Wild Bunch – The Wilcox Robbery: Who Did It?

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On June 2, 1899, the Cheyenne Daily Sun-Leader reported that at 1:00 a.m. that morning, six masked men had held up Union Pacific train No 1 near the isolated Wilcox siding, one hundred and thirteen miles west of Cheyenne. The robbers had dynamited the express car and escaped with an estimated $36,000. Posses from Albany and Carbon counties had been organized and were already pursuing the robbers.

When the posses reached Wilcox, they found the trail of three robbers and followed it north across the Laramie Plains toward Glenrock. Posses from Rawlings and Laramie were also joining the chase, and it was believed that the robbers would soon be surrounded and captured. Because the North Platte River was swollen by recent, heavy rains and could only be crossed at the bridges, the authorities asked that all bridges be guarded to cut off any possible escape to the north. Guards were stationed at the Alcova and Bessemer bridges, but the bridge at Casper was left unattended.

At about 2:00 a.m. on Sunday, June 4, the three robbers boldly rode into Casper. After stopping at Bucknum’s livery stable where they tried unsuccessfully to awaken someone, they rode to the bridge and crossed the North Platte.

The next morning, a posse caught up with them thirty miles north of Casper. The robbers had stopped to rest, and while they were sleeping, their horses strayed some distance from camp and were found by the posse. Converse County Sheriff Joe Hazen and several members of his posse were backtracking the horses when the robbers opened fire, mortally wounding Hazen and forcing the posse to withdraw.

The robbers were now on foot and were believed to be headed for the Hole-in-the-Wall country. But instead of turning northwest as had been expected, they continued north, passing the Powder River Crossing south of Kaycee on June 7. In the early morning hours of June 10, they reached Billy Hill’s ranch on the Red Fork of the Powder River where they obtained remounts.

The posse was more than twenty-four hours behind the robbers by the time it reached Hill’s ranch and picked up their trail. They continued to follow them for more than a week as their trail led west into the Big Horn Mountains, across the Big Horn Basin, and then northwest toward the badlands south of Thermopolis. But on June 23, the trail was lost on Kirby Creek in Big Horn Canyon, and the posse returned to Casper.

The posse had tracked three of the holdup men from Wilcox to the Big Horn Canyon, but the other three robbers had drawn little attention from the authorities. According to the newspapers, they had either ridden south toward Brown’s Park, were somewhere north of Douglas, or had crossed the North Platte at Bessemer in a covered rig. None of these reports were ever confirmed, and the whereabouts of the three missing robbers was never determined.

On June 3, the Sun-Leader reported, “There are some who claim that the robbery was the work of the Hole-in-the-Wall gang, and that ‘Butch’ Cassidy and this gang are the guilty ones. Some of the gang are said to have been returning from the south where they wintered, and this was the spring opening.”

The Wyoming Derrick was more specific on June 8. They reported that the three men trailed from Wilcox were believed to be George Currie and the two Roberts brothers. On June 12, the Sun-Leader reported that two of the robbers had been identified. “A messenger reached Casper today from the posse . . . . with the news that two of the men had been seen Thursday (June 8) at Bar C ranch, owned by Robert Tisdale, 75 miles north of Casper . . . . The fugitives were seen by Al Flood, assistant foreman for Tisdale, who recognized George Currie and one of the Roberts brothers.”

In addition to Currie and the Roberts brothers, the authorities soon named other members of the Hole-in-the-Wall gang as suspects. Mostly because of the Pinkertons and the Union Pacific, the names of Butch Cassidy, Harry Longabaugh, Harvey Logan, Lonnie Logan, Bob Lee, and Elzy Lay all came to be associated with the Wilcox robbery. Although the number of suspects already exceeded the number of robbers, books and magazine articles have added new names to the list of suspects. The number of possible participants in the Wilcox robbery now totals more than a dozen.

In the Outlaw Trail, Charles Kelly said that there were six robbers, and named George Currie, Harvey Logan, and Elzy Lay as the men who the posse trailed north from Wilcox. He also named Lonnie Logan and Bob Lee as two members of the gang. Kelly said Butch Cassidy was nearby, but probably did not participate in the actual robbery.

