Wild Bunch – Kid Curry’s Escape: The Missing Months


Following the July 3, 1901, robbery of a Great Northern train near Wagner, Montana, Harvey Logan (Kid Curry) was able to avoid arrest for more than five months. But on December 13, 1901, he shot two Knoxville, Tennessee, policemen following a saloon fight, and two days later, he was arrested in nearby Jefferson City and returned to Knoxville.

After his arrest, the state and federal authorities wrangled for almost nine months over who held jurisdiction over the prisoner. Logan’s attorneys, led by John C. Houk, argued that Logan should be tried in the state court for the assault on the policemen. United States Attorney William Wright argued just as vigorously that he should be tried in federal court for passing unsigned bank notes taken in the Wagner robbery.

At first, Criminal Court judge Joseph Sneed ruled in favor of the defense. But on September 3, 1902, he reversed his previous decision and allowed United States Marshal R. W. Austin to serve federal warrants on Logan charging him with counterfeiting, forging, and passing stolen bank notes.

Once the federal authorities had control of Logan, Wright was confident of a conviction, but he was concerned about finding a secure place for Logan to serve his sentence. Federal prisoners convicted in Tennessee courts were normally sent to the state prison in Nashville, but Wright felt that the state prison was not a secure place for Logan. On September 11, 1902, he wrote to the Department of Justice describing Logan’s criminal career and asking them not to send him to the Nashville prison. “I’m of the opinion I will secure a conviction and am further of the opinion that the prison at Nashville, where we have been committing United States prisoners is not sufficiently safe and secure to keep him safely incarcerated. If it can be done, then he ought to be sent to secure prison in New York or other state. It is for that reason I lay these facts before you in order that you may consider the matter, and if you think it wise and wire me that in case of a conviction, I may have him committed to some other prison.”

On September 13, Acting Attorney General H. M. Hoyt notified Wright that he did not think that is was necessary to designate a special prison for Logan. Instead, he instructed Wright to wait until Logan was committed and then use the existing provisions of the law to change his place of imprisonment.

Wright contacted Hoyt again on September 19, to issue a second warning that Logan was no ordinary prisoner. “I will take this course with the defendant in case of his conviction, but will again suggest that I am of the opinion that the prison at Nashville is not sufficiently secure to hold a prisoner who has the shrewdness to escape that this defendant has. In view of his record, a more secure place should be designated for him.”

On November 17, 1902, after eleven months of delays, Logan’s trial finally got under way at the Knoxville Federal building before judge C. D. Clark. And on November 21, after hearing the testimony of thirty-four witnesses, the jury found Logan guilty on ten counts of counterfeiting, forging, and passing stolen bank notes.

Although Wright had won a conviction, the question of where Logan would serve his sentence was still being debated. The Pinkertons and the Great Northern Express Company were lobbying to have Logan sent to the Albany, New York, prison. Wright, acting as a go-between, wrote to the Attorney General on November 24. “I have had considerable correspondence with you by wire this past week with reference to designating some other prison other than Nashville as his place of confinement. You first designated Columbus, Ohio; I wired you that one of his “pals” Kilpatrick, is now serving out sentence of fifteen years in that prison. You then designated Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas; I am just in receipt of a communication from Pinkerton Detective Association, asking me if I would not write you, begging you to designate Albany, N. Y. as a prison for him. In as much as the defendant is a western desperado and has many “pals” in the western states they thought it better for him to be sent to some safe eastern prison …. I join in the request of the Great Northern Express Company and the Pinkerton Detective Association, to designate the prison at Albany, N. Y. as the place of confinement of the prisoner.”

The following day, United States Marshal R. W. Austin contacted the Department of justice to ask for the authority to hire two guards to assist him in transporting Logan to the penitentiary. “The prisoner is a dangerous man,” wrote Austin. “And as the journey will be a long one, I am of opinion extra force should be used.”

