outlaw.gifOUTLAWS OF THE BIG MUDDY

 

This is an article submitted by William McCanna in late 1999.  Here is his note to the Daybreaker's giving his permission to use his story!   Thanks Mr. McCanna!


"The story of the "Outlaws of the BIG MUDDY" has been in the family archives for years, passed along from my Aunt Kathryn in Billings, Mt.  The origin is unknown but it can be posted for entertainment reading.  My father said, as a young boy, he and his next door neighbor and friend, Jim Gross, were given permission to hunt on the 'Marron' farm  and that was a special deal because of the "activities" around there.  My father believes Nancy Marron (who is mentioned in the story) has since passed.  He last saw her at his mother's funeral, in '75, in Plentywood and she was in her seventies.  I would like to have anyone who is interested in the history, read the story and I give my permission for that to be posted."(November 1999)

Towards the end of the Indian occupancy and before this area became settled, we went through a phase of outlaw history.  In 1883, when drought swept northward from Texas to the Canadian border, beef prices dropped, fortunes were lost overnight, and big ranches were unable to afford hired help.  The big ranches released most of their hired help and the jobless, homeless cow-punchers drifted north to the Valley County area of Montana and many to the Big Muddy.  Out of this migration north of unemployed cowhands, sprang "the Wild Bunch", described as being the largest, toughest and most colorful of all western outlaw gang.

     Halle, a stock inspector during this period, reported in his police files that "'Valley County" Montana is the most lawless and crookedest county in the Union and that the Big Muddy is the worst part of it.  The stock inspector was responsible for searching out and checking cattle brands.  However, a man could record as many brands as he liked for $2.00 apiece.  Many ranchers at that time had unregistered brands and those that were registered were put on different parts of the stock.  To check out brands the inspector had to travel to Glasgow, Montana.

      Butch Cassidy, one of the more famous outlaws, set up a series of trails organized into one of the most amazing escape systems in the history of the West.  Cassidy proposed a system of connecting trails through the most remote inacessable parts of the West, all joining to form a main 'stem' from Canada to Mexico, and which he called "THE OUTLAW TRAIL".  The number one station of the outlaw trail was on what is now Dick Giles' ranch just south of Big Beaver, SASK. Canada just north of the U.S.-Canada border north of Redstone, Mt.  The Big Muddy is full of canyons and gulches offering good concealment, an ideal place for headquarters for gangs of horse thieves, cattle rustlers, and outlaws.  Wide-spread stock rustling north of the Montana border began after the out-break of the Boer War in October 1899 when 245 members of the North West Mounted Police volunteered for service in South Africa.  As soon as reports of reduced police strength filtered through the Badlands, outlaws crossed the line to hit ranches all over southern Saskatchewan.  They would use the  Outlaw trail which wound southward through the Big Muddy Valley and then west to the Little Rockies near Landusky, Mt.  southward to Miles City, Mt. across the border of Noth Dakota, into South Dakota at Deadwood and then westward into Wyoming near Sundance to Hole-in-the-Wall, a major station and stopover.  Then southward to Brown's Park, Robbers Roost and finally into Mexico.  The way stations were fifteen miles apart on the average, where fresh horses and supplies could be purchased in relays, usually at a friendly ranch, and thus in a form of 'criminal pony express' the outlaws could be across state boundaries in a matter of hours.  Cassidy and other members of the so-called Wild Bunch were amazingly successful in eluding pursuing lawmen.  They didn't always make a clean get-away, but usually they did.  One key to their success was their ability to cultivate the friendship of ranchers and others who were willing to pasture their horses, give or sell them supplies, and keep mum when lawmen sought information, etc.  The rough breaks of the Big Muddy Valley, especially in the Daleview area, as well as the other valleys of Sheridan County provided a haven for many other outlaws as well.

