On July 24th, 1892, a group of masked men stormed the Redding, California jail and dragged out two men accused of robbing a stagecoach. The men were brought to a nearby derrick in what is now downtown Redding and hung for their alleged crimes.
And so ended the lives of the outlaw Ruggles Brothers. The story of their lives and eventual lynching continues to sit prominently in the history of Northern California today.
As the story goes, John Ruggles, a sex-addict and ex-convict, moved to the Sierra Nevada mountains to live off the land following the death of his wife. That’s where he met a man named called Arizona Pete and they began robbing stagecoaches throughout California and Nevada in the late 1800’s.
Fearing for John’s well-being, brother Charles Ruggles went into the Sierra Nevada wilderness to find his brother, only to join his outlaw gang and stagecoach robbing enterprise.
On May 10th, 1892, the men robbed the Weaverville stagecoach, which was known to carry large amounts of gold from the small community of Weaverville to the bigger cities. On this particular day, the stagecoach wasn’t holding its usual take, and the Ruggles Brothers looked for their next stagecoach to rob.
The men had taken up camp about 5 miles north of Redding to scout their next take, and on May 12th, the Redding stagecoach came rolling through the area. They ambushed the stagecoach, shooting the driver and two guards in the coach, killing Amos “Buck” Montgomery. During the exchange, Charles was hit with buckshot, severely wounding him.
John thought that Charles was mortally wounded, so he said his goodbye to his brother and made off with the $5,000 loot. Charles was found and taken to the Redding jail, where he eventually admitted the man with the stolen loot was his brother.
Following a $1,1000 reward on his head, John was eventually captured in Woodland. He was then taken back to Redding, reunited with his brother and set to face trial on July 28th, 1892. The trial would never take place.
While in jail, John desperately attempted to gain his freedom by uncovering the whereabouts of the stolen loot. He said he left it in Middle Creek, about six miles west of Redding. A pouch from the coach was eventually recovered, but none of the loot was inside.
It was said that the Ruggles Brothers were so handsome and charming, that women from all over the area would come to visit and brought them flower bouquets, cakes, fruits, and even offers of marriage. This infuriated the local men. Here is an excerpt describing the scene from the LA Times:
“The recent sentimental attitude of a number of women toward the prisoners as well as the line of defense adopted by their counsel, who has been evidently endeavoring to implicate Messenger [Amos “Buck”] Montgomery [the dead victim] as a party to the crime, had been denounced by a number of persons in the county.”
So it was no surprise that a mob of forty men stormed the jail in order to complete an illegal lynching. John offered to show them the whereabouts of the hidden treasure in order to save his brother, but the mob would have none of it.
So it was on July 24th, 1892 that the Ruggle Brothers were hanged to death near the railroad tracks in Redding. The bodies were left hanging from the derrick for three days before being removed, in order to allow locals and people on the train see the bodies. Nobody was ever prosecuted for the illegal lynching.
Many contend this was a publicity stunt in order to discourage future stagecoach robberies. The LA Times wrote about the lynching:
“The lynching of a brace of stage-robbers at Redding a few nights ago was not at all in accordance with law and order; but that it will have a discouraging effect on the “hold-up” industry, there is little question. It will be perfectly safe to indulge in stage rides in Shasta county, no doubt, for some time to come.”
This story has become a mainstay in illustrating the lawlessness of the Northern California Gold Rush in the late-1800’s. While people flocked to the area to get rich, the rule of law was many times put in the hands of regular citizens.
The stolen loot was never found. It would be worth around $125,000 today.
Northern California’s Outdoor Digital Newsmagazine