Dick Fellows was a premier stagecoach bandit in California. The Wells, Fargo Express Company credited him with between eight and twelve holdups between 1869 and 1882. Although his legacy to the old west is one of comic opera. Wells, Fargo, with good reason, took him seriously. His addiction to the excessive use of alcohol, his incompetent holdups, and his exceedingly poor horsemanship contributed far more to his legend than his successful robberies. In fact, his quick wit, audacity, education, and cultured background made him smooth, wily, and tricky.
Fellows had an excellent start in life. He was born to David and Drucilla Lyttle as George Brittain Lyttle in Clay County. Kentucky, in 1845 or 1846. His father was a prosperous attorney and court judge, and his mother was a homemaker. His parents came from established families: the father was born in Virginia in 1819 and his mother in Kentucky in 1826. Prior to 1850, the family moved to Harlan County. Kentucky. where young George received his education and guidance toward being an attorney in his later life George was caught in the onslaught of the Civil War, and during July 1, 863 he rode his horse into Virginia and enlisted in Kentucky's 10th mounted infantry regiment, Confederate service, for three years. Shortly after his enlistment, the regiment divided into Company K, 13th Kentucky Cavalry, and Company L, 10th Kentucky Infantry. Perhaps already having trouble with horses, George Brit Lyttle went into the infantry. On November 12, 1863. during an action in Lee County, Virginia, Lyttle was captured by Union forces. As a prisoner of war. he was transported to Camp Chase, Cincinnati. Ohio, where he was paroled to his home during December 1863.
Conforming to his terms of parole not to again take up arms against the United States, Lyttle remained at his home for the duration of the conflict. Studying the Law George continued his studies for the bar by reading law in his father's law office. In time he was accepted by the county bar association to practice law in Harlan County. His future appeared bright at the close of the Civil War. but trouble for him was ahead. In 1865 his mother died, and George was unable to deal effectively with the tragic loss. He also became hopelessly addicted to the excessive use of alcoholic beverages. He became an embarrassment to his family and friends. and his competency was reduced to the point of ruin. He escaped his social position by leaving Kentucky and not telling his people where he was going. He disappeared.
In 1868, George Lyttle surfaced in Los Angeles, California, as Dick Fellows. He worked at whatever jobs he could find, but he did not reestablish himself as an attorney. He continued his uncontrolled and excessive drinking, and in his later words. he "became besotted." He and a friend, Ed Clark, went into hog farming to supply meat to growing Los Angeles, and they ranged their animals on the government land in the hills north of the town. However, he and Clark had cash flow problems and needed ready money for supplies. Fellows had an easy answer to their money problems: he would rob a stagecoach.
During 1869. Fellows committed four or five successful stagecoach robberies on the roads in the hills around the Los Angeles basin and San Fernando Valley. He always worked alone. Masked and openly displaying a firearm, he stepped into the road in front of approaching stagecoaches and ordered the drivers to stop and throw the express boxes to the ground. The robberies occurred at dusk or early dark. Luck seemed to be with Fellows during these robberies.
However, his luck changed one night in late 1869. Fellows stopped the east-bound stagecoach from San Fernando to Cahuenga in the Cahuenga mountain pass east of the San Fernando Valley. As usual, he stepped in front of the approaching coach and yelled for the driver to stop and throw the express box into the road. However, before the driver could grab the box, a passenger leaped from the coach on the opposite side from the bandit and fired one shot from a pistol at the outlaw. The shot missed. Instead of shooting back, Fellows shouted: Move around the stage behind him. Boys! At this moment, the driver whipped the horses and the stagecoach careened up the road, leaving Fellows and the passenger standing in the roadway, in frustration. Fellows fired a shot after the departing stagecoach. The shot didn't take effect. Thinking .that he was surrounded by bandits, the passenger surrendered his pistol to Fellows, who then robbed him of his money Fellows ordered the passenger to walk to San Fernando, and then he turned to mount his horse. Fellows found that his horse had run down the road with the stagecoach horses and left him stranded. However, within minutes his horse returned to him and he was able to ride quickly from the robbery scene.
