Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Outlaw Bill Tibbetts

Bill in his 20's courtesy of Canyon County Zephyr 
Outlaw Trail wasn’t exactly a trail, but a string of hideouts stretching from Montana through Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas and into Mexico. Robber’s Roost is probably the most well-known of the hideouts, and less famous outlaw Bill Tibbetts knew that part of Utah well.  
James William (Bill) Tibbets was born on March 23, 1898 on the south side of the Utah’s La Sal Mountains. His parents, Bill and Amy, were ranchers, and as luck would have it, Amy went into early labor while Bill was out on the range. Amy’s brother, Ephraim, rode to a neighboring ranch to fetch a female cook to help with the birth, but the woman was gone and wouldn’t return for a few days, thus Ephraim delivered his nephew. 
La Sal Mtns Wikipedia 
Bill Sr. filed for the homestead where Bill Jr. was born in the 1880’s. He picked a prime piece of land and hired Amy Moore from Moab to cook for him. She was 20 years his senior, something that wasn’t uncommon in those day. They fell in love, married and started a family. Bill Sr. was known to help his neighbors, including a woman whose husband repeatedly beat her, but the last time Bill intervened, the woman’s husband killed Bill that night. Amy wanted to keep the ranch, but with two small sons and debts she didn’t know Bill had, she was forced to sell and move back to her family home in Moab, where she remarried. Bill Jr. grew up missing his father and hating his stepfather, who was strict and didn’t’ hesitate to whup Bill for his disobedience.  
During his younger years, Bill earned a reputation of the toughest kid in school. Fighting and intimidation became the norm for him, as well as working his grandparents’ farm. There he became an accomplished horseman and hired on with Moab based Murphy Cattle Company at a young age. Through working on the range for the cattle company, Bill learned how to dig out water holes in the desert and how to make small earth dams to catch runoff water for the cows, the layout of the land and how to live off of it, all of which proved beneficial in his late teens when he and some friends decided to round up horses left behind in the Robbers Roost area. Rumors abounded the outlaws were gone and the teens made money selling the mounts to settlements in Iron County. Later, he enlisted in the Army, returned after the war and partnered with his mother and uncle in the cow business.
Bill tried to run his cattle in the canyon lands. They were open lands for anyone to use, but bigger outfits running their own herds on the open land didn’t welcome Bill, or any other newcomers. Bill spent many years waging war with these outfits and running from the law when framed for crimes and atrocities he didn’t commit. Sometimes, he was successful and out maneuvered the bigger outfits. Other times he lost, and through it all he earned himself a notorious reputation.
Utah's Canyonlands 
Later in life, the law finally caught up to him and he was thrown in the Moab jail alongside his friend Tom on a series of charges, some legit and some not. The two had their say in court and lost, and were sent back to jail where they escaped into the canyon lands of the Colorado River from the help of friends and Bill’s brother. With supplies left at various locations, they drifted along the Colorado to the Green River, but the sheriff and small posse caught up to them. They were able to take cover in Standing Rock Canyon and held off the sheriff in a round of gun fire. Under the cover of darkness, they stole the posse’s supplies and the next day Bill convinced the lawmen that the heat and mosquitos wasn’t worth them staying and trying to arrest him and Tom. For whatever reason, they agreed and left.      
Tibbett's Arch courtesy of Canyon County Zephyr 
Bill and Tom enjoyed a few days as free men before the posse returned. Low on supplies and food, forced to eat grasshoppers, Bill and Tom were able to lead the posse on a merry chase through desert and canyon land, with Bill knowing every crook and crevice. They made it to Elaterite Basin and found the supplies uncle Ephraim was known to keep hidden. Since the lawmen didn’t know this particular area of Robbers Roost, Bill and Tom were able to escape to a cave, where they spent the winter. (It’s this cave that hikers accidentally happened upon years later and found Tibbett’s carved name.)
Bill & Jewel courtesy of Canyon County Zephyr
Bill eventually left Utah and married Jewel Agens. They moved to Santa Fe, along with Tom, and both mend found work with the New Mexico State Police breaking horses. No one with the police department suspected they were fugitives. Eventually the Statue of Limitations attached to their names expired, and Bill and Jewel moved back to Moab with their sons. Tom opted to stay in New Mexico. So much in love, Bill and Jewel bought the Horsethief Ranch in 1959, which was special to Bill because he and a friend had been the first to discover a spring on the property back in 1924. Sadly, Bill and Jewel were killed by a drunk driver south of Moab in 1969.
I’ve only scratched the surface of Bill Tibbett’s life and the canyonlands of Moab and Robbers Roost. To learn more, read Last Of The Robbers Roost Outlaws by Tom McCourt. Bill’s was a fascinating life and something everyone who adores the old west should know.

Mr. McCourt’s book is available at Amazon.
Bill's name in the cave courtesy of C.C. Zephyr


Brooke Showalter said...

Pretty cool post. Thank you for sharing!

Julie Lence said...

So glad you enjoyed the post, Brooke. Bill was an interesting man, with a rich life. Hugs!