Brown Waller, in Last of the Great Western Train Robbers, agreed that there were six robbers. He also agreed that Currie, Logan, and Lay were the men who rode north and that Lonnie Logan and Bob Lee were two of the robbers. He said Will Roberts was the sixth member of the gang.

Edward M. Kirby devoted a chapter to the Wilcox robbery in The Rise & Fall of The Sundance Kid. He too, said that Currie, Logan, and Lay took part in the robbery. He named Ben Kilpatrick, Will Carver, and Lonnie Logan as possible participants. He gave Cassidy and Longabaugh credit for planning the robbery, but said that Bob Lee “probably wasn’t there.

In Sundance: My Uncle, Donna B. Ernst added the name of Harry Longabaugh. She said Harvey Logan, George Currie, Lonnie Logan, Bill Carver, and Ben Kilpatrick were the other men most often credited with the robbery. She dropped Elzy Lay to the rank of a possible participant along with Bill Cruzan, O. C. Hanks, and Bill Jones. She said Cassidy was probably the mastermind of the robbery but not a participant.

As these examples show, the identity of the six Wilcox robbers is still in doubt. Why have historians failed to identify these men? Because they have accepted, without question, that there were six holdup men even though the evidence does not support that number.

Since the posse only found the tracks of three robbers leaving Wilcox, the newspaper reports of six robbers was almost certainly based on information from the witnesses to the robbery. But did these witnesses really see six robbers? The evidence shows that they did not, at least not all of them.

Engineer William Jones seems to be the only one on record who claimed to have seen six men. And even Jones did not say that he saw all six at the same time. At the May 1900, trial of accused Wilcox train robber Bob Lee, Jones testified, “I saw all six robbers at one time or another. . . . I think I could probably identify three of them.”

Express messenger E. C. Woodcock and mail clerks Robert O’Brien and James Skidmore were witnesses to the robbery. They were also witnesses at Lee’s trial, but none of them testified that they saw six robbers. Woodcock said, “I noticed only three of the robbers.” O’Brian said that he saw only two of the robbers, and Skidmore said that he saw two robbers and “heard the voice of another robber in the distance but did not see him.”

Mail clerk Robert Lawson was another witness who did not see six robbers. In an interview with the Derrick, Lawson said, “of the three (robbers) that I observed, one looked to be six foot tall, the others being about ordinary sized men.”

Less than a week after the robbery, the Derrick reported that there may have been fewer than six robbers. “Where the other three men went who made up the band is not known, and there is even a doubt expressed that there were more than three followed from Rock Creek to Casper.” They later reported that the escape of the other three robbers “has always been a mystery to the officials.”

The three missing robbers may have been a mystery to the Derrick, but they were not a mystery to the railroad officials. They already knew that these three men did not exist. On June 10, Union Pacific General Manager E. Dickerson told the Sun-Leader, “I do not believe there were over three men in the hold-up. Certainly there were no more than that left Wilcox on horses” On June 13, the Sun-Leader again reported, “The Union Pacific officials and other officers think that there were only three in the gang who did the work.”

Bob Lee did not believe that there had been six robbers. Lee first became a suspect in the robbery in November 1899, when the Pinkertons learned that Lee and his cousin, Harlem, Montana, saloon owner Lonnie Logan, had passed some of the stolen Wilcox bills. Logan had passed one bill at the Mint saloon at Great Falls, and Lee had supposedly sent five $100 bills to Fort Benton to be redeemed. The bills were recognized as part of the Wilcox loot, and Pinkerton agents were sent to Harlem to investigate.

In January 1900, Logan and Lee learned that they were being investigated and fled to Cripple Creek, Colorado, arriving there on January 25. Lee remained there, eventually taking a job dealing cards at the Antlers gambling house, but Logan left Cripple Creek on February 17, to visit relatives near Kansas City, Missouri. The Pinkertons trailed him to the home of his aunt, Mrs. Hiram Lee, and early on the morning of February 28, a posse made up of local detectives and Pinkerton agents surrounded the Lee farmhouse. When Logan saw the officers approaching, he ran from the house and was shot and killed by one of the detectives.