Another Robbery However, Fellows still needed money, and he resolved to hold up second stagecoach that night. He rode to another location and stationed himself on another mountain road leading into the San Fernando Valley to await the stagecoach. As the coach approached, he stepped into the roadway and ordered the driver to stop and throw the express box to the ground. However, before the coach could stop, a passenger fired two shots at the bandit, and, as before, the driver of the coach lashed his horses into a run and, again, Fellows was left standing in the roadway The quick-witted Fellows leaped upon his horse and galloped to a point ahead of the stagecoach and positioned himself for a second try at it. This time, when the stagecoach approached. Fellows stepped into the road and ordered the driver to stop his tired horses and throw the box to the ground. However, this time he added: "Don't shoot, boys, until you get the signal." Of course, this more than implied that the bandit wasn't working alone. The ruse worked, and the stagecoach was successfully robbed of $480.
Reward notices for the bandit were quickly distributed around the area, and posses scoured the region for the outlaw. Fellows didn't return to his ranch after the robbery. Instead, he hid in the brush along the San Gabriel River cast of Los Angeles. When he felt it safe, he ventured to a nearby roadhouse for food and refreshment. From the description of the bandit in the reward circulars, the tavern owner suspected Fellows of being the bandit the law enforcement officers were looking for. Before the unsuspecting Fellows realized what was happening, the proprietor and two of his patrons confronted him while the outlaw was eating. The tavern owner pointed a pistol at Fellows and he surrendered. Suddenly, the outlaw knocked the pistol down-ward and bolted for the door. When the gun was struck, however, it discharged and the bullet struck Fellows in the foot. Nevertheless. Fellows made it to his horse and rode away. After his escape from the roadhouse. Fellows rode to a farm to secure help for his wounded foot. He told the house occupants that he received the wound the night before during an altercation at a dance. His story was accepted, and someone was sent for a doctor who arrived and treated the minor wound. In the meantime, the roadhouse proprietor informed local law enforcement officers of his suspicions, and a search was launched for the outlaw in the new area. Surrender to a Posse The posse followed Fellows' horse tracks to the farm, and while Fellows was eating a meal, the officers surrounded the house and demanded that he surrender. Fellows realized that he was hopelessly outgunned, and he gave up.
He was taken to the Los Angeles jail and charged with one count of robbery and one count of assault with intent to commit murder for firing the shot at the stagecoach. Upon conviction of the charges, Fellows was sentenced to eight years in the San Quentin prison. He was transported by ship from San Pedro harbor to San Francisco. From there he was delivered to San Quentin prison on January 31. 1870, and entered the institution as prisoner #4378. The twenty-four-year-old Fellows soon adapted to prison life and it wasn't long before he had an easy assignment as the prison chaplain's assistant due to his charming ways and superior education. He was contrite, remorseful, cooperative, and a model prisoner. He studied the Spanish language, and he taught remedial education to other prisoners. He was pardoned by the California governor on April 4, 1874. after serving four years of his eight-year sentence.
After his release from prison, Fellows' activities remain unknown other than from a later statement from him that he quickly returned to his use of alcohol. In time, he needed some quick money, and he knew how to get it. During 1875 the Southern Pacific Railroad Company completed a trunk line south from Stockton through the San Joaquin Valley to Caliente, a village in the foothills east of Bakersfield. While railroad beds for tracks and tunnels through the mountains were constructed' rail freight and passengers to the south were transferred to horse-drawn vehicles for the journey. Often the freight consisted of Wells. Fargo company money shipments. During November 1875, Fellows, using the alias Richard Perkins, checked into a Bakersfield hotel. He frequented the local saloons to hear local community gossip, and he took train trips to Caliente to watch the transfer of passengers and freight from the train to waiting vehicles for their trips south. On December 4, 1875, he stood in a crowd of onlookers at the Caliente depot and watched Wells, Fargo Detective James Hume and a crew of four guards transfer $240,000 in gold coins from the train to a waiting stagecoach, special for the occasion, for transit to a bank in Los Angeles.