As Austin’s letter traveled up the chain of command at the Department a justice, someone recognized the growing anxiety among the Knoxville official and attached a memo. The handwritten note read, “I think they all fear this man Logan:”

By the time Logan was sentenced or November 29, a decision had finally been reached on where he would serve his sentence. Although the decision did not please everyone, judge Clark sentenced Logan to twenty years at hard labor and designated his place of confinement as the penitentiary at Columbus, Ohio.

On December 4, Wright again contacted the Department of Justice. This time he urged them to act quickly to remove Logan from the Knox County jail. “The attorneys for the defendant are preparing to file petition for writ of error to take the case to the United States Circuit Court of Appeals … I am of the opinion that by all means, this defendant should be sent on to the Columbus prison …. The defendant is a very bad man and dangerous prisoner and this jail, in my judgment, is not sufficiently secure to retain him … and in view of his record and the fact that the jail at this place is not so safe, and the fact that the Sheriff is very anxious to get rid of him … it is very important that the defendant be sent on to the prison at Columbus, Ohio.”

Logan’s attorneys stubbornly resisted Wright’s attempt to move their client. They petitioned the Court of Appeals for an order to allow Logan to remain in Knoxville while his appeal was being heard. Since the authority of the Court of Appeals superseded the authority of the Knoxville trial court, they ruled that Logan was entitled to a writ or error and could not legally be sent to the federal penitentiary while his case was still pending.

While Wright’s efforts were being blocked by the courts, one railroad official was still trying to prevent Logan from being sent to the Columbus prison. On December 16, United States Senator J. P. Millard wrote the Attorney General on behalf of William R. Kelly, General Solicitor for the Union Pacific Railroad, asking that Logan and Kilpatrick not be confined at the same prison.

Then on December 27, Kelly appealed directly to the Department of Justice. “This man (Logan) was the leading spirit of one of the most desperate bands of outlaws which has existed for many years, and participated in the robbery of two trains on the Union Pacific RailroadThis explainsthe anxiety which we have in insuring his absolute safe keeping, which we cannot but feel is put in jeopardy if he is confined in the same prison with Kilpatrick.”

On January 1, 1903, Marshal Austin, with Wright’s blessing, tried a different approach. He submitted an affidavit to the United States Circuit Court of Appeals asking them to transfer Logan to the Hamilton County, Ohio, jail. “Sheriff Fox has requested me (Austin) to use my efforts for the immediate removal of said Logan from the Knox county jail for the reason that his care and custody is a great responsibilityThe Knox county jail is not as safe and secure for the confinement of such prisoners as Logan.During my term as Marshal, federal prisoners have escaped from the Knox county, Tennessee, jail and I believe that there are more possibilities of Logan’s escape from said jail than there would be from the Hamilton County, Ohio, jail.”

When the Court of Appeals ignored his request, Austin and Wright had no choice but to let the process run its course.

Logan’s attorneys continued to work diligently to slow the process. Although Judge Clark had originally ordered them to submit a bill of exception by December 29, Houk successfully petitioned for more time. Because of these delays, the appeal was not submitted until February 17, 1903. Logan’s case was finally heard in May 1903, and on June 10, 1903, the United States Circuit Court of Appeals at Cincinnati, Ohio, upheld the decision of the Knoxville trial court and affirmed Logan’s conviction

By rules of the court, Logan allowed thirty days to file a petition to rehear, but Marshal Austin made one final attempt to have Logan spend this grace period someplace other than Knoxville. He again asked the Circuit Court of Appeals to issue an order to have Logan moved to the jail in Cincinnati. Two weeks later, he still had not received a reply.

During his confinement, Logan was housed on the second floor of the Knox County County jail. The second floor cells were arranged in two parallel rows of six, separated by a wide corridor that was closed at both ends by iron bars. This cellblock was surrounded on all four sides by a narrow corridor. Special guards employed by the Great Northern Express Company used this outer corridor to keep a twenty-four-hour watch on the prisoner. At the rear of the jail was a house that served as the sheriff’s residence, and the rear of this house and the rear of the jail formed two sides of an enclosed courtyard that opened on to Prince Street.

