Saturday, February 2, 2019

Dick Fellows - the Horseless Outlaw

Bank and stagecoach robbers of the old west "always" have a horse to make their getaway on, right? Well, not always! Not at least in the case of repeat offender--Dick Fellows.

I really doubt that it was a fear of horses that plagued him. Outlaw Dick Fellows just didn't get along with those critters very well at all. In the few times he attempted to ride, it most always resulted in a short jaunt with Fellows planted on the ground. Whether he was thrown from the horse or not, bad things would happen along the way.

I heard of one account related to his bad luck with horses where one of them that he stole was poorly shod because when it's owner apparently ran out of regular horse shoes so he put a mule shoe on one hoof. This time, Fellows managed to stay on the horse, somehow; but after what would have otherwise been a successful stagecoach robbery, the unique shoe pattern made it very easy for lawmen to track him, and he was promptly arrested. But we'll get to more of those stories later.

"I've never heard of a robber from the old west who couldn't ride a horse," says Al Colombo, WMD. "Until now!"

The outlaw, Dick Fellows (born George Lyttle in Kentucky in 1846) was from a good upstanding family. And he apparently did well in school, as he fully intended to become a lawyer like his father was. But the eruption of the Civil War put those plans on hold. And while only in his teens, he joined the Confederate Army and served in combat until his capture by the Union forces in 1863. He remained a prisoner in a Northern prison camp until the war ended. George returned home after the war and tried to take up where he left off in obtaining his license to practice law. But like many who suffered the hardships of the war and especially imprisonment by the enemy, he let alcohol get the best of him.

In 1867, Lyttle thought that maybe moving as far away as California would somehow provide some better opportunities for a fresh start. But nothing in legitimate vocations panned out for him. So, out of desperation, George Lyttle changed his name to Dick Fellows and began robbing stagecoaches. He made pretty good money at first, but the law was often getting too close on his heels. He tried again to go straight by going into the hog farming business with an acquaintance. So they went out and bought 600 hogs. But before they could make any money at all from their venture, a fire burned their whole enterprise to the ground.

The Outlaw Who Couldn't Ride a Horse

So, it was back to robbing stagecoaches again for Fellows. He heard one day that a Wells Fargo's chief detective was going to be riding the next coach into town, and that meant that there was likely a whole lot of money or valuables on board. And he was definitely right about that money part. There was $240,000 in cash on that coach. But there was this one little (big, actually) problem. The horse that he had stolen threw him off and the fall knocked him unconscious for a few hours, and as you have already guessed, he missed the stagecoach.

Apparently having more guts than brains, fellows stole another horse and managed to stay on it long enough to actually rob another stagecoach and grab the strong box from it. But since he had forgotten to bring along any tools to pry it open, he decided to load it on the back of the horse. While he was struggling to put that very heavy box on the horse, the horse bolted and ran away. And with the darkness of night falling, Fellows managed to lose his way and his footing, and stumble over a cliff, which knocked him out cold for the second time.

But worse yet, when he woke up, he found that his left leg was broken and that the heavy strong box had also crushed his left foot. He somehow managed to limp and crawl in what must have been severe pain, all the way to a construction camp where he made himself a pair of crutches and stole the axe that he later used to finally break open the strong box. His take in cash was about $1,800. Not a bad haul back in those days, but nowhere near the $240,000 that he missed out on when the other horse dumped him. But he never even got to enjoy his booty this time because the Wells Fargo detectives caught up with him, and he ended up in San Quentin prison until he was pardoned in 1881.

Fellows later tried working as a Spanish language instructor, and even worked for a newspaper for a while. But the pay from those occupations was not enough to satisfy him, and were probably just too boring. So, (you guessed it) he went back to robbing stagecoaches. And once again it cost him his freedom as he was identified as the robber and was sentenced to a life term in Folsom prison. But while in prison, Fellows became a model prisoner, and spent many hours teaching a course on (wait for it)...... Moral Philosophy. Finally in 1908, Fellows was pardoned at the age of 62. After that, he seemed to just fade into the sunset and out of view of the historians.

But even with all his sometimes humorous shortcomings and character flaws, the outlaw Dick Fellows deserves a lot of credit at least for his wholehearted persistence and determination to become a stagecoach robber.

Author, Gary Miller


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