The Wild Bunch Gang – A Brief History
The Wild Bunch, also called the Hole in the Wall Gang, stole cattle and horses, robbed banks and held up trains across the West. The gang was headed by Butch Cassidy, whose real name was Robert LeRoy Parker. This loosely-organized gang operated from 1886 to 1901, and consisted of around 100 different outlaws. Not all of them participated in each robbery. Because they had a code of honor which included not killing innocent bystanders and not stealing cattle in the place where they lived, they were often protected from the law and hidden by members of their community.
The gang had several hideouts. One of them was Hole in the Wall, in the southern Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming. Another, Brown’s Hole, was located in a secluded valley near the Wyoming, Colorado and Utah border. A third hideout which the gang often used in the winter was Robber’s Roost, which was located in the southeastern Utah desert.
Besides Butch Cassidy, members of the gang who had a wife or sweetheart affiliated with The Wild Bunch included Harry Longabaugh , also known as the Sundance Kid, Ben Kilpatrick, also called the Tall Texan, Harvey Logan, alias Kid Curry, Elza Lay and Matt Warner.
Among the women associated with the Wild Bunch were Etta Place, Laura Bullion, Anne Rogers, Rose Morgan and Maud Davis, and the Bassett Sisters. Many of the women had worked as prostitutes, and quite a few of them came from Fannie Porter’s sporting house in Texas, which the gang liked to frequent. Some of the women such as Laura Bullion and Annie Rogers had criminal intent and helped the gang by fencing goods and money for them. Others, such as Maud Davis and Rose Morgan were not involved in crime but were affiliated with the gang only by being romantically involved with an outlaw member
The gang was brought down by vanity and modern technology when group members posed for a photo. The photography shop made a copy from the negative and displayed it in the window. One of the gang members was recognized by a Wells Fargo man. For the first time faces could be put to names. Soon flyers of the outlaws appeared everywhere, which eventually led to many arrests. After that, the gang scattered. The ringleader, Butch Cassidy along with the Sundance Kid and Etta Place continued their crimes in South America. It is believed that both Cassidy and the Sundance Kid died there after a battle with the law, but some entertain the theory that Cassidy escaped and returned to live secretly in the United States.
The Elusive Etta Place
Etta Place was by far the most famous of the Wild Bunch Women. It is believed Etta Place was not her real name, for this alias was used by several different outlaw women. Etta also often signed her name as Ethel Thayne or Ethel Ingerfield, and it is believed one of these was her true name.
This beautiful woman who was friends of both The Sundance Kid and Butch Cassidy lived a life shrouded in mystery. Her true name and origins have never been traced. It is believed that before joining up with the Wild Bunch gang, she had either been a schoolteacher or a Texas prostitute. According to some rumors Butch Cassidy found her working in Fannie Porter’s brothel either as a prostitute or chambermaid and set her up as teacher so she could start a new life.
According to medical records from a doctor visit Etta Place had gray or blue eyes, medium dark hair and weighed around 110 pounds.
Etta first appeared at the Robber’s Roost hideout in 1896. At the time, she was in her early twenties. She was a woman of great beauty as well as being a good horsewoman and crack rifle shot, traits that were no doubt assets to an outlaw girlfriend and accomplice.
Historians believe that Butch Cassidy first brought Etta into the fold, and that she started out as his mistress. Later, she switched her affections to The Sundance Kid. Though no records have ever been found, it is believed she and Harry Longabaugh (the Sundance Kid) might have been married. At any rate, they often passed themselves off as man and wife.
The last name Place was actually Harry’s mother’s name. No one knows what Etta’s real name was. Compounding the matter, several other women used the name Etta Place as an alias. Some think Etta Place was an alias for Ann Bassett from Brown’s Hole, who was also known to associate with the Wild Bunch gang. The two women bore a close physical description, and were both described in various accounts written about them as being intelligent and good with a horse and gun. Furthermore, Ann was often absent on dates when Etta appeared. However, there were enough discrepancies between the two that most historians do not believe the women were one and the same.
