Just before midnight September 9th, 1899 the Southern Pacific #10 westbound train pulled into Cochise and was held up by a gang of masked men. The train had just slowed to a stop at the station when the masked men came out of the darkness. The passengers were advised by one of the gang members that none of them were going to be molested. He went on to explain that they were only after the money in the express car.
The Wells Fargo express car and engine was uncoupled from the rest of the cars The engineer was ordered to pull forward a short distance while the main and passenger cars were to be left behind. The train pulled forward about a half mile to a point predetermined by the robbers. A request was made to Charles Adair, the Wells, Fargo agent, to open the express car door, but he refused. Then the bandits set up a charge of giant powder under the Wells Fargo car.
After the explosion, the bandits jumped aboard the damaged Wells Fargo car and quickly filled a pack. Their horses, held nearby, were mounted and, with a parting shot, the bandits were on their way. The entire event lasted about half an hour. Afterward the train backed up to the station and continued on to Tucson.
In Cochise, townspeople gathered at the Cochise Hotel as the small settlement learned of the robbery. There was some talk of gathering a posse, but, since there was no lawman in town, it was hard to put together a group of determined men. Still, a posse formed and found a trail leading toward Willcox. The posse followed the trail along a route that went north and then east toward Willcox.
The trail played out among many tracks just 100 yards from town. Many theories abound for a while about who the robbers were. The Willcox Marshal Burt Alvord gathered a bigger better posse and took off again out of town to try and capture the bandits.
No arrests were made until early the next year. On February 15th 1900 a north bound train was held up while stopped at the Fairbank station, north of Tombstone. During the robbery, express messenger Jeff Milton was shot. But, he was able to severely wound one of the gang. Three-fingered Jack Dunlap escaped with his companions, but was soon abandoned. He was found by a posse and before he died in jail, he spilled the beans. He implicated several men involved in the Cochise train robbery. They were: Burt Alvord, the constable at Willcox, Billy Styles, his Deputy, Matt Burts, a former Deputy and William Downing. Styles was found and confessed to the robbery. Downing was found in Pearce, while a posse went to get Alvord in Willcox. Alvord and Downing were brought to Cochise and held there until a train could transport them to Tombstone. In the end, it appears Alvord, after getting out of jail, took off for Central America, where he died in 1910.
Following the train robbery a reluctant John Rath was persuaded to become the town's Justice of the Peace.
Much of the above text came from the book THE EARLY HISTORY OF THE TOWN OF COCHISE ARIZONA by Brad Smith.
The photo above is one of many in the collection inside the Cochise Hotel.