Lee was arrested later that day in Cripple Creek and taken to Laramie, Wyoming, to await trial. But before his trial date arrived, Lee decided to tell what he knew about the Wilcox robbery in hopes of clearing himself. On May 5, his attorney, R. W. Breackens, arranged for United States Marshal Frank Hadsell and William A. Pinkerton to interview Lee at the Laramie penitentiary. Lee told Hadsell and Pinkerton, “What I know about the robbery is hearsay, mostly from Lonnie Logan. . . . Lonnie told me there were only three men in it.” Lee identified two of the men by name, but his interviewers were not satisfied. When they pressed him to say that Lonnie Logan, George Currie and the Roberts brothers had also been in on the robbery, Lee refused. “I never knew George Currie or either of the so called Roberts boys and if you fellows (Hadsell and Pinkerton) say that the Roberts brothers are in the Union Pacific robbery, then there is no use in me talking to you. . . . Lonnie would have told me if the Roberts boys were in the robbery. He always said there were but three in the robbery and if he (Lonnie) were in the robbery he would have told me.”

Lee’s statement is admittedly hearsay, but it is supported by the written statement of someone who had firsthand knowledge of the robbery. In a manuscript written in late 1903 or early 1904, Harvey Logan attempted to set the record straight by writing down some of what he knew about the Wilcox robbery. After stating, “i am Perasonally accuainted With all the facts conserning the Willcox hold up of June the 2. 1899,” Logan went on to say. “Mr Pinkerton and Different Sheriff Possies have Killed Seven Different Men and have got one in the Pin at Rawling Wyo. (Bob Lee) all for the Willcox hold up and to my own certan Knowlige they Was only 3 (robbers) to Begin With”

Later, he wrote, “for 2 years after that (Wilcox) hold up Mr Pinkerton and Differnt Murdering Sheriff Killed People all over the union and Called them union Pacific train Robers–as i have Said Before 3 Men Done the Job”

He also warned the public not to believe everything that they had read about the Wilcox robbery. “Know Let Me Say to the Publick Regardless of all that has Been Ritten Buy the Pinkerton agency and others–that 3 Men Robed the train–they Wasent any one But the 3 Men had any thing What ever to Do With it–or had any Knowlige of it What ever–untill after the Roberry took Place.”

The idea that there were six robbers probably originated with William Jones, but the newspapers were responsible for establishing this number as an accepted fact. They knew that the posse had not found the trail of the three mystery robbers, that there had been no confirmed sightings of these men, and that the Union Pacific officials did not believe there were more than three robbers. Nevertheless, on June 16, the Sun-Leader reported, “that there were six men in the holdup, there is no longer any doubt.” How did they explain the posse’s failure to find any trace of the missing robbers? They said, “it is, of course, apparent that three have escaped without leaving any trail.” Weighing the evidence, both for and against, it is even more apparent that they left no trail because there were only three Wilcox robbers to begin with.

Who were the three men who actually committed the Wilcox robbery? The Lee interview provides the information needed to answer this question. Lee told his interviewers, “One was a man named Frank Scramble and the other is Harvey Logan but the third man I do not know. Lonnie told me he did not know who the third man was, but he was the man who went to Utah.”

There is no question that Harvey Logan was one of the robbers. Lee received this information from Lonnie Logan, and it is unlikely that Lonnie would have named his brother as one of the robbers if it were not true. There is also the Logan manuscript. It is difficult to interpret Logan’s statement that he was personally acquainted with all the facts concerning the Wilcox robbery as anything but a confession.

