Among the papers I was given by my grandmother, was an old scrapbook kept by by great-grandmother Mabel. She married William in 1900 and before that, when they were courting, she pasted all manner of items into the album. I have since then past the Album back to my cousin Julia who still lives in the wonderful family home where Mabel grew up in the 1880s.
One item in the scrapbook attracted my attention. A report on a talk that William gave in 1897 to the Cosmopolitan Society in Mold. He actually gave two talks over two weeks which, generously, were reported in two papers. So there was a lot of material. To make it an easier read, I have edited the articles into one.
Life in Western America
Mr Hugh Cooke, son of Colonel Cooke, Colomendy, gave a description of life in Western America at the weekly meeting of the Cosmopolitan Society on Tuesday last week. Mr Edwin Roberts was in the chair and said that what they would hear that night was not something taken out of a book but would be the experiences of a man who had spent some years on the cattle ranches of America.
Mr Cooke, who spoke extempore, dealt with his experiences in the cattle trade on the prairies of America, extending over a period of ten years. He went out in 1883 and returned about four years ago.
When he arrived there the business was brisk, but on account of land being taken up largely by settlers the trade was gradually declining, and it was probably that in time this vast country would be covered with farms and cultivated. As yet, the country was in a primitive state, and instead of currency the settlers in many parts exchanged articles of produce.
Dealing cursorily with the outward bound voyage, Mr Cooke proceeded directly to talk about the methods and difficulties of cattle driving and the extent to which the exercise of discretion in the driving affecting the selling price of a herd. There were times when they had to remain two or three days in the saddle. Mr Cooke spoke of the journeys that are undertaken when taking cattle from the plains to railway, and thence to the stockyards of Chicago. An outfit, he stated, would on average consist of ten waggons, with ten men to each waggon. The cattle, numbering sometimes 800 to 1000 in one herd, were allowed to pursue the journey without any driving, the object being to get them in the best of condition by allowing them to graze on the way. When the cattle were put on the train the journey was made by alternate runs of 24 hours, and 24 hours stoppage for rest and refreshment.
Mr Cooke gave a genial and entertaining account of life on the cattle ranches and detailed an exciting episode he encountered on one occasion when caught in a blizzard when, in October 1887, he crossed the Rockie Mountains in a blizzard. During this time they subsisted for three days on black coffee and a small piece of biscuit, his personal legacy from the experience being that both his feet were frost-bitten, and he still felt the effects of it.
After dealing with the terrors of a stampede at night - three of which the lecturer had experienced - he explained at length the characteristics of the 'bona-fide cowboy as distinguished from the bogus cow-puncher', whose conduct too often cast discredit upon the genuine article. He spoke of the horsemanship of the cowboy, and after a description of the 'bucking-horse' he referred to the steady extinction of the original cowboy, due to the inroads of civilisation.
For a real cowboy, no day was too long. He had four or five men who stuck to him, as the leader of a party of which he was in charge and would not leave him on any account. Their ideas of life were very hospitable, and it frequently happened, when on a long journey, that the traveller would enter somebody’s hut. If there happened to be nobody in, the traveller would set to and cook what he required, merely leaving a note saying he was much obliged (laughter).
He had a good deal of experience of men on the prairies, and he had every respect for the original type of cowboy. When a man wished to leave the service of his master in the cattle trade on the prairies, there was no notice given. The man merely said, "I guess I'll quit", and off he would go, perhaps two hundred miles further away.
Speaking about cowboys, he rarely saw anything civilising, but he thought it was hard lines they should be put down as a rough lot. It was not every day they met people, and they did often indulge in recreation of a lively kind. Without any hesitation he could say that as men to employ and men to work with, there were no better men in the world. They were not men for a sunshiny day, but they would stick to one through hardship and difficulties. Though their lives were a little bit rough, they never did a mean action.
Imagining that Mold was one of the towns they might pass through, the cowboys would not think of doing anything more serious than putting the gas lamps or smashing a few windows (laughter), but when morning came they would ask for a bill of the damages, and would willingly pay the same if it came to twenty pounds. If they committed any damage, they would always pay for it. The rows in the West of America which one frequently heard about were not caused by cowboys, but by men who lay along the towns indulging in gambling, etc., and who were not to be mentioned in the same relation with cowboys. In another generation they would not see many cowboys. He supposed that in another ten years their day would be over. But the cowboy was a good fellow all round, and he was glad that he had seen him (applause). Wild as the life was in the West, there were many features in connection with it which civilisation would not bear the light.
