The Colorado Daily Chieftain called it “An entirely successful robbery,” so successful we’ll probably never know the names of the men who rode away with over $20,000 in 1889 from a Telluride bank.

The San Miguel Valley Bank had just opened for business the morning of June 24. The cashier, C. F. Painter, was out and about in town running errands, leaving Mr. Hyde, the bookkeeper, alone in the bank.

The number of men involved in what took place next is disputed in accounts. Some accounts say two men entered the bank while one held the reins of the horses. Other accounts say three entered while one waited outside.

Rev. J. J. Gibbons wrote that several weeks prior to the robbery, three men had been spotted camping on the outskirts of Telluride. Their horses were well fed with oats and blanketed every night, “something unusual for ordinary cowboys to do,” he said.

On the morning of the heist, Rev. Gibbons was traveling with a companion from Rico to West Dolores to attend to someone who had fallen ill. “We met a man riding a chestnut horse,” he recalled, “which threw out one of its fore feet, and I remember I called the attention of my companion to the beauty and military step of the animal.”

He surmised that this stranger, with whom they did not speak in passing, was on his way to meet the rest of the bank robbery gang. In the weeks prior, the men would ride into town and enjoy drinks and fine cigars in the company of miners, gathering information.

There were 400-500 men working in Marshall Basin at the time, and payday for them was considered an unofficial holiday. When the day arrived, the men rode into town and purchased cigars in the saloon, just as they had been known to do. The day prior, $22,000 had been sent to the bank to cover payday.

At about 10 a.m., the men left the saloon and rode to the bank. They could see that the vault was open as the bookkeeper was attending to morning business. One robber stayed on mount and held the horses while the others walked inside, cool as could be.

“Not a soul was near, when the tall, dark robber stepped up to the teller,” Rev. Gibbons wrote, “and bade him throw up his hands.” Hyde turned around and laughed, thinking it was prank, “but before the laugh left his face the man ... pushed the barrel of the revolver almost into his mouth, and with an awful oath threatened to kill him.”

The other robbers filled a gunnysack with gold, silver and crisp greenbacks that were all lined up for the taking on the other side of the counter. Hyde, now with his hands stuck in a sincere upward thrust, recalled the robber who had him at bay saying “he had a mind to kill him, as a coward is not fit to live.”

Not a soul aside from Hyde and the robbers was around, and the men walked easily out to their waiting horses and proclaimed success.

“Boys, the job is well done,” the tall, dark one said, “and we have plenty of time. Keep cool now and let us be gone.”

Only a slight miscue marred the perfect getaway. “One of the men in mounting missed his stirrup and fell down,” reported the Delta Independent. “But before rising had his revolver in his hand ready for any emergency.”

Off they rode down the street on their fast, well-fed horses “firing their revolvers in the air. What their object was in thus attracting attention is unknown,” the Independent reported.

A posse was formed and within 15 to 20 minutes was in hot pursuit. The robbers rode through San Miguel City, a few miles from Telluride, and gathered an extra horse and their Winchester rifles and belts which had been left at a strategic location.

The posse was unorganized, and for the most part unarmed, having been thrust together quickly. Their gear and horses were in slipshod condition for such a manhunt, and soon “the pursuers gradually straggled out, made no combined force, and were strung out over several miles of country before evening,” according to the Independent.

Harry Adsit, who led the pursuit, rode over a ridge and directly found himself upon the desperadoes. “Hello, there! Harry, old boy,” exclaimed one of the robbers.

“Mr. Adsit, fully realizing that he might have been killed and thankful that this advantage was not taken,” read the report in the Independent, “proceeded to take the back track toward his companions and was unmolested.”

Considering that the pursuers had little at stake, and the pursued had $20,000 and their lives to protect, “the non-success of the disorganized party in securing a capture is not to be wondered at.”

The robbers made out for Ute territory, having last been seen around Trout Lake between Rico and Telluride. They could have headed toward Arizona or the Sierra La Salle Mountains in Utah.

The bank put up a big reward, but the chase didn’t continue for long. As the Independent put it, “the depositors will not suffer and the loss will be distributed among the stockholders, so that no one will lose any great amount.”

Sources: The Delta Independent, July 2, 1889; “In the San Juan,” by Rev. J. J. Gibbons; The Aspen Daily Chronicle, June 26, 1889; The Colorado Daily Chieftain, June 26, 1889.

Alan Todd is a 35-year newspaper veteran who lives in Ouray County. He can be reached at alanrosstodd5@yahoo.com.