Lee said that another robber was Frank Scramble and that he first met Scramble at the Board and Trade saloon in Cripple Creek in 1897. He said that he did not know Scramble’s real name but did not think it was Scramble. Although the name was obviously an alias, it was not a known alias of any of the suspected train robbers. Following the interview, the Pinkertons sent detectives to Cripple Creek to see if they could learn the real identity of Scramble. A month later, they were beginning to unravel the Frank Scramble mystery.

On June 8, Pinkerton Assistant Supretendant Frank Murray wrote to Hadsell asking him, “I wonder if Bob (Lee) could say whether Scramble is ‘Kid’ Longbaugh or not?” On June 14, in another letter to Hadsell, Murray wrote, “I wish we knew more about this Frank Scramble and wish we could ascertain whether or not he is ‘Kid’ Longbaugh; we do not like to be guessing at it and yet it seems he must be.”

Other statements by Lee confirm that the Pinkertons were on the right trail. He told Hadsell and Pinkerton that Frank Scramble was the man who was in jail with Harvey Logan at Deadwood. He said, “they broke jail with a Mulatto prisoner and Harvey and Scramble went to Montana and went then to Lonnie Logan’s ranch and got horses from Lonnie.” The stolen Wilcox money Lonnie had passed in Montana had been sent to Lonnie by Scramble as payment for the “horses which Lonnie Logan had furnished them in Montana after Harvey Logan and Scramble escaped from the Deadwood, S. D. jail.”

On June 28, 1897, five men robbed the Butte County bank at Belle Fourche, South Dakota. One of the gang, Tom O’Day, was captured outside the bank but the other four escaped. On September 22, a posse led by Carbon County Sheriff John Dunn arrested Harry Longabaugh, Harvey Logan, and Walt Punteney near Lavina, Montana. All three were later identified as Belle Fourche bank robbers, and on September 28, they were taken to Deadwood, South Dakota, where they joined O’Day in the Deadwood jail. On the night of October 31, they overpowered Deputy Sheriff John Marshall and escaped. O’Day and Punteney were soon recaptured, but Longabaugh and Logan eluded their pursuers and fled to Montana.

It is generally accepted that Longabaugh was the man who escaped from the Deadwood jail with Harvey Logan. He is know to have worked at the A. R. Reader ranch near Savery, Wyoming, under the name of Harry Alonzo prior to his arrest. The fact that the attorney for this man wrote to Reader and other Savery residents asking them to testify in his client’s behalf confirms that this man was Longabaugh. The description of the Deadwood prisoner fits Longabaugh, and except for the color of the eyes, Lee’s description of Scramble also fits.

Lee did not know the name of the third robber, but he said that he was the man who went to Utah. “Flat Nose” George Currie is the only Wilcox suspect that can definitely be placed in Utah following the robbery. The former cowboy, turned rustler and bank robber, was well known to the Pinkertons and other law officer in Montana, Utah, and Wyoming. He was also a known member of the Hole-in-the-Wall gang.

In December 1899, Currie was practicing the rustling trade under the name to Jim King in the Green River country of Utah. Then in April, 1900, an employee of the Webster Cattle Company saw Currie changing brands along the Green River and notified the authorities. Sheriff Jesse Tyler of Moab and Sheriff William Preece of Vernel rode out to investigate. They caught up with Currie on April 17, and he was shot and killed when he refused to submit to arrest.

Even more damning to Currie is a letter written by famed stock detective Tom Horn. Horn had been gathering information on the Wilcox robbery, and on January 2, 1900, he had stopped at the house of Bill Speck in the powder River country. At first Speck denied any knowledge of the robbery, but when Horn pressed him, he admitted that he had been at Billy Hill’s ranch on June 10, when George Currie came to get four horses that he had left in Hill’s care. While the horses were being brought in, Currie told Speck and Hill that he had been in on the Wilcox robbery and that his partners were waiting for him at Al Smith’s ranch. He said that they had made a “good haul” and “it was himself, Harve Ray and a stranger in Powder River country” who had committed the robbery.