In 1901 Etta, The Sundance Kid and Butch Cassidy rented a room together in a boarding house in New York. She passed herself off as Harry’s wife and Butch’s sister. Etta visited the outlaw gang hideouts frequently, but there was no record of her participation in any of the Wild Bunch crimes, though she certainly was aware of her companions’ activity. It is unknown whether she was involved in the actual robberies the gang was responsible for throughout the earlier years. It is believed that she did participate in some robberies with Cassidy and the Sundance kid once the three of them moved to South America. In 1907 she disappeared from history. Her haunting beauty and the fact that so little is known about her life makes her legend live on. Whoever she was, Etta Place remains one of the most mysterious females of the Old West.
Laura Bullion and Annie Rogers
Laura Bullion and Annie Rogers both became associated with the Wild Bunch Gang thorough a love interest with one of the gang’s members. These two women both had questionable pasts themselves and were on the wrong side of the law before meeting up with the gang. Like many of the women associated with the gang, they worked as dance hall girls and were involved in prostitution. These two women were participants in the gang’s crimes. Laura Bullion took an active part in some of the raids and Annie Rogers acted as a fence for stolen goods and money. Both women were arrested in association with their crimes.
Little is known about Laura Bullion’s past, except that she was born in Knickerbocker, Texas around 1876 and was of German and Native American descent.
Laura Bullion, alias Della Rose, was working as a dance hall girl in Sheridan, Wyoming when she first met up with Wild Bunch member Will Carver. Along with her boyfriend, she took part in bank raids. During an escape gone bad, Carver shot himself rather than get captured. Kilpatrick escaped. Laura later picked up with Ben Kilpatrick, also called the Tall Texan, and became his common law wife. Laura continued to take an active part in raids. On the 29th of August, 1900, Kilpatrick along with Cassidy and other members of the Wild Bunch Gang held up the Union Pacific train at Tipton, Wyoming. The next month, they robbed the First National Bank in Winnemucca, Nevada where they took in over 30,000 dollars.
The following year, after a robbery of the Great Northern train near Wagner, Montana which took in $65,000 dollars, the two were captured. At 28 years of age, Laura was sentenced to five years in prison. After her release she retired from crime and married a rancher. She never saw her lover Ben Kilpatrick again. Ben was released in 1912 and continued his life of crime. That same year he was killed during a Southern Pacific train robbery.
Annie Rogers was Kid Curry’s girl. Kid Curry, whose real name was Harvey Logan, had the reputation of being the most dangerous member of the Wild Bunch gang.
Annie was born Della Moore in Texas. She worked for a time as a prostitute at Fanny Porter’s house in San Antonio, where many of the Wild Bunch women hailed. Besides Della Moore and Annie Rogers, she also went by the alias Maud Williams. Annie was slender with dark brown hair, dark complexion and high cheekbones.
Though Curry was a violent man, his affection for Annie seemed genuine. They may have been married, or if not, like Etta Place and the Sundance Kid, they often posed as man and wife.
Shortly after the Great Northern train robbery near Wagner, Montana, in which the Wild Bunch and Curry had participated, Annie was caught changing stolen money at a bank in Nashville, Tennessee. The bank teller had been warned to be on the lookout for unsigned bills stolen in the robbery, and he became suspicious. The police were contacted and Annie was arrested. After a short time in jail, Annie was acquitted. She left her life of crime and never saw Kid Curry again. Kid Curry was captured committing a small robbery and during an escape attempt was shot by a posse. Badly wounded he staved off law while his companions got away, then shot himself.
Two Good Mormon Girls – Rose Morgan and Maud Davis
Unlike Laura Bullion and Anne Rogers, Maud Davis and Rose Morgan did not embark upon a life of crime. Though many of the Wild Bunch women were prostitutes, Maud Davis and Rose Morgan were both good Morman girls. Their association with the Wild Bunch gang was purely because of their relationships with their lovers. As the girls were to find out, being the girl or wife of an outlaw had its consequences. The women were forced into lives of deception, often on the run, following the gang from hideout to hideout, taking on aliases in fear that their association with the love of their life would bring the law to his door and assure punishment or death. Because they were not criminals themselves, these women made greater sacrifices by tying in with an outlaw lover and his wild way of life.
