Friday, November 4, 2016

Hideouts along the Outlaw Trail by Patti Sherry-Crews

My favorite scene in the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is when Butch and Sundance retreat to Hole-in-the-Wall to find that Kid Curry has proclaimed himself head of the gang in Butch’s absence. While Logan and Cassidy spar, you get a glimpse of the hideout: a corral, log cabins, and a good number of matronly looking women in the background busy with domestic chores.

That scene at the outlaw hideout took root in my imagination. It also inspired a lot of questions. I hate to remind you we’re not talking Paul Newman and Robert Redford here. These were characters like Tom Horn, who killed 17, including a defenseless 14-year-old boy. Men who made a living robbing from others. And they all holed up together? How did that work out? How did they find food? How did these secret places come into existence?

With such advancements in technology such as the telegraph, and the railroad opening up the west to increased population, life for the man on the run got tougher. In response a series of hideouts sprung up along the outlaw trail from Mexico to Canada. Places were chosen because they were remote and easy to defend. Places like Hole-in-the-Wall, Brown’s Park, and Robbers Roost were spaced so an outlaw could pick up fresh horses, supplies, and ammunition—advantages the persuing posse didn’t have.

Sometimes the various gangs would ride out together, but mainly they stayed within their own gangs. There was no Head Outlaw King: the gangs separately maintained their own hierarchies.

The gangs seemed to coexist just fine. Not stealing from each other was an actual rule. They entertained themselves while they cooled their heels. Butch Cassidy was famous for organizing horse races, shooting contests, and even throwing barbecues while at Hole-in-the-Wall.

The Wild Bunch

Hole-in-the-Wall was reached by a gap eroded into a rock wall. From its spot on top of a mesa, the outlaws had a 360-degree view and could see anyone approaching. And the surrounding box canyons were perfect places to hide the cattle you’d just stolen, which was good because if caught, the rustler would immediately get invited to be guest of honor at a Necktie party. Hole-in-the-Wall ran as a bandit refuge for 50 years without once being penetrated by the authorities.

To reach Robbers Roost (which Butch Cassidy found a dull place), one has to first cross 40 miles of open desert. If that wasn’t enough to stop you, there were rumors it was well protected with bobby traps and dynamite, which it wasn’t, but the wise lawman gave the place wide berth. In its 30 years of activity the law never reached Robbers Roost.

I read a brief mention that undercover attempts to infiltrate the gangs were unsuccessful. I want to know that story!

How did a hungry outlaw survive in such remote locations? Some of the hideouts were in Mormon territory, and those ranchers and farmers didn’t exactly care for authority either. The ranchers and the outlaws had a reciprocal relationship with an exchange of goods and favors. The hideouts themselves were situated in spots right for grazing, so they were able to kept cattle and chickens of their own.

These were not permanent settlements. The gangs would flow in and out, maybe sheltering in the cabins during the harsh winter months. The enormous area the gangs criss-crossed is astounding. We have an idea how long it takes to cross one state in a car. 
Jesse James would venture out all over the west and then return to his home base in Missouri, for instance.  Can you imagine crossing multiple states on horseback? 

Unlike the depiction in the movie, few women were admitted to the hideouts—only four were ever allowed in Robbers Roost. But there were lady outlaws like Laura Bullion and the very interesting Basset sisters from Brown’s Park. These ladies had various romantic liaisons with the Wild Bunch. And like the Sundance Kid and Etta Place, some outlaws did bring their girlfriends or wives along. There was a report that Cassidy would send women—thought to be prostitutes—into nearby towns for supplies when he didn’t dare show his face.

Laura Bullion

You can visit these places today whether you're on the lam or not. Here are their coordinates.

Hole-in-the-Wall 43-32' 42" N 106-50'06" W

Robbers Roost 42.1832300 N -118.8788 000 W

Brown's Park 40.8803 N 109.1633 W


Andrea Downing said...

Wow Patti this was really interesting I'd love to be able to visit them all one day too. Thanks for sharing all this research with us

Patti Sherry-Crews said...

Hi, Andi, I would love to visit them all too! For now I have to content myself with armchair travel. I wish I could've posted more pictures, but I was limited to copy write free pics. But if anyone is interested do go online and search for yourselves.