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Masked Robbers Trammel Train in Ballard

HistoryLink.org Essay 2275 : Printer-Friendly Format

Romantic tales of bank heists, train robberies, and hold ups were favorites of American newspapers, large and small, in the early part of the twentieth century. Among these is a story set in Ballard, then an incorporated city. On October 6, 1905, a Leavenworth (Washington) newspaper, Echo, covered a train robbery that occurred four miles outside of Ballard. In 1982, United Artists studio brought to the big screen the story of Bill Miner, the Grey Fox, one of the perpetrators identified in this account. The 1905 Ballard train robbery postdates the popular landmark film, The Great Train Robbery, produced in 1903.

Following is the Echo account of the 1905 train robbery:

The Overland Limited Held Up By Masked Robbers Near Ballard

"The express car looked as if it had passed through a Kansas cyclone, but knowing that this country is not visited by elemental terrors of this kind, another explanation was sought, when it was learned that the train had passed through the hands of a hold-up gang four miles north of Ballard.

"The train was under the charge of Conductor Joe Grant and Engineer John Calder with Fireman Edward Goulett, all of whom are well known here. When the train pulled into Ballard, two tramps who were riding on the back of the tender helped what they took to be a fellow tramp to a place beside themselves.

"This fellow crawled on top of the tender and covered the engineer with a gun and told him to bring the train to a stand at a certain point, where a campfire burned beside the track. They then made the fireman go to the express car and ask the messenger to open the car and get out. This the fireman did, at the same time being careful to tell the messenger who he was.

"They exploded dynamite on the safe. Twice they blew the safe without result. The third time they put some twenty sticks of dynamite on the safe and touched it off. This time the safe yielded. They then put their swag in a sack and made off. The time consumed in getting into the safe was about one and a half hours. The two tramps were ordered to get back into the coaches. Accounts differ as to the number engaged in the hold-up. From the best information obtainable there must have been as many as three. While the safe cracking was going on a confederate was taking a shot at any one who was imprudent enough to open a window to see what was the matter.

"It was reported that a large amount of money was obtained but this the railroad company denies. At the point where the train stopped the track runs along the shore of the sound and it is believed the desperados made their escape in a boat. The night was very dark and a heavy rain was falling all the time. Engineer P. J. McGregor with his wife and children were on the train returning from Seattle, and tell many amusing stories of the behavior of the passengers, who expected to be asked to deliver their valuables also.

"No trace of the outlaws has been found by the officers. An investigation convinces the knowing ones that the job was done by two of the smoothest and most desperate hold-up men known -- Jake Terry and Bill Miner, the two men who held up the Canadian Pacific about a year ago."

This 1905 account of a train robbery in Ballard (now part of Seattle) was submitted by Richard Wilkens.

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