Mr Cooke caused much amusement by describing how men were taken into custody there. The officers did not do as in England - put their hands on a man's shoulder - but a "Six-shooter" was produced, and the captive told to throw up his hands. Sometimes the culprit would exclaim, "I wish I'd known you were coming".
In the course of his excellent description of life on the prairies, Mr Cooke made it clear that there were many hardships and dangers to encounter, but there were also, he said, times of enjoyment; and in an interesting manner he told how hours of leisure were spent in feats of horsemanship, purses being subscribed for the best performed.
Mr Cooke further enhanced the pleasure of the evening by the humorous and instructive way in which he spoke. His opinion was that cattle would probably be able to smell water ten miles away; that the method of conveying cattle by rail was far superior to that adopted in this country, the trucks running with the smoothness of a pullman car; that the age at which most work could be got out of a horse on the plains was about eight; and his description of the mode of killing animals at Chicago, were all delivered in a chatty and pleasant way; and without doubt the talk by Mr Cooke will be remembered as amongst the most agreeable items that have ever graced the syllabus of a society of this character.
Mr Cooke concluded by bearing testimony to the hospitable treatment he received on the frontier of America during the ten years of his sojourn there, and by expressing the hope that in the near future he would be enabled to pay a return visit to the scene of his former exploits.
Amongst my great-grandfather's papers I found a few pages ripped out of an boys adventure magazine from the 1920s. He had bound these pages in a cardboard cover on which he had written 'Western America 1883-1893' (the years that he worked out in America.)
The story is about Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch. I saw familiar place names like Rawlins and Meeker mentioned and the dates seemed to fall in line with the time that William and his partners ranched on the White RIver. So is it possible he had met Butch on a round-up?
Anyway, below is the story as told by William Wells, who ranched just south of Independance Pass on the Green River. William Well's personal recollections are fascinating, but there are some inaccuracies, such as where the famous photograph of the Wild Bunch was taken. He says it was St Antonio, but nowadays it is known to be Fort Worth.
He knew Harvey Logan and refers to him in this article by the less formal 'Harve'. That does sound true.
Anyway, have a read and let me know what you think.
Robber's Roost by William Wells
Author of "The Outlaw Years", "Sioux Know" etc.
Butch Cassidy, famous leader of the "Wild Bunch," first attracted attention on Wind River, Wyoming, where he and a bronco buster- a common type then- called Al Hainer, started a horse ranch on Horse Creek near where the town of Dubois now stands. Butch was a rollicking, tow-haired puncher well liked by everyone, and where he got the name "Butch" I could figure, for he wasn't that kind at all. In fact, as far as was known he never killed anyone till long afterward. Cassidy wasn't his right name, and he had left Utah between two days. Some difficulty over horses, probably, because as I have said, he wasn't the killer type.
He and Hainer were on their ranch until the spring of 1890, selling and trading horses, then having disposed of all of them, they departed, a ranch being nothing to hold anyone down in those days. After that they made Lander their headquarters. Old Lander was a young cowtown then, wide open in all that the name implies, and Butch and Hainer kept up their end in making it a lively burg. They were away at times, then back with plenty of money, and more than suspected of being rustlers. However, in 1892 the big cowmen had been whipped in the Johnson County raid, and it took them some time to get organised and start war in the rustlers again, and anyone with cash to blow in was popular.
Once Butch and several other wild youngsters hitched four unbroken broncs to a Concord stage coach, filled it up with lively ladies, all slightly exhilarated, climbed on the roof of the coach, bottles in one hand and six-shooters in the other, and raced up and down Lander's one and only main street, whooping and shooting, the passengers adding their shrill screams to the racket. Celebrations like that, however, were no novelty in Lander in those times.
In 1894, Cassidy and Hainer were away and when they came back were in the custody of Bob Calverly, deputy sheriff, and a companion, who also brought along a band of horses that had been missing from the Owl Creek range since early spring. The deputies had found the men and horses on Ham's Fork in southwestern Wyoming. Hainer had given up easily enough, but Butch had objected, so Caverly had to crease his head with a bullet and then bend the six-shooter barrel over Butch's jaw, cracking it, before he would be reasonable. Hainer was acquitted, but Butch got two years in the pen.
Teton Jackson, one of the most famous of the riders of the Horse Thief Trail, was also convicted at about this time. Teton, however, reformed when he came out. He married a breed girl on the Shoshone reservation on Wind River, located a ranch there, raised a family, and died in the poor house at Lander just a few years ago. Jackson, which wasn't his right name by a long shot, worked as a guide for me at the Green River Camp for several years, and several big game hunters who were out with him told me that he was one of the most interesting men that they had ever met. In fact, Teton was a college graduate like several others of the Wild Bunch, who were by no means depraved ruffians.