The man Currie called Harve Ray was undoubtedly Harvey Logan. Although there was apparently an outlaw by that name, Logan is known to have frequently used this alias. On June 7, 1900, Pinkerton Assistant Superintendent Frank Murray wrote to Frank Hadsell alerting him that the man Currie called Harve Ray may have been Logan. “You will find on reading this that the name ‘Harve’ was used by Speck in his talk with Tom Horn, but he said Harve Ray. There is a Harve Ray, . . . . but Harve Logan might have been the man Speck was talking about just as well as Harve Ray.”

The reported movements of Logan, Longabaugh, and Currie prior to the Wilcox robbery also point to their guilt. After spending the winter of 1898/1899 near Alma, New Mexico, Longabaugh rode to Brown’s Park in the spring to meet Logan and Currie to plan their next robbery. From Brown’s Park, they traveled to Elko, Nevada, where they checked into a rooming house under the names of Joe Stewart, John Hunter, and Frank Bozeman. Just after midnight on April 3, employees of the Club Saloon were counting the days receipts when Logan, Longabaugh, and Currie entered with guns drawn. After collecting $550 (possibly as much as $3000) they escaped in the direction of Tuscarora.

It is known that the three Wilcox robbers were in Kemmerer, Wyoming, on April 10. While in Kemmerer, they bought a wagon and team, a rifle, and a camping outfit. They also bought two other horses, a buckskin from John Hastie and a pinto from William Fenn. They were last seen leaving Kemmerer going east on April 15.

Kemmerer merchant Mike Nolen and John Hastie later identified two of the horses captured by the Hazen posse as two of the animals bought in Kemmerer. On June 13, the wagon was found abandoned in Rock Creek. The robbers had broken it up, burned parts of it for firewood, and thrown the remaining parts into the creek.

Since the distance between Elko and Kemmerer is roughly three hundred miles, Logan, Longabaugh, and Currie could have easily reached Kemmerer by April 10. In all likelihood, the Wilcox robbery was planned at Brown’s Park or Elko, and the money from the saloon robbery was used to finance the big strike against the Union Pacific.

Equally as compelling as the evidence pointing to Logan, Longabaugh, and Currie, is the lack of evidence against the other suspects. Several witnesses swore at Bob Lee’s trial that he was in Black Hawk, Colorado, during the first week of June 1899. One witness even produced an account book showing that Lee had purchased cigars at his store on the day of the robbery.

Lonnie Logan’s only involvement in the robbery was that he passed stolen money that had been given to him by Harry Longabaugh. Bob Lee was desperately trying to clear himself when he was interviewed by Hadsell and Pinkerton. He willingly named Harvey Logan as one of the robbers, but even when pressed, he steadfastly denied that Lonnie had been involved in the robbery.

The men who the authorities knew as the Roberts brothers were actually Harvey Logan and Harry Longabaugh. Both men had used the alias Roberts and were often identified as the Roberts boys. William Pinkertons said that a photograph of Logan had been shown to officers from Utah, Wyoming, Montana, and South Dakota, and they had all identified the photograph as a “picture of the shorter Roberts boy.” Al Flood and the other witnesses who identified the Roberts brothers as Currie’s companions were identifying Logan and Longabaugh. And when Hadsell and Pinkerton pressured Bob Lee to say that the Roberts brothers were in on the robbery, they were unknowingly pressuring him to implicate Logan and Longabaugh.

According to Captain William French, Butch Cassidy and Elzy Lay were at the WS ranch in New Mexico at the time of the Wilcox robbery. O. C. Hanks was serving a term for manslaughter in the penitentiary at Deer Lodge, Montana, on June 2, 1899. And I have found no evidence to connect Ben Kilpatrick, Will Carver, Bill Cruzan, or Bill Jones to the Wilcox robbery.

The debate over the identity of the Wilcox robbers has been prolonged by the mistaken belief that six men were involved in the robbery. Logan, Longabaugh, and Currie have often been named as participants, but well-meaning attempts to identify the three phantom robbers have confused and extended the debate. The evidence shows that, most likely, three men robbed the Union Pacific train at Wilcox, and those three men were Harvey Logan, Harry Longabaugh, and George Currie.

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