D. Robert Carter
Two ruffians robbed the Springville Bank on Saturday, May 28, 1898, at about 10 a.m. They fled the scene of the crime in a wagon pulled by one horse and dashed toward Hobble Creek Canyon. Several Springville men followed close behind in a farm wagon, and other men soon joined the chase on horseback.
The impromptu posse caught up with the robbers near the mouth of the canyon. The two bandits abandoned their wagon and hid in a large patch of willows and brush on the south side of the creek. Soon, a large group of men from Springville surrounded the thicket where the crooks hid.
About the same time the bank robbery occurred in Springville, George A. Storrs, Sheriff of Utah County, and livery stable owner John Lewis, left Provo traveling toward Pleasant Grove. They were looking for two men who failed to return a horse and wagon they rented from Lewis.
Not long after the sheriff left his office, a phone call came in from Springville saying two men answering the description of the men who stole Sharp's rig had just robbed the Springville Bank. Deputies Henry and Knowlden started south immediately after forwarding word of the heist to Sheriff Storrs. As soon as Storrs received the message, he turned around and hurried toward Springville.
The men from Springville did not wait for Storrs to arrive before they began searching the brush for the two robbers. The Salt Lake Tribune reported that Springville blacksmith Joseph Allan galloped upon the scene, summed up the situation and exclaimed:
"Well, boys, the only way we'll ever get them is for about eight of us to go in a line about a rod apart through the brush. If we delay they will get so well hidden that we can't find them before night, and they will then escape in the darkness. If any one has a gun they will let me take, I will go for one."
In less than five minutes, a sufficient number of men had volunteered, and the search began. The abundance of leaves on the brush made it difficult for the searchers to see each other from a distance of five feet, unless they were moving. The men skulked through the brush in various directions, but even though Joseph Allan found a $10 gold piece and several dollars in silver in a patch of oak brush, the robbers remained at large.
Finally, George Packard, who was crawling on hands and knees through the upper portion of a patch of willows, discerned a robber's foot concealed under leaves and branches. Packard aimed his double-barreled shotgun at the thief and called for him to surrender.
The desperado calmly replied, "Well, partner, I am pretty cold." In his haste to escape from the posse, he had fallen into the creek. Luckily for Packard, the fugitive had lost his pistol when he splashed through the icy water.
Packard, James Whitmore, William Clyde, James Whitehead and others handcuffed their captive, tied his feet together. Clyde searched him. As he took the bank loot from the prisoner, the bandit jocularly beseeched his captors, "Let me count that bootie; I haven't had a chance yet. I'd like to see how much we got."
The wisecracking thief carried $1,690 in gold and a water-logged wad of currency amounting to about $400. Over $800 in stolen money remained missing. The Springville Bank later offered a $200 reward for the return of the missing money.
Garnet Friel, Proctor Robertson, Phil Boyer and Mell Haymond returned to the scene that evening and searched the area near where Maxwell was captured. They found a roll of greenbacks amounting to $223. This left about $600 still missing. The men also found the two revolvers the robbers had taken from the bank. The pistols were hidden in the leaves not far from where the posse captured the thief. Just minutes after the men captured the first bandit, Sheriff Storrs arrived at the scene. He helped escort the outlaw out of the brush. Armed escorts took the miscreant to Springville, where they placed him under guard in the back room of the bank he had robbed.
A relatively small group of men resumed the search for the second thief by beating the brush. He proved to be a much more dangerous man than the first robber they caught.
The searchers formed a line about six to eight feet apart, and starting from where the crooks' deserted wagon stood, they entered the dense willows and brush. Joseph Allan entered the thicket from the north, and the other men went in from the west. About ten minutes later, Allan spotted the wanted man concealed in a dense growth of trees formed by several clumps of willow located about 200 yards from where the posse captured the first bandit.
Only one opening led to his location, and Allan covered this outlet. About this time, according to Springville historian Don Carlos Johnson, somebody shouted, "Keep your places all! Here he is!"
Deputy Sheriff Brown ordered the robber to throw down his gun, put up his hands and surrender. The man responded by raising his Colt .45 revolver and firing a shot apparently aimed at Brown's head. The posse and the fugitive exchanged five or six more shots to no effect. Several minutes of silence followed. Some rustling in the brush resumed after this quiet interlude as the men changed positions, and somebody exclaimed, "Keep steady, we'll get him!"
