Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Thomas Bell Poole & The Bullion Bend Robbery

Thomas Bell Poole was believed to have been born in 1818. He was an outlaw, a killer, a self-declared Confederate soldier, the second in command of a gang of Southern sympathizers who were nothing but terrorists in California during the Civil War.

Poole was a member of the Knights of the Golden Circle, an organization whose members voluntarily took an oath to uphold the Confederacy and the institution of slavery at any cost. He also served as an officer aboard the Confederate privateer ship the J. M. Chapman. He did all of this while being a California lawman. Actually, while he was under-sheriff of Monterey County, California, 

He was indeed the second in command of a terrorist group which the Sacramento Union newspaper labeled "Captain Ingram's Partisan Rangers." Captain Ingram's Partisan Rangers called themselves Confederate soldiers, but in reality they were a gang of about fifty Confederate bushwackers who were organized by Rufus Henry Ingram in Santa Clara County, California.

Rufus Henry Ingram was typical of a hate monger, a crook, an opportunist who used the needs of the Confederacy for his own ends. He played on the loyalties of Southerner newcomers to California. He used hate of blacks and others such as Catholics, and subsequently was able to recruit local Southern sympathizers here to join his ranks. Many of his recruits were also members of the Knights of the Golden Circle.

Copperheads were Democrats who sided with the South during the Civil War, but they lived in Union states and territories. Remember, Democrats forged the split away from the Union to form the Confederacy because they saw the Federal government as waging war against Southern states. They believed it was an assault on "States Rights" through high tariffs, unfair government regulations, and ending slavery.

Copperheads living in the Union worked to get the Federal government to return to a pre-1861 status quo in the United States. They wanted crippling tariffs imposed by the Federal government rescinded, and the regulations aimed at curtailing Southern crop production rolled back. Of course the tariffs and regulations where put in place to force Democrats to end slavery. Democrats saw the institution of slavery as a way of life. The Democratic Party created the Confederate States of America. Copperhead Democrats claimed to be anti-war while wanting unification, but only with keeping the institution of slavery intact.

Republicans believed the Democrats' goal of restoring the Union with slavery intact was naive and impractical. Republicans started calling anti-war Democrats "Copperheads." Copperhead Democrats were likened to the venomous snake because they resided in the North and attacked Union war efforts against the South. Among the worse were the newspapers controlled by the Copperheads in the North.

People say that the news media has never attacked a sitting President as the news media does today, and while that's true, the ruthlessness of the newspapers in the 1860s was horrible. Copperhead Democrats attacked Republican President Abe Lincoln at ever turn. They accused him of treason, working with the enemy, being stupid, being uneducated, criticized his appearance, called for his impeachment, and even called for his assassination until one of their ilk shot President Lincoln in the head. Yes, the actor who shot President Lincoln was indeed a Democrat who swallowed the hate and the propaganda.

If that sounds familiar? Imagine this, the Copperhead Democrats worked to stop everything President Lincoln was doing including incited riots, and working as insurgents against the United States during the Civil War. They actually waged a war against the United States from within.

And no, it wasn't just Copperhead newspaper propagandists. Democrats established segregate terrorist groups like the Knights of the Golden Circle and  Captain Ingram's Partisan Rangers to attack civilians who do not think as they did. But also, they were tasked with looting farms, burning barns, creating hate, spreading lies and propaganda, all to demoralize and intimidate the public. This took place in all of the Union, including in California where Confederates attempted to rob the California Gold Country of gold and silver belonging to the United States.

The Bullion Bend Robbery

Pioneer Stage Line ran stages between Virginia City, Nevada, and Sacramento, California. On June 30, 1864, Captain Ingram's Partisan Rangers held up two Pioneer Stage Line stages who were traveling together about 14 miles east of Placerville, California. The stagedrivers were Ned Blair and Charles Watson.
Today, that spot is still called Bullion Bend.

It was there that two Pioneer Stage Line stagecoaches carrying silver bullion coming in from Virginia City were held up by 14 men in Confederate uniforms. And believe it or not, as if to somehow make their robbery appear OK for grandiose reasons, the robbers gave one stagedriver a receipt for the stolen silver. The receipt was made out for "funds raised" for the Confederate States of America.

