Because of the time he spent in the Sundance Jail in Wyoming, Harry Longabough was forever known as the Sundance Kid. He served 18 months for stealing a saddle with a horse under it. When he was released on February 4, 1889, he was still a greenhorn in the outlaw game.
Somewhere along the way, Sundance Kid became good friends with another outlaw known as Kid Curry. They spent a lot of time together stirring up trouble wherever they went. Kid Curry had been on the run since winning a gunfight in Landusky, Montana.
If there is one thing absolutely certain about outlaws of the 1890s, it is that all certainty depends on who is telling the story. The most fun part about trying to find out what happened at any given time is the huge assortment of conflicting versions of who did what and when it was done.
In the case of the Belle Fourche Bank robbery, everyone seems to agree that Kid Curry was involved, including Kid Curry himself, according to the stories he related to the Lamb family. Bruce Lamb put those stories together in a book titled Kid Curry.
Local lawmen arrested Tom O'Day in a saloon immediately after the robbery. Some stories claim O'Day fell off his horse and other's claim he just couldn't get on it. In either case, he apparently was found hiding in an outhouse behind the saloon.
So, who else was involved? That's another debate. It will never be resolved to everyone's satisfaction but those eventually arrested for the robbery (besides O'Day) were Kid Curry, Sundance Kid, and Walt Puteney … maybe. None of the men arrested ever admitted to being any of those people, but the officers at Deadwood seemed to think that was who they had in their jail. The outlaws really didn't like that jail much so they escaped after only a few days and went back to work.
When comparing the Kid Curry book with the Belle Fourche Times newspaper, we came up with this hypothesis. On June 28, 1897, Kid Curry, Sundance Kid, George Curry, and Walt Puteney robbed the Butte County Bank in Belle Fourche, South Dakota.
Tom O'Day had been sent into town the night before to look everything over. Tom got drunk and never made it back to the rest of the gang. The other four headed into town without knowing where Tom was. They arrived at the back door of the bank and left Walt to stand guard there. The two Currys went into the bank through the side door and left Sundance outside with the horses. George Curry watched the front door while Kid Curry collected $50 in counter money.
The safe was on a timer and would not open. According to Kid Curry, they had missed the timer on the safe by getting there 15 minutes too early. While they stood around tapping their toes and pacing the floor, someone outside the bank noticed them and began shouting things like, "Bank robbers!" or "They're robbing the bank!" or something else that started getting a lot of attention. Somebody fired a shot at somebody else and that ended the leisure time for tapping their toes and pacing the floor.
All that noise woke Tom up and he staggered out of wherever he had been sleeping it off. As he stumbled toward the bank dragging his horse behind him, the other outlaws came rushing out.
Tom tried to follow but his horse got away from him (the newspaper reported that the four outlaws paused for a moment at the Artesian well, as if considering going back after him but decided to make a run for it instead). Tom gave up and went back to the saloon (the newspaper says he hid in the outhouse, but not before he had been seen). This is where the story gets a little strange. Tom was arrested for being involved and was considered guilty because he had $392 on him in small bills. Remember that Tom was not even in the bank and only $50 was taken; so, where did they think the $392 came from?
Apparently, back in 1897, any drunken cowboy who had that much money on him had to be guilty of something. Since the bank had just been robbed and he was the only one they could catch, that was a reason to arrest him. There were plenty of witnesses to swear he was guilty ... of something.
The other four Outlaws headed due west with a posse in hot pursuit. Kid Curry reported that Tom O'Day's horse had followed them for a while before falling back and the newspaper reported that one horse had been captured. Kid Curry says he stopped on a rise while going across Sourdough Flats somewhere near Oak Creek and took some shots at the posse to slow them down. The newspaper reported that one of the outlaws had fallen off his horse and was cornered for a while on the VVV Ranch before getting away. Those stories could be the same incidents.
