Wild Bunch – Capturing a Train Robber: Kid Curry’s Escapades in Knoxville, Tennessee


Following their holdup of Great Northern train No. 3, near Wagner, Montana, on July 3, 1901, Harvey Logan (Kid Curry), Ben Kilpatrick and Camillo Hanks split up and began traveling around the country. With $40,000 of unsigned Bank of Montana bills to pass, they moved from city to city leaving a trail of forged bank notes behind.

Hanks is known to have been in Nashville, Tennessee in late October 190 1, where he narrowly escaped capture by the Nashville police. In early November, he visited his mother in Taylor County, Texas, and later spent time at or near his brother’s ranch in Callahan County, Texas.

In late September, Kilpatrick and his consort Laura Bullion were living at the rooming house of K.C. and Elizabeth Maddox in Fort Worth, Texas. From there they traveled to San Angelo, Texas, then to Hot Springs, Arkansas, Memphis, Tennessee, and finally to Saint Louis, Missouri, where Kilpatrick was arrested on November 5, for passing one of the stolen bills.

Logan visited San Antonio, Texas, Mena, Arkansas, Shreveport, Louisiana, Memphis and Nashville, Tennessee during September and October 1901. In late November and early December, he is believed to have been in or about the rugged Unaka Mountains of Southeastern Tennessee and Western North Carolina.

Then on December 10, a well-dressed man calling himself William Wilson arrived in Knoxville, Tennessee. He joined the sporting crowd that frequented the saloons and brothels along the Central Avenue section of Knoxville known as the Bowery. For several days, he was in Ike Jones’ saloon, often in the company of three small, time crooks named Luther Brady, James Boley, and John Whipple. He also took a liking to a prostitute named Lillie Sartan, spending his nights in her room over the saloon. Sartan later described him as a big spender who bragged about having plenty of money. She also said that he was quarrelsome when drinking and vain about his appearance.

On Friday, December 13, a cold rain fell on Knoxville driving Wilson and the other habitues of the Bowery inside. At about eight that night, Wilson, Brady, Whipple, and an unidentified man were playing pool at Ike Jones’ saloon. James Boley, Sterl Stewart, and Frank Humphries, owner of the pool table, looked on.

Wilson and Brady were drinking heavily and betting on each game and Wilson’s quarrelsome nature began to surface. After missing an easy shot, he took a knife from his pocket and began trimming the end of his cue. Frank Humphries, seeing his property being damaged, objected, “Don’t cut that stuff up – it’s mine.”

Taking a step toward Humphries, Wilson asked, “What have you got to do with it?”

Brady quickly stepped between Wilson and Humphries and said, “this man is a cripple, a one legged man.”

“Well he need not be so damn insulting if he is a one legged man, replied Wilson. At that point, Brady took hold of Wilson and a scuffle began. Boley was briefly involved in the pushing and shoving before Wilson broke free, grabbed Brady by the throat, and pushed him backward over a barrel in the corner of the room.

Knoxville policemen William Dinwiddie and Robert Saylor were near the entrance of the saloon and heard the fight break out. Fights were common in the Bowery, and neither officer expected trouble as they rushed in to separate the combatants.

As the police broke through the crowd of onlookers, Wilson released his chokehold on Brady and stepped back. Dinwiddie took hold of Brady and told him that he was under arrest. Saylor turned to Wilson and said, “You have to stop that.”

“By God I’m here to protect myself,” replied Wilson.

Dinwiddie turned just in time to see Wilson draw a pistol. He sprang to his partner’s aid as Wilson placed the hammerless 38 Smith & Wesson along side his hip and fired. The first shot missed Saylor, and both officers brought their billy clubs crashing down on Wilson’s head.

Although he was staggered by the blows, Wilson still managed to fire three quick shots, striking Saylor in the arm, leg, and side.

As Saylor slumped to the floor, Dinwiddie delivered a powerful blow to Wilson’s head, splitting his billy in half. Wilson dropped to his knees but quickly regained his feet, turned, and fired a shot that struck Dinwiddie in the chest. Dinwiddie fell forward but somehow managed to grab the now empty pistol and wrench it from Wilson’s hand. With both policemen disabled, Wilson ran through the rear door of the saloon and disappeared into the darkness.

As soon as the initial shock and confusion subsided, the police were notified and asked to send doctors to the scene. The more seriously wounded Saylor was laid on the pool table and Dinwiddie was laid on a carpet near the door. Doctor W.S. Nash and his assistant, A.B. Lutrell arrived and began treating the wounded officers.

Lieutenant George McIntyre was one of the first police officers at the scene, followed by Deputy Sheriff Charles McCall and his bloodhounds. The dogs struck a hot trail on the bank of a small creek behind the saloon. At one point, they found a spot of blood beside a rock where it appeared that someone had been sitting to rest. But after following the trail to an abandoned barn in East Knoxville, it went cold. The dogs never located the trail beyond that point.

