Malad City lies in a small valley in southeastern Idaho. Its name comes from the Malad River that begins in the northwestern end of the valley and was named “Malade” by early trappers who became sick from eating the beaver from that river. It is surrounded by several mountain ranges with three reservoirs close by that offer recreation for residents and visitors. There are four other reservoirs in Oneida County.
The city was founded in 1864 by pioneers that were masters of innovation, hard work, and integrity. They came first for the hay that grew abundantly in the valley, but soon farms surrounded the city, and unique communities were built up with Malad City as the hub.
Those born and raised here love to still call Malad “home” no matter where they currently live. July 4 in Malad is like a large family reunion, where former residents bring their families “home” to enjoy the small-town celebration. For that reason, a brand was chosen of “Everybody’s Hometown”. We want everyone to feel that they belong here and love to call Malad their “hometown”.
Robber’s Roost was an area along the Portneuf Canyon in present day Bannock County, but in 1865 that area was a part of Oneida County and was known to be one of the most dangerous stretches of road on the stage route between Butte, Montana, and Salt Lake City, Utah.
Apparently, the area around Malad City was also a popular place to hijack the stagecoach, because there are at least three stories told of robberies that took place near there, which will be related below.
The stories of Malad High School Traditions.
The story of when the Deep Creek dam flooded Malad City.
The story of Jesse James, part of local history.
The story of Two-Mile Mountain and other stories by Donald Stephens Evans.
The story of the first Oneida County Courthouse.
The stories of violence in the early history of Oneida County.
The story of Charley Phelps, a victim of stagecoach robbery, who is buried in Malad.
The story of Frank Clark and “Old Ephraim”
The story of a pioneer doctor in Oneida County.
The story of the Malad mine with an iron door.
Oneida County was formed in 1864. The name, an Indian word for a member of an Iroquoian tribe once in New York State, was chosen by the legislature because some of the early settlers were from Oneida, New York. Soda Springs was designated to be the county seat. Brigadier-General Patrick Edward Connor had laid it out the previous summer, 1803. With three companies of soldiers and some families of Morrisites, he established Fort Connor, and created the first hotel and general store. However, treaties with the Bannock and Shoshone Indians in the fall of 1863 brought about by the presence of troops made travel along the Oregon Trail safe for the first time. As immigration dwindled, the strategic importance of the military post declined. A bill of the Territorial Legislature passed on January 5, 1866 moved the county seat to Malad City. For two years, the county government was maintained in the upper level of Connor’s adobe hotel in Soda Springs.
The valley was visited between 1818 and 1821 by Donald McKenzie, a French-Canadian, and his party of trappers associated with the Northwest Company. Legend says that the name “Malade” was given to the largest stream by some of these trappers, either because they were made sick by drinking the alkaline water, or because they ate food that was tainted by the water. The word is French for bad water, or sickness.
Jim Bridger of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company may have passed through the valley in 1832 as a guide to Captain Benjamin Bonneville. The first colonists to pass through in 1885 were a group of LDS missionaries going to establish Fort Lemhi. An early freight road crossed the Malad valley and went to the Bannock valley, but after settlement began, the Portneuf route was used by way of Marsh Valley. Much traffic still continued to cross the Malad valley. One of the best-known roads was the Oneida Wagon Road, from Malad to Blackfoot. It was operated on a toll basis by William Murphy, and later by H.O. Harkness. Old settlers still recall the bandits who repeatedly robbed the stagecoaches of goods being shipped to Salt Lake City from the mines in Montana.
In 1854, the Waldron family, LDS converts from England, settled the lower valley and probably helped in building the old Malad Fort near Portage, Utah. However, Indian hostilities around 1860 drove them back to Utah. No further attempt to colonize was made until 1864, when seven men and boys from Utah began the irrigated farming community where the present Malad City now stands. Benjamin Thomas built the first house, made from willows and mud. His son David was the first white child born in the settlement. By 1886, Malad City was the fastest growing village in eastern Idaho.
