What Really Happened to Mollie Sheppard?

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c 2015 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article appear in Wild Women of Prescott, Arizona (2015, The History Press)

Of all of Prescott’s wayward women, Mollie Sheppard is probably the best known. Born in Ireland, Mollie was just 21 years old when she arrived in Prescott in 1868. Two years later or so Mollie fell in with William Kruger, a 30-year old clerk who boarded at Maria Wheaton’s place in Prescott. Kruger, who was born in Prussia, may have been employed as Chief Clerk to Captain C.W. Foster, A.S.M. for the United States Army—for that is how he later signed a letter recounting what is now referred to as the Wickenburg Massacre.

During her time in Prescott, Mollie frequently fought with Prescott’s Yavapai County assessor over taxes. By 1871 she had enough, selling her brothel and leaving in November carrying thousands of dollars in cash. Because much of the real story has been lost to folklore, the amount Mollie carried depends on who is easiest to believe: newspapers of the day claimed the total to be $6,000. William Kruger assessed the amount at $9,000. Writer Sandra Mofford Lagesse put the amount at $15,000. Arizona’s own state historian, Marshall Trimble, stated the amount was $40,000.

In addition to her cash, Mollie also allegedly carried her extensive collection of jewelry and was on her way to Panama. This she apparently planned to accomplish by first taking the stage from Prescott to San Bernardino, California, via the Arizona town of Ehrenberg. Boarding the stage on November 4 with her was Kruger, who was working for the Arizona  Territory Army Quartermaster and was transporting $30,000 to $40,000 in military funds to Ehrenberg. Several other men boarded the coach as well, which departed from Fort Whipple on November 4. They consisted:

– Boston journalist Frederick Wadsworth Loring, age 21, most recently part of the George Wheeler expedition which recorded notes about the terrain and where water could be found for the military.

– Peter M. Hamel,  who had been with Loring on the Wheeler Expedition and was heading home to his family in California.

– Charles S. Adams, namesake for the town of Adamsville, Arizona and who was currently employed as an agent for W. Bichard and Company. Adams was traveling to see his wife and three children in San Francisco due to an illness in the family.

– Frederick Sholholm, a Prescott jeweler who had sold his business and was on his way to Philadelphia by way of Panama.

– William George Salmon, who was also on the Wheeler Expedition and heading home to his family in California.

– Driver John “Dutch” Lance, who had only been working this particular stage road for two weeks.

“To be sure,” Kruger later wrote, “the stage was rather crowded, but being all of such good temper we had a real nice time.” The stage traveled through the night, reaching Wickenberg the morning of November 5. There, according to Kruger, Loring insisted on switching from the inside of the stagecoach to a seat on the outside. “I most decidedly objected,” Kruger said, “but he insisted on being outside for a short time. I had two revolvers and he had none; in fact, no arms whatever. He rejected my offer of a revolver, saying at the time, ‘My dear Kruger, we are no comparatively safe. I have traveled with Lieutenant Wheeler for nearly eight months, and have never seen an Indian.’”

Thus the stage departed with Loring, driver “Dutch” John Lance and Charles Adams occupying the driver’s seat while the other passengers remained inside.

The stage arrived at Wickenburg around midnight. The passengers presumably procured lodging and readied to depart the next morning at 7 a.m. for Culling’s Well, the next station located some 36 miles away. From there, the stage was scheduled to travel through Ehrenberg to the eventual destination of San Bernardino. Once there, the passengers would disperse with at least some of them traveling on to San Francisco via Los Angeles. At Wickenburg an eighth passenger, Aaron Barnett, joined the stagecoach. Two miles out of town, however, Barnett realized he had forgotten something. Unable to return, Lance stopped so Barnett could disembark and head back to Wickenburg.

Other than Barnett’s unscheduled departure, all seemed normal within the group. Mollie had spread her fur cape on the middle bench of the coach so the group could play “Freeze-Out”, a popular poker game in which players cannot re-buy into the game once they lose their money. The game continues until only one player is left holding the entire pot. Everyone had stashed their guns under the seat cushions to make for easy access to the game.

At about 11 a.m., just nine miles northwest of Wickenburg, the stagecoach was accosted by a group of men. Kruger said he heard the driver shout “Apaches! Apaches!” (Other historians have identified the time of day as 8 a.m., but this may be the time the stage actually departed Wickenburg.) The men, who were later alternately identified as Apache Indians, Mexicans dressed as Apaches or Anglos dressed as Apaches, rushed the stage on foot as it passed though a canyon and opened fire. William Kruger would later state positively that the robbers were Indians.