By this time the Wyoming Cattle Growers' Association was making a determined effort to break up the rustling gangs, and W.A.Richards, former president of the association and now governor of Wyoming, pardoned Butch a few months before his term expired with the understanding that Butch wouldn't operate any more in Wyoming, a promise that he faithfully kept. Out of this understanding grew the Robbers' Roost in Utah and the governor of that commonwealth was once heard to remark with deep feeling that he wished to Heaven that the governor of Wyoming had kept Butch at home.
As soon as Butch was free he got in touch with Fat Nose George and the rest, and the bunch robbed the bank at Montepelior, Idaho. They took eight thousand dollars of the money to Rock Springs, Wyo., turned it over to an attorney who was defending two of the bunch in jail on a horse stealing charge, then hit the trail for Colorado, the line being only forty miles or so south-half a day's ride. Of the gang Harvey Logan - which wasn't his real name, either - was what might be called second in command. He had come up from Texas with a trail herd, a small, swarthy puncher, and at the little cowtown of Landusky on the Musselshell in Montana, Pike Landusky made the mistake of calling him a nigger because of his dark complexion. So they planted Pike, and though it was called a fair gunfight, Pike's friends were so powerful that the little dark puncher came away to Wyoming and changed his name to Logan.
The Bear River round-up was camped at the Bear River bridge, where the old military road from Rawlins, Wyoming, crosses on its way to the abandoned White River cantonment, now Meeker, Colorado, built to hold the Utes in check after the outbreak of 1879.
At the Bear River bridge was the Ward road house, and there Butch and the bunch stopped for a blowout. The Wards were sure a tough outfit and all of them, father, mother, son and daughter, died a violent death. Ward himself had been shot a few years before for resisting arrest – maybe - for it never was the intention to take him alive, and shooting was less bother than hanging. In after years young Ward was drowned swimming his horse across Bear River when it was up; the girl, Etta, took poison in Telluride, Colorado, and Mrs Ward-"Old Hat"- was burned to death when alone in the house and it caught fire from some unknown cause.
Butch and his companions, some half dozen all told, stopped at the road house, and having plenty of money - part of the proceeds of the Montepelier bank robbery - they had one gorgeous spree, and invited the whole round-up over to help. I remember that Mrs Ward had a bunch of chickens, somewhat of a rarity in that country, and Butch, discovering them, shot their heads off one by one with a six-shooter, "Old Hat" all the time expressing her opinion of him in lurid language that fairly scorched the grass, but not interfering otherwise with a good customer although she was capable of shooting Butch full of holes if in the right humour.
"Gosh," remarked Harvey Logan admiringly, "the old girl can sure throw language!"
After the target match Butch gave Hat a twenty dollar gold piece for each chicken, then packed them all over to the round-up wagon and had the cook prepare a chicken dinner for all hands.
This incident shows, as nothing else can, the state of affairs at that time. Here were half a dozen outlaws, fresh from a bank robbery with rewards out for all of them, dead or alive, on perfectly good terms with three times their number of supposed representatives of honest toil. Of course, half the punchers were entitled to one or more notches on their guns, and several of them were more or less wanted in other communities, so they had a fellow feeling for Butch and his crowd. One of the punchers on this round-up afterward threw in with the Wild Bunch. He was of a prominent Eastern family. Wild and reckless, he would fight at the slightest provocation, had been expelled from college and had then come West, taken up cow punching and had already killed a couple of men in gun fights.
After he joined the Wild Bunch he would, following a raid, take his share of the loot, doll up and visit his folks back East, coming West again when he was broke. He used to tell of the kick he got out of hearing the doings of the Wild Bunch discussed - and they certainly helped to fill the newspapers - by his friends, who, of course, did not dream that he was one of the outlaws, for he told them that he was interested in mining in Colorado.
After the jamboree on Bear River, I didn't see any of the Wild Bunch for some time. Then I was down in western Colorado between Grand and White Rivers hunting stray horses as usual and pulled in at the old abandoned 84 cow ranch on Yellow Creek. I had bought some of the 84 saddle horses when the outfit went broke, and the broncs always headed for their old range when ever they had the chance.
I came up the creek driving my string of half a dozen saddle horses and a couple packed, and when a mile away could see that there were other horses in the pasture and some men standing in front of the cabins watching me with field glasses. I began to recognize them as I came up, and finally Butch came out to meet me.
"Hello, Bill," he said. "Travelling or just going somewhere?"
