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Peter Netzel

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Still Out There

Researching lost treasure stories can turn up some interesting results and this story is no exception. Sometimes what we find is kind of hard to except. Some lost treasures never existed, and some are better than we could hope for.

The story in this case was taken from a lead from a man who I personally knew and admired. His version of the events never happened, but he did have correct the amount of the loot, which was $50,000. According to the old newspaper accounts, this was a memorable crime in the northwest section of the state. I have to wonder why it was never covered accurately before.

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Peter Netzel

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The following newspaper accounts provide details which show that there may be a slim chance of recovery of the unspent hidden portion of the loot:

MONTANA, ITS STORY & BIOGRAPHY:

A History of Aboriginal & Territorial Montana & Three Decades of Statehood.

Volume 3, 1879

WILLIAM PARENT.

––––––––

One of the prosperous businessmen of Whitefish is William Parent, now conducting a successfully real estate business. But, at one time, he was very active in Flathead County as one of its deputy sheriffs. He was born at Pierre, South Dakota, a son of L.N. and Josephine (Leanis) Parent, and was reared and educated in his native state. In 1900, he came to the city of Seattle, Washington, with his father, and still later, to Flathead County, his father establishing himself as a blacksmith and wheelwright at Kalispell.

After coming to Kalispell William Parent was married to May Gregg, a daughter of William Gregg, a pioneer of the county and an Indian fighter during the early days of the region. Mr. Parent adopted his father’s calling and conducted a blacksmith shop at Kalispell for some years, and then about 1906, came to Whitefish and carried on the same business for seven years, when he was appointed chief of police at Whitefish, serving creditably under its first mayor. A.E. Long, who for a time was superintendent of the Great Northern Railroad, but resigned and went into a general merchandise business at Whitefish.

His successor, H.E. Snyder, reappointed Mr. Parent, and he also served as constable. Sheriff W.H. O’Connell then appointed Mr. Parent one of his deputies, and during his administration, Frederick LaBore was hung for the murder of a Mr. Yocum and his son, which was one of the most cold-blooded crimes in the annals of the state. The partner of Frederich LaBore, George Hobbinger, was sent to the penitentiary for life.

One of the most stirring experiences of Mr. Parent’s official life occurred in connection with the robbery of the Great Northern Railroad at Rondo, Montana, by two notorious desperadoes, Frank Howser and a McDonald, who had terrorized all of the western county by their boldness and utter contempt of official interference. William Parent, with his associates, set out, determined to capture these men, and it was Mr. Parent who succeeded, arresting the men in a dining car after they had boarded the train at Bonner’s Ferry for Spokane, Washington.

At the time of the arrest, the train was just pulling into Spokane. Excitement ran high, and it was found necessary to take them quietly out of Spokane rather than wait for extradition papers, and deliver them to Flathead County, from whence they were taken to Helena, Montana, by U.S. Marshall Merrifield. The men managed to escape from the jail, but Howser was recaptured.

The other man is still at large. When Mr. Parent captured these men, $14,500 of the $50,000 they had stolen was found on their persons, in the original packages. It took courage of the highest order to arrest these men, but Mr. Parent was never lacking in this characteristic, and took the event as part of his day’s work.

He served Whitefish as marshal for twenty-eight years in addition to his work as chief of police and deputy sheriff, and is one of its most enthusiastic boosters.

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Peter Netzel

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The Mineral Independent

Superior, Montana

February 24, 1921

 

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BANDIT WHO ROBBED ORIENTAL LIMITED

OF $50,000

–––––––––

 AND BROKE OUT OF JAIL

AT HELENA

–––––––––

DIES IN

LEAVENWORTH PRISON

–––––––––

Last week in the hospital at the federal prison at Leavenworth, Kansas, George Frankhauser, one of the two bandits who held up the Great Northern Oriental Limited train near Rondo, Lincoln County, in September 1907, and robbed the express car of $50,000, died after a lingering illness. He was serving a life term. His partner in crime, Charles McDonald, was never captured after the pair broke jail at Helena in 1909 while awaiting trial, but the federal authorities claimed to have positive information that he died shortly after the jail break.

The robbing of the Oriental Limited, the capture of the bandits, their escape from jail, and the subsequent capture of Frankhauser, formed one of the most unusual chapters in the history of crime in modern times in Montana.

On or about September 9, 1907, the Commercial National Bank of Chicago sent by registered mail to the old National Bank of Spokane $50,000 in five packages of $10,000 each. The money was in bills of small denominations and wrapped in units of $500 each.

