By Nathan Barton
In the old days in England, people had to put up with “highwaymen” – armed robbers who would come upon unsuspecting travelers (on foot, horseback, in carts or stages) and order them to “stand and deliver.” Often these were ex-soldiers (or even officers or nobles) on the wrong side of the latest civil war or out of favor in court.
In medieval Europe, you had “robber barons” who had castles that controlled key transportation chokepoints (bottlenecks). Gorges on rivers, fords across rivers, good landings, mountain passes, or even gates in walls. Holding their lands in fief from higher nobles or the local king (or emperor), these nobles would charge “tolls” or “import and export duties.” And often with suitable pretext (wrong religion, wrong loyalties (and gang colors), wrong expression on the travelers’ face) just steal everything the traveler had. Sometimes including their lives.
In the 1870s, there were robbers along the trails connecting the Black Hills of Dakota and Wyoming with the UP Railroad in Nebraska and Wyoming. The robbers are best known for holding up stages, especially those carrying mined gold from the camps in the Black Hills. But they also held up individual travelers, wagon trains, and other groups. There were both white criminals and Amerind raiders. Anything carried was fair game, as was the livestock. The Army, local Sheriffs, and town/city Marshals all worked together to prevent and track down robbers.
This evil tradition continues today – in Wyoming itself. (And other states.) Continue reading