"Hunting the wild bunch," I told him. "Seen any of the 84 broncs around?"
He grinned. "You found 'em," he said. "Sure, we seen some 84's - got 'em in the cavvy now, but we didn't know they belonged to you."
So I unpacked, threw my horses in with theirs - half of them rustled, I reckon- and camped with the gang until I had gathered the rest of my strays.
I was there a week or more and for amusement we played monte, had shooting matches and raced horses. I was lucky and won quite a bit at monte, gold and silver, and besides that, my horse Fly could outrun anything they had and Butch tried to trade me out of him, but I wouldn't trade - I thought a lot of that horse.
The coin was too heavy to pack around so I kept it in my bed roll, and get this - that bunch of outlaws could have taken everything I had, horses and all, but I don't suppose the idea ever entered their heads, or that I would betray their hideout. As a matter of fact, no one could get within a couple of miles of the ranch during daylight without being seen, and nobody slept in the cabins. Instead, everybody, myself included, had their beds under some junipers up on the hillside and also kept a saddled horse tied close alongside the bed, so in case a posse came along during the night and turned loose into the cabins they would only waste cartridges.
The gang was figuring on a more secure retreat, a place to run for after a holdup, and they asked me a lot about the country south across the Utah line, knowing that I had been down there a couple of times hunting mountain lions with dogs. The part they wanted to know about is canyon country - deep canyons, high table lands, some water here and there. Whenever there was water and level land, Mormons had located, running sheep and horses, but it was pretty much a country where nobody lived. I told them about a place where I had camped once and this became the Robbers' Roost. It was hard to find - I don't suppose that I could find it myself, now, after more than fifty years.
To go to it you strike west from the 84 through uninhabited country, cross Green River between the mouths of the White and Grand Rivers and go southwest, leaving Fort Duchesne to your right and having the Uncompahgre reservation and Fort Thornburg to your left and come at last into badland and canyon country. Follow up one of these canyons, narrow, with rock walls a thousand feet high on both sides and a maze of smaller canyons coming in from either hand, the canyon floors sometimes solid rock, sometimes with patches of earth and sand on which grow stunted brush and junipers. Turn up a certain left hand canyon and after a while you would come to a little water trickling down among the rocks.
Go on and up, out onto the shelf not six feet wide in places, a sheer cliff five hundred feet above you on the left, a drop into nothing at the right. At last you are on top of what is called a high mesa. The summit is cup shaped, covered with good bunch grass. A spring in the hollow drains down the canyon up which you came and which is the only entrance. All the rest of the way around is rimrock hundreds of feet high. What better place for a hideout? A safe pasture for horses, water and grass, logs for cabins and corrals. Most of the trail in was solid rock on which horses' tracks wouldn't show, and tangle of branching canyons were below to get lost in. One man could hold they place against a thousand-could roll down rocks if his cartridges ran out. No, you can bet high no sheriff's posse, no outfit of railroad or express detectives ever went in there after the Wild Bunch.
The gang fixed it with some of the Mormon settlers, who were glad to earn the extra money, to go in and put up cabins and corrals, then they packed in a lot of grub, drove in a band of good saddle horses, and the Robbers' Roost came into existence.
The bunch didn't always stay there, for it was a lonesome place. One winter most of them had headquarters at one of the larger cow ranches over across the line in Colorado. They had helped put up the hay crop in the fall and covered a cabin over with hay until it looked like a haystack, and in this they slept, or went into retirement when suspicious strangers might be about. They were frequently in the little cow towns - Meeker and White River City on White River, Craig on Bear River, Dixon on the Little Snake on the Colorado-Wyoming line. They went to the ranch dances, flirted with the girls, and in all ways behaved like respectable citizens.
The smaller Colorado cow outfits were not at all in sympathy with the big men in Wyoming. They were, in fact, rather at war with them, because several of the Wyoming outfits used to shove in a lot of their cattle onto the Colorado winter range. So, as long as the outlaws confined their attention to bank and train robbery elsewhere, and let the local horses alone, nobody cared to start a feud with them. Of course, there were exceptions, as in the case of the Meeker affair, or when some guy got fresh and in trying to make off with a band of horses was run down and shot. For, as I have said, the residents of north-western Colorado in those days were mighty good people not to rile up.
Once the Roost was established the Wild Bunch started on their real career, but just about then something happened that might have changed their history. For the Spanish War came on and they, with many other outlaws - thirty or so -gathered in the Mountains near Steamboat Springs, Colorado, and sent word to the governors of Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah that if all charges against them were dropped they would enlist in the Second U.S. Volunteer Cavalry - Torrey's Rough Riders, a companion regiment to Roosevelt's, that never got to the front. Their crimes were too many and serious and the offer was refused.