Unknown to Fellows, Detective Hume recognized him in the crowd, and knowing Fellows' past, Hume was alerted that there might be an attempt to rob the coach as it labored up the mountain road to the summit near Tehachapi. As the coach left the Caliente station, Fellows mounted his horse, which was rented from a local livery stable, and rode after the departed coach. He planned to ride off the road and reach a point ahead of the coach uphill; however, before he had gone far, the horse threw him and went back to the stable. The fall knocked Fellows unconscious, and it was some minutes before he regained his wits. Finally, he regained his senses and walked back to Caliente. The treasure coach went on to Los Angeles without mishap.
Robbery on the Return Later while reflecting on the incident, Fellows decided that in a few days the treasure stagecoach he missed would be returning from Los Angeles to Caliente, and it might have money on board with no guard accompanying it. He decided to rob it in the mountains below Tehachapi. Fellows rented a horse from a livery' stable in Bakersfield and rode it to the spot he had in mind, where he waited. As the coach approached him, Fellows, in his old manner, stepped in front of it and ordered the driver to stop and throw the express box onto the road. The driver complied with the order and was allowed to drive on. Fellows had no means with him to break open the box, and he wrestled it up on his horse to carry it to another place. However, the horse jumped from beneath the load and ran away. The box fell on Fellows' foot, injuring it. Fellows dragged the box off the road into the brush. As he backed along in the dark, he fell some twelve feet into a railroad track tunnel bed and broke his leg. However, he still managed to drag himself and the box into some brush, where he hid for a couple of days while posses searched the area for him. Two nights later Fellows made his way to a creek for water, and then he crawled to a nearby railroad construction camp where he stole some food and an ax. He used the ax to break open the express box, which held $1,800, and to make some crutches.
The next evening he hobbled to the Fountainc farm and stole a horse and saddle from the barn. In the morning Fontaine missed his property and advised Kern County Deputy Mahurin of the thefts. Fontaine and Mahurin followed the horse's tracks, which was easy because the horse had been recently shod. Finally, Mahurin and Fontaine overtook Fellows on the flats east of Bakersfield and arrested him. The pain-wracked Fellows thought he was arrested for the stagecoach robbery and surrendered the $1,800 to Deputy Mahurin. Fontaine's horse and saddle were recovered. Fellows was taken to Bakersfield, where he was placed in custody. As "Richard Perkins," he was charged with armed robbery. Wells, Fargo Detective James Hume recovered $600 from Deputy Mahurin; however, Fellows insisted the take was $1,800. Hume pressured Mahurin for the rest of the money, and after the deputy "looked around," he discovered the $1,200 and surrendered it to Hume. Mahurin was discharged from his job.
On January 9, 1876, Richard Perkins, also known as Dick Fellows, was convicted on the charge and sentenced to eight years in San Quentin prison. At the time, Kern County was constructing a new jail, and the prisoners were kept under guard in an old house. Dick Fellows had another trick to play. One night he and a couple of other prisoners pried up some of the floor boards in their room and escaped from under the house while their guard was inattentive. Wells, Fargo Company and the local sheriff's office flooded the district with reward posters Hiding in Bakersfield For a couple of days, Dick Fellows hid in the city of Bakersfield. He subsisted on what food he could steal and he wore clothes stolen from clotheslines. When he felt it was safe, he hobbled south of town, hoping to steal a horse at some nearby farm
on the morning of January 14. 1876, he stumped onto the Cotton Ranch, eight miles south of Bakersfield. At the door of the Cox home, he asked Mrs. Cox for food. She invited him into the house for breakfast However, as he made his way across the yard to the Cox home two farm workers thought they recognized him from reward posters and advised their foreman of their suspicions. The foreman retrieved his shotgun, and the three men confronted Fellows while he was busy eating his meal. Fellows was arrested and transported to Bakersfield, and his captors were in line for the $800 reward on the outlaw. Kern County officials wasted no time with additional charges, and Fellows was transported to Oakland by rail as soon as possible. From Oakland, he was delivered to San Quentin prison. He entered the institution on January 16, 1876. as Richard Perkins.