The first cemetery was on Hungry Hill, but it was moved because it was polluting the water. Early stores, besides those of Henry Peck, were also operated by A.W. Vanderwood, Joseph W. Morgan, and the LDS Church. The building for the business of the LDS church still stands to this day as the Evans Co-op.
It is a well-known fact that there were actual stagecoach robberies that occurred in the early history of Oneida County. The problem is that there are many versions of the same stories, and it seems that accounts of different stories have been combined into one story, making it very confusing for the reader to determine what happened and when it happened.
In the early years, freight wagons were used to transport goods to the Montana gold mines. These wagons were drawn by either mules or oxen and were so slow that they made only between three and five trips a season. They could only travel about twelve miles a day.
In 1864, Ben Holladay purchased the stage line that went through Malad. The passenger stages could travel about a hundred miles in twenty-four hours, and were drawn by between four to six horses who were changed every twelve or fifteen miles. Drivers were changed every fifty miles. The drivers were usually accompanied by a man called a messenger, who was a guard that rode beside the driver.
Holladay (Halliday as they call him) was described as being very energetic and farseeing. The Honorable John Hailey writes from personal knowledge about the famous stage man as follows: “At the time Mr. Holladay established his Overland Stage Line from the Missouri River to Salt Lake City and from Salt Lake City to Helena, Montana and to Boise, the country through which his stages must run was wild, inhabited by none save Indians, usually hostile, and a few white men who were equally dangerous. Few men would even have entertained the idea of engaging in such a dangerous and hazardous business, which involved the investment of several hundred thousand dollars to build substantial stations and fit up the road with the necessary live and rolling stock, forage, provisions, men, arms, and ammunition for the protection of life, property, and the United States mail, but Mr. Holladay did it successfully. He opened the great Overland Route and transported mail and passengers from the east to west and returned with reasonable celerity and security, besides making the route much safer for others to travel and blazing the way for the Union Pacific railroad, which was commenced soon after.”
Apparently, the area around Malad City was a popular place to hijack the stagecoach, because there are old legends of robberies that took place near here.
Three men named McCay, Jones, and Spangler followed a stage out of Malad City in 1870, and held it up about six or seven miles from the city. It is said that Spangler and Jones were later captured; however, Jones escaped from jail, and Spangler apparently entered a plea bargain, giving information that led to the recovery of $6,000 of the $9,000 taken from the coach.
About two weeks after the robbery related above in 1870, there was a holdup near the top of the Malad Divide. It is believed that this is the robbery that was referred to by Hattie Morgan in “Idaho’s Malad Valley, A History” by Thomas J. McDevitt, M.D. One man was known variously by three different names- Ed. Flag, Frank Long, and Frank Carpenter. The other man had a last name of Stone and was said to belong to a good family from Louisville, Kentucky.
The robbers placed three dummies in a half-exposed position near the road and, according to the story, made off with $36,000 in gold bullion without firing a shot. The stagecoach that went through the area that day carried no passengers.
Hattie Morgan said that the name of the driver was Mart Goddard and that the messenger was “Curley Dan”. The stage returned to Malad after the robbery, and the men said that they had been held up by a gang of five men, assuming that the other three were the dummies.
In a history written as part of the American History and Genealogy Project (AHGP) for Bannock County, Idaho, the story is related that J.N. Ireland, Tom Oakley, Daniel Robbins, and four other men trailed the robbers from the spot where the robbery occurred and followed them to Birch Creek (we assume Birch Creek near Robin in Bannock County).
It was dark by the time the robbers were found, so early the next morning, Ireland and the six other men crossed the creek and came close to the unsuspecting thieves. When the robbers became aware of the posse, they hid in a hollow. Ireland and his men divided, with Ireland and Robbins deciding to trail the thieves, three men staying with the robbers’ horses, and one man, Tom Oakley, hiding behind a rock with a rifle. As Ireland and Robbins were trailing the robbers, Oakley yelled out to them in warning. At that time Robbins was shot. The robbers tried to run and Oakley shot both of them, killing Flag (aka Long or Carpenter) and shooting Stone in the leg.
