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"Powder River! Hole in the Wall!"

Originated With Famous Curry Band of Train-Robbers;

Famous "Mile Wide and Inch Deep" Stream Inspiration for Interesting Story


by Powder River Bill

Reprinted in  The Sheridan Post, 17 December 1922

"Powder River" -- name of blood and epitome of all that is left of the old west, slogan of barking six-shooters, and sweaty saddle leather, the war-whoop that originated in a saloon in Casper and went to glory on the stricken fields of Flanders when western-raised dough-boys, raw and green, licked three times their weight in Prussian guardsmen is all that.

Anybody who takes the westward bound train out of Casper will cross Powder river. Looking from comfortable windows of the Pullman, one will mark a sand draw surrounded by blue adobe cliffs, the home of horned toads and dogie steers not yet accustomed to the strong range feed of Wyoming.

That is Powder river, the Dry Fork and the most cussed portion of a stream which has as great a profane fame over the face of the earth as the Mississippi.

In the year 1900, which may be a year or two hither or thither, a robber chieftain arose in the Red Wall country north of Natrona county and his name was Kid Curry.

River Main Stream

The main branch of Powder river is the principal stream in this section of the west. It has many branches. Some do not show on the topographical maps of the state. Any old sheepherder, however, with years of service in the Big Horn, can tell you about Powder river.

At any rate, there is Little Powder river, noted as the location of the Ballard and Fish dipping pens; the South Fork, the Middle Fork, the North Fork, the Dry Fork and the Red Fork. All these eventually culminate in Main Powder river.

But discretly and silently flowing through Natrona county, one encounters the Dry Fork. It has no ending or beginning. Silently it springs from the desert floor and as silently vanishes in the alkali and greasewood. Freighters in the old days on the Lander-Casper trail always said that they could dig any summer day into the bed of the Dry Fork and get living water for hard worked teams.

Civil engineers of the Burlington and Northwestern roads may not wish to exhibit the figures but the Dry Fork of Powder river has been one of the consistent and stubborn foes of civilization.

Stream Changeable

In the cool of the evening it might be nothing but a sand draw choked with burning alkali and stagnant salty pools. Before midnight, it might be a raging torrent, tearing and gnawing at the vitals of thousands of dollars' worth of railway grade and bridging.

But getting back to the main story, Kid Curry came out of the north -- the Musselshell country and the breaks of Little Big Horn in Montana. In the bunk houses on cow ranches today they will tell you that Kid Curry and his brothers were nesters who were stripped and "framed" in the early cattle wars until they turned against law and order.

Whatever the reason, Kid Curry was a strong man and he gathered a hardy crew of gunmen and rangers about him. Their principal prey was the fast mail on the Union Pacific railroad. They wasted no time on cattle rustling, horse stealing or petty holdups.

Ranch Headquarters

They had their headquarters at the Hole in the Wall ranch, 80 miles northwest of Casper, an impregnable camp surrounded by frowning red rim-rocks. Here it was said in the old days, a good marksman with a Winchester saddle gun or "30-30" could hold the place against an army as there was only one narrow entrance.

The "Hole in the Wall" gang rode 250 miles overland to hold up trains and they did the ride on horseback. All were expert riders. When steeds became fatigued, they gathered herds of range horses, roped fresh mounts and continued on their way.

They came out of the Big Horn mountains along the top of the main range, over the Badwater and Bear Creek divides, down Dry Powder river to Poison creek and over the Rawlins trail to the Union Pacific.

After holding up a train, the gang would hurry to the quarters on the Powder river in the Red Wall country. On one trip Sheriff Hazen and a posse from Natrona county stopped them on Castle creek and Sheriff Hazen died suddenly and silently from the effects of a Winchester slug. The other day his son, Scott Hazen, was selected sheriff of Hot Springs county.

Cavalry Searches

In 1900, the United States cavalry took up the trail of the "Hole in the Wall" gang and searched every hay stack in the Big Horn Basin from Bonanza to Stove creek. But they did not find the quarry.

Joe La Fors, special agent for the Union Pacific, who could follow a saddle horse trail at a hand gallop, and who ran them down and captured the well known Tom Horn, was the sworn enemy of the "Hole in the Wall" gang. With his operatives, he succeeded in stopping their depredations, but he never captured a bona fide follower of the Curry brothers.

After one Union Pacific robbery, slashed registered mail bags were found in a quaking aspen grove at the head of Bear creek in the Big Horns -- 36 hours after the robbery. Bear creek, a tributary of the No Woods, is at least 250 miles from the nearest point on the Union Pacific and there were no autos in those days.

Gang Defiant

Joe La Fors maintained a stable of specially trained saddle horses. In the yards at Cheyenne, a train with steam up was always waiting to take a posse to the port of call. But they did not catch the "Hole in the Wall" gang.

With their defiant yell of "Powder River -- Hole in the Wall!" the gang vanished into the badlands at night and by dawn they were 150 miles north and still traveling.

Gradually, cow punchers and sheep herders coming into Casper to celebrate, took up the war-whoop. As the little ball spun in the roulette circle and the red liquor flowed over the bar of the Grand Central, the Wyoming and Long Jack's, the range men bellowed "Powder River - Hole in the Wall!"

The old West passed or became embarrassed in the presence of oil riches. Then eastern rangers chirped, "Powder River -- Let 'er Buck," forgetting that a mare is seldom seen in a bucking exhibition. And the name of the "Hole in the Wall" sunk into oblivion. There were none to remember that title carried with it barking six-shooters, Western blood, bitter tears and sudden death.

Soldiers' War Cry

After a period of innocuous desuetude, a certain gang of ribald young men known as the Wild West of the 91st division of the United States army, went to France in the World war. They had been trained at Camp Lewis and comprised men from all the plateau states.

These limber jointed lads were sent into battle one rainy day in  France before they hardly knew squads east from squads west. Before the sun sank they climbed over the top chanting "Powder River, a mile wide and an inch deep, the largest river in the world and Gawd knows how long" and chased five times their weight in the Rhine. Incidentally, they captured more machine guns that day than the vaunted Rainbow division during its entire service in France. So they moved the "Powder River" outfit to Belgium, where the strife was bitter and bloody.

But the A. E. F. recognized in the yell, the appeal of warriors and nervy men. The old echo of the "Hole in the Wall" gang was there. The A. E. F. took it up and today it is one of the famous slogans of America.

It is really a thing of hysterical delight today, to hear a fatted calf who came within about 3,000 miles of the French front, but managed to scrape together several fat war contracts, lift his treble tenor in the battle cry "Powder river." It is inspiring to one who has heard the old cry come out of dirty little Western saloons after 5,000 beef steers had been loaded or 15,000 Heinies had been whipped.

"There will come a time of reckoning,

When the West wind whimpers sore

When the trails have hid their traces

And the riders ride no more."

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