Allan later told his version of the thief's death to a Tribune correspondent: "I saw him and drew a bead on him," Allan informed the newspaper man, "but not knowing he had done any firing, I wanted to give him a chance to surrender."
The village smithy warned the criminal, "Now, don't you move or I'll get you."
He received this response: "I'll get you while you're getting me," and immediately after uttering this threat, the bandit fired. His shot struck Allan in the thigh, shattering the bone, and knocking his leg out from under him.
The wounded man yelled, "My God, he's got me!"
Allan's next response to the outlaw's challenge proved that a one-legged man is not always useless in a butt-kicking contest. Allan kicked major butt. He rolled onto his side, aimed, and fired, mortally wounding the robber. Allan had the last word in their unique conversation. He yelled at the dying man, "There! You'll never rob another bank!"
Several other shots immediately rent the air as members of the posse fired into the brush where the criminal lay wounded. Then there was silence -- except for the "heavy gurgling" sound coming from the dying man's throat.
Nobody ventured any nearer the outlaw's lair for about five minutes, fearing the robber was not dead and would shoot them. Joseph Allan sat on the bank of a canal unable to stand because of his disabled leg.
During this time, Sheriff Storrs called out repeatedly for the fugitive to surrender. After receiving no answer, Storrs crawled into the brush, his gun raised and ready to fire. The sheriff found the victim gasping his last breath as he lay near a tree stump, his .45 on the ground at his side.
Storrs dragged the dead man from his last hiding place. Others came forward, pulled the body into an opening and inspected it. The dead man had no money or papers on his person, only a few cartridges and some matches. He also carried four wounds: a bullet hole in his right forearm, a deep gash in his right shoulder, and two bullets wounds in his right chest.
A scene of sharp contrast unfolded a short distance away from the gore present near the mouth of Hobble Creek Canyon. A young girl, Violet Child, saw the posse dash by and climbed to the top of a barn in order to watch the chase.
The adults present yelled for her to come down. Violet later recalled that this was one of the most exciting events in her life, and she was determined not to leave her observation post. She didn't scamper down until all the shooting was over.
Another interesting incident occurred near the site of the shoot out. The Christopherson boys had seined a load of fish from Utah Lake, and John Jacob Loy and his young stepson Moroni "Rone" Wilford Christopherson peddled some of the fish in Mapleton.
The two were driving up Canyon Road when the bank robbers dashed by them at full speed, passing them recklessly in a mud hole. As the outlaws drove by, one of the robbers, apparently in a generous mood and bent on making a legend of himself, threw a handful of small objects at the fishmongers. Some of the articles landed among the fish in the wagon and some fell in the mud hole.
In a short time, the posse hurdled by the wagon full of fish. After both groups had passed, Loy pulled the wagon off the road and rummaged through the finny tribe in his wagon. Roni later claimed in his autobiography that John found several gold coins.
The two returned to the mud hole that evening. Loy searched through it carefully on his hands and knees as Roni watched for unwanted visitors. In this manner, Loy managed to salvage a few more coins.
Springville's first bank robbery occurred about 10:00 a.m., and by 12:45 p.m. the same day, the shoot out with the posse had ceased. Law enforcement officers placed the body of the dead robber in a carriage and transported it back to town where, according to Provo's Daily Enquirer, the people of Springville held "a jollification in front of the bank."
The Salt Lake Herald claimed nearly the whole town turned out to see the robbers. Springville resident Don Carlos Fullmer's account agreed with the papers. He wrote in his diary, "It was a very exciting time for Springville."
Lawmen kept the robber who had surrendered under guard in the back room of the bank until the posse brought in his dead partner's body. Then officials moved both robbers a short distance to city hall where Justice John S. Boyer held an inquest over the deceased.
After the inquest, A.O. Packard filed a robbery complaint and the prisoner appeared immediately before Justice Boyer for his preliminary hearing. After the suspect refused to give his true name or that of his partner, the hearing continued under the prisoner's alias, John Carter. The articulate suspect amused the court and spectators with several one liners and clever remarks. When Boyer asked Carter how he wanted to proceed, the prisoner replied, according to the Salt Lake Tribune, "Well, I'll waive examination under the circumstances."
Utah County Attorney King then asked the bandit, "Do you think you can get bonds, Mr. Carterfi"
The prisoner replied cheerfully, "If I was out a little while I guess I could."
