Demise of the Wild Brunch- Does Joe Walker share his grave with Butch Cassidy?
(Editors note: This is the last 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).
When the posse arrived on the train from Green River on May 2, 1898 with the bodies of Joe Walker and another man, almost everyone initially thought the second body was Butch Cassidy.
A large crowd met the men as the got off the train and the bodies were immediately sent to the local undertaker for preparation. By that night they had been prepared and put in coffins.
That same day an inquest into the shootings at Moonwater Springs was held. As witnesses were presented, the feeling was amongst almost all that the second man shot was Cassidy. A jury of citizens had been set to determine to outcome and they came down on the side of the testimony that Cassidy had been killed.
But at least one man, known as Doc Shores, a well known bounty hunter for the railroad, was almost sure the corpse was someone else. Based on the testimony of the two captured suspects (only named as Thompson and Shultz in the Eastern Utah Advocate) from the Moonsprings incident they said they knew that man by the name of John Herring. On top of that, a number of Emery and Carbon county residents who knew Cassidy well said the body was not the corpse of the well known outlaw. Yet the decision from the inquest stood for some time. Apparently wishful thinking prevailed, and of course so did the idea of possible rewards for both the dead men.
The next day, May 3, a Sunday, the bodies were buried together in a grave outside the northeast boundary of the then Price Cemetery. Towns people felt that the pair did not deserve consecrated ground. Today their common grave (along with two others) are within the bounds of the cemetery and marked by a large headstone. Ironically, the grave of "Gunplay" Maxwell is also in that same hole. Maxwell was the one who only a short time before gave up information on Walker that eventually lead to his death. Maxwell was killed 12 years later and was buried with the other outlaws.
Story becomes legend
The stories about the shootout took on their own life from there. Some said that Carbon County Sheriff Allred was able to call out to the men to surrender and that is when the shooting started. Other stories had U.S. Marshall Joe Bush calling out instead. However some members of the posse said that Bush stayed far behind and did not show up until well after the two outlaws had been killed. The Eastern Utah Advocate ridiculed Bush afterward based on the stories. On top of that he gave a first hand account of the action to some Salt Lake newspaper reporters, and many on the posse disputed his claims.
"Windy Bush is all right in an interview and the Salt Lake reporters are soft snaps," stated the paper about Bush's role in the action and the naivete of the Salt Lake newsmen.
Having his own doubts, Sherill Allred wanted to be sure that Cassidy really had been killed. Upon arrival on Saturday morning he telegraphed Sheriff Ward of Evanston, Wyo. to come identify the body. Ward had been the warden at the Wyoming State Prison when Cassidy was an inmate there a few years before. However Sheriff Ward did not arrive by train until late Sunday night. Monday morning the body was dug up and the Wyoming lawman said it was not Cassidy. At that point, and with all the others in town that were saying it wasn't his body, the idea that Cassidy had been gunned down was over. Part of the reason people kept saying Herring was misidentified was that he did look a lot like Cassidy, so many misidentified him in death.
On Monday a number of cowboys also reached Price with the stolen horses and cattle that Walker and his gang had collected before they were caught. That same day the prisoners who had been captured were taken to Castle Dale for arraignment on a variety of charges.
A blow had been fostered on the Robbers Roosts gangs with the incident at Moonwater Springs. Still the gangs had the power to go on. In early June they struck a bank in Springville stealing $3000. However a pursuing posse there shot one of the robbers dead and captured, interestingly enough, "Gunplay" Maxwell.
Robbery and chase
The robbery took place on the morning of June 2 and as the robbers were getting the money out of the bank one of the tellers sounded an alarm that went off in a general store across the street. The owner tried to telephone the bank thinking that it may be a false alarm but when he got no answer he went out with a Winchester in hand, but only saw the buggy the robbers were in heading down the street. He pursued them in a nearby hitched up wagon.
Others in town were soon on horses headed in the same direction, which was toward Hobble Creek Canyon. Soon the robbers took a horse away from a man riding the other way (and threw $16 on the ground in payment for it) and headed up the canyon. But they could see they were being gained on so they stopped and headed into the brush in the canyon. Soon dozens of townspeople were on the scene and they started beating the bushes for the robbers.
One of the robbers shot the leader of the posse in the leg as they looked through the brush. The wounded man then put a bullet of his own through the bandit, killing him. Maxwell was found farther along and surrendered. He had well over $2,000 on him. The posse found the rest of the money scattered amongst the brush and leaves.
It was another blow to the gang, which continued to be chipped at by better communications, faster transportation and more areas being settled by people who wanted law and order. Soon Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid would be off to South America and even some of the others would go south as well. The gang would fall apart in the next few years.
As with all stories concerning Butch Cassidy, there have been rumors over the years about his being present without people knowing it at various events. In the case of the Joe Walker and John Herring killings, a rumor persisted for years that Cassidy rode through Price hidden in either a buckboard or wagon and passed right by where the bodies lay, where at the time many thought he lay. It has also been said that he came into the morgue and actually viewed the body and quietly left without anyone recognizing him.
What is true and what isn't is hidden by the over 120 years since the event. But then, there is so much that no one really knows about Cassidy and his gang, so much that is colored by legend, by inaccurate reporting and by the paranoia of the times.
It is, what it is, and what is perceived. The truth of everything about the gang, Cassidy and the Kid will probably never be known. And even if it is somehow revealed, the legend of the times will still persist, coloring the logic of a time that people want to imagine and romanticize about.