Until the last month of his confinement, Logan was kept locked in a single cells. He often complained that such close confinement was detrimental to his health. Since he was the only prisoner kept on the second floor, he asked to be allowed to use the inner corridor. At first Fox refused. But in May 1903, after Houk threatened to get a court order, he finally agreed to allow Logan the freedom of the inner corridor.

At about 4:30, on the afternoon of Saturday June 27, guard Frank Irwin was standing at the south end of the outer corridor looking out the window at the Tennessee River. Logan was standing behind Irwin at the south end of the inner corridor. As the two men talked, Logan placed his hands through the bars and threw a wire lasso around Irwin’s neck. Jerking Irwin against the bars of the cage, Logan warned the frightened guard not to make a sound. “Frank, I don’t want to kill you, but with me it is a case of life and death, and I don’t care which. I intend to get out of this place. It’s all right as long as you do what I tell you, but it will be all wrong with you if you make a sound.”

Keeping a firm hold on the wire lasso with one hand, Logan used his other hand and his teeth to securely tie Irwin’s hand to the bars with rope. Once Irwin was secured, Logan rushed into the bathroom and returned with an eight-foot long stick made of several pieces of window molding lashed together with a metal hook attached to one end. Hurrying to the north end of the corridor, he thrust the stick between the bars, hooked a box that contained two loaded pistols kept by the guards at the corner of the cell block, and carefully dragged the box to the cell door.

Logan’s next move was to get jailer Tom Bell to unlock the cell. Taking a bottle, he began rapping on the bars, a signal he used when he wanted water, food, or medicine. When Bell reached the second floor, Logan complained of being ill, held up a medicine bottle, and asked that it be refilled. Unaware that Irwin was tied to the opposite end of the cellblock, Bell approached Logan and found himself staring into the barrel of a pistol.

Logan quickly tied one end of a six-foot length of rope around Bell’s wrist. Holding the other end of the rope to keep the jailer from bolting, he ordered Bell to lock the door to the stairwell. Bell was then ordered to open the combination lock to the cellblock. While Bell nervously fumbled with the lock, Logan warned him, “Don’t make any slip, Tom, or I will kill you.”

Logan assured Bell that he would not be harmed if he cooperated but made no such promises about Sheriff Fox. He told Bell that, “he had always intended to kill the sheriff at the first opportunity, and if the sheriff got near him, or sought to interfere with him in any way, he would kill him on the spot.”

Once the cell was opened, Bell led the way down the steps to the office floor, then down another flight of steps to the basement. There they met R. P. Swanee , a former prisoner who did odd jobs around the jail. Logan ordered him to “fall in line.” Marching both men out through a rear door to the stable, Logan told Swanee to saddle a mare that belonged to Sheriff Fox. When Swanee was slow to locate a saddle and bridle, Logan cursed him and ordered Bell to lend a hand. They soon found a saddle, but Logan had to make his escape using a halter when they could not locate a bridle.

After the mare saddled, Logan told Bell to walk ahead of him and open the gate which led to Prince Street. Just as they reached the gate, Sheriff Fox stepped out on the back porch of his residence. Seeing Bell, Fox asked, “what is the matter, Tom?” Bell responded by motioning toward Logan and warning Fox to “get back inside the house quick or you will soon find out what the matter is.” Fox quickly sized up the situation and dashed back into the house.

As Logan rode south on Prince, turned east on Hill Avenue, and then south across the Gay Street bridge onto Martin Mill Pike, Sheriff Fox began notifying the law enforcement in the surrounding counties of his escape. A posse was organized to try and pick up his trail, and Attorney Wright and Marshal Austin were notified that Harvey Logan had escaped.

Austin’s first official act was wire the Department of Justice. “Harvey Logan convicted passing unsigned billcase before court of appeals, escaped from Knox County jail Saturday afternoon, four thirty, making every effort (to) recapture him.”

While the posse searched far to the south of Knoxville and groups were being organized to guard the passes of the nearby Smoky Mountains, Logan remained near the city. After he entered Martin Mill Pike, he was seen riding east on Magazine Road. At about 6:00 p.m. he approached Robert Griffin’s store on Ford Valley Road. He lingered near the store for a short time before riding away when a few people began to gather. At 6:30, he was spotted as he turned off Ford Valley Road into a dense growth of cedars know as McCall’s Woods.

