An Appalachian legend in his own right and Kentucky native George Brittain Lyttle aka Dick Fellows aka Richard Perkins, turned out to be the most famous stagecoach bandit of the wild west that couldn’t ride a horse!
Appalachia has long been considered the gateway to the western frontier. Using the Great Wilderness Road trailblazed by Daniel Boone, pioneers moved across the Appalachians into the west as soon as the Revolutionary War ended in 1781. From the 1860s to the 1890s, the media sensationalized the western United States as the “Old West”, “Wild West” or the “Far West”. The narratives that came out of the wild west became romanticized tales of conquest, survival, and great migrations of people from all over the world.
George Brittain Lyttle was born in Clay County, Kentucky about 1845 to David and Drucilla Lyttle. George’s parents were upstanding and well educated. His father David Lyttle was a prosperous attorney and court judge and his mother was a homemaker. George was briefly educated in law assuming to follow in his father’s footsteps but ended up enlisting in the Confederate service. He served with Company K, 13th Kentucky Cavalry and Company L, 10th Kentucky Infantry. In 1863, he was captured by Union forces and became a prisoner of war at Camp Chase in Ohio. He was paroled in December of 1863 by agreeing to not take up arms against the United States and returned to Kentucky to finish his studies in law at his father’s law office.
But tragedy followed when in 1865, his mother passed away and he became an alcoholic. Becoming a disgrace to his family, George ran away and did not tell his family where he was going. In one of his memoirs published in the San Francisco Examiner, June 24, 1894, he wrote, “I left Kentucky in 1866 just prior to starting out in the world in that same year, I took out a license to practice law. I had become addicted to drink, however, and to not distress my relatives and friends, thought it best to leave them, at least until I could free myself from that inordinate appetite.”
The West in the 1860s was a competitive frontier among settlers. The completion of railroads following the Civil War opened up vast areas to settlement and economic development. It was a place where dreams could become reality. The West attracted pioneers and miners in search of easy money, property grants and farmland that had never seen anything but grass. It was a place full of second chances to start a new life and become someone different. It was also a place of guns and lawlessness.
Seeking his own fortune, George drifted west and settled in Southern California in 1868. According to his memoirs, George befriended Ed Clark and they both formed a business partnership of hog farming in the mountains between Bakersfield and Los Angeles. But soon trouble came when a grass fire rapidly burned all their winter supply. To replenish their supplies, Lyttle assumed the name of Dick Fellows and planned to rob a stagecoach. He set his sights on the Coast Line Stage from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Lyttle stated, “ I traveled all night, going up the Santa Clara valley and out by way of Lyon’s station, which stood a little way from where the town of Newhall is situated now, and crossed the ridge at San Fernando Pass. By daybreak, having jogged along leisurely, I was at San Fernando.” From there, George staged his hold up a few miles past the San Fernando Mission and took up position behind a dense clump of desert cactus.
Geroge recounted as the stagecoach arrived, a cloud of dust enveloped them and George yelled out to the driver, “ Hold on there, driver!” It was then a US soldier stepped out of the stage on the opposite side, drew his pistol and shot at George. George quickly leapt from his horse and hid behind a cactus. The soldier shot at him again scaring George’s horse. His horse ran off into the distance leaving George with no transportation. To get himself out of this predicament, George connivingly came up with a plan and called out, “Hurry up Bill, you and John go around on one side and I’ll take the other.” This would appear to the passengers and the driver of the stagecoach that George had a posse backing him up for the robbery. The driver immediately surrendered and shouted, “Don’t shoot boys!” George stole $350 from the stagecoach and his horse decided to reappear. George mounted his horse and rode to the next town where he shipped a load of supplies to Clark and planned his next stagecoach robbery.
George proceeded through the Cahuenga Pass toward Los Angeles and set up his next move in a densely wooded ravine along the road where he would be out of sight from passengers riding by. As the stagecoach approached, he stepped out and called, “Hold up, there driver!” The driver stopped and George proceeded to rob the passengers when one passenger shot at him and the bullet grazed his cheek. The sound of the gunshot startled the horses and the stagecoach immediately raced off into the distance.