     Two major gangs were the Dutch Henry and the Nelson (alias Sam Kelly)-Jones gang that operated in the Big Muddy Valley.  Dutch Henry Yeuch (Ieuch) showed up in Montana in the late 1800's.  Dutch Henry (alais John Stewart, Henry stewart, Stuart)  was a cowboy for the Diamond Ranch in 1897-1898.  Early in his career he rode for a man named Dad Williams who had a ranch on Shot Gun Creek,  a mile and one half from Bainville.   It is said that he would get a bill of sale from  Williams for 25 head of horses, then run off with a bunch more into the Dakotas or Canada and sell them.  Finally Williams went broke.  As many as 400 head of horses were stolen in one drive, hazed across the border into Canada, sold, restolen and brought back to Montana or the Dakotas to be resold.  Dutch Henry was according to some from Holland, and to others a Saxon German.  He had two brothers.  One of them was Chris, a respectable rancher in the Daleview area who would  have nothing to do with his brother's illegal activities.  Chris is buried in the Redstone cemetary.  The other brother was a member of the Wild Bunch and was known as Coyote Pete.  Dutch Henry  had a known reputation  for horse stealing.  He was also described as a humorist, a story teller, a good guy and a petty thief.  He was well known for his love of horses, his expertise as a cowboy and his skill at using a rope.  In the fall of 1902, he was employed by Pascal Bonneau, of Willow Bunch, Sask. Canada.  Pascal Bonneau had sent his brother Joe Bonneau to Williston in company with Dutch Henry and another cowboy to buy two hundred and fifty horses.  Because prairie fires had burnt much of the grass on the home range, Bonneau decided to winter the horses on the American side at the camp on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation north of Poplar.  When Joe Bonneau went south in the spring of 1903 to bring the horses north through customs, Dutch Henry lifted his gun from its holster and told Joe to get going.  The Mounted Police were unable to act on the American side.  Ellis Hurst remembered Dutch Henry very well.  He and the other outlaws stopped at their ranch quite often.  On one occasion, some clothes were missing.  Another time their best cow pony was taken.  Ellis Hurst met Dutch Henry sometime later in Culbertson.  He pointed out that he and his men had always been treated fairly, with no questions asked.  He did not expect his horses to be stolen.  About six months later the stolen horse was found one morning in the home corral.

     Dutch Henry is credited with naming the town of Plentywood.  According to a story he and some of the Wild Bunch were camping on a little creek.  The cook was trying unsuccessfully to start a fire with damp buffalo chips. Dutch Henry suggested going two miles farther up the creek where there was "Plenty wood".  The creek was thereafter called Plentywood Creek, and when the post office was established there it took the name of the  creek.  When the post office was later moved to it's present site on Box Elder Creek it kept the name.

      Long after the other members of the gang had prices on their heads, Dutch Henry was able to roam about in the open, and could go to town to buy supplies for the others.  Too many frontier storytellers have contributed greatly to  Dutch Henry Yeuch's phenomenal notoriety by confusing him with General George Armstrong Custer's one time scout, Dutch Henry Born, who was with the 7th Cavalry on Nov 27, 1868 when Custer hit Black Kettle's Cheyennes on the Washita River west of the Shawnee Hills in OKlahoma.  Later on, Born fought beside Bill Dixon, Jack Cunningham, Bat Masterson, and Seth Hathaday, at Adobe Wells, in north Texas.  Later on he began operatin the west's most ambitious horse-rustling business in Kansas, through Colorado to the Mexican border.  This went on until Bat Masterson  handcuffed Born in Colorado.  He was turned loose for lack of evidence and Born kept out of trouble until his death in the 1930s.  Through the years tales about Dutch Henry Yeuch is still uncertain, as there are several "reliable", but conflicting accounts of how he met his death.  He left Montana in 1905 for Ardoch, ND which is straight north of Grand Forks, ND and not far from the Canadian border.  Going under the name of John Stuart, he was supposedly murdered by two blasts of a shotgun to the head, rendering him almost completely un-recognizeable, on December 30 or 31st, 1905.  A young Canadian, Alex  McKenzie, who was also known in these parts, was convicted and sentenced to prison.  The gun fight was in Roseau  County, Minnesota and Alex McKenzie was sentenced to murder in the first degree and received a life sentence in the state penitentiary at Stillwater.  Rumors persisted that Dutch Henry had skipped to Texas or South America.  In his youth, Dutch Henry is supposed to have been apprenticed in black smithing, and that he was the Blacksmith in Deloraine, Manitoba.  He lived quietly, unknown visitors called on him occasionally.  John A. Davis who knew him well, positively identified the body of a murdered  man found in a brush heap in Minnesota as Dutch Henry.  He is also said to have been hanged in Mexico for his rustling activities, and his brother Chris is said to hae beleived that story.  But in 1910 he was supposedly shot by the Northwest Mounted Police, sixty miles south of Moosejaw, Sask.  McKenzie was later released and pardoned.  McKenzie walked out of the penitentiary a free man to join his old father and mother who had worked untiringly for 4 long years to prove his innocence.  McKenzie's case is one of the strangest in the criminal annals of Minnesota.