A Herald correspondent heard Carter remark "that he thought everybody had gone to war and he was surprised that so many people were in pursuit. . . . Even small boys were on hand, rendering all the assistance within their power."
The Tribune claimed Maxwell said with a smile that Springville "was not such a sleepy old town as she looked to be."
Although Carter remained in general good humor, one man managed to ruffle the future jail bird's feathers. D.C. Robbins correctly identified the prisoner as Clarence L. "Gunplay" Maxwell, a member of the Robbers' Roost Gang who had a $500 state reward on his head. Robbins said he had stayed one week in a Vernal hotel where Gunplay was registered. Maxwell threatened vengeance upon Robbins for exposing his true identity. The outlaw still steadfastly refused to tell who his dead partner was. Despite the prisoner's general jocularity, Justice Boyer set his bonds at $5,000.
Yet another bizarre incident transpired in Springville before Sheriff Storrs escorted Gunplay to the Utah County Jail in Provo. Law officers requested Provo photographer Adam "Ad" Anderson, a brother of the famous photographer George Edward Anderson, to travel to Springville and take a picture of Gunplay and his former partner.
Anderson posed the two unsuccessful bank robbers sitting side by side in two American firehouse chairs. The Herald commented about this arrangement, "It was a ghastly sight at the time." The photograph remains so today.
The dead outlaw was definitely more cooperative than Maxwell. He held the pose in which Anderson placed him, while Gunplay closed his eyes when the photographer set up the camera. The outlaw refused to open them for the photograph. In spite of the his reluctance to strike a jaunty pose, the Herald commented about Maxwell, "He was at all times cool and collected."
After the unknown robber's last photo session, a Springville undertaker prepared him for burial. Sheriff Storrs delayed his interment three or four days in hopes his body could be identified. The Tribune reported that the dead outlaw finally received his earthly resting place in the potter's field area of Springville's Evergreen Cemetery on June 1 at 11 a.m., almost exactly four days after being hammered by blacksmith Allan. The Springville undertaker, his aides, and the sexton formed his only funeral cortege. The total burial expenses amounted to slightly over $60.
There was no photo session for Joseph Allan that afternoon. Springville's heroic blacksmith, stood up against and shot down the unknown outlaw in a nervy duel that would have made residents of Tombstone, Arizona, proud. Allan likely suffered in stoic silence after the robber shot his leg out from under him. Posse members carefully carried the wounded man from the brush, put him in a carriage and drove him home.
Allan's wound appeared to be a serious one, and town sentiment ran high against the remaining robber. Some men talked of throwing a neck tie party that night. The influence of William M. Roylance and other rational men helped prevent a lynching. After Allan suffered through a night of what must have been excruciating pain, Dr. Dunn and Henry Roylance transported him to St. Marks Hospital in Salt Lake City on Sunday. Allan's thigh bone was so badly shattered that at about 5 p.m. Drs. Pinkerton, Worthington and Isgreen amputated their patient's leg close to the hip. The Springville Bank "footed" the bill. Allan rested comfortably on Monday.
After the blacksmith spent six weeks recuperating in the hospital, Sheriff Storrs went to Salt Lake City to bring him home. The men arrived in Springville on June 13.
According to a short biography of Allan written by his daughter Lula, the blacksmith went right back to work in his shop. One of his favorite slogans was: "It is better to wear out than to rust out." Lula asserted Allan neither lost his sunny disposition, nor his ambition to work. He lived to become an octogenarian.
The evening of the robbery, Sheriff Storrs started, with Maxwell in tow, for the Utah County Jail in Provo. Soon after they arrived, District Court Judge Warren Dusenberry recognized the prisoner. The judge had met Maxwell in Vernal during February 1897 when the prisoner served as a defense witness in a court case involving some of his lawless associates.
Judge Dusenberry later told a Herald reporter, "He recognized me tonight, and I would have known him a half block away."
The judge and the outlaw exchanged pleasantries. The Herald asserted their conversation went something like this:
"Hello, Judge Dusenberry."
"How are you, Maxwellfi"
"Well, I am not in very good condition now, as you see."
Charles Taylor, Superintendent of Price Trading Co. also recognized Maxwell and spoke with him. Many townspeople wondered who this clever, articulate outlaw, Clarence L. "Gunplay" Maxwell really was.
To be continued
D. Robert Carter is a historian from Springville. He can be reached at 489-8256.
This story appeared in The Daily Herald on page B2.