The Two Tales of a Divide/Florissant Railroad Heist Relived
Back when people first started settling the central and western parts of the country, the shenanigans that took place led to the nickname, the “Wild, Wild West.”
During the late 1800s and early 1900s, crimes riddled the new Wild West part of the country, while people headed this way to homestead or strike it rich by finding precious minerals.
At the time, there were no police. However, the increase in criminal activity led to heroic frontiersmen clipping a badge on and attempting to keep law and order in the new towns in the Wild West, which included Teller County. At one point during this era, it appeared that people occupying these towns were either outlaws, who were planning or executing their next robbery or murder; or lawmen who risked their lives to keep order and stop the bad guys.
The outlaws were involved in just about any crime imaginable including murder and train robberies. During that time, railroads were the primary means of transportation giving outlaw gangs an opportunity to take the riches of many travelers.
In fact, train robberies were so common back then, history books are filled with stories of these crimes. Some of the more infamous train robbers included Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid and the Wild Bunch.
However, one less known tale depicts a story about a Midland Railroad train getting robbed while making its way through what is now Teller County.
In the 1965 book, “Colorado Midland” written by Morris Cafky, historian Claude Harris tells the story of a train robbery that occurred between Divide and Florissant. A newspaper article printed in 1910 in Leadville’s “The Herald Democrat,” though, tells another story of the incident that took place one evening in September 1910.
The incident occurred just after midnight, following the departure of the train from Divide. As it was heading down the hill to Florissant under the control of engineer Frank “Four Spot” Stewart, the fireman Paul Bochman was cleaning his fire into the ash pan so that the pan could get emptied in Florissant.
While Bochman was completing his chore, he noticed the engineer staring behind him. Stewart motioned at the fireman with his thumb prompting Bochman to turn around and see a disheveled man wearing a facemask and a gunnysack heading over the coal gate carrying a cheap make of a Smith & Wesson rifle.
The robber ordered the engineer to stop the train. He then forced the two men off of the train. While Stewart descended from the train, he fell to the ground and unbeknownst to the robber he had picked up a large stone.
The bandit ordered the men to pound on the door to try to get the Wells Fargo Express messenger to let them into the car. But instead of obeying, Bochman ducked under the car and scrambled to the other side.
The robber then leaned over and fired a shot underneath the train hitting Bochman and wounding him in the leg. This is where the two accounts of what happened differ.
According to Harris’ rendition of the incident, as soon as the robber bent over, Stewart took the stone he had picked up and and struck the robber in the head so hard it killed him instantly. The newspaper’s account, though, reported that as soon as the robber fired upon the fireman, the engineer returned fire and quickly killed the robber.
As soon as shots rang out, two other robbers started hailing bullets into the messenger car, but the messenger refused to open the doors. In fact, the other two robbers were a little ways down the canyon leading authorities to think that the robber that was killed stopped the train a bit too soon.
It was also reported that a hobo was injured when hit by a bullet getting shot into the train car by the other robbers. Once the train got to Florissant, Sheriff Von Phul of Cripple Creek was alerted to gather a posse and look for the remaining two robbers.
According to witness accounts, the robber who was killed was a man of large size who spoke with a Scandinavian accent. The newspaper stated that the robber must have had eyes on the passengers of the train as there was no unusual shipment on the train at the time.
“The robber told the fireman while he was on his way back to the express car that he was ‘After the passengers too,’” the newspaper article reported.
After the robbery, the injured hobo and the wounded fireman were transported to the hospital to get treated for their wounds. Bochman spent a short time recovering from his wounds before he returned to work a short time later.
Due to his quick thinking and heroics, the Colorado Midland Railway awarded the engineer Stewart a gold watch for his bravery. “Details of the incident were engraved thereon,” Harris’ version of the story states. “Frank died many years ago, but his descendants still possess the watch.”