       The other well known gang in the Big Muddy was the Nelson-Jones Gang, which were bank robbers, train  robbers, horse and cattle thieves.  This gang was also part of the Wild Bunch and in 1903 the link  between Dutch Henry and the Nelson-Jones gang was solidified and the two joined forces.  Other members of the  Dutch Henry gang were Bloody Knife, Pigeon Toe Kid, James McNab, and Duffy and Birch.

       Red Nelson (alias Sam Kelly) was thought to be the leader of the gangs and was described as being about six feet tall, slim, 180 pounds, red-haired and red-whiskered with sharp eyes "cold as a fish"  His lifestyle was very subdued around the Big Muddy Valley.  Neighbors told stories of such things as his ability to dehorn a steer with his 30-30 at 100 yards.  A pal of Nelson's had been put in jail on general suspicion of being a hard citizen.  With him was a young man named Seffick, held for murdering one Billy Anderson in Culbertson.  Nelson did not know Seffick, but he wanted to set his pal  Trotter free.  He arranged to get a key which fitted the jail door and then, accompanied by a man known as "smitty" and leading two saddled broncs, he rode openly up to the jail and set about freeing his pal.  The result was that Nelson gained Seffick as a new member of his gang and authorities were more eager to catch up with him.  Only one attempt was recorded of efforts to capture Nelson.  That took place a year after the jailbreak when a man heard that Nelson and Seffick were holed up near a little town in South Dakota.  He was sent by Sid Willis, then sheriff of Valley County, to scout and see if the report was true.  The man was to only report back, but finding the outlaws on foot, he tried to gun them down.  In his excitement, he missed.  The outlaws ran for their guns and horses and the deputy took to the brush, making good his escape.  Nothing apparently was done after this try.  Then Jones entered the picture.  Thought to be from Nevada,  Frank JOnes was a lone wolf at first but soon found a kindred soul in Nelson and they joined forces.  This unholy alliance took place in early 1899 and probably was a mutual need.  Jones had become more and more an undesirable citizen and John Eader, Culbertson deputy, set out to get him.  Eader heard that Jones  was at a nearby ranch and went there.  When he went in the front door, Jones came out the back door, stole the deputy's horses, left him without means of pursuit, and took off.  Shortly after this escapade, he joined up with Nelson.  Later Nelson dropped out of the picture and another gang known as Jones-Carlyle group was formed to continue the depredations.

      Nelson, (alias Sam Kelly) decided to give himself up to American authorities in PLENTYWOOD, Mt.  Since crimes were difficult to prove, the only charge against him was that of helping a prisoner escape (Trotter).  He was exonerated and in about 1913, took up ranching on the McKell place, now owned by the Nobles.  This is in southern Saskatchewan.  About 1914. Kelly left the Big Muddy area.  Several years later, it was found that he went to Debden, Sask. to homestead, with a carload of horses and three friends.  Nobody suspected they were anything but homesteaders.  They kept to themselves on the homestead.  Their homesteads were on  all four sides of what became known as Kelly's Lake.  Sam lived in a little white house near a road and had a huge growth of rhubarb near the well.  He was known as a good neighbor and along with his three bachelor friends, caused quite a stir among the single women of the district.  It was recalled in later years, Kelly kept a red & white barrel at the corner of his house, which may have been used to signal his partners if someone suspicious was around.  It was rumored that, from time to time, members of the old gang would visit Sam.  If the rain barrel was tipped on its side that was a signal to his visitors that it was not safe to be in the area.  Kelly became ill and was taken to live in the hotel at Debden 1954, but no records can be found to that effect.  The Sam Kelly Cave can still be seen today, just north of the Canadian border in the  Big Muddy Valley.