Inmate #6834 Prison officials knew that he was Dick Fellows, who was arriving there for the second time, and Fellows didn't, deny it. As before, Fellows quickly settled into prison life with an attitude of remorse for his crimes. He was contrite and cooperative and he was again a model inmate. He quickly became the chaplain's assistant, and he studied the Spanish language, and taught remedial education and Sunday school to the other prisoners. He was pardoned by California's governor and released from prison on May 16, 1881, after serving five years and four months of his eight-year, sentence.
After his release from prison, Fellows gained employment as a newspaper solicitor in Santa Cruz. California. Under his true name, he advertised in the local newspaper that he held classes to tutor students in the Spanish language. He was also confronted by his old nemesis, Demon Rum, and he lost the contest, if there was one. Soon he needed quick money and, as before, he knew how to get it. A Lone Bandit On July 19, 1881 a lone bandit stopped the northbound San Luis Obispo-to-Soledad stagecoach sixty miles south of San Francisco and robbed it. Two weeks later, on August 1, a stagecoach was robbed about sixty miles north of San Francisco on the Duncan's Mill-to-Fort Ross Road, and on August 25, the northbound Santa Barbara-to-San Luis Obispo stagecoach was robbed in Santa Barbara County. All of these robberies had Dick Fellows' trademark on them, and Wells, Fargo Detective James Hume was certain that Dick Fellows was active again.
However, before he could move on them, the robberies stopped. Hume was puzzled. However, on January 2, 1882, the southbound San Luis Obispo stagecoach to Santa Barbara was stopped and robbed at Santa Inez, thirty miles north of Santa Barbara. During the robbery, the stagecoach horses bolted and ran, and the frustrated outlaw fired several shots at the stagecoach as it went down the road. None of the shots took effect, and the bandit rode into the gathering dark. By this time, Detective Hume knew that Dick Fellows was back in business. On January 8, 1882, the same stagecoach, with the same driver was stopped at the same place by the same bandit in the same manner. The take from the robbery was only ten dollars. The angry outlaw took the stage driver's watch, a bad mistake, before allowing the coach to proceed.
James Hume assigned an able detective. Charles Aull, in the Santa Barbara area to investigate the holdups. Aull interviewed witnesses and all concerned with the robberies. He spread reward posters through the area: however. Fellows had already left and was hiding out in San Mateo on the San Francisco peninsula north of San Jose. On January 13, 1882, the bandit held up the San Luis Obispo to Soledad stagecoach at the same place he did on July 19. 1881, and Detective Aull moved his operation north to San Jose. Aull intensified his search of the area and extended it south along the El Camino Real to below Soledad Dick Fellows was getting nervous because he was hiding in the same town where many of the officers looking for him were residing. On the night of January 27, 1882, Fellows walked out of town and headed for San Jose. He stopped at a farm near Mayfield and was invited into a home to eat. However. he was recognized by the ranch foreman who had seen the reward posters Detective Aull had distributed around the area The foreman gathered a couple of his employees and they overpowered Fellows while he was eating.
The captured outlaw was delivered to the authorities in San Jose In Custody Again While in the company of Constable Burke on the train to San Jose, Fellows was his old charming and cooperative self. During the short trip, he regaled the officer with stories of his past. Fellows was a "good-fellow", and in the interest of good fellowship he offered to buy Burke a drink after the train arrived in San Jose that night. Burke thought the idea a great one, and he couldn't refuse his illustrious companion's generous offer. After the train arrived in San Jose, Fellows and Burke went to a nearby saloon and Fellows ordered the drinks. As Burke lifted his glass to his lips. Fellows suddenly knocked him off balance and tripped him. As Burke fell to the floor. Fellows dashed out of the saloon and down the street. Burke recovered his wits quickly and ran into the street for a glimpse of the fleeing Fellows. Burke fired two shots at Fellows from his revolver, but both shots missed. Fellows disappeared into the city of San Jose. In spite of his wearing hand-cuffs. Fellows jumped fences and ran through yards until he entered the barn of Dr. W. F. Gunkel. He hid under the hay while posses searched the area for him. Later, he went into Dr. Gunkel's cellar and found some stored food. He also found a hatchet and broke the chain that fastened the bracelets of his handcuffs together. In a short time. Dr. Gunkel discovered Fellows in the barn and ordered him to move on, thinking Fellows was an ordinary tramp.
