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Whitney Brothers


By Pat Wilde

This is a condensed version of the original article.


At 3 pm on the afternoon of September 11, 1911, Hugh and Charles Whitney, robbed the First National Bank of Cokeville.  Identification was positive and they were still riding stolen horses with them.  Marion Perkins, a local freighter, claimed he passed the two brothers in the late afternoon, resting in Montpelier Canyon near the Falls area.  He had heard of a sheep camp robbery and had reported the stolen horses.

The Whitney family came to Kemmerer, Wyoming and Cokeville from Oklahoma while the brothers were still young men.  They grew up in the area and eventually accepted employment at the Pete W Olsen ranch near Cokeville and there, their trouble began.

Pete Olsen was a prominent sheep man and rancher.  Hugh Whitney became involved in a scheme to collect stray sheep, change the brands and earmarks to match Olsen's and split the profit.  Olsen  refused to split anything with them, gave them their wages and advised them to move on.  Hugh had gotten into trouble with Olsen because he was herding sheep with his rifle and occasionally killed an animal.  Olsen's foreman, Ezra Christiansen, fired the two men, and Olsen refused to re-instate them. 

When they returned to the range to get their equipment, they spotted Christiansen and beat him leaving him for dead.  And he did die. The Whitney's and Olsen's became bitter enemies.

Sheriff Dan Hanson went after Hugh and brought him back to Cokeville where he was charged with manslaughter.  They next day, Hugh escaped.  Hugh and Charles then began a life of crime robbing banks and trains from Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.

On June 23, 1911, Hugh robbed the Oregon Short Line near High Bridge, Montana.  His unknown partner was killed.  He jumped from the train and was next seen between Rigby and Idaho Falls. He was seen in Soda Springs where he bought a horse, but the animal stepped in a badger hole and had to be shot.  A day later Hugh was seen near Georgetown on a different mount.  The next day he purchased matches and tobacco in Bennington. Officials in Montpelier waited but he failed to appear.  Three days later, a lone bandit appeared on the Crow Creek Road near Pruess Creek where he held a freighter at gun point while he gathered 25 pounds of beans and flour from the wagon.

On the evening of July 21, a sheepherder near the mouth of Gray's River was robbed by Hugh of camp supplies, a pack animal and an additional saddle horse.  On September 6 he and his brother Charles were spotted by several people in Montpelier.  They had just robbed the Tom Taylor sheep camp in Salt Canyon the night before, tying up the herder, Felix Romero.

It was the horses that were first recognized by Jack Heggie who had assisted "Dad" Bryan in shoeing the animals a few days before.  The Whitney Brothers staked their horses on Smith's Fork, where they followed the stream on foot to a spot directly north of the Cokeville Bank.  They walked nonchalantly across a narrow field to the bank.

Upon entry, they backed cashier A D Noblitt and four others up against the wall, taking their deposits, jewelry and watches.  Before they had completed the robbery, 14 people had entered the bank and were robbed.  Neither man wore a mask and they talked freely with those who knew them. Pete Olsen's son Arthur was one of the clerks in the bank that day.

Earl Haggerty, a businessman was robbed of a $250 deposit but was allowed to keep his diamond ring because the Whitney's knew it had been given him by his wife, a woman who had befriended the Whitney's with baked bread and other pastries during their sheep herding days.

Miss Jean Collett came into the bank with the deposit from the Cokeville Mercantile Company but when Hugh reached for her bag, he was stopped by Charlie saying, "We are not robbin' women. let 'er go."  Little more than $700 was all the robbers got that day.  All 14 of the people were herded into the outer vault and the door closed and barricaded.

As the Whitney's broke out across the field, the vault captives were escaping and sounding the alarm.  Haggerty was the first to give chase.  Two others joined him Deputy Dan Hanson and a Mexican, Hermando Morino, known as Mexican Frank.  Morino was the only pursuer on a horse and thought they were trapped at the haystack near where the Whitney's camp was.  He was shot through his hat which encouraged his instant dismount into a half filled irrigation ditch.

The Whitneys were never caught. Following the robbery of the Cokeville bank, the two men moved to Wisconsin where they worked in a saddle and leather shop under assumed names.  Later they worked in Minnesota and Texas before getting enough funds to go to Montana.  They served in the service in World War I under their assumed names. In 1921 Hugh moved to Canada where he died 25 Oct 1951.

On June 19, 1952, Charles Whitney, long sought outlaw of the early 1900's, came voluntarily to Governor Frank A Barrett to confess about the criminal life he and Hugh had engaged in.  He was eventually granted a pardon by Judge Robert H Christmas.  Charles returned to his home in Glasgow, Montana.

The Montpelier Examiner, April 26, 1912

Advices received from Cokeville are that Tom Taylor left for Cody, Wyoming last week, where two of his horses have been located, which were taken by the Whitney brothers after their raid on the Cokeville bank last fall.


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