     The activities of the Jones-Carlyle continued and became so troublesome that finally rewards were put on the heads of all the outlaws with Jones and Carlyle rated at $1500 each and the other men from $500 to $800 each.  Citizens and lawmen combined a group consisting of John A. Davis, Billy Endersby, Elmer (Hominy) Thompson, Frank King and George LaPorte agreed to have themselves deputized and to try and round up or kill the outlaws.  When the time was ripe, King rode to Thompson's shack near Whitetail and told him of the plan of action.  The deputized ranchers were to make a circle in their part of the country, while King would ride up to Canada and enlist the aid of the Northwest Mounted Police who would close in on the gang from the north and prevent any of them from crossing the border.  The idea was good but it didn't work.  Jones, who was constantly on the alert, had seen King ride up to Thompson's shack and followed and climbed on the roof of the shack and there heard every word.  The following morning, when King was enroute to Canada and about 15 miles up the Muddy from  Thompsons, Jones waylaid him and took him prisoner.  King was taken to the outlaw hideout, blindfolded, and kept for 14 days.  He finally was turned loose near the Carl Gilbertson ranch near Redstone.  This was in the fall of 1902.  It ended efforts to capture the gang by organized action at that time. 

    However, the big rewards remained in force and many a man was tempted to earn one of them. Several tried unsuccessfully and finally Jim Moore, a barber and constable living at Culbertson, decided to add his attempt to the others.  He had heard the Kid Trailer was playing fiddle at the Sherman Place south of Antelope.  There was a price of $800 on Jack Winnefield (Kid Trailer) head.  Moore made his capture, finding Trailer at a dance and disarmed him without any trouble.  He placed his captive in a sleigh, hitched up a team and started for Glasgow to turn the Kid over to Sheriff Harry Cosner.  The crowd was very unhappy to lose its music.  Kid Trailer was a herdsman for the Jones-Carlyle Gang and when Jones got the word of the capture, he waylaid the constable, and freed Trailer.  He unhitched the team and put Trailer on one of the horses and Kid returned to the Sherman place.  Everyone was happy at the Sherman place for the rest of the evening, but it was the beginning of the end for Jones.  Jones took the other horse of Moore's and left Moore afoot.  He also took Moore's big black cowhide coat for himself.  Moore finally got back to Culbertson where he reported the incident.  He did not recognize Jones, but rather though that the outlaw who held him was Carlyle.  One thing, however, was known, one of the outlaws had a big, black coat. 

     This action by Jones resulted in immediate and increased efforts to capture him and break up the gang.  A posse was formed and rode out after the outlaws.  However once again, Jones outsmarted them,  it was December and it was cold with heavy snow on the ground.  Most of the posse had quit, but George Bird and Frank Moran, private citzens deputized to aid in the capture stuck to the trail.  For several weeks they stubbornly continued following down leads and finally heard that the gang or part of it  was near Scobey.  They went to that district and started scouting the few scattered ranches in the neighborhood.  Days passed and it was January 14, 1904, when they called on the Andrew Tande ranch where Andrew and his son Albert were caring for a herd of 250 steers and batching it.  The day was stormy  and cold with the snow deep on the ground and the deputies accepted Tande's invitation to stay with him for awhile. 

