There were plenty of famous outlaws of the Old West, but here in Utah, one name reigns supreme — Butch Cassidy. After all, it’s not often that a Latter-day Saint pioneer decides to become one of the world’s most famous train robbers. Not every outlaw stays true to his moral compass during his robberies, either. Cassidy left his mark on the land, and all across the state there are landmarks — official, unofficial and legendary — of his adventures across Utah.
But Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch gang was more than just its leader. You probably know about the Sundance Kid, whether from seeing him on the silver screen, seeing lots of silver screens at the Sundance Film Festival or skiing the slopes that bear his name. And although the other members of the Wild Bunch don’t have marketing like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, their lives were no less incredible. Here are the stories of the Wild Bunch, some of the most famous outlaws in Utah and the Old West.
When the Wild Bunch were planning a robbery, they typically went after trains and banks. Although their guns were famously quiet and they shied away from killing, their robberies did not go off without a bang; they often used TNT to blow the door off of the safes they needed to access.
Along with a lack of killing, the defining aspect of a Wild Bunch robbery was their escape. The gang would typically split up and then spend weeks or months apart, making it harder for the law to track them down. They also had friends all across the West, from fellow outlaws to sympathetic ranchers who didn’t mind seeing the big banks take a hit or two. Because of this, they were afforded lots of hideouts, and would also switch out for fresh horses after a day of hard riding. This helped them cover more ground than lawmen possibly could. It was like they disappeared into thin air.
Another hallmark of a Wild Bunch robbery? The afterparty. In fact, the “Wild” in Wild Bunch didn’t refer to their daring robberies, but rather the epic celebrations that would follow. Here are the Wild Bunch’s most famous robberies, and we’ll just let you imagine the parties that followed.
Where did they disappear to? Well, when they weren’t hiding out with ranchers like Ann and Josie Bassett, they chose their hideouts based on ruggedness and strategic advantage. The Wild Bunch — and many other bandits — mostly became acquainted with each other at Hole-in-the-Wall, a remote outlaw hideout in Wyoming’s Big Horn Mountains. Thanks to its narrow passes and ample sight lines, the area was easily defended from lawmen (if any of them even bothered to make the trek).
Like any group of wealthy entrepreneurs, the Wild Bunch kept multiple homes. When the cold weather of the mountains got them down, they retreated to the warmer climate in eastern Utah. More specifically, Robber’s Roost, their desert hideout just outside of what is now Canyonlands National Park.
Robber’s Roost was just as rugged as Hole-in-the-Wall, but in a different way. Both made use of their landscape’s natural advantages — Hole-in-the-Wall with its high passes and Robber’s Roost with its uniquely frustrating combination of barren expanses and winding slot canyons. For the pursuing posses and Pinkerton agents, it was easier to simply wait until the Wild Bunch emerged again than to go tracking them down. As for the Wild Bunch? They didn’t complain too much about the downtime.
Although all kinds of characters crossed paths with the Wild Bunch at one time or another, there were only a handful who entrenched themselves as permanent fixtures. There are a lot of members to keep track of, but like any good gang, they all had their own unique quirks. Picture them as the gang from Friends, but with fewer iconic haircuts.
You probably know all about Butch Cassidy, but if not, Utah.com has you covered with an in depth bio. Here’s the short version:
Robert LeRoy Parker, aka Butch Cassidy, came afoul of the law at an early age when he was nearly arrested for leaving an IOU at a shop for a pair of pants instead of buying them outright. In response, he did what any reasonable person would do — dedicated himself to a life of crime. He soon began the life of an outlaw and took the surname of his first mentor, cattle thief Mike Cassidy.
Butch embodied the idea of the Gentleman Bandit. He never took from those who couldn’t afford it, never killed during his robberies and instructed his gang to do the same. He was beloved by the common folk of the Old West, which is why they often housed him after robberies. He even tried to leave the robbery game at one point, pleading for amnesty from the Utah governor and the Union Pacific Railroad. While the railroad thought it over, Cassidy opted for the bold strategy of “continuing to rob them.” They weren’t exactly thrilled.
Contrary to popular belief, the Sundance Kid was not actually Butch Cassidy’s best friend and right-hand man. That honor belonged to William “Elzy” Lay. The two met in Utah, became fast friends and did what any reasonable pair of best friends would do — dedicated themselves to a life of crime.
The first of the gang to scheme up robberies while lying low at Robber’s Roost, Lay and Cassidy were the brains behind the Wild Bunch. Lay rode and robbed with Cassidy for years, even after his wife, Maude Davis, asked him to stop. Lay was eventually arrested in 1899 in Carlsbad, New Mexico, causing Maude to divorce him, and causing Lay to swap the ol’ ball and chain for an actual ball and chain. In prison, Lay managed to free the warden’s wife and daughter during a riot, and was pardoned for his heroics. Free to live his life again, he moved to Southern California, presumably to capture killer waves instead of trains.
“Jock” might not be the right term, but the Sundance Kid was known as the fastest gun in the Wild Bunch, and gunfighting was the closest thing outlaws had to a sport. Plus, if he looked anything like Robert Redford, it’s safe to say he had strong “starting quarterback” vibes.
Longabaugh’s first run in with the law was in 1887, when he was arrested in Sundance, Wyoming. When it came time to be released, he knew just what to call himself. With his newfound freedom, the Sundance Kid decided to do what any reasonable ex-convict would do — rededicate himself to a life of crime.