However, Dr. Gunkel thought the incident over and alerted authorities. With this information, officers knew Fellows was still in the area and intensified the search for him. On February 4, 1882, Fellows was seen in a ravine in some hills near Los Gatos, a few miles south of San Jose. The officers quickly searched the area and found Fellows in a farmhouse eating a meal. The fugitive was arrested without incident, still wearing the handcuffs under the sleeves of his shirt. Santa Barbara County had the best court case against Fellows; he still had the stagecoach driver's watch on him for the robbery there. He was transported to Santa Barbara to stand trial. Fellows was charged in Santa Barbara County with one count of robbery and one count of robbery with a prior conviction of robbery. The last charge was filed in order to give the court the option of sentencing the defendant to life in prison, if convicted, as a habitual criminal.
Fellows was convicted on both counts, and on March 27, 1882, the court sentenced him to life in Folsom prison. Escape from Jail However, Tricky Dick Fellows still had cards to play. While in jail waiting for his delivery to prison, he impressed his jailor and the jailor's wife with his agreeable ways and good' humor. They became careless around him. On the morning of April 2, 1882, the jailor, foolishly wearing his pistol, trustingly entered Fellows' cell with the prisoner's breakfast. Before the jailor realized what was happening, Fellows knocked him to the floor and took his pistol. Fellows quickly locked the dazed officer in the cell and fled into the street. As the escapee ran down the street, the imprisoned jailor shouted for help, and almost immediately his wife released him from the cell. He quickly recruited some other officers and citizens to help him recapture the fugitive. They spotted Fellows on the street and pursued him as he saw a horse staked in a vacant lot and rode away. However the horse threw him into the street, and as Fellows sat in the street stunned, the jailor and his companions ran up to him and pointed their guns at him. Fellows surrendered.
Since Fellows was already under a life sentence to state prison, no further charges were filed against him, and Fellows and his guards took the first ship out of Santa Barbara to San Francisco. From San Francisco, they took the train through Sacramento to Folsom, where Fellows entered prison on April 6, 1882, as prisoner #470. As usual when Fellows entered prison, he quickly made nice spot for himself. He became the chaplain's assistant. He was remorseful, contrite, and cooperative. He taught Sunday school, remedial education, and the Spanish language to other inmates. He even taught a course in "moral instruction." From 1894 to 1908, he shared a cell with Chris Evans, California's premier train robber, who was serving a life sentence for murder. Evans was also a model inmate, and his assignment was in the prison hospital. It was a wise decision on the part of prison officials to put these two old-timers together as they created no problems.
Over the years. Fellows relatives in Kentucky reclaimed him, and they literally bombarded successive California governors with petitions and letters pleading for a pardon. His influential family even brought pressure on Kentucky officials to plead with California authorities for Fellows' release. During these years. Fellows maintained that he had a job opportunity in Mexico, and since he spoke the national language, he wanted to go there after his release from prison. His family kept saying that they wanted him to live in Kentucky with them. Obviously the old prisoner had no intentions of returning to Kentucky, where his family would expect him to conduct himself in a responsible manner. Finally, one of his cousins wrote him a letter saying that the Board of Prison Directors had no intention of releasing him to Mexico, and if he persisted in his demand to go there he would not gain his release. Fellows then stated that on release he would go to Kentucky and live the remainder of his life with family members and old friends. He was pardoned on March 8, 1908, after serving twenty-six years of his life sentence.
However, in the end the wily old outlaw played his last trick. He may have returned to Kentucky briefly after leaving Folsom prison, but if he did, he didn't remain there. He never drew a Kentucky Confederate pension, and he didn't reside in Kentucky's Confederate veteran's home. He didn't show up later in Clay or Harlan Counties U.S. census reports, and he didn't die in Kentucky. He disappeared and has been lost to history. Perhaps in the end he outwitted everyone and went to Mexico after all.
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