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  • Writer's pictureCheryl Anne Stapp

The Silver Bullion Heist

It is still called Bullion Bend. It is a stretch of curving old stage road that once continued on from Placerville, California to Carson Valley, Nevada, although today it abruptly dead ends at the Placerville end in heavy brush; a road cut-off during construction of modern Highway 50.

It is the place where two Pioneer Line stagecoaches, one following behind the other and both carrying passengers and Comstock Lode silver bullion, were simultaneously held up in 1864 by Confederate sympathizers who claimed they needed the silver bullion to finance the South’s efforts in the Civil War.

The two Pioneer Line stagecoaches reached Placerville near midnight, where the drivers raised the alarm, and posses went out immediately. Two culprits were found before dawn, sleeping in a nearby inn. Deputy Sheriff Joseph Staples and Constable George Ranney discovered more of the highwaymen holed up at Somerset House, a hostelry on the cut-off that led to Grizzly Flat. Very unwisely, Deputy Staples burst into their room shouting “You are my prisoners—surrender!” He was answered with a barrage of gunfire that killed him outright and wounded Constable Ranney.

A monument at Bullion Bend was erected to honor fallen Deputy Staples and the other lawmen who risked their lives to apprehend the highwaymen. The robber-gang leader, a man who announced himself to the stage drivers as Captain Henry Ingraham of the Confederate army, was never found. Neither was the stolen treasure. Thomas B. Poole, a former undersheriff of Monterey County who had been an active participant in the robbery, and one of the men who shot at Staples in the Somerset House, was hanged on September 29, 1865.

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