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Powder River Trail - Hole In The Wall

Posted in Events on February 1, 2010
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Lewis and Clark entered Montana as part of their expedition from 1804 to 1806. They were searching for a water route that would provide access to the Pacific Ocean. They found a land where Indians migrated in step with enormous herds of buffalo.

During the 1880s, cattle barons discovered the plush grazing lands in Montana. They brought herds of cattle from Texas and claimed thousands of acres as their own. Among those ranches was one known as the Hash Knife Ranch. Kid Curry was friendly with a horse wrangler working on the ranch. For that reason, it was chosen as a good place to stash a relay of horses to be used after the bank robbery in Belle Fourche, South Dakota (we covered the bank robbery and trail to Hash Knife in the January 2010 issue, "Hard Ride to Hash Knife, Part I: Bank Robbery Getaway").

Kid Curry, Sundance Kid, George Curry, and Walt Puteney arrived at the Hash Knife on Box Elder Creek from different directions. They had taken separate trails to make it harder for a posse to follow. After a short reunion, they decided to split up again and take separate trails to Hole in the Wall in Wyoming.

Retracing the gang's steps, this article's author Lone Writer and his friend Happy Jack left Hash Knife and spent the night in the national forest south of Ekalaka. They decided to follow the Powder River all the way back to Hole in the Wall. To make that connection, they headed west to the ghost town of Powderville. The Powder River originates in the Big Horn Mountains near Hole in the Wall in Wyoming. It flows on a Northeasterly course into Montana and empties into the Yellowstone River.

The Powder River Route crosses wide open country with very few signs of civilization. Most all of the route is unpaved. It crosses rolling hills with beautiful views of the river. Although the river is frequently in view, much of the land on both sides is privately owned and fenced. In several places, the road crosses the river and in one place a recreation area has been constructed.

It crosses about 260 miles with only a few places to purchase fuel. Lone Writer and Happy Jack had topped off their gas tanks in Ekalaka and were nearly empty by the time they passed through Kaycee in Wyoming.

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The town of Kaycee originated when a homesteader named Nolan started the K-C Ranch on the Powder River. That ranch eventually became headquarters for rustlers who were running herds into Hole in the Wall. On April 10, 1892, Texas gunfighters surrounded the ranch house. They had been hired by cattle barons to eliminate the rustlers. The gunmen burned down the ranch and killed the two men inside.

A few days later those same gunmen were surrounded by more than 200 Wyoming cowboys and rustlers near Buffalo, Wyoming. No doubt they would still be there six-feet under if not for being rescued by soldiers from a nearby fort. No charges were filed for the killing at the K-C Ranch, but the gunmen were put on a train back to Texas.

In 1897, the first building for the town of Kaycee was built near the burned out home at the K-C Ranch. Of course, that building was a saloon. A short time later, a blacksmith shop was built on the river bank. Buildings were added one by one until it became the small community that exists today. When the post office was established, the name K-C had to be spelled out and became Kaycee.

Today, a few motels, restaurants, gas stations, and a rest area for Exit 254 on I-25 have made it a popular stopping spot between Buffalo and Casper. The museum includes wagons, implements, a school house, and a jail.

The road between Kaycee and Barnum is paved. It follows the same general path used as a stagecoach route many years ago. This is the only route that could be used to get a wagon into Hole in the Wall without going hundreds of miles around the Red Wall. That access through the Red Wall was carved out by the Middle Fork Powder River.

Although modern construction has provided other roads down the Red Wall, in the 1890s there were only two ways to get into Hole in the Wall from the East. The easiest route was the one used by the paved road to Barnum following the Middle Fork Powder River. That involved passing through a hole that could be defended by positioning riflemen in the cliffs on either side of the hole. This is the route that was used decades ago as Hole in the Wall for books, stories, and fictional accounts of the outlaws behind the Red Wall. On some older maps, this access is called Hole in the Wall, and the other access is called Outlaw Gap.

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Outlaw Gap is nothing more than a deer trail down the vertical cliffs mostly created by erosion. It's no place for an amateur to practice riding a horse. In modern times, it is the one formally designated as Hole in the Wall. It is located on BLM land but is mostly surrounded by private land. Cabins used by the outlaws were located within sight of this access. Nothing is left of the cabins and the site is on private land.

The easiest way to visit this location is to spend a night at the Willow Creek Ranch. Its website ( explains everything they offer. It is a working guest ranch where visitors can experience the cowboy lifestyle. The Willow Creek Ranch and the designated Hole in the Wall cannot be reached from Barnum without many hours spent on 4x4 trails. Another county road from Kaycee is used to get there.

There is also a hiking trail that can be used to access Hole in the Wall. It begins by using a county road across private land; then enters state-owned land. The state-owned land provides a public access connection between the county road and the BLM land where Hole in the Wall exists. At the end of that county road is a monument marking the first time lawmen entered the outlaw hideout.

Barnum is a ghost town with an abandoned school house and the remains of another building. The Hole in the Wall Campground is located between those two buildings. There are no facilities so campers must be self contained.