In all, seventeen bullets hit the coach. According to Kruger, Loring, the driver and the other outside passenger, Mr. Adams, were shot. The lead horse was also fatally shot, and the second lead horse was wounded. The surviving horses bolted some twenty yards and came to an abrupt stop. Loring and Adams fell off the stagecoach as the robbers fired again from both sides and the rear. Inside the coach, Solholm was killed while Salmon and Mollie were wounded. Salmon fell out of the coach and “crawled away, but was finally captured by the Indians, scalped and otherwise mutilated.” Mollie, according to various reports, received anything from powder burns to a gunshot in her arm.

Kruger stated that he and the last uninjured passenger, Hammet, began firing at the Indians. Both men fired six shots. Kruger was out of ammunition when the Indians disappeared behind the bushes. For the next several minutes there was silence except for Loring, who lay dying directly in front of Kruger. (Writer Sandra Mofford Lagesse states Loring took a “lance to the chest.”) Kruger also had pushed Mollie to the floor. Although “badly wounded”, Mollie managed to take a loaded revolver off of one of the dead men and handed it to Kruger.

A few minutes later, Kruger saw some fifteen “Indians”, dressed in blue soldiers’ trousers, creeping towards the stage. Kruger jumped up and both he and Mollie began yelling at the robbers as Kruger commenced firing. Mollie later stated she threatened the robbers with a broken whiskey bottle. The Indians retreated and the couple readied to make a run for it. Kruger said he called out “as loud as I possibly could if any one was left alive, but only Mr. Adams answered; but he was mortally wounded and could not even move his hands or feet. I had to leave him to his fate.” Adams was later found with his throat cut.

Quite by some miracle, Krueger and Mollie were able to jump from the stage and ran towards Culling’s Well on foot. According to Kruger, he received a gunshot through his right armpit and two shots to his back. Mollie, he said, was shot three times. It is unclear whether these wounds were sustained at the coach or while on the run, but as the couple fled, some of the robbers came after them on horseback which resulted in “unsteady” gunfire from them. Later accounts would claim that “only a slight wound was received by Miss Sheppard, and neither [she nor Kruger] sustained further injury than the wounds inflicted from the first fire.”

It is a miracle Kruger and Sheppard were not overtaken, saved only by shots fired by Kruger as they ran. The hapless man “still retained his revolver and fired upon them when they came too near, causing them to scatter and retreat but only to rally again to the pursuit until finally they withdrew and joined their fellows.” Writer Allan Hall put the number of robbers pursuing Kruger and Mollie at nine men. According to Kruger, he carried the “wounded woman for over two miles in my left arm” and said the Indians chased them for five miles. He  also said he shot at least two Indians, who later died at Camp Date Creek Reservation. There, “the commanding officer refused to have the thing investigated, for fear he would find sufficient evidence that they were his pets—that is, the Camp Date Creek Indians.”

Camp Date Creek had in fact been established in 1866 as a military post between Prescott and Ehrenberg, to protect travelers in peril. (Evidence of the Camp existing at that early date is verified by the death of soldier Maurice Keefe who died and was buried there in September of 1866.) At last, Kruger and Sheppard spotted an east-bound mail carrier who had just left Culling’s Well. In one version of the meeting, the driver “made them as comfortable as possible and rode one of the horses back to Wickenburg for help.” In another version, the driver took the couple back to Culling’s Well. Word was sent to Wickenburg via the Vulture Mine, “the bearer fearing to proceed by the direct route.” As a result, news of the attack did not reach Wickenburg until midnight. Meanwhile, a full sixteen hours “of terrible suffering and agony” after the attack, Kruger and Mollie were finally taken to Wickenburg.

Two groups left for the site of the attack: one to claim the bodies and another to track the killers. When the parties reached the stagecoach, they were met with the horrible site of five dead men: Frederick W. Loring, C.S. Adams, John Lanz, Fred W. Shoholm, W.G. Salmon and P.M. Hamel. Hamel and Salmon had been shot, and the latter so badly mutilated he was buried on the spot. And although the passenger’s bags had been broken open and some items were missing, other large sums of money and valuables remained at the scene. Even ammunition and horses, which would have typically been taken if the marauders were Indians, remained. The money, totaling about $25,000 and including $9,000 belonging to Kruger and Mollie, was gone.

Kruger accompanied the parties, “closed the eyes of all my poor traveling companions” and retrieved Loring’s hat, which he later offered to the writer’s grieving family. The remaining bodies were buried the next day “in nice coffins.” As for the assailants, Kruger claimed they were tracked by the party from Wickenburg to the Camp Date Creek Reservation. There, he said, the commanding officer Captain O’Beirne of the Twenty-First Infantry “not only allowed the Indians to go unpunished, but also refused me, Miss Shephard [sic], the two surviving cripples, shelter. Yes, sir, he ordered us off his reservation.” Kruger’s complaints about the Captain apparently fell on deaf ears, even though Camp Date Creek did indeed have a hospital.

