Tales from the Tread: Routt County robbery in drag
Steamboat Pilot, April 3, 1931: “Martin Chick Yock, Alleged Bank Robber, Goes On Trial Monday”
Steamboat Pilot, April 10, 1931: “Large Crowds Attend Trial of Chick Yock”
Steamboat Pilot, April 17, 1931: “Chick Yock Gets 12 to 15 Years”
Unknown article December 1946 (credit FGS Jr.), from print copy in Tread of Pioneers Museum records
Obituary provided by Miki Montrose, published in The Steamboat Pilot January 10, 1974, accessed from FindAGrave.com
Steamboat Today June 19, 2010: “Remembering a Steamboat bank robber in drag” by Tom Ross
At noon on Friday, Jan. 3, 1931, a lone figure in a long skirt and veil walked into the Bank of Steamboat Springs. When the door opened, and a woman apparently entered, the assistant cashier Miss Frankie Burgess stepped forward expecting to wait on a customer.
She soon realized this was a man, in such an obviously ridiculous disguise that the cashier at first thought he was playing a joke on her. Instead, he approached her with a drawn revolver and walked out with approximately $1,500 — all the currency in Burgess’ drawer along with gold and silver coins from the vault.
Officials immediately suspected Martin Yock, known to most by the nickname Chick, of committing the strange but successful robbery. The thirty-five-year-old son of a respected pioneer family fit the general description given by Burgess and had been seen for several days loitering near the bank and looking in the windows.
Yock was quickly arrested and put on trial in “one of the most mystifying and interesting criminal cases in Routt County in recent years,” according to Steamboat Pilot in April 1931.
He claimed innocence and related a story about two acquaintances who he suspected. He said that one of them gave him a $100 bill to get changed at the bank and had lingered outside because he feared the bill was phony and would get him into trouble. Yock had no explanation of what finally became of the $100 bill, nor were investigators able to locate the men.
District Attorney Farrington R. Carpenter took the robber’s costume — found abandoned near the river not long after the robbery was reported — to every store in Steamboat looking for someone who had sold similar fabric.
The window curtain material, white with green and red dots, turned out to exactly match the curtains in Yock’s home.
Despite mounting evidence, Yock had staunch friends who refused to believe in his guilt. He had lived in the community for years and never before been in trouble.
Nonetheless, after three days of testimony, Yock was found guilty and sentenced to 12 to 15 years in the state penitentiary. He ultimately spent three years, 29 days and three hours in jail and returned to live the rest of his life peacefully in Steamboat.
Interviewed shortly before his death, Yock still claimed innocence.
“I don’t see how I could have done it,” he told local historian Sureva Towler in 1972. “The $1,500 in gold pieces were found 10 miles south of Steamboat minutes after I walked up to the bank and was arrested.”
However, most accounts of the robbery indicate that the stolen money was never recovered, either by officials or by residents on treasure hunts. Some speculated that the robbery was an inside job with Yock taking the fall while someone else hid the loot.
Others gossiped that Yock needed money to pay off a poker debt. His obituary later claimed that he committed the crime because he was cold and hungry, “I knew I would be warm and get something to eat if I were in jail.”
The Yock family’s log homestead cabin was slated for demolition in 2009 as part of the preservation of the nearby More Barn, now part of the Barn Village housing development on Pine Grove Road. Instead, after being identified as an important piece of Steamboat history, it was carefully dismantled in 2010 so that it could be restored.
It stands proudly next to the More Barn. This project ensures that the Yock family legacy, from matriarch Lena Yock’s homesteading and ranching, to her son Chick’s ill-fated robbery, lives on in Steamboat.
Emily Eldridge is an intern at Tread of Pioneers Museum.
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