As railroad lines began to cover the territory whistle stops were established. A whistle stop is a small town consisting of 12-20 buildings, generally it has a population of less than 50. Whistle stops were where locomotives refilled with coal and water. Supplies for people living in the area were left at the whistle stops.
Frequent claims and promises of getting rich quick brought miners by the thousands to strikes not able to support them. Mining companies often bought or stole productive claims, pushing miners out or hiring them at extremely low wages. Within a very short time these miners were often in in debt to the company store. Resentful miners and other opportunists would resort to robbery. Whistle stops with a small population and thousands of dollars of supplies were easy pickings.
The stolen goods were often sold back to the mining company. Even if robbery was suspected, the company was buying the goods cheaper than they could have from the railroad. It was to their interest to turn a blind eye. To protect their interests railroads retaliated by setting up railroad police. Offices were built near the freight sheds. These offices were constructed like a mini fortress to hold off attacks. Cross ties were the usual building material because they could not be shot through or easily burned; of course the ties were also readily available. This type of construction is called two-tie because they were normally two ties long each direction. The offices were kept supplied with water, food and ammunition, in case the outlaws were persistent. Loop holes were cut in the walls for shooting ports.
Railroad police only had rights to patrol the railroad right of way, so the outlaws could not be apprehended. Thus, railroad companies would eventually petition the government for a US Marshal. A US Marshal would often operate right out of the railroad office, even deputizing the railroad police. Contrary to common belief marshals did not live in the office, they usually had a room at the hotel or a boarding house and took their meals at a local café as arranged by the government.
A marshal could track thieves back to the mining camp and search possessions for evidence. Convicting evidence was often simply a flour sack with eye holes cut in it. These sacks were the norm for outlaws rather than TV’s portrayal of bandannas. Unlike a bandanna, a flour sack covers hair color and distorts body shape and height. Eventually, whistle stop robbery became too risky for the outlaw so the Marshal then put their efforts in a new direction, cattle rustling.
Rustling is cow or horse stealing, usually by brand altering. Sometimes an outlaw would register a brand similar to a large outfit he planned to steal from. Then with aid of a “running iron” he would alter the existing brand to look like his own. A “running iron” is a brand that looks like a T with a really long handle; the rustler can use this simple bar to make any symbol. Rustlers caught in the act and cowboys caught with a “running iron” were usually hung by vigilantes on the spot. Smart rustlers used a D-ring or cinch ring and blacksmith tongs instead of a “running iron”. The ring is heated and the tongs are the handle. It was still odd for a fellow to have both these things together so if a cowboy was caught he would be arrested and given a chance to talk a jury out of hanging him. Unlike what is shown by Hollywood, many rustlers that went through the due process of law, got prison terms rather than being hung.
When you swing by to see us make sure to drop by our Marshals office. I don’t know who will be on duty Bat Masterson, Jim Clark, Ben Thompson or Wild Bill but if its Wild Bill be careful he has been known to shorten the life of of his deputies!