group was Willy Whittmore and “Big” Dave Updyke … who happened to be the Ada County sheriff. (And you complain about politicians now!) Updyke was widely believed to be corrupt, but he had escaped both the law and vigilantes in the past.

The inside man was Frank (or Fred) Williams. Some sources say he was the driver. Others say he was a passenger. (If you haven’t guessed it yet, variations of this story abound.)

The outlaws hid in a narrow place in the Portneuf Canyon — aptly named Robber’s Roost — and waited.

The robbery

Here’s what happened, according to Malad City’s website:

On July 26, 1865, the coach reached the stream near the place that the three outlaws were hiding in the brush. Slowing down, the coach traveled through a stream of water, went up the bank, and suddenly stopped because across the road there were the boulders the bandits had placed to stop the coach. The outlaws appeared from their hiding places with guns raised. From the coach, one of the passengers, a professional gambler named Sam Martin, poked his head out of the side door with a revolver in his hand. Aiming at Whittmore, he pulled the trigger and shot off Whittmore’s left index finger. Enraged, Whittmore shouted, “It’s a trap!” and began to empty his rifle into the side of the stagecoach. In a desperate attempt to escape, Charlie Parks (either the driver or the employee riding shotgun) tried to break through the brush, but Brockie Jack shot both of the lead horses and the stage stopped dead in its tracks.

The injured Parks scrambled from the coach and dashed towards the woods. In the meantime, Fred Williams, the outlaw accomplice, and passenger James B. Brown, a Virginia City saloonkeeper, were also able to escape into the nearby timbers.

Brockie Jack grabbed the rifle out of Whittmore’s hands and he approached the stagecoach, where he found all of the passengers dead. Inside were the bodies of Sam Martin, the professional gambler who had shot Whittmore; Mr. and Mrs. Andy Ditmar, a Mormon couple who had been visiting relatives in Bannack, Montana; Jess Harper, an ex-Confederate soldier who was on his way to visit his parents in Sacramento, California; and a man named L. F. Carpenter, who was headed for San Francisco to catch a steamship to New Orleans. All were dead except Carpenter, who was injured and feigned his death in order to survive.

The outlaws then skedaddled with their loot.

Running from the law

Jake Putnam of the Ada County Historic Preservation Council told KTVB in 2011 that the gang probably didn’t have the gold for long — there could have been 800 pounds of the shiny stuff! Much of the gold was stamped and traceable as well.

“They wanted to get rid of that gold as quick as possible,” he said.

Meanwhile, the survivors managed to make it back to civilization. They told their story and identified the culprits, and the insurance company offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to recovery of the gold and capture of the robbers.

Later, authorities caught up to Whittmore — the hotheaded bandit — in Arizona, while he was on a drinking binge. He was shot while resisting arrest. And vigilantes found and hanged Williams in Colorado. Neither man had much money on him.

As for Sheriff Updyke, citizens were getting tired of his kingpin shenanigans, stemming from this and other incidents. His past caught up to him in a cabin near Boise, where the Payette Vigilantes found him. Like the others, he wasn’t exactly loaded with cash.

“They asked him, they said, ‘Where’s the gold? What happened to the gold?’ Big Dave told them to go to hell,” said Putnam. “Someone grabbed a noose, they threw it around a tree, and they hung him.”

Where is the treasure?

If it exists — that is, if the legendary robbery actually took place, if the gang didn’t spend it all, and if an enterprising but secretive treasure hunter hasn’t already found it — it’s probably in the Portneuf Wildlife Management Area.

“I think 10 to 15 miles would be the limit from that robbery site,” said Putnam.

Other versions of the story have the gold waiting to be found farther south at the City of Rocks National Reserve.

Morning Glory Spire, a popular climbing spot in City of Rocks National Reserve. | Wikimedia Commons

What happens if you find it?

It’s complicated.

The insurance company paid for the loss, so representatives of the original owner probably don’t have much of a claim. But you never know who may come out of the woodwork.

It also depends on where you find the treasure. Different rules apply to treasure found on federal lands, state-owned lands, local jurisdictions and private property. If you’re lucky enough to find the gold, get a good lawyer. (Check out this article from Time for more on the issue.)

You’ll also want an accountant on your side when Uncle Sam demands his due. At least nowadays, most government officials won’t rob you at gunpoint …

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