Maud met outlaw Elza Lay through her brother. Elza was between jobs and was helping with cutting hay. Maud didn’t know he was an outlaw, but must have suspected something shortly on as he had horses and money, no real job, and was friends with known outlaw Butch Cassidy. She ignored the rumors. Elza was not Mormon, which seemed to bother her family more than the fact that he might be a wanted man as they did not want her to marry outside the faith. Maud reluctantly took on the life of an outlaw’s wife, meeting him between jobs, otherwise staying in safe places and waiting for him. After the birth of a baby Maud pressured him to quite the outlaw life and refused to follow him to hideouts. By 1896 Elza was a wanted criminal and there was the constant danger the law would use her to get to him. He was eventually captures and given a life sentence for robbery. Maud divorced him. She married several times, outlived her husbands, and died at age 84.
An unfortunate event made Matt Warner turn to crime. In his hometown he fought with a boy over a girl. He lost his temper and bashed his rival over the head with a rock, then continued to beat him. Believing he had killed the boy and that he was wanted for murder, he went on the run. For a long time he led the independent outlaw life, and said he had permanently swore off women. Then, as fate would have it, he fell in love. He met Rose Morgan while on the run from the law. He and another gang member were holed up in Wyoming, pretending to be wealthy horse buyers. Rose had no idea he was an outlaw when they met. The two soon eloped and she reluctantly accepted his way of life. Like other members of the outlaw gang, he would settle his woman somewhere safe, then meet her between robberies. After the birth of a baby, she tried to discourage him from continuing the outlaw life. When that failed, she left him. Soon, the law caught up with Matt. In the meantime, Rose became seriously ill. Matt was arrested for a shooting. Matt was sent to prison, and Rose Morgan died soon after.
The Bassett Women – Elizabeth Basset, the Matriarch
Elizabeth Basset and her husband Herb owned a ranch in the isolated area of Brown’s Hole, near the Wyoming, Colorado and Utah border. Butch Cassidy and the outlaw boys were frequent visitors to their ranch. Elizabeth was very fond of Butch Cassidy, though theirs was not a romantic relationship. She was more of a mother figure to Butch and many of the outlaw men. Along with Butch, Elza Lay and Matt Warner were also frequent visitor to the Basset home. Elizabeth had two attractive daughters, which the outlaw boys courted.
Elizabeth’s husband was an unassuming man who allowed his wife to run the ranch. Elizabeth herself was a minor rustler who didn’t mind rounding up strays and branding them as her own. It is no wonder she looked the other way at Cassidy’s crimes. Elizabeth had a big feud going with big cattle barons who wanted to take over Brown’s Hole.
Elizabeth’s daughter Ann, the youngest of the two Basset sisters, was called “Queen of the Rustlers.” She was the first white girl to be born in Brown’s Hole. It is believed by some historians that Etta Place was an alias for Ann Bassett. Though Etta Place and Ann could have been the same woman, it is deemed unlikely as while they were similar in looks, accounts of their personalities differ. Ann was described as being hot-headed and had a temper while Etta appeared to be more quiet and refined.
Ann earned the reputation of “Queen of the Rustlers” after taking over her mother’s feud against the big ranchers, especially the Two Bar ranch. She stole from the Two Bar out of revenge, and it is rumored she as well as Elizabeth also ran cattle over the cliffs out of spite. Cattlemen hired Tom Horn to infiltrate Brown’s Hole and kill Matt Rush and Isom Dart. Ann married H. Bernard, ranch manager of the Two Bar. He was promptly fired. They stayed married six years. Hard feelings erupted between her and the Two Bar when she closed off a water hole the ranch depended on for their cattle. Ann was caught rustling Two Bar beef and was accused, but acquitted. She married Frank Willis in 1928 and lived to the age of 78.
Josie Bassett, the older of the two daughers, was married five times and had numerous lovers. One of them may have been Butch Cassidy, who often hid out at the ranch when the law was looking for him. Josie was also associated with Wild Bunch member Elza Lay. It was rumored she poisoned one of her five husbands but the truth of the matter appears to be that she purchased a “cure for alcoholism” and served it to him. Though her intentions were supposedly good, the concoction proved fatal. After leaving Brown’s Hole, Josie continued ranching. At the age of 62, she was accused of cattle rustling. She was acquitted after claiming she had been framed by people wanting to take her ranch. She claimed she last saw Butch in the 1920’s. She lived into her 80’s.