Richard "Rattlesnake Dick" Barter - Outlaw

Richard “Rattlesnake Dick” Barter 1834-1859

Dick Barter was born in Quebec City. His parents died about 1850, so he, his brother, his sister and her husband, and a cousin moved to the U.S. They took a wagon train to Oregon and built a home at Sweet Home, Oregon, near Corvallis. While there, they kept hearing about the gold strikes in California, so Dick, his cousin, and his brother headed south. The best ore was being found on Rattlesnake Bar on the American River. But all claims had been staked already so they had to go to work for others for awhile. A year later, the brothers and cousin were ready to go home but not Dick. He was confident there would be a new find. He got his nickname when an old timer hearing of Dick's confidence said "good for you Rattlesnake Dick." But nobody ever found anything significant.
About that time, a store owner was missing some cattle. Someone who had a score to settle with Dick accused him of being the thief. He was found innocent but the stigma was attached to his name. Later the same year, a man working the north fork had a mule stolen from him. Dick was convicted of it on the flimsy evidence that he had been in the area. Fortunately while he was still in jail, the real thief confessed, but the incident damaged his reputation even more. He left the area for Shasta County, 200 miles away. He changed his name to Dick Woods for good measure.
For two years he was left alone, doing just well enough prospecting to support himself. At French Gulch, someone recognized him from Rattlesnake Bar, so he left. Finally, figuring he would never live down the stories, he actually held up someone for $400. He told him to tell everyone he'd been robbed by Rattlesnake Dick. During 1856 he pulled many such jobs and got away with them. The law was busy rounding up another gang of outlaws. Once that gang was out of the way, Dick figured he'd form one of his own. He solicited advice from one Jack Phillips, proprietor of a sleazy inn. He knew all kinds of unsavory characters. There were plenty to choose from. Dick chose George Skinner as his lieutenant. The rest of the gang consisted of Cyrus Skinner, George's brother, Big Dolph Newton, Romero, and Bill Carter. They pulled several small jobs in Placer and Nevada Counties in California. This was practice for the big job Dick had in mind.
He wanted to rob the pack train taking gold out of Shasta and Trinity Counties. The challenge was how to haul away the gold. They couldn't use the pack train's mules because they were branded with the Wells Fargo mark. So they figured they would just steal some mules when the time came. They scouted the best place to hit the train and where they would hide out. The train usually left Yreka on the first of the month.
They easily got the drop on the train near the small town of Redding and escaped to their hideout. Dick and Cyrus Skinner rode off to get the mules. But several days passed and they did not return. The rest of the men were nervous. George Skinner had been left in charge. He decided to bury half the loot. The rest he divided between the four remaining men. This made the load light enough to carry. They rode to a hideout they had near Auburn. While there, a posse led by Wells Fargo detective Jack Barkeley caught them. George was killed in the gunfight. Romero was wounded. Newton and Carter surrendered. They each got ten years at Angel Island. Carter got off because he led the posse to the hideout where the gold was stashed.
Meanwhile, Rattlesnake Dick and Cyrus had been arrested in Placer County for the attempted theft of mules. They escaped before trial, but Cyrus was recaptured and sentenced to four years in the state prison. Dick assembled a new gang. For two years he got away with more robberies in five California counties.
On July 11, 1859, Dick was spotted in Placer County. Sheriff George Martin and two deputies, Johnson, and Crutcher, took off in hot pursuit. They caught up with Dick, who shot and killed Martin and wounded Johnson. Johnson and Crutcher claim their shots hit Dick though he rode away. A posse hunted all night but couldn't find him. The next day the Iowa Hill stage found a dead body near the road. The stage hauled it in on its roof top. Crutcher identified the man as Rattlesnake Dick. He had no money so was buried at the county's expense. His share of the gold is still buried somewhere in the hill tops.

-copyright 2005 by Beth Gibson