Hollywood Holdups and Locomotive Larcenyby John Scott on Feb. 07, 2013, under Uncategorized
This week I had the thrill of being featured in a western movie filming at Old Tucson Studios. The film is titled Hot Bath an’ a Stiff Drink, and I play a guard who is forced to relinquish the money he’s protecting during a train robbery. The stellar crew was able to fix up the famous Reno train and bring it to life belching smoke and hissing steam. For a western nut, that’s one for the bucket list.
When working in film or television, you have to learn to wait. There was a lot of down time and it got my mind to thinking about this entry. After my wonderful experience, I did some research and found an interesting train robbery that occurred in our great state.
On March 20, 1889, four masked men stopped the Sante Fe Railroad near Canyon Diablo and stole $1500. Remember Canyon Diablo? Outlaw haven? Marshals don’t live long? Shootouts daily? Well, it was also the stomping grounds for the Hashknife cowboy outfit, and they just happened to be the culprits.
At the time, Yavapai County’s sheriff was Buckey O’Neill, and he was put on the trail. The outlaws were easy for Buckey to track, since snowfall shows hoof prints pretty well. When the posse finally caught up to them, they were in Utah. After a five-day running battle, the bandits gave it up near a town called Cannonville. Nobody was killed and the money was recovered.
This event put Buckey O’Neill at the top of the charts, and he continues to be a hit in Old West history to this day. In an interview with Tucson’s Star newspaper about the train robbers, Buckey described them as, “the worst desperadoes that ever operated in this western country.” An interesting side note: one of the alleged bandits, James Smith, leapt out of moving train while being extradited to Yuma Prison. His escaped was short-lived, however. James was re-captured in Texas and successfully ended up in Yuma. If Van Heflin had been there to make sure Smith made it to Yuma the first time, none of it would have happened.
My research on this told me everything but how the train was stopped. In Hot Bath an’ a Stiff Drink, the Reno is stopped by a wagon piled high with large crates parked on the tracks. That seems a more likely scenario than riding along side on horseback and jumping onto the train. Maybe the bandits had someone on the train when it left the station. Maybe he was dressed like a girl to not arise suspicion. Maybe I ought to write movie scripts.
Since the iron horse’s invention, folks have been robbing it, and it is one of the most recognizable of Old West scenarios. Train holdups continue to enter into the plots of Hollywood westerns. They add a level of thrill that a bank robbery can’t. I imagine it was that way for the bad guys, too. Nothing like stopping a 200-ton moving vehicle, and making it submit!