Logan was last seen at about 10:00 p.m., three miles southeast of Knoxville. A local man named Haz Johnson was walking along a road near the New Prospect Church when he saw a horse grazing near the road. Thinking it had escaped from a nearby pasture, he approached cautiously intending to catch the animal. Suddenly a man rose from the ground, jerked the reins, and coughed slightly. Johnson stopped, and the man mounted and rode slowly away, keeping a careful watch on Johnson over his shoulder. Johnson’s description of the horse and its rider matched Logan and the sheriffs mare perfectly. He also observed that the horse was wearing a halter instead of a bridle.

As news of Logan s escape spread, the citizens of Knoxville began to gather on street corners, in hotel lobbies, and saloons waiting for the latest news about the escape. By the early hours of Sunday morning a crowd estimated to be in the thousands lined the streets around the jail. While the average citizen waited outside, Sheriff Fox found time to escort dozens of Knoxville’s most prominent citizens, including all of the county officials, on a tour of the second floor to explain how Logan had escaped.

Those of less prominence satisfied their hunger for details of the escape by grabbing up the early editions of the newspapers. Interest ran so high that it produced a new record for one-day sale of newspapers in Knoxville, easily surpassing the previous record set on the morning following the shooting of President McKinley.

By noon Sunday, the weary posse returned without Logan. The sheriff’s mare also returned, without saddle, lame and with the left hind shoe missing. The mare was first seen near the south end of the A. K. & N. railroad bridge leading some to speculate that Logan had returned to Knoxville and caught a passing train during the night. But with Pinkerton detectives due to arrive in Knoxville the next day and nothing more than speculation to go on, the posse decided to discontinue their search.

On Monday Pinkerton Assistant Superintendent E. S. Reed and Detective H. Beardsley arrived in Knoxville to find the search for Logan at a standstill. Sheriff Fox and his guards were too busy fending off accusations of being involved in Logan’s escape to look for the fugitive. Attorney Wright and Marshal Austin said Sheriff Fox was responsible because he had violating their orders not to allow Logan into the inner corridor. Fox tried to shift the blame to jailer Tom Bell. He said that Logan would not have escaped if Bell had followed his orders to stay on the first floor and let the guards attend to the prisoner’s needs.

The newspapers joined the finger pointing by printing stories that were critical of the jail officials. One reporter even questioning Bell and Irwin’s courage. He said Bell should have called Logan’s bluff and refused to open the cell. He reasoned that Logan would not have shot the jailer since he was the only one who knew the combination to the cell.

The only person that came forward to defend Bell and Irwin was the handyman, R. P. Swanee. In a written statement to the Knoxville Sentinel, he stated, “my friends here are not as lamb-like as is written about in the newspapers. Had the man who wrote (the) article against us been under the aim of Harvey Logan’s pistols, he (would) not have written like that.”

The sheriffs guided tours of the jail also proved to be an embarrassment. Everyone, including Fox, agreed that an investigation was needed, but when they tried to reenact the escape they discovered that several pieces of evidence were missing. It turned out that some of Knoxville’s prominent citizens had carried them away as souvenirs during their tour of the jail. The newspaper asked that the persons who had taken the wire lasso and the ropes used in the escape to please return them because they were needed in the investigation.

In spite of the controversy, the Pinkerton detectives, aided by Deputy Sheriff Abner Epps and United States Deputy Marshal Charles McCall, began their investigation into the whereabouts of Harvey Logan. They soon learned that Logan had returned to Knoxville where he met up with an old friend named Sam Adkins.

Adkins, like Logan, was an all-around badman. A native of the Unaka Mountains of Western North Carolina, he had for years been the terror of the communities of Western North Carolina and North Georgia. He was a fugitive from justice in Texas, where he was wanted for murder. It was there that he first met Logan, and they had spent time together in the Unakas just prior to Logan’s arrival in Knoxville in December 1901.