There is a BLM campground at Outlaw Cave. Signs point the way from Barnum. The road is too rough for motorhomes or large campers. There were some pop-up campers in there and a few tents. The campground is very nice with shade trees and a hiking trail to the cave. A pit toilet and fire rings are available.

When the Belle Fourche Bank Robbers reached Hole in the Wall, they were told lawmen were preparing an invasion into the hideout looking for them and for rustled cattle. Their hideout could no longer be used as a place to wait for things to cool down. Next month, in part three of the Belle Fourche Bank Robbery, we'll take a trail to Red Lodge, Montana, and the location where the outlaws were captured.

PhotosView Slideshow
PhotosView Slideshow

This log begins in the town of Ekalaka which was established in 1885. Twenty-four-hour gas is available. No attendant.

Restaurant and grocery store open during the day. Reset your trip meter anytime you see 0.0.

Trip Meter - Latitude North - Longitude West - Comments

0.0 - N45 53.4283 - W104 32.8791 - Drive through town to the court house. Turn right. Go one block. Turn left. Reset here.
3.9 - N45 50.7543 - W104 34.5708 - Left onto J.P. Smith Road.
5.7 - N45 49.3932 - W104 33.7679 - Right on faint trail to campsite. There are numerous trails to explore in the area using this for a base camp.

0.0 - N45 49.3932 - W104 33.7679 - Intersection out of campsite. Turn right on FSR 3814.
2.7 - N45 48.3682 - W104 36.4514 - Left on graded road.
4.3 - N45 47.0952 - W104 36.5923 - Right on Powderville Rd.
29.4 - N45 45.1455 - W105 5.3269 - Turn right and cross the bridge.
30.8 - N45 45.5432 - W105 6.9459 - Left at Powderville Post Office.
40.4 - N45 41.1390 - W105 15.0079 - Right fork.
53.1 - N45 36.7234 - W105 24.4168 - Left turn.
64.8 - N45 49.6597 - W104 14.2986 - Turn right toward the ghost town of Mill Iron.

0.0 - N45 26.6862 - W105 24.4166 - This waypoint is the stop sign in the town of Broadus at the post office. Go left one block to the library, then turn right and take Highway 212 out of town.
0.6 - N45 26.6030 - W105 25.1292 - Left on 391.
36.3 - N45 3.3332 - W105 52.7938 - Moorhead Recreation Area. Pit toilet, fire rings, and camping.

33.2 - N44 41.8055 - W106 7.0640 - Cross Highway 14.
36.4 - N44 39.2207 - W106 7.9016 - This is in the town of Arvada at the post office. To get there, follow the street to the right, then at the post office continue straight.

12.7 - N44 29.3956 - W106 8.3296 - Left turn.
33.2 - N44 12.7075 - W106 9.4896 - Turn onto the I-80 east-bound ramp. A rest area and a private campground with country store are located at this interstate highway exit.

2.7 - N44 12.0776 - W106 6.2856 - Take Exit 91 onto Dead Horse Road. Turn right at the bottom of the ramp.
8.5 - N44 8.8300 - W106 7.7316 - Left at T in road. There are too many roads to mention every intersection. We are skipping all the ones that continue straight.
10.7 - N44 8.5162 - W106 5.5970 - Take the right fork.
19.0 - N44 2.9352 - W106 2.4323 - Left turn.
20.5 - N44 1.9647 - W106 1.3695 - Right turn.
23.1 - N43 59.8996 - W106 2.0044 - Right turn and then take the first left.
25.4 - N43 58.1964 - W106 2.9778 - Right turn, then follow the signs for WGR Perla at the next two intersections.
28.7 - N43 56.7672 - W106 4.6111 - Take the left fork.
32.7 - N43 54.3183 - W106 1.8087 - Turn right toward WGR WILLOW CREEK.
34.1 - N43 53.6259 - W106 2.9070 - Take the right fork.
41.0 - N43 49.5820 - W106 5.9850 - Turn right.
43.1 - N43 50.4237 - W106 7.7102 - Take the left fork toward Highway 192 and Casper.
45.2 - N43 50.4183 - W106 10.0883 - Left, then go 0.8 miles and turn right.
60.1 - N43 40.9422 - W106 13.2668 - Right on 192.
83.6 - N43 42.7290 - W106 38.3301 - This is the stop sign in Kaycee, Wyoming. It has campgrounds and motels. Go under I-25 to reach the rest area.

0.0 - N43 43.0000 - W106 38.6214 - At the exit for the rest area in Kaycee, across from the Sinclair station, turn west.
0.7 - N43 43.2240 - W106 39.5171 - Turn left and follow the signs to Barnum.
16.1 - N43 39.6510 - W106 54.3279 - Barnum is at this corner on the right.

An RV campground is directly behind a big rock with Hole in the Wall Campground painted on it. To reach the Outlaw Cave Campground, take the left fork past Barnum. The road is very rough but well marked. It is closed November 16 to April 15.

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