Den of Iniquity – The Mountaineer House

Wells Fargo

In the 1850s the Mountaineer House was a well-known tavern and stage stop set on semi-wooded ranch lands on the dusty road between Folsom and Auburn where stagecoach lines changed their teams daily. Other travelers delivering wagon loads of goods passed by too, often stopping in for liquid refreshment. It was the only stage station on the road—and it was also an outlaw’s hideout and rendezvous. In the spring and summer of 1856 the inn’s owner Jack Phillips, a former resident of the Australian penal colony, concealed members of the notorious Tom Bell gang in a ravine behind his tavern. He also “spotted” for them, tipping them off when a traveler carrying a fat purse came by, so they could follow and rob the victim a few miles down the road. In August the Bell gang boldly attempted to hold up the Camptonville stage en route to Marysville—the first attempt in California to rob a moving stagecoach—but the carefully planned robbery turned into a fiasco and the gang members fled in different directions. With lawmen in hot pursuit, Tom Bell’s right-hand-man Bill Gristy was captured and arrested (Bell himself was captured and executed on a ranch near Tulare). Hoping to save himself from a longer prison term, Gristy quickly told all about his fellow bandits—including Jack Phillips—who was arrested at his tavern in late September 1856 and sentenced to two years imprisonment in San Quentin. Shortly before his incarceration Phillips sold his property and the following year the new owner advertised “the valuable and well-known ranch and tavern stand known as the Mountaineer House” for sale, cheap. Read more about the Mountaineer House in The Stagecoach in Northern California – Rough Rides, Gold Camps & Daring Drivers.

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