The Sundance Kid and his girlfriend Etta Place eventually decided to flee to South America along with Butch Cassidy in 1901. Place would return to America years later, but Butch Cassidy the Sundance Kid were not so lucky — they were both killed in a Bolivian shootout in 1908. To this day, however, rumors persist that they both escaped and lived out their lives in America. It wouldn’t be too much of a surprise — after all, faking your own death to evade the law is like the outlaw’s version of winning the state championship.
No one in the Wild Bunch was really a nerd (robbing trains is pretty dang cool) but Will “News” Carver sure was reading the most. Specifically, he was always reading about his own crimes in the newspaper, earning him the nickname “News.”
News Carver started his outlaw life with the “Black Jack” Ketchum gang. In those early years, he also met and married Viana Byler, who was an aunt to future Wild Bunch member Laura Bullion. When Byler died suddenly, Carver did what any reasonable grieving husband would do — began dating his dead wife’s niece.
Carver met the Wild Bunch at Robber’s Roost after a fateful failed robbery and soon began riding with them, bringing Laura Bullion into the fold as well. On April 2, 1901, Carver was shot and killed in Jack Owens’ Bakery in Sonora, Texas. He was wanted for a murder he didn’t commit, but that didn’t stop the law from shooting first and asking questions later. Ever the storyteller, News Carver knew how to craft a good ending — his last words were “Die game, boys!”
Ben Kilpatrick was nicknamed “The Tall Texan” because he was tall and from Texas (not every nickname has to have a cool story). He was only 6 foot, 2 inches, but at the time that was well above average. Like News Carver, Kilpatrick started his outlaw days with Black Jack Ketchum before doing what any reasonable … well, you get the point.
After many robberies with the Wild Bunch, Kilpatrick and Laura Bullion were arrested together in St. Louis in 1901. Kilpatrick was sentenced to 15 years in prison, of which he served ten. He turned back to his old ways as soon as he was released, but things didn’t go so smoothly without the gang. During a train robbery in Sanderson, Texas in 1912, a Wells Fargo agent killed Kilpatrick with an ice mallet. That agent then presumably took up the nickname “Ice Mallet Killing Guy.”
The Wild Bunch’s sole female member was anything but the token woman, and she sure wasn’t arm candy neither. Laura Bullion was as bonafide as they come, with a few train robberies and a three-year prison stint to prove it. She was called “The Thorny Rose,” “Desert Rose” and “Wild Bunch Rose,” three nicknames that mean the same thing — pretty, but dangerous.
After her time in the Wild Bunch (and prison), Bullion lived out her life in Memphis, working as a seamstress and interior designer. Despite being yet another woman trapped in the classic “Outlaw to Interior Designer” career track, she lived a happy life until her death in 1961.
Although Bullion was the only woman to carry out actual robberies with the Wild Bunch, a pair of outlaw sisters and ranchers, Josie and Ann Bassett, were highly involved with the gang. And yes, they were “involved.” At various times, Ann was involved with Butch Cassidy and The Tall Texan, while Josie paired off with Elzy Lay, News Carver and at one point, Butch Cassidy. Laura, meanwhile, started off with News Carver, before eventually settling down with the Tall Texan. Like sands through the hourglass, so were the days of their outlaw lives.
Although most of the Wild Bunch never killed, there was one man who would tarnish this reputation and then some. That man was Harvey “Kid Curry” Logan. The Sundance Kid may have had the fastest gun in the crew, but Kid Curry’s was the busiest. He was one of the most feared outlaws of his time, and during his career, Curry notched at least 11 known kills, though none were during a Wild Bunch robbery.
Ladies love a bad boy, right? Well if they don’t nowadays, they certainly did back then. Kid Curry had a taste for women and liquor, and money from his robberies went quickly towards both vices. Curry became known for his partying, and as his renown grew around the West, prostitutes far and wide began to claim that he was the father of their babies. So many claimed Kid Curry as a father, in fact, that there was a name for the babies — “Curry Kids,” and there were as many as 85 of them! It’s probably not true, but if it’s even a little bit believable that you had 85 kids, you probably did something to earn that reputation.
Look who it is again! Being the Bad Boy and being the Hot Head may sound similar, but there’s a difference between being a bit trigger happy during a shootout and having an entire Wikipedia section titled “Revenge Killings.”
Among his other infamous accolades, Kid Curry was known as someone who couldn’t let a wrong against him go unpunished. In May of 1900, Curry rode into Moab and killed both a Sheriff and a Deputy in broad daylight as revenge for killing his mentor George “Flat Nose” Curry and his brother Lonny. In 1901, with Pinkerton agents hot on his tail, Curry still found time to take a detour and kill a Montana rancher who had killed his brother Johnny years earlier.
Kid Curry was the kind of outlaw who seems to have stepped right off the silver screen, and he met a Hollywood ending to match. In 1904, in Parachute, Colorado, Curry was cornered by a posse. They wounded him, but Curry decided that no lawman would ever take him alive, and took his own life. Like Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, however, his demise is uncertain. Rumor says that he escaped to South America with his fellow outlaws. The Pinkerton agent who was on his case even resigned from duty, believing to the end that they had gotten the wrong man.
Which seems to be a theme for the Wild Bunch. Whether they’re going down in a blaze of glory, inspiring rumors of their secret survival or fading into everyday society with a secret life behind them, they all seemed to end up with a larger-than-life ending to their outlaw careers. And for a place with canyons, mountains and deserts that feel so much larger than life, it’s fitting that the Wild Bunch are some of Utah’s most famous outlaws.