Adkins had been around Knoxville for several months waiting for Logan to escape. On the night of the escape, they had met at a prearranged place and made their way to Black Oak Ridge in North Knoxville. There they had caught a freight train and rode it north to the coal chute near Coal Hill, (present day Lake City) Tennessee.

From Coal Hill, the detectives followed their trail north and then east as the fugitives traveled by rail and on foot through Campbell, Greene, and Unicoi County before crossing into North Carolina. From there they turned southwest, following the chain of mountains that lay along the border of Tennessee and North Carolina until they reached a remote area of Graham County, North Carolina, twenty miles west of Robbinsville.

At that point the detectives located a man named Melton who had not only seen Adkins and Logan but had been forced to act as their guide. Melton told the detectives that on July 12, he had been crossing the Cheoah River near his home in a canoe when two men hailed him from the opposite bank and asked to be taken across the river. When he reached the men, he recognized one of them as his cousin Sam Adkins. Melton did not know the other man nor did he know anything about Logan or his escape. But the description he gave left no doubt that the other man was Harvey Logan.

According to Melton, Adkins did all the talking, and when they reached the other side, he went up to Melton’s cabin and began talking to other members of the family. Logan, who seemed to be having great difficulty in walking, limped of to the side and did not come near the cabin.

Adkins soon asked Melton to take him and his partner to the top of the mountain and find them a rock house where there was water. At first, Melton tried to beg off, but Adkins became more insistent and, “began talking in a way that frightened the women of the family.” By this time it was beginning to get dark and Logan drew near. He said very little but spoke in a manner that made it clear to Melton that it would not be wise to hesitate much longer.

As the group set out for the top of the mountain, Melton was made to carry Logan’s share of their belongings, which consisted of several guns, a lantern, and a half sack of flour. After a long and difficult climb, Melton finally found them a suitable place, and they all sat down to rest. When Logan pulled off his shoes, Melton saw that his feet were badly swollen and covered with blisters.

Adkins told Melton that they were not afraid of an army as long as they were in the mountains and that they would not be taken alive. He said that they would stay there until his partner’s feet heated. Then they would head for the nearest railroad. He said that they hoped to leave quietly, but if they had to do some shooting, they would leave anyhow.

They told Melton to come back in a few days with provisions but not to come directly to their camp. He was to signal from a spot about one hundred yards down the mountain. If they were still there, they would come down and get him. If they did not answer his signal, he was to come on up, and they would leave a sign to show that they had left.

Adkins also warned him not to lead a posse to their hideout, but Logan interrupted and said that if it was just one or two officers who wanted to come with him, “to show them on up.”

Melton said that he returned at the appointed time and found them still in camp. But when he returned a few days later, they were gone, leaving the flour sack stuck in the fork of a sapling as a signal that they had abandoned camp. Melton told the detectives that Adkins had talked about going deeper into the mountains to a cattle herder’s shack located on the south edge of a rugged area known as Jeffrey’s Hell.

When this news reached Knoxville on July 21, Assistant U. S. Attorney J. M. Simmerly immediately notified the Department of Justice that Logan had been located and asked that marshals be sent to the area to make the arrest.

That same day, M. D. Grover of the Great Northern Express Company wired a Washington, DC law firm asking them to use their influence with the Department of justice. “Harvey Logan one of three robbers of Great Northern express train….has been located by Pinkerton detectives with another desperate character in mountains of North Carolina ….will you call on Department of Justice and urge proper authority to marshal and employ all necessary force to capture Logan.”

The Department of justice again failed to act. Forty-eight hours later, J. M. Millikan, Marshal for the Western District of North Carolina, still had not been contacted. On July 23, after learning from Marshal Austin that Logan had been located, Millikin contacted Washington and was given the authority to organize a posse to make the arrest.

The following morning, Millikin left Greensboro, North Carolina, and arrived in Murphy that afternoon. There he met six of his field deputies and four men, including Pinkerton Detective Lowell Spence and Deputy Marshal McCall, who had been sent from Knoxville to help make the arrest. He leamed from Spence and McCall that Logan and Adkins were probably at the herder’s shack near Jeffery’s Hell or at the home of an Adkins’ relative named Edwards located in the same area.