Three days later, on the evening of September 12, the Great Northern passenger train was running along about 50 miles an hour through a heavy rain storm, when the fireman on the locomotive, Fred Pearson, looked up from his work of shoveling coal to find a rifle covering him. The man behind the rifle told him to have the train stopped about two miles further on. A second bandit climbed from the tender into the locomotive and sat down beside the engineer, whose name was Shutt, and presently told the latter to stop the train in a rock cut through which they were passing.

The surface of the ground around the cut was very rocky, dotted over with boulders and pine trees, and sloped down to the Kootenai River, which was a couple of hundred yards distant. The train consisted of the express car, blind baggage and mail car, and eight coaches. As soon as it stopped, the fireman and engineer were ordered to get off and walk to a telegraph pole not more than 12 feet away, where the bandits had a cache of dynamite and firearms. Frankhauser, who appeared to be the leader and director of the enterprise, then fired two shots in the air, and ordered the engineer and fire-man to walk back to the mail and express cars and order the mail clerk and express messenger out. Their orders were to go back into the passenger coaches. The mail clerk and a companion in the coach obeyed the orders, and the express messenger soon followed them. Frankhauser fired two shots over the coaches to accelerate their action.

Frankhauser then blew open the door of the baggage car and ordered the engineer and fireman to get into the car. They did so, after which the bandits blew open the safe, but found no money or valuables in it. About this time two men were noticed walking along the track and were ordered to beat it, which they did, followed by a few bullets to speed them on their way. The mail car was next entered, and the registered pouches cut open. One was found to contain the $50,000 sent out by the Chicago bank. As soon as they found this, the robbers left the train and ordered the engineer and firemen to pull the train on out of the cut, warning them not to turn on the headlight of the engine for 15 minutes. While Frankhauser had been attending to the details of the robbery, McDonald had been keeping up an almost continuous rifle fire along the train to keep the passengers and train crew within the coaches.
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Peter Netzel

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Bloodhounds Lose Scent

Sheriff William H. O'Connell of Flathead County was at the scene of the robbery the next day, as were representatives of the Draper Detective Agency of Spokane, the latter bringing bloodhounds to try and trace the robbers. The bloodhounds took up the scent and followed some distance down the river, branching off on a trail into the mountains.

Owing to the wet ground the scent was poor and the chase was abandoned in a few hours. Frankhauser and McDonald crossed into Idaho and made for Bonners Ferry, where they took a room at the Casey hotel. They spent money freely, but no one seemed to suspect them. During the three days that they spent in the town they squandered about $600 in Tom Riley's saloon and some $600 more in other places. They bought all the champagne in town and the saloonkeepers wired to Spokane for fresh consignments by express. One night, while they were there, Frankhauser, who was using the name of Ed. Smith, gathered together a party composed of a few men they had become acquainted with and half a dozen women from the red-light district, and hired Riley's saloon for the night. The doors were locked, and a saturnalia of drinking followed. As much as $100 worth of champagne was lined up on the bar at one time. When the occupants of the place reached a stage where they could not drink any more, they resorted to all kinds of amusements, such as lining up a long row of bottles, or arranging them like tenpins, and then trying their luck in knocking them down by throwing bottles.

Frankhauser and McDonald represented themselves as mining men who had struck it rich. From Bonners Ferry they went to Butte during October 1907. The city detective of Butte, Charles Bates, testified that he saw them there in the A.B.C. saloon on or about October 14. He was called there because the pair were drinking freely, spending money like water and were inclined to be quarrelsome. A fist fight took place and Frankhauser and McDonald were arrested, but were released. They soon returned to Bonner's Ferry, and it is believed that during the last 10 days of October they hid $20,000 of the money they had taken from the train.

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Peter Netzel

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Where Was $20,000 Hidden?

Fritz Lange, a miner living near Sylvanite, 60 or 70 miles from Bonner's Ferry, testified at Frankhauser's trial later, that the pair came to his house in the mountains toward the end of October and spent the night there. They were traveling with a team and buggy. They said they were mining men and were going to inspect a mine. They had plenty of whisky with them. They would not tell what property they were going to look over; but, early in the morning after their arrival, they drove toward Sylvanite. They were back before noon and left again for Bonners Ferry.