The next year they held up and robbed a Union Pacific train at Rock Creek, Wyoming, and in pursuit, being crowded too closely, in a hot gun fight in rocky ground they killed Deputy Sheriff Joseph Hazen and stood off his posse. After this the gang rode to a cabin on the Little Muddy near Fort Washakie and divided the loot. A day or so after this Will Simpson, who had prosecuted Butch in the horse stealing case at Lander, met Butch and asked if he had broken his promise not to operate in Wyoming. Butch denied that he had been in the train robbery and there was never proof that he had been, but it was generally understood that he received some of the money. In fact, he was most likely with the gang when they divided it up. After this they disappeared and it so happened that I was with one of the posses that tried to head them off.
This was in June, 1899, and I was at the Green River camp. One morning six horsemen showed up across the river from the buildings and yelled for somebody to come across, so I took the boat and went over. It turned out to be Sheriff John Ward of Uinta county, which at that time took in all of western Wyoming, nobody knowing just where the eastern boundary of the county was. With him were five deputies and they had come up to try and head off the train robbers if they struck through the Union Pass, which was ten or twelve miles to the north of my camp and directly west of where the robbers had divided up the proceeds on the Muddy.
Ward with his men and horses had been brought by special train to Green River city on the U.P. Then they had come up the river horseback, changing horses at the different cow ranches, and making the hundred and fifty miles to my camp in about thirty hours. They wanted something to eat, fresh horses, and somebody to go with them who knew the country.
So I had one of the boys run in the remuda, the cook hustled grub, and an hour later the posse, together with one of the boys from the camp and myself, mounted on the best horses in the remuda, were hitting the high spots for the pass. I didn't think we would run across the gang, neither did Ward, because none of them were fools enough to take to the high mountains at that time of year, as there would still be snow, and the streams would be up, but Ward had orders to close the pass.
We didn't find any robbers, which was lucky, for they would most likely have filled us up with lead, but it was a great trip. During it Ward, sheriff of a mighty tough county and Deputy United States Marshal for western Wyoming, was bluffed out by a woman, and he with seven armed deputies at his back! Also, he broke into a U.S. post-office, creating a mystery which has never been solved.
We were up in the pass two days, with a mighty little to eat. It is ten thousand feet up, open meadows, streams and lakes, bodies of timber - you wouldn't think that you were on the ridgepole of the continent, the water running to both the Atlantic and the Pacific. In June it's early spring up there - snow banks, boggy ground, streams running bankfull with melting snow and swimming for a horse.
The first night we shivered around a darned small fire, well hidden - if the train robbers were up there we didn't want them coming around to investigate. The afternoon of the second day we went down Warm Spring Creek, on the Wind River side. There was a placer mine there, managed by an Eastern man who had his wife along. The lady was sitting on the porch of her house when we rode up, and I reckon we were a tough looking bunch, muddy, wet and smoke blackened. Ward asked her if we could get something to eat.
The lady fixed the sheriff with a cold and fishy eye. "We do not feed tramps," she said very distinctly, although she may have been all shivery inside us.
Ward came back to us. "Boys, she won't feed us," he reported.
I was hungry, awfully hungry, so hungry that all I could think of was grub. "Let me try, Jack," I suggested.
I took my star out of my pocket-it is not considered wise to have a star in sight when you are expecting to go into a gun fight, because it makes too good a bull's-eye, pinned it on my shirt and rode over.
"Madam," I said, "we are officers of law in pursuit of a band of desperate criminals and really you must feed us and our horses."
She unbent a trifle. "Oh, in that case," she said, touched a bell, and when a Chinaman appeared gave directions that we and our horses be fed, all in the grand manner. But just suppose that we had really been a hard crowd?
So we went back to my place without any train robbers, but with whole skins, which was something.
As I have said before we had a post-office there, run in rather a primitive manner. The mail came on horseback once a week and was dumped into a box for everybody to help themselves; the stamps and small change were in a cigar box. In my cabin, which I kept locked, more because of the private papers and correspondence than for any other reason, were the surplus post-office funds, also in a cigar box, and some whiskey
As soon as we got back I pulled out for Jackson's Hole, but Ward and his men lay over to rest before taking the hundred and fifty mile desert ride to the railroad. The next morning Ward wanted a drink - stomach ache or something.
"Where the so and such is that blankety blank Bill?" he wanted to know.