One amusing paragraph in the newspaper report states that a lot of the stories being told about the robbery and the pursuit, "which, when traced, would be found to be pure fabrication." If sorting out truth from fabrication was a problem at the time of the incident 111 years ago, just think how much fun historians have had with it ever since.
Lone Writer does not claim to be a historian and contrary to what his friends occasionally say about his age, he does not have any first-hand knowledge of what happened anywhere in 1897. On the other hand, he really enjoys visiting a holdup location, studying the layout, and imagining what might have happened.
Kid Curry claims they traveled north into Montana to meet his brother Lonnie on the Hash Knife Ranch. Lonnie had fresh horses for them. The newspaper simply reported that the outlaws headed north and were not seen again. To follow a possible getaway route, Lone Writer picked up the trail in Alzada, Montana, and connected it to the Hash Knife Ranch.
Alzada had an outlaw history of its own. During the 1880s, an outlaw gang known as the Exelby Gang used it as headquarters to rustle cattle and horses. At that time, the town was called Stoneville. The gang moved into the area in 1877. A shootout in Stoneville was the end of the trail for the Exelby Gang on Valentine's Day in 1884. The original saloon where the gunfight occurred still stands.
The graded gravel road going north from Alzada meandered up and down gentle rolling hills crossing scenic ranch lands. There were some ghost ranches and a ghost town with bleached-out buildings defying nature's efforts to knock them down.
Near the old town of Capitol, a small one-room church built in 1889 captured Lone Writer's attention for a few long minutes. It is not likely the outlaws stopped to pray for their getaway, but it was there at the time. Just past the town of Capitol, the road crossed back into South Dakota.
Camp Crook, South Dakota, is a small community dating back to trouble with Indians in 1883. It has a population of about 50 people. From Camp Crook, Lone Writer headed west crossing into Montana, then turned north through the Custer National Forest. It was a scenic drive with a few campgrounds nestled between the hills covered with small trees and lots of grass.
The Hash Knife Ranch headquarters was on the banks of Box Elder Creek just south of the bridge. It is on private property but the foundations of the old buildings can be seen from the bridge. For a closer look, bring some good binoculars.
In the next issue, we will cover the rest of the getaway route from the Hash Knife Ranch to the Hole in the Wall Hideout.
Trip meter - Latitude North - Longitude West - Comments
0.0 - N44 40.8748 - W103 51.2554
This is the intersection of Hwys. 24 and 212. Go west on 212.
0.0 - N45 1.5148 - W104 24.7036
Right on County Road 323. The Stoneville Saloon is on this corner.
0.0 - N45 11.2865 - W104 16.8368
Right toward Camp Crook.
0.2 - N45 11.2177 - W104 16.5503
Left at the Albion Ghost Town. It was operational from 1914 to 1964. This is Little Missouri Road.
0.0 - N45 13.1287 - W104 15.4207
Left goes to an old one-lane bridge. Continue straight.
0.0 - N45 26.0437 - W104 3.9396
Turn left and pass through the ghost town of Capitol. Looks like one family still lives there.
0.0 - N45 32.3527 - W104 2.4887
To get to the Custer National Forest, turn left at this intersection on Tie Creek Rd. To visit Camp Crook, continue straight and come back to this intersection later.
7.2 - N45 34.0324 - W104 10.3262
Take the right fork.
10.7 - N45 36.6683 - W104 10.7796
11.4 - N45 36.9733 - W104 10.1688
Continue straight on Snow Creek Road.
29.0 - N45 49.6597 - W104 14.2986
Turn right toward the ghost town of Mill Iron.
31.2 - N45 51.1621 - W104 13.0440
This is Mill Iron. Only one building left. Mill Iron will be the starting point for the story in the February issue. To get to the bridge with a view of the Hash Knife Ranch site, turn right.
34.0 - N45 50.3172 - W104 10.1244
This is the bridge over Box Elder Creek. The Hash Knife ranch was on the right. Foundations can be seen from the road by parking a short distance past the bridge.