This agrees with Hattie Morgan’s account, which said that her father, Dr. J.W. Morgan was summoned along with J.W. White, who found the posse threatening to hang Stone.
The Malad men tried to get Stone to tell them where the money was. Stone tried to tell them that there were three other men involved and that they had the money. It is said that after Tom Oakley (after whom the town of Oakley, Idaho was named) “took the matter in hand” that Stone finally confessed that the money was hidden near Elkhorn. It was later found.
The account that is recorded by the AHGP indicates that Stone’s leg was amputated. Robbins recovered and later passed away in Salt Lake City, Utah. It was related later by Stone that as Ireland and Robbins were trailing the men, with Ireland wearing a grey shirt and Robbins wearing a white shirt, he and Flag saw a gleam of white through the foliage, which was Robbins’ shirt, causing them to shoot Robbins.
Stone was tried and found guilty. He was sent to the penitentiary in Boise but secured a pardon after a short time and became a preacher.
After the posse returned to Malad, they found out that a reward had been offered for the capture of the two men, and so each man received $1,280 each.
Another story was found, almost identical to the above account, indicating a robbery on the Malad Divide where there were three bandits, one with the name of Ad Long, and several dummies. Dan Robbins was cited as being the US Marshal, but the posse was comprised of men from Marsh Valley. The year was different too, happening in 1872. It states that the members of the posse were given a reward with which they each built a large frame home.
One other account tells of a robbery that took place near Malad where dummies were placed in a turning in the road. Again, there were no passengers in the stage, but the robbers made off with several bars of gold.
Oneida County used to be a very large county, including all of Bannock County. The mountainous area along the Portneuf Canyon made it one of the most dangerous stretches of road between Salt Lake City and Butte, Montana. It was very difficult to track men over the lava rocks that are so prevalent in the area, and the country was heavily timbered. The gold that was brought down from the Montana mines made it very tempting for highwaymen and encouraged highway robbery to such an extent that, in time, gave birth to vigilante groups.
One of the most famous robberies took place in what is now Bannock County at a place that came to be known as Robber’s Roost, which is near McCammon, Idaho. Accounts vary, but it is believed to have taken place on July 26, 1865.
The accounts even vary as to the amount of money and gold being carried and eventually stolen and as to whom the passengers were in the stage. In piecing together the story, it seems that the robbery was planned in Boise, Idaho, and included the leader named Brockie Jack who had recently broken out of jail in Oregon (another account indicates that the leader was Jim Locket); “Big” Dave Updyke, the Ada County Sheriff; Willy Whittmore; and Fred Williams (who in other accounts is called Frank Williams). Other accounts indicate there were as many as ten men who took part in the robbery. Apparently, part of the plan was for Williams to book passage on the stage and ride along as a passenger. The other three named in this account traveled from Boise to the area along the Portneuf Canyon known as Robber’s Roost, where there is a very narrow canyon.
This version of the story says that the bandits gathered a number of large boulders to block the stage road and that Willy Whittmore was armed with a new Henry repeating rifle. He was to shoot the lead horses if the driver tried to get around the roadblock.
The robbers apparently waited some weeks until, on July 21, 1865, the stagecoach left Virginia City with a seasoned driver, Charlie Parks, and seven passengers, including one calling himself Fred Williams.
On July 26, 1865, the coach reached the stream near the place where the three outlaws were hiding in the brush. Slowing down, the coach traveled through a stream of water, went up the bank, and suddenly stopped because across the road there were the boulders the bandits had placed to stop the coach. The outlaws appeared from their hiding places with guns raised. From the coach, one of the passengers, a professional gambler named Sam Martin, poked his head out of the side door with a revolver in his hand. Aiming at Whittmore, he pulled the trigger and shot off Whittmore’s left index finger. Enraged, Whittmore shouted, “It’s a trap!” and began to empty his rifle into the side of the stagecoach. In a desperate attempt to escape, Charlie Parks tried to break through the brush, but Brockie Jack shot both of the lead horses, and the stage stopped dead in its tracks.