The boys told him that I had gone to Jackson's Hole. So Mr Ward, the sheriff, took an axe, pried up the window to my cabin, helped himself to a bottle of booze and departed, all as a matter of course.
Came the first of July when all post-masters must remit surplus funds for the past three months. I figured out I owed Uncle Sam thirty-five dollars and seventeen cents, made out the report, opened the cigar box- and the darned thing was empty! Somebody - not Ward, of course - had lifted the works. There were a lot of hard cases hanging around the tie camp a little way below us, some were often at my place and had discovered the unfastened window.
Uncle Sam is touchy about is touchy about his cash; it must go in on the dot, and the total resources of everybody at the Dog Ranch footed up less than ten dollars, because I banked at Rock Springs and everything was paid by check. So I explained matters on the report, sent it in, and notified the bank to forward the cash at once, but you can't fool the Uncle.
Next comes a post-office inspector on the high jump to investigate the robbery. He was pretty mad when he got there - that trip across the desert was no joke- and still madder when he took in our system of running a post-office. My, he sure gave us full instructions as to how a post-office should be run, funds safeguarded, and all such things. When he started questions about the robbery. When? How? Where? Hundreds of them.
Of course, we couldn't give Ward away, nobody knew anything, and that inspector got madder and madder. He was nobody's fool, either.
"You guys are covering up something," he stormed. "Grinning and looking wise like a tree full of owls gives you away."
At last he went away, just as wise as when he came, and this is the truthful account of the post-office at Wells, Wyoming, in June 1899. I am sure hope it is covered by the statute of limitations.
From then on for a few years was the heyday of the Wild Bunch - how the newspapers buzzed with tales of them and of the Roost! They got away with the coal company's pay-roll at Castle Gate, Utah, shooting their way out through a crowd of enraged miners shooting back; they robbed the bank at Winnemucca, Nevada, and got clean away. Not long afterward Cassidy and three of the others met in San Antonio, Texas, and had a group photograph taken - a bunch of young dare-devils, all grinning, hats tilted back, one of them with a nosegay in his buttonhole.
Here is an extract from one of the many reward notices out for them:
Officers are warned to have sufficient assistance and to be fully armed when attempting to arrest these out-laws, as they are always heavily armed and will make a determined resistance before submitting to arrest, not hesitating to kill if necessary.
But their day was nearly over. Some had been killed and others jailed.
Those who were left determined to make one more big haul and pull for the Argentine, where many of the more turbulent of the Westerners had already gone as the country had become too tame for them. So, in June, 1901, they held up a Great Northern train at Wagner, Montana, getting away with forty thousand dollars in currency.
That was the last raid made by the gang, and afterward the fate that they had defied so long overtook them. One was killed in a train holdup in Texas, another died in a bloody gun fight with peace officers in San Antonio, another was killed in northern Mexico; Harve Logan had been captured but escaped.
I saw him once afterward. He came riding to the ranch, all alone, a small, dark man with twenty thousand dollars reward, and nobody knows how many killings - not murders - on his head. The Old West had its code. One of them was the idea that hospitality must not be violated, another that weapons should not be worn into a house where there were women. Logan stayed overnight, and when he came into the house to eat, apologized to my wife for having his gun belt, which he hung on the back of his chair, in his hand.
"I know you folks are all right, but strangers might come, and I feel kind of lost without it," he explained.
Harve Logan and Cassidy and one other outlaw with his wife went to the Argentine, where they drifted into outlawry again. One day troops rounded up Cassidy and the third outlaw and their men. There is no record of what became of Logan. Cassidy was the last man to go down, and according to the story that has come back, when the soldiers came to where he lay they saw that he had killed himself with his last cartridge.
Brave men were they, in a way; living according to a code of their own and dying violently, yet playing a real part in the drama of the Old West.
This is the cover and first two pages of the reminiscences on the Wild Bunch.
This image is known as the "Fort Worth Five Photograph."
Front row left to right: Harry A. Longabaugh, alias the Sundance Kid, Ben Kilpatrick, alias the Tall Texan, Robert Leroy Parker, alias Butch Cassidy; Standing: Will Carver & Harvey Logan, alias Kid Curry; Fort Worth, Texas, 1900.
This letter is the very first letter in the collection and in the past I have never included it in the story, but I think it is fascinating as it tells us about his life at home before he left for America.
At the time he was preparing to take his army exams at a private Military Crammer in Felixstowe. This was a common practice in those days as there was so much academic work to do: they had to take exams in maths, algebra, French, English history, chemistry, geometry, geography, freehand drawing, fortification, military administration and military history. It was an incredibly well-rounded education and if he passed, he would go to Sandhurst Military Academy.
