True West
John X Beidler Image Credit: True West
John X Beidler Image Credit: True West

John X. Beidler

A shotgun messenger in Old Montana left a great legacy of service and courage.

John Boessenecker

John X. Beidler was one of Montana’s best known pioneers. A leader of the Montana vigilantes in the 1860s, he played a major role in breaking up the outlaw gang led by Henry Plummer, the archetypical crooked frontier sheriff. Although a small man, standing but five feet, five inches tall, he was a figure larger than life on the frontier. And like the mountain men who came before him, “X,” as he was called by his comrades, loved to tell often exaggerated stories of his career. Yet one aspect of his adventurous life has been almost totally forgotten: his service as a Wells Fargo shotgun messenger from 1870 to 1877.

With his good friend Mike Tovey, Beidler guarded the company’s shipments on the long route from Helena to the Union Pacific Railroad depot in Corinne, Utah. Although he had several hair-raising encounters with road agents, he preferred to recall the humor in his work. Wells Fargo agents tried to maintain secrecy when large treasure shipments were made. But on one occasion Beidler learned that it was common knowledge in Helena that a big shipment of gold dust was to be sent to the railroad in Corinne.

Just before the stage was to depart, “X” told the agent to hold the shipment until the next day. The agent sent out the stage with a near-empty express box, and sure enough, the coach was held up and robbed near the Snake River. The next day Beidler boarded a southbound stagecoach and brought the gold shipment to Corinne


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