|Butch Cassidy was once reported to have been killed in Emery County.|
At the Emery County Historical Society meeting on Oct. 27, President Bert Oman recognized two outstanding volunteers for the Swinging Bridge refurbishing project. The couple, Don and LaVerna Petersen of Ferron, were honored for the many hours they spent at the bridge doing the clean up work. Environmental regulations state that while working on the bridge, no debris from the restoration is to go downstream.
While the removal of the old boards and installation of the newly milled ones was taking place, the Petersens were under the bridge picking up anything that fell from above. Every scrap of wood was picked up and taken to the landfill. Oman commended the couple for their dedication and attention to the restoration project. "We want to thank everyone who helped with this project. There were many volunteers for the two Saturdays and the follow up days. Also, thanks to the Utah State Historical Preservation Commission for the grant money to complete the work," said Oman.
Oman introduced the speaker for the evening, Joel Frandsen. Frandsen is from the Utah Humanities Council and gave a presentation concerning Butch Cassidy and Joe Walker, two infamous outlaws of the late 1890s. He stated that during the reign of the two in Utah, they managed to commit enough robberies and rustlings to acquire quite a large sum of reward money for their capture.
Frandsen stated that the headline in the Salt Lake Tribune on May 14, 1898 said "Butch is dead." The events that lead up to that headline began much earlier. In 1857, the Whitmore family left Texas and began their move West. The family had converted to Mormonism and relocated to St. George. They brought with them 3,000 head of cattle, and in addition to the cattle business, they started a freight hauling company that moved freight from Salt Lake City to St. George.
The Whitmores appeared to be in the money making business wherever they went. Following the murder of the father of the Whitmore family during a Paiute uprising near St. George, the family moved to Salina, then later to Price. In Price, the family began the First National Bank and Price Trading Company. Every venture the family entered into brought them more wealth.
In the early 1890s, a man named Joe Walker left Texas and came to Utah. After several years of getting to know the territory, he made a claim with the Whitmore family that he was a long lost relative that had been left behind in Texas. There was much research into the claim and the final decision was that Walker was not a cousin of the family as he had represented.
When the Whitmores rejected Walker's claim, Walker decided to go on a vendetta to retaliate for their unwillingness to share their fortune with a stranger. He began to rustle their thoroughbred horses from their land near Price. He took the horses into the San Rafael. Walker also had been into Robbers Roost from a bit of other trouble he had been into, and he had met Gunplay Maxwell there. Maxwell helped Walker with the horse stealing.
After a time, Walker and Maxwell had a dispute, and Maxwell left and returned to Price and told the Whitmores where Walker and the horses were located. The Emery County Sheriff Azariah Tuttle formed a posse and went in pursuit of the horse thieves. Tuttle and his men found the thieves near Mexican Bend, and a gunfight ensued. Tuttle was wounded in the hip and during the night time the thieves got away under cover of darkness.
The remaining posse members went for help and the rescuers had to build a road in to retrieve Tuttle. In later months, Walker wrote to Tuttle apologizing for the injury and offered two horses to be sold to pay the medical expenses. Walker's only stipulation for the payment was that Tuttle return any money that remained following payment for treatment of the gunshot wound. The Emery and Carbon county commissions each raised $250 for reward money offered for Walker.
On April 5, 1897, Carbon County Sheriff Gus Donant went to the county commissioners and asked that Gunplay Maxwell be deputized to help in the search for the outlaws. The commission denied the request. On April 16, 1897, Donant again approached the commissioners with the same request, and was again denied.
On April 21, 1897, Cassidy and Elzy Lay, and the rest of the gang, probably including Walker, committed the Castle Gate robbery, in which they stole the payroll from the Pleasant Valley Coal Company. The communication lines were cut and the gang got away into the San Rafael. Posses from Carbon County and Huntington were formed and both began tracking the robbers. Somewhere near the Buckhorn Draw, the two posses met up and began firing on each other thinking the other was the outlaw band. Luckily, the mistake was discovered before any serious injuries.
In July 1897, Sheriff Donant resigned and C.W. Allred was appointed as Carbon County Sheriff. Then, 10 months later, on May 7, 1898, word of Walker was received when J.M. Whitmore and his herder Billy McGuire were riding trying to locate some missing cattle. In the thickest part of the river bottom, Walker jumped McGuire and severely beat him. Walker took the men's horses and released the men.
Following their return to Price, the incident was reported and on the morning of May 8, 1898, Sheriff Allred formed a posse and went in search of Walker. Thirteen men left Price, rode to Woodside and then into Range Creek.
Then Utah Gov. Heber Wells had compiled a "dirty dozen" list of the most wanted outlaws in Utah. Walker and Cassidy topped the list at $500 apiece, and the posse had dreams of big rewards. With the reward from Pleasant Valley Coal Company standing at $4,000 for Cassidy, and the rewards from Emery and Carbon counties at $500 for Walker, the total reward money was substantial.
On Thursday evening, May 12, 1898, the posse camped near Florence Creek, and at midnight, climbed to the top of the mesa where they surrounded the group of outlaws. More than 50 rounds later, two outlaws were dead and two were captive. The day was Friday May 13, 1898. The two dead men were claimed to be Walker and Cassidy. The dead and their possessions were gathered and the 45 mile trek to Thompson Springs, to catch the train, began.
Two telegraphs were sent to Gov. Wells informing him of the events of the day, and the following morning, the headline in the Salt Lake Tribune read "Butch is dead."
When the train arrived in Helper, it was met by many people and the bodies of the dead outlaws were displayed for all to see. An inquest into the deaths began the next day and all testified that the bodies were those of Joe Walker and Butch Cassidy. Burial proceedings were started.
Prior to burial, and after the coroner's inquest had ruled that Walker and Cassidy were indeed the two bodies, several people outside of those present at the shootings, came forward to say that the one body was definitely not Cassidy. Sheriff Ward, of Evanston, Wyo., was asked to come and confirm the identity of the second outlaw. In the meantime, the bodies were prepared for burial and were buried outside of the cemetery, a place reserved for outlaws and prostitutes.
When Sheriff Ward arrived the next day, the body in question was exhumed and it was determined that the dead man was not Cassidy, but a man named Johnny Herring. So, in the end, the posse members were awarded only the reward money for Walker to be divided up between them.
The two men captured alive, Schultz and Thompson were later tried in Castle Dale, and acquitted of the crime.
For more information on Butch Cassidy and Joe Walker and their exploits in Emery County, an informational display has been set up at the Emery County Archives on the second floor of the county building.