The sideline rustling business, for which Ed had already served a couple of sentences in the Idaho State Penitentiary, was starting to bring a little heat onto the Traftons. Some ranchers looked upon their herd shrinkage as an annoyance and part of the cost of doing business. But a couple of the cattlemen had begun to plot to catch Ed in the act.
It may have been good luck for Ed that his mother asked for his help in 1909, providing a good excuse to leave Teton Valley and let things cool down.
Annie Knight was the same mother from whom Ed had stolen money, a ham, and a horse for his grubstake in a failed attempt to get rich mining for gold in the Black Hills many years earlier. She was the same mother who allegedly bribed officials to get him out of prison.
Trafton’s forgiving mother asked he and Minnie to move to Denver to help her with her boarding house. Her husband, Ed’s stepfather, James Knight, was in poor health.
It was while running the Denver boarding house that Ed met Special Agent James Melrose, the U.S. Justice Department official who would one day write the glowing letter of reference that was found on Trafton when he died.
Melrose was fascinated by Trafton’s stories of the wild West. He learned that, according Trafton, Ed was the inspiration for Owen Wister’s lead character in The Virginian. He heard tales of gunfights and cattle drives and narrow escapes. Melrose ate it up. To be fair, Trafton probably gave short shrift to his rustling exploits, if he mentioned them at all.
The special agent was so gullible, he probably didn’t even notice that Trafton was having an affair with Melrose’s wife in his spare time.
But all good things must end. In early 1910, James Knight passed away, leaving his wife Annie to collect on a $10,000 insurance policy.
Not trusting banks, Annie buried the money. Her loving son spent some time looking for it, to no avail. Eventually, Annie decided to trust a bank and to trust Ed Trafton to deposit the money.
Stand by for a big shock. Ed did not deposit the money. Writer Wayne Moss interviewed a grandson of Trafton’s to get family details for a story that ran in the Teton Valley Times in 2015. As Moss related it, Ed buried $4,000 in his own hiding spot in the backyard, hid $3,000 in a dresser drawer, intending it as a gift for his wife, and secreted away the remaining $3,000 under some floorboards.
Ed told his mother he had been robbed. No wait, that wasn’t it, he’d forgotten the money in a satchel he left on a trolly.
Annie Knight was not swayed by either story. She called the police, and they quickly found the $3,000 in Minnie’s drawer. Lickety split Ed and Minnie were behind bars.
Ed was convicted and sentenced to from 5 to 8 years in prison. Minnie, who protested her innocence, was convicted and sentenced to from 3 to 5 years. They would both reside in the Colorado State Penitentiary for the next couple of years.
The Trafton’s eldest daughter, Anna—probably lovingly named after the woman Ed stole $10,000 from—removed the $3,000 from beneath the floorboards and took her siblings to Pocatello to live. Minnie would join them upon her release in 1912. They opened a boarding house there.
Ed, who had a way of getting reduced sentences, was released in 1913. He dug up the remaining $4,000, collected his wife in Pocatello, and moved to Rupert where he was purchased a farm. (Note that some accounts say he worked on a Rupert farm, but did not own it)
Nearing 60, his thieving days were over.
Just kidding. Come back tomorrow for the final chapter in the story of Ed Trafton.