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July 16, 2015


click on pictures to enlarge

Outlaw Doc
"Outlaw Doc"

In 1825, Thomas J. Hodges was born in Rome, Tennesse. Since Tom was always getting into trouble, he went by the nickname of "Tom Bell". Tom traveled from place to place. When the Mexican-American War erupted, he joined the army. Although Tom saw a lot of action, the army taught him to be surgeon as well. He could shoot them and patch them up if necessary.

After the war, Tom traveled to California to try his luck at prospecting. Unfortunately, this was not his forte. He continued to drift around California making money as a doctor and also as a gambler.

In 1855, Tom got caught stealing and served time in the Angel Island Prison. There he met Bill Gristy and successfully escaped several weeks later. With Gristy, Bell formed an outlaw gang consisting of 5 men and began robbing stagecoaches. Tom Bell was the first outlaw to organize a stagecoach robbery in the United States. He became known as the "Outlaw Doc".

On August 12, 1856, Tom's gang tried to rob the Camptonville-Marysville stagecoach which was carrying $100,000 worth of gold bullion. Unfortunately, a woman passenger was killed and 2 male passengers were wounded before the gang was driven off by the stagecoach guards---empty handed!!!

The robbery and death angered the locals. A sheriff's posse and citizen vigilantes conducted a massive search for the "Outlaw Doc Gang". By late September Gristy was captured. Under the threat of being turned over to the lynch mob, Bill Gristy confessed Tom Bell's location to the sheriff. The Stockton sheriff raced to arrest him.

He found Bell near Firebaugh's Ferry on October 4, 1856. Apparently, a local posse lead by Judge George Belt, a Merced rancher, had already found Tom and immediately hanged him....Western Justice Prevailed.

Despite Bell's unsuccessful attempt at high dollar stagecoach robbery, his example was soon followed by other outlaws with better success.

Tom Bell Stagecoach Robber
Tom Bell, Stagecoach Robber

Report presented by Gary "Col. Klink" Klinke
John A Sutter Historian