Thursday, August 13, 2015


8/13/1896 - Trying to give up his outlaw ways so his wife (suffering from cancer that will cost her her leg) and young daughter don't leave him, former bandit Matt Warner (real name of Willard Erastus Christianson) makes the mistake of accepting a $100 job packing out equipment from a silver mine owned by a prospecting friend and miner, E.B. Coleman.  They are accompanied to the site by another friend, gambler Bill Wall (the trio has been drinking together in Vernal, Utah's Overholt Saloon).  Arriving at the mine, the true purpose of the job becomes apparent when the trio of men are accosted by claim-jumpers in the form of Ike and Dick Stauton.  Leather slapped immediately, when the gunsmoke from the encounter clears the mine is once more Coleman's and two claim-jumpers are dead on the ground (along with Warner's horse).  Local law enforcement doesn't see the killings as justified homicides though, and all three men are soon arrested and placed in an Ogden, Utah jail to await trial on charges of murder.


Strapped for cash due to his change to legal activities and paying the doctor bills for his wife, Warner frets to his jail visiting best friend that he can't afford the legal representation he needs to beat the charges ... but the friend tells him not to worry, he has a plan and he'll take care of everything.  The friend is a fellow Mormon gone bad named Robert Leroy Parker that has been staying at Warner's ranch since being released from prison in Wyoming, where he has been spending time behind bars for rustling horses ... time during which he stops going by the name of Parker, and morphs into one of the wildest denizens of the Wild West, the soon-to-be leader of the Hole In The Wall Gang, Butch Cassidy.

Butch's Wyoming Mugshot

Butch's plan is to provide Warner with the best lawyer money can buy in the region, the formidable barrister, Douglas A. Preston (a future state senator and attorney general).  Not a pro bono case, the assets needed to cover Preston's high fees will be paid by Cassidy ... major bucks, but no sweat, Butch will just do what he does best and rob a bank to get the money Warner needs to pay Preston.

The bank chosen resides in Montpelier, Idaho ... a small town of a few hundred souls in Bear Lake County, a mountain valley in the southwestern part of the state only a few miles away from the Utah and Wyoming borders.  First known as Clover Creek by travelers on the Oregon Trail, then as Belmont, in 1864 when Mormons pour into the area, the town is rechristened Montpelier by Brigham Young, honoring the capital of the state the religious leader is born in, Vermont.  Farming the chief occupation of the region, the town is connected to the outside world by the Oregon Short Line Railroad ... and has little in the way of a law enforcement presence ... a site ripe for the picking.  
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Turn-of-the-Century Montpelier

More than a one-man job, for the robbery Cassidy recruits a buddy from his days of punching cows in Brown's Hole (a rugged region on the border of Colorado and Utah), William Ellsworth "Elzy" Lay, and a cowboy neighbor from his Circleville days named Bob Meeks ... Meeks is assigned to watch the horses during the heist, Lay will hit the teller cages and vault, and Cassidy will trouble shoot the job, doing whatever is necessary as the robbery develops. 
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Riding into town on Thursday, 8/13/1896, the trio first visit the local general store to get a feel for the mood of the community, then pleased that everything seems peaceful, they ride down and hitch their horses to the post outside the bank.  It is about 3:00 in the afternoon when the group dismounts and attacks the bank ... Meeks remains with the horses, Lay tells the five people in the bank to put their hands in the air and line up facing the wall (three bank employees and two town councilmen), and Cassidy stands in the doorway of the bank guiding Lay's activities and watching for trouble. Angered when one of the tellers tells him he has no cash, Lay whacks the man on the head with his revolver ... an act that causes the man to suddenly discover the money the bandit is looking for, and that draws a quick reprimand from Cassidy about using excessive violence.  Sack stuffed with currency in minutes, Lay dumps a stack of coins stacked on a desk into the loot, grabs a Winchester rifle off a peg on the wall, and exits the establishment as Cassidy tells everyone to wait ten minutes before leaving the bank or they could face dire consequences on the street outside.  Satisfied that the gang is ready to go, Cassidy steps out of the doorway, mounts his horse, and at a saunter that says nothing is wrong, leads the men out of town ... town limits reached, the men then break into a gallop for the Wyoming border, 15 miles away.  Montpelier Pass reached (7,610 feet above sea level, the break in the mountains is now known as Salt River Pass), the bandits tired mounts are swapped for a set of fresh horses left at the pass ... a method of escape Cassidy will use over and over again to escape posses as a member of The Wild Bunch.  It is early evening before Bear Lake County Sheriff Jeff Davis can put a posse together and leave town after the outlaws ... men that return to town quickly when it is realized that they have no chance of catching the robbers.  The success needed to support Warner against the murder charges he is facing, the gang leaves Idaho with somewhere between $5,000 and $16,500 in loot.
Building That Once Housed
The Bank
Historical Marker

