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Stagecoach Robberies in California: A Complete Record, 1856–1913, by R. Michael Wilson, McFarland, Jefferson, N.C., 2014, $55

Author and retired law enforcement officer R. Michael Wilson never met a Wild West robbery or execution he didn’t like—that is, one for him to record in one of his encyclopedic volumes. This isn’t the first time he has examined stagecoach heists—his Encyclopedia of Stagecoach Robbery in Arizona was published in 2003, and his Great Stagecoach Robberies of the Old West in 2006. The latter does overlap with this latest Wilson offering, including a holdup pulled off in Yuba County on August 12, 1856, by Thomas J. Hodges (alias “Tom Bell”) and his gang. That was “the first stagecoach robbery in the West,” although in this 2014 book Wilson notes that seven days earlier, on August 5, two armed, unmasked men stopped a stagecoach in El Dorado County but made no demands and apparently were just looking. “This was, perhaps, a test run for the robbery to follow,” the author suggests.

And highwaymen just kept hitting stagecoaches in the Golden State. Between August 5, 1886, and July 25, 1913, according to Wilson’s research, outlaws robbed coaches in 43 of 55 counties in California, tallying 460 such events in all, though in many of the crimes little or nothing was stolen. The book is organized by county, beginning with Alameda County—where on January 5, 1881, lone road agent Albert A. Tubbs addressed the driver with the immortal words, “Give me your money or your life!”— and ending with Yuba County, where a whopping 16 stagecoach robberies followed the Hodges/Bell job. Wilson also lists the 12 counties—Alpine, Contra Costa, Del Norte, Glenn, Humboldt, Kings, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Solano, Sutter, Ventura and Yolo—where there were reportedly no holdups during the period. Stagecoach robberies ended, of course, when there were no more coaches to rob. But as Wilson points out, robbers soon found new outlets. “When automobile stages began operating,” he writes, “the road agent adapted and began robbing them, and one of the popular places was the road to Yosemite, where groups of automobile stages were robbed in 1916 and 1920.”