Imagine that they left a receipt for the Comstock Lode silver bullion which they just stole at the point of a gun. Imagine that they did that while acting as though it was OK because they were robbing for a good cause. The cause of financing the South during the Civil War.

The bandits got away with eight sacks of silver and a treasure box. They got away with $40,000 in silver. Of course, that was a lot of money when we consider $40,000 in 1864 is equivalent in purchasing power to $642,410.19 in 2018.

The stagecoaches reached Placerville just before midnight and immediately reported the robbery. There in the dark of the night, men armed themselves and posses were formed. It's said that men woke in the commotion and immediately joined the posses. As soon as men were in the saddle, posses split up to cover a number of directions. Confederate soldiers or not, to the men of those posses -- those who robbed the stages were merely lowlife bandits.

Some have this notion that posses can't operate at night. Hollywood usually depicts a posse either turning around and heading home or making camp as soon as it gets dark. Well, Hollywood should take note of the fact that the robbers were tracked down and found just before dawn. They were found asleep at a hotel in nearby Somerset, right there in a wayside inn known as the Somerset House.

El Dorado County Deputy Sheriff Joseph Staples and Placerville Constable George Ranney were the leaders of the posse that found the highwaymen asleep. It's said Constable Ranney wanted to wait them out and not take them on until others arrived. It's also said Deputy Staples had other things in mind when he burst into their room and shouted "You are my prisoners! Surrender!"

Deputy Staples was hit by gunfire and killed instantly. It was then that Deputy Joseph Staples became the only El Dorado County Sheriff’s Deputy killed in the line of duty. As for Constable Ranney, he backed up Deputy Staples. But while heading for cover after the initial barrage of bullets, he was shot three times and left for dead as the bandits were able to escape.

The shootout at the Somerset House went horribly wrong, but the killers were hounded for the next seven weeks until six of the killers were arrested about 150 miles away in Santa Clara County. No one knows what happened to the others involved. After a trial, one of the killers was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to 20 years of hard labor. Four of them were tried and acquitted. 

Of course, one of the six was convicted of first degree murder. That was Thomas Poole. The man who was a lawman and under-sheriff of Monterey County; the man who was the second in command of Captain Ingram's Partisan Rangers; he took part in the robbery and was one of the men who shot Deputy Staples to death. He was hanged in Placerville on September 29, 1865. 

As for Captain Ingram's Partisan Rangers, while they committed the Bullion Bend Robbery, they also planned other robberies to supposedly finance the South. But all in all, after the Bullion Bend Robbery, they were broken up by Union authorities who sought to hang them for treason. 

As for Rufus Ingram, no one really knows where he came from other than arriving in California via Mexico. Some say that he arrived in the California Gold Country with the mission of establishing a Confederate guerrilla force to terrorize, intimidate, and demoralize the public. Some say he was tasked with robbing gold and silver shipments meant to fund the Union's war effort, and ship it South. 

Of course, from what I can tell, no gold or silver from California ever made it to the South during the Civil War. And frankly, I can't help but wonder why Ingram wasn't part of those in on the Bullion Bend Robbery? Why did Ingram send his men to do that job while he stayed behind? Was Ingram a charlatan and opportunist who fled when things got tough? 

From all of the evidence at hand, it appears Rufus Ingram didn't have the conviction of his beliefs that Thomas Poole had. No mater how screwed up his beliefs were, outlaw and killer Thomas Poole was a Confederate who demonstrated his loyalty to the South in a number of ways. Yes, including serving the Confederacy in all sorts of capacities.

In contrast, Rufus Ingram is said to have robbed and stole and terrorized the innocent for the South and himself. When the going got tough, he fled California. Some say he returned to the South and he was part of the newly formed arm of the Democratic Party, a group called the Ku Klux Klan. Others say he took some of the loot meant for the Confederacy and vanished in Mexico -- one step ahead of a rope. Too bad really, as he surely should have hanged.

That's the way I see it.

Tom Correa

1 comment:

  1. Interesting article! What happened to the bullion that was stolen? Was it recovered?


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