Despite George’s wound, he sprang to his horse and went after the stagecoach. He raced ahead of the stagecoach in the hopes of ambushing the stagecoach. George quickly placed some old clothes and hat in a half stooping position held up with sticks and arranged the apparel to look like several accomplices was with him on the trail. As the stagecoach arrived, George shouted out, “Be on the alert ahead there, boys! And then commanded the driver to stop. He then yelled to the driver, “Throw out Wells-Fargo’s treasure box!” The driver threw the box down and George shouted, “Be careful not to shoot until you get the signal boys!” George proceeded to remove the padlock from the box and took off with the money.
On October 20, 1869, The Los Angeles Daily News reported, “On the last down trip, near Santa Barbara, an adventurous knight of the road attempted to stop and rob one of the coaches of the Coast Line Company. His modest request to halt was answered by a volley of pistol bullets. A shot which laid open his cheek cause the highwayman to beat a hasty retreat. The next night he stole a cream-colored horse from a citizen, and it supposed, started in the direction of Los Angeles.” After laying low for a few days, George aka Dick Fellows stopped at a station house to get some supper and grain for his horse.
George stated he became weary as three men appeared standing by the station manager. George recalls in his memoir, “Drawing back the chair as if intending to sit down to supper, I hesitated, glancing at the station -keeper’s face over my left shoulder, and as I did so the man on my right presented a pistol at my head, cocking the weapon, as he did so, and calling out, “Surrender, Dick Fellows, or I’ll shoot you dead!” But he made the mistake of springing too close to me and I knocked the muzzle of the pistol down, the bullet entering my right foot at the instep. I held on to the pistol, having grasped the barrel, blew the light out, so that the others could not tell at whom to shoot, then grappled with my first assailant, throwing him with great force into a corner and wrestling the pistol from him. Drawing him to his feet, I shoved him ahead of me to the door and marched out with him to where my horse stood nonchalantly munching his barley.”
George committed several successful stagecoach robberies during 1869 until he was eventually captured, tried, convicted and sentenced to 8 years at San Quentin in January of 1870. At 24 years old, he was a model prisoner and became the chaplain’s assistant during his stay at San Quentin. He studied Spanish and became a teacher to other prisoners. He was pardoned by the California governor in 1874 after serving only four years of his eight-year sentence.
George’s account of his side of the story is a little different according to Detective J.B. Humes. J.B. Humes reports that Dick Fellows was a good-looking gentleman with a curly black beard, who after reading a lot of paperback novels, got stagecoach fever and decided to become a bandit. J.B. Humes was a well-known premier lawmen of the American West and had an impressive lawman record in California and Nevada. Hume was employed as a detective for Wells Fargo Service and had captured Black Bart, a stagecoach robber in 1873. He was the Sherlock Holmes of detectives before the fictional character was ever created.
Humes account of apprehending Dick Fellows is quite humourous. Humes stated that George’s capture was because he could not shoot a long-barreled pistol, he rented a horse he could not ride and loped off into the hills to hold up the Los Angeles-Caliente stagecoach. The horse he stole was old and George was so clumsy in the saddle, the horse got irritated with him, bucked him off his back and ran back home.
George was immediately knocked out and by the time he became conscious, the Stagecoach was miles away. George limped into Caliente that night where he found the horse waiting that threw him in the bush. George swiped another horse hitched in front of the saloon and rode back out of town to meet the stagecoach. As the stagecoach approached, George ordered the driver to stop and demanded the strongbox. It was at this moment, George had discovered that he did not bring the necessary tools to open the strongbox. He even tried to open the box by bashing it against the rocks. Since that did not work, George decided to load the strongbox on his saddle to make his getaway before the stagecoach arrived in Caliente to alert authorities.
But the heavy box was too much for his horse and so the horse trotted off without him. So then George decided to carry the heavy metal box full of gold and find a hiding place until morning. George set out into the darkness carrying his loot when he suddenly walked off an 18-foot embankment leading into the railroad’s Tunnel Five. George broke his left leg from the fall and the heavy box crushed the instep of his left foot.