The success of the robbery doesn't fully roll over to the trial however ... while Warner is found not guilty of murder, a jury, unhappy with his outlaw past, does find him guilty of involuntary manslaughter (Wall will receive the same verdict and sentence, while Coleman is somehow acquitted of all charges) and sentences him to five years at the state pen.  Warner is released in 1900 (his wife dies of the cancer that took her leg while he is serving his sentence), settles in Carbon County, Utah, remarries, has three additional children with his new wife, and eventually is elected a justice of the peace, serves as a night guard and detective in the Utah town of Price, and runs a small bootlegging operation during Prohibition before he dies peacefully in his sleep in 1938 at the age of seventy-four.
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Warner After Prison

And the gang that robbed the bank for Warner all have interesting lives afterward too!  Arrested in 1897, Meeks is found guilty of the Montpelier job and sentenced to thirty-five years in the Idaho State Penitentiary in Boise.  On Christmas Eve in 1901, he tries to escape and is shot in the leg by a guard ... a wound grievous enough that the limb has to be amputated.  Not happy missing a piece of himself, two years later, he climbs a prison wall, yells "Hurrah for Hell!" and jumps. Surprisingly not badly injured, Meeks is transferred to a state insane asylum and remains there until 1912, when he then vanishes from any historical records following his release.
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Idaho State Penitentiary

Lay goes on to partner with Butch (the duo will next hit the payroll of the Pleasant Valley Coal Company in Castle Gate, Utah on 4/21/1897) and other Wild Bunch members in a series of robberies and shootouts until being captured while buying supplies for the gang in Carlsbad, New Mexico in 1899.  Found guilty of robbery and murder (Sheriff Ed Farr of Huerfano County in Colorado, Dona Ana County Deputy Kent Kearney, and Colfax County Deputy Henry Love, all by Harvey "Kid Curry" Logan following a Wild Bunch train robbery near Folsom, New Mexico), Lay is sentenced to life behind bars (Cassidy explores giving the governor a parole bribe, but the politician is not interested at all), but after keeping his nose clean for over seven years, he is made a prison trustee assigned to the warden ... an assignment which eventually springs him from the prison when he successfully talks a group of inmates into releasing the hostages they've taken while trying to escape ... the warden's wife and daughter!  Out in 1906, Lay establishes a small ranch just north of the Colorado border, near the town of Baggs, Wyoming. There he finds love when he meets and marries a local rancher's daughter, Mary Calverta (the couple will remain married for the rest of their lives and have a son and a daughter).  Moving to California, Lay will transform himself into a mining and oil geologist, and will supervise the building of the Colorado River Aqueduct system called the All American Canal through Riverside and the Imperial Valley.  He dies on 11/10/1934 at the age of sixty-six, and is buried at the Forest Lawn in Glendale, California.
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Prisoner Lay

And Butch of course goes on to become a Western legend as the leader of the group of outlaws known as the Wild Bunch ... depending on your point of view, either being gunned down with the Sundance Kid in San Vincente, Bolivia in 1908, or returning to America and living out his life in hiding under an assumed name.  Either way, though outlaw, when he was your friend it was all the way ... as shown in his efforts to free Warner.
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Leader of the Wild Bunch
Fort Worth, Texas - 1900

8/13/1896 ... and the bank of Montpelier, Idaho receives a visit from the one-and-only Butch Cassidy! 

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