And it is so full of details: that he had ferrets (and these might be susceptible to the rot), that the groom's name was Hayward, and Hugh rode two horses: Brit and Flirt, that shooting the coverts was a big thing, that he likes his Father to write (though why doesn't he mention his Mother?), that football was a common pastime in those days, that his room at home has had a new lick of paint and everything cleaned and the floor polished to look smart and welcoming for when he returned home.
I have learnt that all the siblings had nicknames: Hugh's older brother was Bryan was Bob, Hugh was Billie, his sister Helena was Jim (which says something about her character that she had a boy's nickname) and the youngest sister Gwendoline, who was just seven at the time, was affectionately called 'The Brat.'
Here is the letter:
Trinity Road, Folkestone
My dear Helen,
Thanks for your letter. I shall come home about 11 December soon after my exam which commences on Monday fortnight.
I suppose they are shooting the coverts. Write and tell me what they kill and all about it, and also ask Father to write to me again. I have not had a letter from anyone for an age and I don't get any news about things at home.
Bob has not written to me for an age though he has nothing on earth to do, has plenty of time to go out shooting and that sort of thing. I have only had one day to myself since I left home - not even Sunday. I am going to get a game of football today by way of exercise.
Tell Hayward to get Brit into good trim by the time I come home, and also Flirt, tell him to give her a good dose of medicine.
How are the ferrets? I hope they have not got the rot, write and tell me how they are.
I'm glad to hear my room has been done up. It wanted it very badly.
What sort of weather have you been having? It is awfully warm down here and no wind. I have no more time so I must end now, write again soon.
Best love to all
Your affectionate brother
W H Cooke
Here is Hugh's first letter written on board the RMS Brittanic to his father. It talks about his plans and there are various references to Morton and Close students. I will write about these things in my next post.
“RMS Britannic” April 1883
My dear Father,
I trust that you got my letter from Queenstown addressed to your club: We have had a capital voyage till a day out of Queenstown when it began to blow a bit, but nothing very much; People have told me that these steamers don’t roll but I doubt their word, this ship even in a moderate sea rolls and pitches like the dickens; the day before yesterday it rolled fearfully and it was difficult to get from one end of the saloon to the other, and my bags and boots in my cabin rolled about like anything; Some of the passengers have been most fearfully ill especially the women who look wretched: the man in my cabin has been fearfully ill and continues to be so and an infernal nuisance it is to me; he lies in the cabin nearly all the day, the consequence being that in the evening it is as hot and stuffy as possible, besides being one of the smallest on the ship. There is hardly room to turn around in it.
There are a lot of fellows on board in the cattle line and some coming from Wyoming, one of them named Boughton is a rattling good fellow, and I have got lots of information from him on all subjects of American farming and ranching. He does not advocate cattle raising for anyone without a large capital and says that there is a tremendous run on the trade: from all I can pick up from him and the others the rising business is buying cattle lean and feeding them; One of the Sykes who is on board is thinking of going in for it: Another thing is breeding heavy draught horses which they say are vary scarce and demand high prices in the States but of course it is no use thinking about anything yet, but I thought it best to get as much information on all subjects as possible from everybody. Sykes is a very good fellow and has given me lots of hints about the country and an invitation to go and see his farm which is said to be the best in Iowa:
There a lot of Yankees on board, some of them very good chaps and very amusing indeed: There is a good deal of card playing on board and some of the Yankees are making a pretty good thing out of some of the young Englishmen. Some of the passengers are the most unmitigated brutes I ever beheld and look capable of committing any crime on the face of the earth. As yet I have stood the voyage first rate and have not even had to knock off my baccy like a good many; One day at lunch I felt a little bit bad for about half an hour but had no catastrophe; We are fed first rate, plenty of everything, but the liquor is awfully dear.
I met Owen at Queenstown, he is a capital fellow and I think we shall get on first rate. He is rather ill, poor beggar, but is getting over it now. One drawback is he does not smoke at all, but after all that does not matter much; but I can always get on better with a fellow over a pipe of baccy, it seems to reconcile one. Some of the fellows on board have been out to Morton and Close at Le Mans and are all of the opinion there is nothing to be learnt there and no work to be done, Close and Morton feather their own nest well and that’s all. The advice I get from all is “the farther you keep away from them the better for you”. They have a lot of young fellows there who do nothing else but smoke, drink or gamble; They form a deck to themselves and are continually at war with the Americans around and hated by all: Morton may be a very good fellow, and everyone says he is, but as for having any power over his pupils, it is a farce; and just as it is at all crammers - whether they profess to keep control over their pupils or not - everyone does what they like. Wren’s got a bad name because he made no rules saying that they were no good; other crammers get good names because they make them, and print them on paper; but they are never kept.
