Stagecoach Robber Implicated by His Own Diary

The 1870s and 1880s were plagued by stagecoach, mail, and bank robberies. In a vast and growing country, criminals were often able to escape. ham White, however, had documented proof of his crimes when captured in 1877.

The Robbery

Ham White was said to be a well-known desperado throughout Texas in the 1870s. On March 23, 1877, he and accomplice, John Vaughan, attacked a passenger and mail stagecoach traveling from McDade to Bastrop, Texas.

According to the stagecoach driver, about six miles into the venture, near Lyman Place, a man approached the coach wearing a homemade mask and carrying a revolver. Another man approached, following the first, and proceeded to rob the passengers o board of $12. He then turned the weapon on the driver, forcing him to open the mail pouch.

Ham White claimed he did not take any of the mail, but the driver was unsure and reported the theft to Postal Inspectors. Once White was captured, it was determined he had stolen several letters out of the pouch, likely hoping bonds or checks were enclosed.

The Capture

The passenger robbed of $12 was Chester Elhard, a merchant and frequent traveler of the area. When Ham White approached the stagecoach, Elhard recognized him immediately as the well-known desperado. After the attack, White and Vaughan were on the run for over a week before they were captured by a U.S. Marshal near Austin, Texas, just 30 miles outside of where the robbery took place.

White's involvement in the robbery was memorialized in his own handwriting. When he was taken into custody, he carried a diary that detailed his robbery plans and his feelings after escaping. By 1878, at only 24 years old, Ham White was in jail for his life of crime.

The Diary

White's diary shows how he had been planning an attack for some time and knew of the imminent dangers. He seemed prepared for his fate and not at all optimistic about his venture. The diary that was taken by the U.S. marshals is now in the hands of the United States Postal Inspection Service.

Located in the National Archives in Washington, D.C., the diary is a unique and vital look into Postal Inspection Service history.

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