The sensational story of victims attacked by Indians soon became national news. On December 9, William Kruger wrote a letter from Ehrenberg in response to a request for information from the eastern relatives of Frederick Loring. In it, Kruger gave intimate details of the escapade.  The letter included Kruger’s statement that the men were buried at the site of the massacre, but other reports were made that five of the victims were “reportedly buried in Wickenburg on November 6th, three hours after a hastily called inquest.” If this is true, the bodies would have been buried at Stone Park Cemetery or Lumber Yard Cemetery, the only two burial grounds in existence at the time. The initial exploration of the site also did not include finding the body of William Salmon, who was later found on that same day and buried in a “deep cut in the hillside.” Later, certain reports claimed, Salmon was exhumed and reburied alongside the other victims in Wickenburg.

Meanwhile, an investigation was made into the possibility that the robbers were indeed Indians who resided at the Date Creek Reservation. History has since confused whether they were Apache-Mohave Indians or Yavapai Indians. What has been ascertained by at least one historian is that Captain  Charles Meinhold and twenty other men left Camp Date Creek in search of the murderous robbers. Adjutant  Captain Azor H. Nickerson later reported that the group was unable to “determine definitely whether the perpetrators were Indians or Mexican bandits or both.”

For months, speculation ran amuck as to who actually committed the crime. The suspects ranged from the Indians at Camp Date Creek, to Mexicans led by Joaquin Barbe, to crooked military officers, to Anglo men from Prescott who knew there was a lot of money on the stage. An initial outcry almost led to the a complete massacre of the Indians at Date Creek, but for the intervention by General George Crook. Still, sentiments ran high that the Indians were in fact the murderers.

Eventually, the investigations included suspecting Kruger and Mollie of pulling off the robbery themselves. But lack of evidence set them free, and the couple went on to California where they received celebrity status because of newspaper reports about the robbery. On January 3, 1872, the Los Angeles Daily News ran an article consisting of an interview with both Kruger and Mollie. Both claimed they each lost $8,000 to the robbers. But in February, the Weekly Arizona Miner began accusing Kruger of slander and lying.

In the meantime, General George Crook of Fort Whipple was put in charge of the investigation, resulting in a skirmish at Camp Date Creek and the killing of two Indians. Another was arrested. In addition, Phoenix deputies went after Barbe and his gang. The leader and another Mexican were “escorted” out of town and subsequently “shot to death by the deputies during an argument.” Other Mexican suspects met their ends in jail and at the hands of others.

By April of 1874, Mollie Sheppard was nowhere to be found. Kruger told others that Mollie had died from her wounds, but gave no other information. It is presumed she died sometime after January 11, 1872, the date she was last seen with Kruger in San Francisco. Some historians have offered the theory that Kruger actually killed Mollie, but there is no evidence to prove it.

In 1937, the Arizona Highway Department erected an official plaque in memory of the victims of the Wickenburg Massacre. Eleven years later, in March of 1948, the Wickenburg Saddle Club made their first trek to the massacre site. The Club found five of the graves and erected a marker and a plaque, neither of which survive today. Writer Allan Hall insinuates that the marker was on Highway 60 and not at the actual massacre site. He also submits through his research that the victims’ graves in Wickenburg were “reportedly ‘disturbed’ in 1949 and then disappeared from local records.”

The Wickenburg Saddle Club placed a second plaque at the site in 1988. Today the graves of those who died at the Wickenburg Massacre exist very near where the robbery occurred. There was no pattern to the graves, indicating the victims were likely buried where they were found. Those interred there include Frederick W. Loring, C.S. Adams, John Lanz, Fred W. Shoholm, W.G. Salmon and P.M. Hamel. Curiously, a seventh grave was identified by the Saddle Club as being that of a woman.

Also during their excursion to the site, the Saddle Club claimed to have found an area some seventy five feet east of the graves where a second set of graves contained seven more males, two of which were believed to be Indians. Also, an abandoned ranch on the way to the site revealed six or seven more graves. Allan Hall counted ten graves at the massacre site, far too many than the number of victims reported. He also reported six to eight graves at a distance of fifty to 150 yards from the massacre site. Then in 2011, a different marker commemorating the massacre was identified as being located near “the airport”, located three and a half miles from the site.

So, what really happened to Mollie Sheppard? The Wickenburg Saddle Club has a theory that Mollie and Kruger had enough time to gather their valuables before escaping the stagecoach, burying them as they fled from the robbers. Returning to the site sometime later, the Club speculates Kruger killed Mollie and buried her with the others. Or, perhaps someone else killed Mollie. Wherever she ended up, Mollie Sheppard remains an enduring legend in Arizona history.

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