     On the evening of the second day a stranger rode to the Tande shack.  He explained that he had ridden 35 miles that day and he was tired,  Tande asked him to come in and stay the night.  Bird and Moran were in the cabin when the man entered.  Both glanced up and saw the same thing at the same time--- the man was wearing the big, black  cowhide coat once belonging to Moore.  At once the deputies realized it was Carlyle, between them, they agreed to wait until an opportunity came to capture him.  Early that evening young Al Tande made up a batch of sourdough.  Bird volunteered to get up and cook breakfast, claiming he was known as the "Pancake Kid" and that he was the best cook in those parts. The agreement was called fair and the men spent the evening playing hearts.   When bedtime came it was found that Bird, Moran and Jones all had to occupy the same bunk.  Imagine how those deputies felt, however they piled in and Jones lay down beside them.  As he did so he took a new automatic out of his shoulder holster and laid it on his chest.  The deputies did not sleep a wink that night, they testified later.  Dawn came, and Bird began serving.  Jones, his suspicions apparently lulled, went after the pancakes with enthusiasm.  Bird, watching him, laid down the pancake turner and started to roll a cigarette, a perfectly natural action, as he did, he moved toward a corner where his .30-.30 was standing.  With a swift movement he picked it up, leveled it at Jones with the command, "Put 'em up, Carlyle"  Jones did not change expression.  Jones went on eating, not recognizing the name at first.  Moran drew his pistol and also covered him, he realized in a flash what had happened.  He sat without moving, then in the face of two guns, he made his move.  Back in his chair, a hand clawing for his gun, he went in a fast roll.  Fast but not fast enough.  He chose a "shoot-out" rather than capture, and he failed.  A soft nosed slug from the .30-.30 in the hand of Bird smashed in to his right shoulder, entered his side.  A second bullet, from the sixgun of Moran's scored a flaming grove across his head.  As he hit the floor, Jones got his gun out, but it was too late.  The swiftly moving foot of the deputy kicked the pistol out of the outlaw's hand.  Young  Al went to the fallen man, at his request he carried him outside.  "Air, I want air!" the gunman gasped.  Outside in the bitter cold, the wounded man revived slightly.  He clenched his teeth and between them said, "The  *&*&%$*'s to do this, after I slept with them.  By the eternal, I'll get well! I'll get them."  Jones was wrapped in a big canvas, then placed in a sleigh with a fresh team. The deputies accompanied by Andrew Tande, started for Poplar with their wounded prisoner.  Before leaving, Tande asked them to sign a note making the county responsible  for the cattle in his care and which were left in charge of the then 21 year old Albert.  Andrew did not want anything to do with the matter, but he was deputized and they made him use his team and sleigh and drive.  They ran the horses nearly all the way to Poplar along the old Wood Mountain trail which ran eastward to the agency town.

     Jones did not survive the trip, dying in the afternoon about 350 miles southeast of Scobey.  The men with the body arrived in Poplar about 2am the next day.  From there they summoned Sheriff Cosner from Glasgow.  An inquest was held, the man proven to be Jones and the $1500 bounty was paid.  Albert, alone back at the ranch tried to get someone to stay with him.  He finally got George Marlenee, he was afraid the other outlaws might come.  Jones had falled on the oven door, which had been left open for heat,  and the door was so bent that they could never close it again.  The blood ruined the bedding and it was an awful time scrubbing the blood up from the floor.  A short time later Bird and Moran with others set out to follow Jones' tracks near the Tande ranch  with the hope that they would lead them to the outlaw hideout, but the fresh fall of snow made this effort useless.

    Nearly a year later a big redheaded man rode up to the Tande ranch and wanted to know the details of the Jones killing.  Red Nelson, one time partner of Jones disappeared again as thoroughly as before.  In conversations with old-timers, it seems that Jones was not entitled to this untimely end.  One rancher was critical of those who had  double crossed him.  Jones' partners, Carlyle was an ex-mountie turned outlaw.  He gave up his job as an officer when his superiors became a bit too probing about some of his activities.  The gang was to stage a train holdup west of PLENTYWOOD, MT  a day or so before Christmas.  Carlyle was detailed to blow up a bridge, which would stop the train.  He got drunk, and failed to do the job.  The hold up was cancelled, Carlyle rode to the Marshall ranch in Canada, just north of the border, to sleep off his drunk.  On Christmas day two riders called at the place and escorted Carlyle across the bottom to the coulee which bears his name, and shot him.  His unburied bones lie somewhere in one of the many wild draws in the coulee.