By Saturday morning, the rain stopped but the temperature plunged to near zero, hampering efforts to pick up the fugitive’s trail. But while the search continued and the citizens of Knoxville were reading about the shooting in their morning newspapers, events were taking place in the Bowery that would explain why William Wilson had shot two police officers to avoid being arrested for such a minor offense.

The Knoxville Banking Company had just opened for business when an employee of the Climax Saloon presented a $20 bank note and requested change. President W.H. Gass recognized the Bank of Montana bill as one from the July 3, train robbery. Gass immediately notified the police.

Soon the police were receiving other reports of stolen Montana bills being passed at Knoxville merchants. Three $20 bills were used at local clothing stores, and Montana bills were showing up all over the Bowery.

The police learned that Luther Brady, James Boley, and John Whipple were the source of these bills. They had visited several clothing stores, each buying new suits and other items of clothing and spending money freely throughout the bowery. Brady even stopped by Squire William Sellers’ court to pay a $20 outstanding fine with one of the stolen Montana bills.

The police located the suspects at the home of John Whipple just as they were changing into their new suits. All three denied knowing the bills were stolen. Brady claimed he had won the money from Wilson playing pool. Nevertheless, after changing back into their old suits, they were taken before Squire Sellers and charged with passing stolen bank notes.

Meanwhile, the police received a tip that the fight between Brady and Wilson had not been spontaneous. Sources in the Bowery claimed Brady, Boley, and Whipple had seen Wilson flash a large roll of bills and devised a scheme to rob him. Brady was to get into a scuffle with Wilson and while trying to separate them, Boley or Whipple would relieve Wilson. Brady, Boley and Whipple, told a different story. They claimed that Whipple had found a pocketbook containing the bills on the floor of the saloon following the fight. He had then given the pocketbook to Boley who later passed it to Luther Brady.

To avoid suspicion, Brady and Boley went to Dennis Finley’s wine room to examine their booty. There they discovered the pocketbook contained almost $4,000 in $20 bills. Brady said he took $200 or $300, wrapped the rest in paper for safe keeping and threw the pocketbook into the creek behind Finley’s saloon. He then gave the package of money to Dennis Finley to hold.

When the police retrieved the package from Finley, they found that it contained $3,680 in unsigned Bank of Montana bills.

While the police gathered up stolen Montana bills, the search for Wilson continued. Several people reported seeing a man with blood on his head near Caswell Station in East Knoxville, but a thorough search of the area failed to produce results. Near record-setting cold continued to hamper the manhunt. Twenty-four hours after the shooting, the police still had no leads to Wilson’s whereabouts.

The police were sure William Wilson was one of the Great Northern Railroad holdup men, but they were not sure which one. At first, they thought that he was Harry Longabaugh, but the names George Parker and Harvey Logan also were mentioned.

Sunday, December 15, dawned bitterly cold as Knoxville awakened to the news that, in spite of their severe wounds, both of the wounded police officers would recover. Their assailant, however, was still at large.

As news of a reward for Wilson’s capture spread, he was reportedly seen in Newport, 40 miles east of Knoxville. Another report placed him in Madisonville, 50 miles southwest of Knoxville. Both reports proved to be unfounded.

But at 3:15 that afternoon, W.B. Carey phoned from Jefferson City, 25 miles northeast of Knoxville. He reported that two suspicious men were seen near the Jefferson City depot. One man had a bloody rag wrapped around his head and Carey was sure he was the man sought by the Knoxville police. He asked that men be sent to help him make the arrest.

Police Chief J.J. Atkins directed Lieutenant George McIntyre to take Sergeant William Malone, Patrolmen Syd Giles and Tom Dewine and leave immediately for Jefferson City. An eastbound train was leaving Knoxville at four o’clock and arrangements were made to hold it until they could reach the depot.

Before the police reached Jefferson City, however, Carey convinced Frank Rhoton, George Carey, James Clevenger, and Walter Padgett to help him make the arrest. Armed with shotguns the five-man posse set out to find the suspects. Before they reached the depot, they met a man, who gave his name as John Drees walking along the railroad track toward Jefferson City. He was taken into custody, searched, and left under guard at the depot while the other posse members continued their search.

They spotted smoke rising from a patch of brush about 250 yards east of the depot. Approaching carefully, they found a man hunched over a small fire. They closed in around him and ordered him to throw up his hands. He did not offer resistance and he showed no fear as he raised his hands. After searching him for weapons and finding him unarmed, they started back to the depot.