The injured Parks scrambled from the coach and dashed towards the woods. In the meantime, Fred Williams, the outlaw accomplice, and passenger James B. Brown, a Virginia City saloonkeeper, were also able to escape into the nearby timbers.
Brockie Jack grabbed the rifle out of Whittmore’s hands and approached the stagecoach, where he found all of the passengers dead. Inside were the bodies of Sam Martin, the professional gambler who had shot Whittmore; Mr. and Mrs. Andy Ditmar, a Mormon couple who had been visiting relatives in Bannock, Montana; Jess Harper, an ex-Confederate soldier who was on his way to visit his parents in Sacramento, California; and a man named L. F. Carpenter, who was headed for San Francisco to catch a steamship to New Orleans. All were dead except Carpenter, who was injured and feigned his death in order to survive. (In other accounts, it indicates that Ditmar is known as Dinan, Didnan or Dignan. Other accounts also indicate that his wife did not accompany him, and that he was carrying gold dust along with a man named Holmes. In even another account it indicates that the other passenger with Ditmar was named McCausland, and another account says there was a passenger named Lawrence Merz.)
In another account, it states that Southeast Idaho pioneer Alexander Toponce recalled, “My friend Dignan had twenty-seven buckshot in his body.”
After the outlaws were gone, Charlie Parks and James B. Brown emerged from the timbers. Brown pulled the still-breathing Carpenter from beneath the dead bodies and made him and the injured Parks as comfortable as possible inside the coach. He then cut the stage loose from the two dead horses and drove it to Miller Ranch Station. (Another account indicates that Carpenter had escaped from the coach, crawled to the riverbank only a few feet away, dropped into the water, and then found a place to hide.)
As the survivors told their story, Parks recognized Brockie Jack and David Updyke, while James Brown positively identified Fred Williams and Willy Whittmore. The insurance company, in an attempt to reclaim its $86,000 loss, immediately offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the recovery of the gold and the capture of the robbers. In the meantime, the vigilante committee issued orders to hang the criminals once they were captured.
Willy Whittmore, the hot-tempered gunman who had killed all the passengers, was the first to be caught while on a drinking binge in Arizona. He resisted arrest and was subsequently shot. A week later Fred Williams was captured in Colorado and hanged by the local vigilante committee. Both men were nearly penniless when they were killed.
Having been elected as the Ada County Sheriff In March of 1865, the vigilantes had to be more careful with David Updyke. On September 28, 1865, the Payette River Vigilance Committee arrested him on a charge of defrauding the revenue and failing to arrest a hard-case outlaw named West Jenkins, but Updyke made bail and fled to Boise where he had more influence. However, the citizens in Boise were also fed up with the criminal elements and began to form groups for the purpose cleaning up the county. By the next spring, Updyke left Boise with another criminal known as John Dixon. They were followed by the vigilantes, captured, and hung. On April 14, the bodies were found with a note pinned to Updyke’s chest accusing him of being “an aider of murderers and thieves”. The next day, an anonymous note appeared in Boise that further explained the committee’s actions. “Dave Updyke: Accessory after the fact to the Portneuf stage robbery, accessory and accomplice to the robbery of the stage near Boise City in 1864, chief conspirator in burning property on the overland stage line, guilty of aiding and assisting escape of West Jenkins, and the murderer of others while sheriff, and threatening the lives and property of an already outraged and long suffering community.”
As to the last outlaw – Brockie Jack – he seemed to disappear into oblivion.
There is no record of the gold bars having ever been sold or found. One account indicates that it was believed the gold was buried at the City of Rocks.
There were many robberies of the Overland Stage Lines owned by Ben Holladay.
Before the stage line, freight wagons were used to transfer goods to the gold fields in Montana. This photo is of a freight wagon on Bannock Street in Malad.