       Jack Winnefield, known as "Kid Trailer", came into the territory with cattle herds being driven in.  He was a likeable youth, who attached himself to different bands of cowboys, thereby earning his nickname.  He gradually drifted into bad company and was soon along with Sam Hall and Tom Reid, a herdsman for horses stolen by the outlaw gang of Nelson and Jones.  Trailer was an accomplished fiddler and even after there was a reward on his head, he was in constant demand to play at dances through out the country.  The story of his being captured by Jim Moore and later freed by Jones was told earlier in this story.  Kid Trailer was a handsome man of average build, in his early twenties.  In 1907 and 1908, he was living on a homestead near Stady, N.D. in the Writing Rock country.  Trailer headquartered with Joe Knapp who had a spread in deep brush filled valley not far north of where the writing rock stands.  This man, who was not even very successful at making his own living, derived most of his income from Kid Trailer.  But even that was not enough for Knapp.  Knowing that there was a reward for Trailer, he informed the sheriff at Crosby of the outlaw's whereabouts.  The sheriff and his deputy rode out to the place and hid in the brush until the wanted man rode in.  After Trailer had dismounted and walked away, leaving his guns on the saddle horn, the sheriff called out,'up with 'em, or you are a dead man!'  Trailer looked at his guns on the saddle horn and decided to surrender.  He was taken to Crosby for trial.  When the jury came in the the verdict of guilty, the judge asked him if he had anything to say before sentence was passed.  The prisoner stated, 'I have one request, take good care of my buckskin horse until I get out, and when I do, Joe will be a deadman!'   Trailer was sentenced to 20 years in the North Dakota penitentiary.  The only reward received by Joe Knapp was a .44 handgun given to him by the sheriff for his protection.  Who received the cash reward is questionable but many people had seemingly well founded suspicions.  Joe Knapp sold out and left the country, Kid Trailer was out of prison in thirteen to fifteen years.  Kid Trailer was active in the PLENTYWOOD area in the 1920's with whiskey which he had smuggled from Canada.  Nancy Marron, of PLENTYWOOD, tells of Kid Trailer stopping by to give his respects after the death of her father, Pete Marron.  Kid Trailer supposedly died in Arizona in the early 1970's.

      Another member of the outlaw gangs was "Bloody Knife" who was denied membership in the Jones-Nelson gang because of his blustering nature.  He had many people scared but those who really knew him considered him a coward.  He met an untimely death at Ambrose, ND while "shooting up the town" when drunk on rum.

      Pigeon Toe Kid or more commonly called "Pigeon Toe" was a young man about 22 yrs old.  He was in Canada when the Mounted police caught him for some crime.  He was being taken to jail by train but when the train stopped he jumped out of the window, escaping through the brush.  He finally worked himself down into Montana where he fell in with a bunch of horse thieves who were rustling along the border and selling them in North Dakota.  One  April morning, the Kid rode into the Bonnabel place near Richland, MT and asked for a hammer.  He wanted to shoe a horse that he had stolen a few days back, he was eating dinner with Bonnabel and another guy there came a loud pounding on the door.  The sheriff and two deputies came in, the last deputy to come in remained at the door with his hands in his coat.  The Kid knew him because he had had a fight with him before, the Kid got up and started toward his coat.  The deputy shot him and he fell to the floor dead.  The bullet had gone clear through the Kid and into the shoulder of the other fellow who was eating dinner with them.  The Pigeon Toed Kid was killed in 1908 by Deputy Hugh Calderwood.

       Another outlaw remembered by a few old timers was Tom Ryan.  Tom Ryan, according to Ellis Hurst, a rancher in the Daleview area who knew him, was a man who hated petty larceny.  Empty mail bags lay around his cabin and he made no effort to hide them.  When strangers approached the cabin, Ryan met them with his guns on, he refused to hide, saying,"They're not going to find me hiding under the bed or in the cellar."  Once Ryan came to the Hurst ranch to treat an injury he claimed to have received when his horse fell on him.  Afterward it was learned that the injury was a gunshot wound received in a bank robbery.  After an attempt by him to rob the Crosby bank, he was wounded and he also stopped at the Ator ranch near Antelope to have the wound dressed.  It was said that the money gotten in the robbery was given to a homesteader who returned it to the bank.

    Mrs. Lon Desonia, whose home was a stopping place for most travelers in the Daleview-Redstone vicinity, declared that Ryan was the most gentlemanly man she ever knew.  One time, she was trying to catch some chickens for the next meal, he rode up and offered to "fetch" the chickens she wanted.  She pointed out two and he drew a six-gun with each hand and shot the heads off both of them at once.  He gave a motherless colt to the Desonias' for the unborn child who he felt would be a girl.  Mildred (later Mildred Bantz) had the  horse for 29 years.

      Among the other menbers of the gangs were Duffy, Tom Reid, Ernie Stines, James McNab, and Birch.  Most of the local people had no trouble with the outlaws and on occasion the horse thieves were persuaded to bring back horses they had stolen.  Sometimes they would "rustle up" meat to present to homesteaders who had fed them.  Many recall having members of the outlaw gangs stay for meals.  They were courteous to the women, and if they sought shelter and food at a homestead shack, while the owner was away, they left things as they found them.