On July 25, the posse traveled by rail to Andrews, North Carolina, and after obtaining teams and provisions, they began the fifteen-mile trip into the mountains. Late that afternoon, they made camp at a point eight miles from the herder’s shack and six miles from the Edwards’ place.

The next morning, Millikin divided his posse into two parties. He sent one to the herder’s shack and the other to the Edwards’ residence while he remained in camp. By late afternoon, both parties returned and reported that they had found no trace of Logan. The following morning Millikin returned to the railroad at Tapoco, North Carolina, and dismissed his posse.

Although Millikin had quit the chase, Pinkerton Superintendent E. S. Reed still believed Logan was in the area. On July 29, Marshal Austin wired the Department of Justice that, “Pinkerton’s representative appeals for assistance in recapture Harvey Logan. I request authority organize posse of three cooperates in my district. Immediate answer requested.”

When no immediate answer was received, Austin wrote his superiors again on August 3. “I enclose copy of a telegram sent you on July 29th … I have up to date received no answer. I had a telephone message today from Mr. E. S. Reed … stating that he was at Madisonville, Tennessee, (fifteen miles northwest of Jeffery’s Hell) and wished to know if I had received an answer from his appeal for assistance in the matter of locating Harvey Logan.”

The Pinkertons continue to search for Logan, but it soon became apparent that he had made good his escape. Three weeks after Millikan’s excursion into the mountains, Logan was rumored to have been back in Montana. On August 28, he was reported to have been one of three men who attempted to hold up a Great Northern train near Malta, Montana. The railroad had been alerted that he was in the area and had placed guards on all trains. They surprised the hold-up men when they tried to board the engine and prevented them from completing the robbery. Logan was later reported to be far ahead of a pursuing posse making his way toward the safety of the Bear Paw Mountains.

Although the Department of Justice refused to further assist in recapturing Logan, they were eager to recover the money spent on the Logan case. At the urging of United States Attorney Wright, they filed suit against Sheriff Fox charging him with allowing a federal prisoner to escape and asking him to pay $10,000 in damages. This amount was later increased to $30,000 before an out of court settlement was reached.

The suspicions of wrongdoing in the Logan case followed Sheriff Fox to his grave and beyond. But in spite of the suspicions, there is no proof that he was a party to Logan’s escape. In fact, recently discovered letters written by Logan seem to clear Fox of any involvement. In one letter, he wrote “Because he (Fox) was such a Dirty Kur i have Been thinking of never Saying a Word and Let the Dirty cur pack the name of selling out to me But that is one thing he is Not guilty of.” Later he wrote, “he (William Pinketon) Says it Was a Clear Case of Bribery that got Logan out of the Knox Co Jail. that is one More of the Many Lies he Published.”

There is also no evidence that Logan had the resources needed to bribe anyone. When he was arrested, funds were provided by some unnamed person to pay his legal expenses, but those funds were used up long before he escaped. Even his last attempts to bribe his guards were mostly promises to send them money after he was free. During the last months of his confinement, the only money he had was an occasional dollar given to him by his attorneys to buy tobacco and other small items.

Although Sheriff Fox, Irwin, and Bell were all guilty of some degree of negligence, the Department of Justice was not blameless. In spite of repeated warnings, they made no effort to improve the security at the Knox County jail. Instead, they depended on inexperienced guards, hired by Sheriff Fox and paid by the Great Northern Express Company, to guard their prisoner. Furthermore, their efforts to recapture Logan were neither timely nor aggressive.

The Court of Appeals was also aware of the dangerous situation that existed in Knoxville. And it was within their power to correct that situation. Yet, they took no action.

Harvey Logan was determined to be free, and he was willing to give up his life and take the life of others to gain his freedom. His attorney, John C. Houk, summed it up best when he wrote, “Logan had the nerve while those in charge of him did not have it and he walked out as the result of his cunning and dare devil determination to die or escape.”