Just as they arrived, the train carrying Lieutenant McIntyre and the other policemen pulled in. Sergeant Malone and Patrolman Giles took charge of the two prisoners. Nothing was found on Drees, but on Wilson, they found $2,240 in Bank of Montana bills, $50 in good money, and two baggage checks from the Southern Railway station.

A crowd of more than 2,000 was waiting when McIntyre’s party arrived in Knoxville. The onlookers strained to catch a glimpse of the man who had shot the policemen while the prisoners were hurried into a waiting patrol wagon and taken to the Knox County jail.

As they entered the jail, Wilson saw Luther Brady in one of the cells and in a show of good will called out to him, “Did I hurt you?”

“No,” answered Brady.

“Well I’m glad of it,” replied Wilson.

At first, Wilson refused to answer questions. When asked how he got cuts on his head, he replied, “Damned if I know.” When asked his name, he said he had none.

But later, he called himself Charles Johnson. He admitted he had shot the policemen. He claimed they were beating him to death and he shot them in self-defense. He said he had been dazed by the beating and did not remember Knoxville.

When he regained his senses, he was under a tree with the rain him. Later, the temperature had dropped so rapidly his clothes froze. Traveling mostly at night, he followed the railroad to Jefferson City.

The other prisoner insisted that his name was John Drees. He claimed to be an iron moulder and showed a union card in that name. He said he left Knoxville on Friday after a spree and losing his money. He was hoboing his way to Bristol, Tennessee when he was arrested. He denied knowing anything about the other prisoner.

While Wilson was being questioned, Lieutenant McIntyre and Patrolman Giles took the baggage checks to the Southern Railway station and retrieved two bags. In one, they found a usual assortment of clothing. The other bag contained a Colt.45 revolver and $3,130 of Montana bank notes wrapped newspaper.

At first, Wilson denied the bags belonged to him, but the next day, he asked McIntyre to bring them to him so he could get some of his clothing. As McIntyre was removing articles from the bags, Wilson saw the Colt.45 and jokingly said, “I don’t believe I will need that in here.”

After finding the stolen bills Knoxville, the police contacted Pinkerton Detective Agency in Chicago and obtained a detailed description the men suspected of the Great North robbery. They believed that Johnson was Harvey Logan. They were less certain about Drees but suspected he might be George (Robert LeRoy) Parker. To make sure, they asked that a detective acquainted with these men be sent to Knoxville.

Meanwhile, Johnson, as he was now calling himself, curried favor with the police. He gave his gold watch to Sergeant Will Malone and an expensive ring to Patrolman Syd Giles. He said he would not be needing them for sometime and the two officers had treated him well.

He also received hundreds of visitors as curious citizens flocked to the jail to see him. As groups of five or six trooped through the jail, he talked and joked with them. To one group he called out, “Right this way boys, ten cents a peek.” But when several people started to lay dimes on the railing, he refused them, saying he had enough money for his needs.

Because of a train wreck on the Cincinnati Southern that delayed southbound traffic for several hours, Pinkerton Detective Lowell Spence did reach Knoxville until eight o’clock Tuesday morning. Police Chief Atkins Knox County Sheriff James Fox met him and escorted him to jail.

There several prisoners, including Johnson and Drees, had been turned out their cells into a barred corridor. Sheriff Fox called for Charlie Johnson and the suspect walked over to the bars. After studying him for a moment, Spence asked to see his hands. Johnson stood silent as detective carefully examined his hands and wrists, paying particular attention to a slight scar on one wrist.

After finishing the examination, the two men talked briefly. “Is there anything I can do for you?” Spence asked.

“Not that I know of,” replied Johnson, “unless you have a cigar about you.”

“I have none, but will send you down some when I go up town,” said Spence.

“I will be obliged,” answered Johnson.

The prisoner was then dismissed and Spence informed Sheriff Fox that he had doubt that Charlie Johnson was Harvey Logan.

After seeing Drees and satisfying himself that he was not one of the Great Northern holdup men, Detective Spence notified the Pinkerton office and the Great Northern Express Company that Harvey Logan was in custody and that than $9,000 of the stolen Montana money had been recovered.

A few days later, Pinkerton Superintendent Andrew Irle arrived in Knoxville and confirmed that the prisoner in custody was Harvey Logan alias Kid Curry.

After holding him for more than a week, the Knoxville authorities finally admitted that John Drees was who he said he was and released him. The wounded police officers eventually recovered from their wounds. After several months, Dinwiddie returned to police force, but Saylor’s wounds forced him to seek a less demanding occupation. He later became a bail bondsman.

The Knoxville authorities held tight to Harvey Logan. In November 1902, he was convicted of counterfeiting and forgery. He remained in Knoxville awaiting the decision of United States Circuit Court of Appeals until June 1903. Then on June 2, his appeal was denied, and on June 27, 1903, he again made front-page news when he broke out of the Knox County jail.