I don’t know how I am going to manage to go up to the North West Territory and see all those ranches to which you have got me introductions. I don’t see how I am to afford it! Everyone tells me that travelling in America is very expensive, and I want to have sufficient money left in the autumn to take me down to St Simon’s Island. I don’t want to stop in the North for the Winter, not wanting to loose toes, fingers, etc.; my best plan I think is to get employed on some farm or ranch for 25 dollars a month - which is easily got - then by the Autumn I shall have made a little cash instead of spending it; I don’t care a fig about missing the shooting etc. if I can only pay my own way, and so not have to ask Mother for any money, as you have quite enough expenses at home without me, and I feel confident, from what I hear from other young fellows on board, that I can fight my own way as they do.
I have written to Mr Chapman to tell him of my intention of coming down to see his Island, and asked him to write and tell me all about the class of farming, climate and other particulars; if I find anything in the North that I like better I shall not go down there; I hope Mother has written to Mrs Chapman as she promised. If she has not, please ask her to do so at once;
I shall stop as short a time as possible in New York, perhaps a day, then go via Niagara to Chicago where I shall stop another day and see Mrs Sterling; Altogether I shall have 5 or 6 days on the train and no doubt shall be heartily sick of it when the journey is at an end.
I am anxious to hear the result of the Water Bill. I have a sort of inward feeling that you have been beaten and Bateman won the day, but still I hope that I am wrong; Mind you look well after Jack and when I write for him, send him.
Only about three vessels have been seen as yet, there is always great excitement when one is sighted, everyone rushes on deck to have a look; Today (Friday) the sea is beautifully calm and the weather lovely. We are expected to arrive at New York on Sunday morning; I am told I shall be charged 60 p.c. on my saddle so I am mighty glad the pack saddle did not come; but trust that you blessed the A & N well and made them take the things back; I will write to you from Earnest’s and perhaps from Chicago; send as many papers as you can, as I should like to see the account of Joe Brady and his pals;
Tell Trubby I have got through all the cigars but two, and it won’t be many hours before they have gone also. They were very good one’s and I enjoyed them immensely: Charles Ashton kindly gave me ½ lb. of baccy and that has a pretty good hole in it too: Owen is of the same opinion as myself that it will be too expensive to travel about much.
Love to all; don’t trouble yourselves about me. I am as happy as a king and fit as a flee and am sure to jog along somehow:
Yr. affec Son
W Hugh Cooke
My address will not be in Rawlins but
c/o Frank Earnest,
Fort Fred Steele,
One of my questions in telling this story is 'How do I incorporate all my research material with Hugh's letters in a way that feels natural and unforced?'
I have been thinking about writing a 'secret diary'. The idea being that Hugh wrote this diary while in America. But this just felt fake and, as one of my friends said to me, this story has to be authentic.
Then last week I had a better idea. I have been talking with a few American writers and they picked up on descriptions of my grandmother and it occurred to me that Granny was as much a part of this story as was my great-grandfather. She introduced me to the story. She shared the letters. She told me the stories. And ultimately she gave me the letters.
And I remembered an interview I filmed with her in 1991 when she talked about her father and life as a child before the 1st World War. I went through my tapes and found the footage: there was an hour and a half of unedited reminiscences.
So yesterday I edited this down to seven minutes. How strange to hear her voice again after so many years. It was bittersweet.
I have finished the video with the comment about Hugh's parents attitude - that they felt he was letting them down by not joining the army and going to America. This is a good starting point for the story.
The Wild West in the 1880s was a time of extreme hardships. Life was tough and cheap.
The ranges had just been opened up by the railways to vast cattle-raising operations and refrigeration was the latest technology, allowing cattle to be butchered in Chicago and shipped around the world to an hungry market. Many British cattle companies were making yearly profits from between 20 to 50 per cent.
My great-grandfather's story is unique in that we still have a hundred of his letters, graphically illustrating his life as a cowboy. Beginning in 1883 a young and optimistic Hugh goes west only to return to his family in 1893 without a penny to his name. Was he bitter? No. This experience gave him the backbone to live a long and fruitful life. He would always refer to his time out West as the best years of his life.
This year I will share his unique insights here on the Tenderfoot website as I attempt to bring Hugh alive to a new audience.
I hope you will join me as we travel across time to the Great Plains of America.