In the event you were on a train, wagon, or stagecoach in America during the mid to late 1800’s, there was a looming concern that you would be attacked by highwaymen. I’ve detailed many such occurrences over the last year. Arizona Territory was no stranger to this trouble, and I think I’ve figured out why. Bandits are attracted to spinning wheels. Just can’t get enough of them.
In May of 1889, one band of outlaws were so enamored with spinning wheels that they brazenly attacked a military convoy.
Father and son outlaw team Gilbert and Wilfred Webb, had been trying to live on the straight-and-narrow by accepting a government contract to supply straw and barley to the Army. However, the two needed cash to make it happen. So, they hatched a plan to steal an Army payroll. Seems fitting.
The Webb’s, along with about ten local area cowboys, spent some time fortifying an area on the road between Fort Thomas and Fort Grant. When the fateful day came, Lt. Joseph Wham led a detachment of eleven Buffalo Soldiers out of Fort Grant with the Army payroll. Now, soldiers aren’t fond of having their hard-earned money stolen, so when the Webb gang opened fire on them. they fought back fiercely. However, the gang’s fortifications gave them the advantage and the soldiers were forced to retreat. Webb and his contingent escaped with the $28,000 in gold and silver.
This wasn’t a sad day for the Buffalo Soldiers, however. Although many were wounded, none were killed. Two were awarded the Medal of Honor for their bravery during the ambush.
Ah…but what of the robbers? Deputy Marshal William Kidder Meade and the Graham County Sheriff caught up with them and the Webb gang went on trial here in Tucson. Amazingly, no one was charged and the money wasn’t recovered. As you can guess, this was quite the outrage. Turns out that Gilbert Webb was actually a Mayor of Pima, Arizona. Scandalous! Somehow the story was spun as a Robin Hood kind of thing, and to keep the political parties appeased it was all swept under the rug.
Lt. Wham was blamed for the loss of the dough, but even he got off with a slap on the wrist.
So, no accountability anywhere, and some soldiers got recognized for their hard work. Maybe the Army should have just given the money to Webb to begin with. Would’ve saved all the trouble!