The Demise of the Wild Brunch
(Editors note: This is the first in a series of three articles about the near demise of the Robbers Roost gang during the spring of 1898. Sources for the story are from the Eastern Utah Advocate and the Sun Advocate archives).
For years people have wondered what happened to Butch Cassidy. The legend has grown beyond any posible recognition by those that actually knew him, and the associated information as to his demise have become mythical.
Of course the 1969 movie "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" magnified the truth and distorted it too. For those that really only learned about the legend by watching that movie, they are horrified to find that real photos of the pair look nothing like Paul Newman and Robert Redford in their prime.
A couple of years ago it was reported in the Sun Advocate that a grave in the Duchesne Cemetery may have contained the body of the actual Sundance Kid. Since then no real proof has come forward proving the corpse was his.
Stories abound concerning their demise. The years have made them bigger, better and certainly more complicated. Most think the two died in Bolivia during a shootout with police there after a bank robbery. But their graves have never been positively ascertained.
The Robbers Roost gang they belonged to for some time was part of was a loose connection of theives, cattle rustlers and murderers. In fact there may well have been a number of gangs that were involved that were all given the same label. Much of the true story has been lost to the cost of time, faded memories and illusions of who these men were.
Even during the decades they were alive there were numerous reports of the famous pairs death. But there were a lot of other people involved as well; living, fighting and dying. History is a fickle thing; what we think we may know so well, can become confusing when all the facts are found. And we must remember too that facts are only what we think we know from accounts of the time.
One such set of facts came from May of 1898, when a posse caught up with a group of men thought to be the Robbers Roost gang. A number of its members were killed. And at the time one was thought to be Cassidy. This particular incident began with a man named Joe Walker, a Texas born drifter who came into the area without much ado in 1891. Walker was primarily a ranch hand, although at first he worked at a Huntington sawmill. But not long after he started working there he went back to work with what he knew, cattle and horses.
As far as anyone knew he had no criminal record when he came to Utah, but in 1895, in a drunken state, he apparently tried to hold up the town of Price (yes, apparently the whole town, but how has never been described).
Somehow he got away and joined up with a gang hiding out in Robbers Roost. At this point the stories about Walker diverge greatly, as numerous lines of tales about his deeds and misdeeds lead in a number of directions.
Walker had it in for the Whitmore family
Enter the Whitmores; a stalwart family from Carbon County who were some of the biggest movers and shakers in the early days of Price and its environs. Walker apparently had it in for them.
The reasons are complex and maybe unknown. One story said he was a relative to the family and he felt because his father died at a young age and the riches his father accumulated went to them he was owed. The family denied that relationship. The other story was that he married into the family (a daughter of one of the principals) over their protests and that they actually had it out for him.
Regardless it was his disposition, and that of his compatriots, to relieve the Whitmores of cattle and horses, which they did time and time again. In March of 1897 Walker made a raid and this time another outlaw turned on him, giving the law the location of Walker's whereabouts after the rustling was done. The Emery County sheriff at the time was Asariah Tuttle.
Into the San Rafael
Often posses chasing outlaws didn't go much beyond the civilized areas of either county, but this time he led a posse down Buckhorn Wash to the San Rafael River and on to Mexican Bend where Walker was said to be holdup. Accounts are not clear who this posse consisted of but it generally thought that it had two to five men in it. Included in the group supposedly was Carbon County sheriff C.W. Allred along with Tuttle. They may have been the only two looking for Walker. On March 26 they came across Walker's dwellings and two different stories came out as to what he was doing when they found him. In one story he was cooking dinner, in the other he was getting some water our of the river. He saw them and ran away into some boulders across the river.
What the posse did then is very confused. One story says they started shooting right away; another says they sat around for quite awhile deciding what to do. In the end apparently there was a frontal attack on Walker and the crook got the jump on Tuttle shooting him in the leg and breaking it. Whether Tuttle lied there for a long time or the others in the group just tried to keep from getting shot themselves, it was apparent that Tuttle did not get the care he should have. In one account he laid there all night because the other members of the posse were too scared to go get him. In another version (the one where there were only the two of them) Allred went to get help and left him there. Eventually the posse (or those Allred brought back) moved up to where Tuttle lay and found him very much alive (they thought he was dead). In one story that was told Walker actually helped the wounded sheriff before escaping on foot.
Because of the shooting of the Emery sheriff and his reported involvement the next month with the famous Castle Gate payroll robbery (in which $8,000 in cash was swiped as 100 people watched the event), Walker gained importance. The state offered a $500 reward for him and when he raided the Whitmores again in 1898, he, along with Cassidy, now became the focus of a search.
In that rustling raid Walker perpetrated there are actually three stories that have been told about how it went down. In one story he beat up Billy McGuire and Bud Whitmore and took everything they had. In another he took everything but their saddle horses. And then a version in the Eastern Utah Advocate said that they did take the horses of the men. Minor points today, but for cowboys stranded on the desert a pretty important point. Which was true is hard to ascertain.
Now with all that had happened, Walker became a truly hunted man. On May 8, a posse led by Sheriff Allred rode out of Price determined to find him and the Robbers Roost gang. In may ways he was considered more of a criminal than Cassidy, although the later had a bigger reputation.
The stories about that search and battle are almost epic, something right out of a 1940s cowboy movie.