Death Rides a Fast Horse

Frenchman Coulee
Frenchman Coulee

By Alice Winship

Two men with guns in 1915 robbed the Quincy bank
You’ll find it writ in bullet holes on an old and weathered plank
Fifteen thousand in gold, my friends, by damn! it was worth the risk
A fortune in a heavy sack the size of a man’s two fists
They took the road out east of town
On the rocky plain where the creek runs down
From the Crab Creek Valley’s rocky walls
Where the old Great Northern whistle calls
With the posse close behind

Chorus: Ride hard up the coulee, follow the Jim Hill rail
             Death rides a fast horse, and he’s hot on your trail
             Ride hard up the coulee, and pray your horse don’t fail
             They’ll take you out and hang you, or else you’ll rot in jail
             Where are the gold coins gleaming, that were lost so long ago?
             The wind blows over the sagebrush, and only the pack rats know.

      Now one man was a local boy, the scourge of Wilson Creek
If he hoped to hide in his hometown, it gave him no relief
The posse right behind, my friends, they were never out of sight
With rocks like walls on either side, no place to hide or fight
At a lonely house they tried their luck
On the Half Moon Ranch out west of Krupp
They holed up there to shoot it out
But the posse circled all about
And sent for extra men


In a desperate bid for freedom, the robbers made a break
They rode their horses hard as hell with the posse in their wake
Somewhere east of Marlin, the posse rode them down
They shot them from the saddle, they fell dead on the ground
They searched the bodies, “What the hell?!”
The gold was gone, dead men can’t tell
Two men died to get that gold
They left a secret never told
The gold could not be found


The ranch house stood a derelict as the century turned round
And plank by plank and board by board they torn the old house down
You can decorate your living room with a piece of the old-time West
I hear the planks with bullet holes cost more than all the rest
The gold was not inside the walls
The floorboards hid no trace at all
They dug the outhouse privy up
Found medicine bottles, worth some bucks
The boards were sold online

They’ve searched that valley up and down
For a hundred years, that gold’s not found
So maybe it’s not there



This is a true story, although many of the details were passed down by oral tradition. My brother says he has seen only one written account. He was one of the crew hired to tear down the old house between Wilson Creek and Marlin where the robbers holed up. He got information from Dr. Ruby, who wrote several books onColumbia Basin history, and Monte Holm, a scrap metal dealer who owned both Moses Lake Iron & Metal and the House of Poverty Museum. He also talked to a number of people whose families have lived in the area for a long time. They are in agreement on the basic details of the story, and that the bank robber from the town of Wilson Creek was not much missed after his demise.

The only treasure found when the house was torn down was several hundred dollars’ worth of old medicine bottles that were dug up out of the long-disused privy. The weathered boards were sold for decorative paneling. I confess that I don’t know if the boards were sold online, but they might have been.

Crab Creek is a long intermittent stream that arises about 20 miles west of Spokane and flows 163 miles to enter the Columbia near the Saddle Mountains south of Vantage. The upper Crab Creek Valley is a coulee, running roughly east-west, gouged out by the Ice Age floods. The sides of the valley vary from rocky bluffs to sheer cliffs of columnar basalt. In places there is flat land along the bottom that can be farmed or pastured. This was a main Indian trail for millennia. There had been a roundup trail there since the 1860s or 70s, where the cattle were driven back up Crab Creek every spring. There was a wagon road since 1888. The railroad tycoon Jim Hill chose this as the best route for the Great Northern Railway, which came through in 1892.

1915 may have been the automobile area in some places, but not in Eastern Washington. Paved roads were still a thing of the future. In 1915, Quincy was one of a string of railroad towns along the Great Northern. To the east is the rocky area now known as the Ephrata fan, where the Ice Age floods washed rocks down from the north out of Grand Coulee, which has its outlet near Soap Lake. Another coulee, the Crab Creek Valley, has its outlet to the east of Soap Lake. Crab Creek turns south as it leaves the upper Crab Creek Valley, and in wet years would run down across the Ephrata fan into the Parker Horn of Moses Lake.

There were four gold coins in circulation in 1915, in denominations of $2.50 (Quarter Eagle), $5 (Half Eagle), $10 (Eagle), and $20 (Double Eagle). The bank would have had these on hand for people who preferred coins to paper money. Fifteen thousand in gold would have weighed about 45 pounds, and would make a sphere less than 5 inches in diameter. In 1915, $15,000 would have had the purchasing power of about $350,000 today. Gold worth $15,000 in 1915 would be worth about $860,000 today if it was melted down, but if there were coins that were only lightly circulated, they would be worth a great deal more to coin collectors.


  • Written by: Alice Winship
  • Arranged by: Hank Cramer
    • Hank Cramer: lead vocal, guitar
    • Alicia Healy: bass

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