The Demise of the Wild Bunch: Moonwater Spring is Walker's Waterloo
Editors note: This is the second 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).
Joe Walker had gone too far in his criminal dealings with people in Carbon County and it was time for him to pay the price of his actions. The people of the area were up in arms about his antics, particularly when rumors that he left two cowboys out in the middle of nowhere, beaten and without their horses and gear spread.
It was May 1, 1898 and the area of the Book Cliffs was much less accessible that it is today, but none-the-less an eight man posse rode out of Price to hunt down Walker and his compatriots for the crimes they had committed.
While the stories of what exactly happened vary, during that next two weeks, not only would Walker loose his life, but the area would also think for some time that Butch Cassidy had also been taken out. Only later, after a lot of investigation was it found that the other body brought back by the posse was another man.
This incident also began the beginning of the end for the gangs of Robbers Roost. No longer could they hide as easily in rugged areas of the three counties in eastern Utah that they had used for camouflage for so long.
The $500 reward put on Walkers head by the state was a lot of money in those days. A pennie would buy 10 pieces of candy. A person could stay in a nice hotel for $1.50 per night. A visit to the doctor may cost you $1 or sometimes you could even trade a bushel of corn or a bag of flour for the service. Based on calculations over time and inflation, that $500 reward placed on someones head today would be over $13,000 to equal the buying power it had in 1898. So there was reason for someone to go after Walker, well beyond punishing him for the crime.
The posse consisted of Sheriff Allred, Pete Anderson, J.W. Warf, J.M. Whitmore, George Whitmore, Jack Gentry, Jim Inglefield, Billy McGuire and a rancher with the last name of Coleman. Sheriff Tuttle from Emery County was also reportedly on the posse. Some of those had been the recipients of Walkers criminal activities.
The actions of Walker and others had also caught the attention of federal officials, and when the posse reached Woodside (then called Lower Crossing) a train came by, stopped and U.S. Deputy Marshall Joe Bush joined them. He had ridden on the train down from Salt Lake City.
Up the canyon from Woodside the posse found the Whitmore cattle that had been recently rustled by Walker, and also one of his own horses in a box canyon. There they also picked up on his trail. It was known that he liked to hide in the Book Cliffs, so they had some direction when they began. However there were two reports about the path they traveled looking for him. One story said that they followed the Price River to its confluence with the Green River and then up Desolation Canyon.
The story told in the Eastern Utah Telegraph said they went over the top of the Book Cliffs and into Range Creek. There they met up with rancher named Jim McPherson. He owned a spread nearby and was actually traveling to Sevier County to get married. He knew the area well and they recruited him to help find the outlaws. Whether that recruitment was done with his total cooperation or he was coerced, is not clear.
However it was noted that as they rode back through his ranch one of the hired hands supposedly joined the posse as well because he had information about where Walker and the gang were camped. But another story says that the posse was following the trial and that ranch hands told them that the outlaws hand not been seen and were no where to be found in the area.
In that rendition of the story, Allred decided that the information those men were giving the posse was posed to purposely mislead the lawmen away from the gang. The posse persevered in following the trail they had discovered.
Since it was May, when they reached the Green River they found a very full and fast moving stream. Spring runoff was at its peak. Apparently the crossing of the river was quite a feat that day.
Once across the river the posse stayed in the canyon until nightfall. Allred knew that the outlaws would have lookouts and he wanted the group to proceed in the dark so they would not be detected. They then road more than a dozen miles in the blackness to near Moonwater Spring, where they had been led to believe Walker was camped. That next morning the posse got up early. It was Friday the 13th and it would be an unlucky day for Joe Walker.
The posse rode within a few hundred feet of the outlaw camp just before dawn and then crept up within 60 yards of the sleeping men. At that point Allred announced their presence telling the outlaws that they were surrounded by 100 men and that they should surrender. Immediately Walker and the other man (presumed to be Cassidy at the time) began firing their pistols at the posse. The other two gang members present threw up their arms and "begged for mercy."
Walker takes bullets in the head and heart
The two firing weapons tried to get away but the posse fired back. About 60 feet from where he had slept Walker took a bullet in the head and one in the heart. The other man fell just a short time later, also shot through the heart.
This part of the tale also has a lot of stories attached to it. Some said that Allred, who had a high voice, was not loud enough to warn the crooks and that Bush had to tell the outlaws they were present. Some said that the outlaws were never given a chance to surrender, but were just outright shot when they were discovered. All that remains is conjecture as to what happened. The posse was probably just glad the two week ordeal was over and cared not to change any accounts of the killings.
Now the posse had two bodies and two gang members in custody. Not wanting to cross the raging Green River again, they put the bodies and the other two on their horses and led them south 45 miles down Sego or Thompson Canyon. They arrived at Thompson on the Rio Grande rail line that night about 7:30 p.m. It was a tough ride over the Book Cliffs and the prisoners may have not been treated very well because the posse had not eaten much in a couple of days and not had much rest either. On top of that the dead bodies on the horses continually shifted on the rough trail and the group had to keep stopping to adjust them so they wouldn't fall off. Upon arrival a telegram was sent off concerning the capture and the killings to the governors office and apparently to anyone else who wanted to listen in.
Early the next morning the posse left Thompson by train and arrived in Price just after 7 a.m.
Even though it was early on a Saturday morning, a crowd had gathered at the train station to congratulate the posse and see the bodies of the outlaws.
One in Price questions arose. They knew for sure that the one deceased man was Walker, but was the other Cassidy? Some said yes for sure, others said no for sure. Most just weren't sure at all. It seemed everyone wanted to believe it was the famous outlaw, and so they tried to make it so.
The two prisoners said they had known the other dead man as Johnny Herring, not as Butch Cassidy.
It was a mystery that would take some time to solve.