Outlaws of Capitol Reef Country
Blazing the Outlaw Trail from Montana to Mexico at the turn of the 19th century, infamous outlaws like Butch Cassidy and his Wild Bunch gang often hid out in Capitol Reef Country. The temptations of train hold ups, bank robberies and cattle rustling were just too great for these unsavory characters to resist—and Capitol Reef Country’s remote and wild landscape was the ideal location for hiding out after a heist. Robbers Roost was the most common fugitive hideout, thanks to the rugged terrain and the Dirty Devil River winding through the intricate maze of red rock sandstone canyons.
Butch Cassidy Butch Cassidy
, born Robert LeRoy Parker in 1866, may have had a respectable upbringing but his rebellious streak soon had him breaking the law. He was just 14 when he committed his first crime, breaking into a shop and stealing pants and pie. Acquitted of the crime, he drifted between Colorado, Wyoming and Montana before scoring his first bank robbery. That 1889 looting ended up with $20,000—and his first stint in jail.
The Wild Bunch
As Utah’s most renowned outlaw, Butch Cassidy’s equally nefarious crew included Wild Bunch gangsters Harry “The Sundance Kid” Longabaugh, William Ellsworth “Elzy” Lay, Matt Warner/Will “The Mormon Kid” Christianson, Ben “The Tall Texan” Kilpatrick, Will Carver and Harvey “Kid Curry” Logan. Outlaw sisters Anne and Josie Basset, along with Etta Place and Annie Rogers, were among the few women who were considered part of the gang. They often aided the Wild Bunch by providing horses, food and other essentials to help them evade the law.
The Wild Bunch grew larger after Butch Cassidy’s release from jail in 1896. In 1899, Butch and Elzy committed one of their most notorious crimes, robbing a Union Pacific train carrying the Pleasant Valley Coal Company’s payroll. Butch made it to Robber’s Roost, but Elzy was injured, captured and sent to prison.
Elzy had charisma but Butch was the brains. He planned bank and train heists, then sent the Wild Bunch in to do the dirty work, considering himself a “gentleman’s bandit.” Gang member Kid Curry, on the other hand, was wanted on warrants for at least 15 murders. Detective William Pinkerton even called Kid Curry “the most rancorous outlaw in America” without a single redeeming trait.
Kid Curry hooked up with The Sundance Kid after serving jail time together. They parlayed that “friendship” into a bank robbery, then joined the Wild Bunch. The boys met Etta Place and Annie Rogers at the infamous Fannie Porter’s Brothel. At some point, Annie hooked up with Ben “The Tall Texan” Kilpatrick, the Wild Bunch’s most prolific train robber. It was downhill from there for Annie, who eventually spent time in prison for passing stolen bank notes. The Tall Texan served 15 years in prison for robbery, but immediately returned to a life of crime upon his release in 1911. He was killed during an attempted train robbery less than a year after his release from prison.
Matt Warner, aka “The Mormon Kid” also committed several train and bank robberies alongside Butch Cassidy and Elzy Lay. A gunfight earned him five years in a Utah state prison. Unlike other Wild Bunch members, Warner redeemed himself and joined the right side of the law, living peaceably until his death of natural causes at age 74.
Western outlaws were some of the most notorious historical figures of their time, and also some of the best horsemen. Their skill on horseback and knowledge of Capitol Reef Country’s intricate maze of canyons helped them evade the law on more than one account. But by 1902 the Wild Bunch disbanded once and for all. As it turns out, Robber’s Roost
was never infiltrated by law enforcement officers. In fact, the original Wild Bunch corral can still be seen standing deep in Capitol Reef Country today. The terrain in Robber’s Roost is as rugged as ever, and has become a popular, albeit remote, area for backpacking, hiking and camping. Learn more