George tried to drag his way out of the tunnel pushing and pulling the strongbox along with him. He managed to pass the tents of some railroad workers where he stole an axe and finally hid in the bushes along Tehachapi Creek until morning. When morning arrived, he used the axe to make a set of crutches from a willow, cracked open the lockbox and used some of the money inside the box to buy food from one of the Chinese workmen. He then hobbled off toward nearby Fountain Ranch where he once again stole a horse. By the time Hume arrived with the Kern County Deputy, they came across Tommy Fountain, son of the ranch owner, who was trying to cut the trail of the missing horse. The horse was easy to track because the horse was shod with three horseshoes and one mule shoe. George was quickly located hiding in an old adobe building in the mountains near a sheepherders camp.
On June 8, 1876, George pleaded guilty to robbery and was sentenced to eight years in San Quenton prison under the assumed name of Richard Perkins. He was eventually released from prison in 1881 after serving only five years. After his release from San Quentin, George went to live in Santa Cruz under his original name, George Lyttle, where he obtained a job as a teacher tutoring students in Spanish and briefly worked for a newspaper in Santa Cruz. Unfortunately, he got bored real quick when no one in Santa Cruz wanted to learn any more Spanish than they already knew.
Reverting back to Dick Fellows, George decided to hold up a stagecoach from San Luis Obispo to Soledad where he only acquired ten dollars. George was back in business and managed to pull off a dozen or more stagecoach robberies that summer and fall with each robbery becoming more and bolder. Some of his robberies were not even a week apart. So Wells Fargo sent out J.B. Humes once again to apprehend the bandit.
George headed towards San Francisco but he was quickly captured within a week near Mayfield. George tried to hide at a nearby ranch but was captured by Hume’s men. George was to be transported to San Jose where he was tried and convicted once again and sentenced to life at Folsom Prison. In 1882, as George was being transported to prison, he struck down the jailer, stole his gun and fled the premises. Two blocks from the jail there was a horse staked out to graze. Without a saddle or bridle, George pulled up the stake, looped a long rope into a coil, scrambled on the back of the horse. Unfortunately, George did not know that the horse he stole had been nibbling on loco-weed the week before and was only partially recovered. George had only ridden the horse a hundred yards before his horse suddenly went into a fit and George fell off the horse. His blundered attempt to escape had failed. While at Folsom prison, George was a model prisoner and reestablished his relationship with his family back in Kentucky.
Poor George, aka Dick Fellows had become the most unsuccessful bandit that ever roamed the State of California. Horses led to his ruin. No one ever gave Dick a horse he could ride nor was he able to steal one. He constantly had mishaps with horses bucking him, running away from him or leading him into more trouble. This bandit on horseback never seemed to learn his lesson. He just seemed to be cursed with bad luck when it came to riding horses. It was because of a lame horse that finally led to his final capture and long prison sentence that ended his life of crime.
There is not much information on George or Dick after he was pardoned from Folsom Prison in 1908. There are many accounts that state George mysteriously disappeared after his release from prison. But I think George learned his lesson after all. With a bit of investigative research, I found George living back in Kentucky on the 1910 census through Ancestry.com. His address was Louisville Ward 6, West Chestnut Street in Jefferson. His occupation listed at the time was a teacher and lodger with Hiram and Adelaide Gregory and he was 64 years old. I then found George again on the 1920 census at the ripe old age of 74 where he was living in Barbourville, Kentucky living with is brother-in-law Harve Hatton. His occupation was listed as a Spanish teacher.
I also found an old newspaper article stating that after Dick Fellows was paroled, he had turned novelist. The San Francisco Examiner stated in its April 17, 1910 edition, that Fellows had become completely reformed from his sentence in prison and had turned to write fiction for magazines under another assumed name but the author stated he would not reveal what his new name was at the time.
I also found an old newspaper clipping from the Pittsburgh Daily Post published in 1911 that he had settled down and become involved with the church. Apparently, George went back to California for a visit to San Jose from an old newspaper clipping from the San Francisco Examiner, March 11, 1915.
Digging a little deeper, I came across his death date recorded on a 1934 application for a headstone for US Military Veterans for George Lyttle. These applications were submitted for unmarked graves of veterans. The application listed the date of George’s death on October 13, 1933, where he was buried in Harmons Cemetery in Lancaster, Kentucky. So it appears that George did go back to Kentucky away from the life of crime he once created under the name, Dick Fellows.
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