It is said they bought a crock from a farmer's wife near Bonner's Ferry. The crock was afterward found. Did the men hide the money in the crock; and was the cache discovered by some person or persons who took the $20,000 contained in it? Or, did they hide the money elsewhere and is it still where they left it? Or, again, after Frankhauser was captured and sent to the penitentiary, did McDonald return for the stolen treasure and take it from its hiding place? These are questions that never have been answered and probably never will be.

The train robbers finally decided to leave Bonner's Ferry for a spree in Spokane, and invited the saloonkeeper, Riley, and Jesse Howe, a liveryman, to go along as their guests. Howe had become suspicious, however, and sent a telegram to T.B. Enright, a Great Northern detective at Spokane, notifying him that the pair were about to leave for Spokane.

On the train, the four drank much in the drawing room of the sleeper that they rode in. For hours they caroused, and then suddenly the door of the drawing room opened, and Enright and two other detectives entered with drawn revolvers and ordered the four to throw up their hands There was no chance for resistance.

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Peter Netzel

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Bandits in Kalispell Jail.

Frankhauser and McDonald were searched. Between $14,000 and $15,000 was taken from their pockets, all in currency and most of the packages bearing the straps of the Commercial National Bank of Chicago, from which the stolen money came. Riley and Howe were turned loose. Frankhauser and McDonald were locked up in Spokane and subsequently taken to Kalispell. There they tried to break out of jail, but had not succeeded in sawing through the bars of their cells when the federal officers came from Helena to take them in charge. They had obtained three saws from some unknown source; and when they left the jail in Kalispell, each managed to take along a saw concealed in his clothing. When they were searched in jail at Helena, McDonald's saw was discovered and taken from him by a jailer; but Frankhauser managed to keep his and get it into his cell with him. During the course of the next few weeks Frankhauser managed to saw through the bars between his cell and the corridor, and to get the saw to McDonald, who did the same.

Then before daylight one morning in March 1908, they both removed the bars from their cells and got out into the corridor, at the end of which was a small window leading into an alley at the back of the jail. With much difficulty, they managed to saw some screening loose and pry the bars out, after which, by stripping themselves naked, they managed to squeeze through to freedom. Dressing themselves, they passed hurriedly through town and took to the mountains up Dry Gulch.

Near the top of the divide they hid under two blankets they had brought along, on top of which they piled saplings to hide the cloth. While there, they heard a posse riding along near them. That night they returned to Helena and obtained food by robbing some houses along the edge of Mount Helena.

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Peter Netzel

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Fugitives Travel Eastward

Early in the morning they started for Great Falls, following the railroad until they reached the mountains. After that they kept to the hills, stealing food at night from ranch houses and sleeping mostly in the daytime. Passing Wolf Creek and Cascade, they finally reached Great Falls, but skirted the town and made over the hill toward Fort Benton.

They had many narrow escapes from capture while robbing houses, but finally reached Fort Benton, where they decided to steal a boat and drift down the Missouri. They found a big canoe and robbed a warehouse to provision it, but just as they were about to cast off, a boat approached the shore and they were forced to run, taking practically nothing with them.

After various adventures, they reached Havre, where they burglarized several houses, securing needed clothes and food. Walking and riding the rods on freight trains, they at length reached Williston, N.D., and finally got to Fargo.

Crossing to Moorhead, they entered a restaurant to eat, when the police chief and another officer arrested them. On the way to the police station, according to a pre-arranged plan with his accomplice, Frankhauser tripped one of the officers, broke away and ran. He escaped, as did McDonald, the latter being wounded. He was not captured again, but died later from disease and the injuries he sustained. 

Frankhauser went on to Glendon, on the Northern Pacific, working as a cableman for three months, but soon was involved in some burglaries and again arrested. He was brought back to Montana, where he was tried in January 1909, and sentenced to life imprisonment at Leavenworth.

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Peter Netzel

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What we can learn from the above news articles, is that the scene of the train robbery was near Rondo, Montana. The two men involved, took their time in the region and spent large sums of the loot on drinking.

But still, it is believed that some of the stolen money was hidden in the area of Sylvanite.  Finding the property of Fritz Lange should bring one close to where it was hidden. Questions remain, though: Was the loot found already? Was the empty crock discovered the one the thieves purchased in Bonners Ferry?

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Peter Netzel

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still out there.jpg 

The Lange cabin was near the base of Abe Lincoln Mountain, Sylvanite is just to the north. Somewhere, before reaching town, along the Yaak River, the $20,000 was hidden.


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