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Castlegate - The Getaway

Posted in Events on November 1, 2010
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The headline in the Sun Advocate newspaper on Thursday, April 22, 1897, appeared in large black letters: "BOLD OUTLAWS GET $7,000 IN GOLD."

Wednesday, April 21, 1897
April 21, 1897, in Castlegate, Utah, started like any other Wednesday for the Pleasant Valley Coal Company. Day shift miners were deep underground digging for coal and everyone who worked above ground was busy carrying out their daily duties.

As usual, the Rio Grande passenger train No. 2 arrived at noon. Among its cargo was the company payroll consisting of two bags of silver, one bag of gold, and a satchel with some paper money. The company paymaster and a deputy clerk took possession of the bags and headed for the company office. As they approached the building, Butch Cassidy stepped in front of them and pointed a gun at the paymaster's face. The deputy saw the gun and ran for cover taking a bag of silver with him.

Cassidy took the other bags and handed them to his partner, Elsie Lay, who was mounted on a horse nearby. Lay immediately turned his horse to leave but lost the reins of a second horse. Cassidy grabbed its reins but had trouble getting into the saddle as the horse tried to follow Lay.

Although dozens of armed men watched the entire process, it happened so suddenly and unexpectedly, no one did anything to stop the outlaws.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010
One hundred thirteen years after the robbery took place, Lone Writer stood beside the historic marker reading the story from the 1897 newspaper (a copy of that newspaper story can be found at under the Outlaw Trail tab). The story goes into great detail about the incidents following the time after the money changed hands. As with most news stories that are hurriedly written to meet a deadline, it does not agree on every point that has become historically accepted.

For example, it never names Elsie Lay. It also fails to mention a third outlaw even though there is no doubt Cassidy and Lay had help by at least one other partner. The paper says the outlaws cut the wire after leaving town but that would have been too late. The telegraph would have already been sent.

Cutting the telegraph wires bought the outlaws a little time but not as much as they wanted. They expected Castlegate to send a rider to get a posse together in Price. Instead, the paymaster and the train engineer disconnected the engine loose from the rest of the cars. The unloaded engine charged ahead at full speed reaching Price before the outlaws. Fortunately for Cassidy and Lay, the time it took to form a posse was enough for them to get past the small town to the point where the first relay of horses was waiting. It is likely that another partner in their crime was tending that relay.

Wednesday, April 21, 1897
By 2 p.m., a posse had been formed in Price and began the long chase. Telegraphs had been sent to the towns of Huntington, Castle Dale, and Cleveland, in an attempt to find others who would head off the outlaws. At 4 p.m., a mail carrier saw the outlaws racing across the desert near Cleveland although he was not aware of the robbery. A short time later that same carrier came upon the posse and told them the outlaws were only a few miles ahead of them.

Posse's from Huntington and Castle Dale each joined the chase, hoping to cut the outlaws off from Robbers Roost by beating them to Buckhorn Wash. The Castle Dale posse was the first to arrive and set up an ambush at a point where the canyon narrows. When riders came into view, the Castle Dale posse opened fire but soon realized they were shooting at the Huntington posse. Obviously, the outlaws had already passed through the canyon.

PhotosView Slideshow

Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Lone Writer stayed on the highway through Price and down Highway 10 to the turn for Cleveland. The path he took would vary a lot from the one taken by the outlaws but in those days the country was wide open. From Cleveland, the graded dirt road is a somewhat direct course to Buckhorn Wash. When the mail carrier saw the outlaws, they were in a hurry to reach the wash ahead of anyone who might want to cut them off so it is not likely they made any moves that would consume time.

The newspaper story claims the outlaws had fresh horses at Cedar Mountain. Stories passed down through generations put one change on the outskirts of Price and another at Mexican Mountain. There is no way to know what actually happened but Cedar Mountain would have been off course for outlaws desperate to reach Buckhorn Wash before the Castle Dale posse did.

Upon entering Buckhorn Wash, Lone Writer shifted into tourist mode. The first stop was a historic marker for the Morrison Knudsen Tunnels. The next stops had no markers for the dinosaur footprint or the Cattle Guard Rock Art but both have well worn paths to lead the way. Although the rock art retains the name, the cattle guard has long since been removed.

There is no marker for the Matt Warner artwork left in 1920 but it fits the outlaw theme. The first bank robbery Butch Cassidy participated in was in Telluride, Colorado. He did so under the guidance of Matt Warner. Several years later, Warner was arrested for another crime and spent time in prison. After serving his time, he settled down and became a lawman. Some say he wasn't very good at capturing outlaws but there might have been a good reason for that.

After more rock art and a picnic area, the road exits Buckhorn Wash and crosses the San Rafael River. A dead end road going north from the main road leads to a trailhead for Mexican Mountain. Some versions of the getaway claim Cassidy and Lay got fresh horses at that point and then cut cross-country to Black Dragon Canyon. We cannot go to Mexican Mountain these days because environmentalists succeeded in closing the road many years ago. On the other hand, we can get to Black Dragon Canyon by taking the main road to Sinkhole Flats.

The trail through Black Dragon Canyon is difficult for a vehicle that has not been modified. Lone Writer had to move some rocks to get through. In several places, the washouts are very deep and it is possible to get a vehicle in the position where both bumpers are hung on rocks and the wheels are off the ground (i.e. high-centered).

The guardian of Black Dragon Canyon is the Black Dragon himself. He is frozen in time on the side of the canyon in typical rock art fashion. He has a beautiful view of the canyon from his perch and some have speculated there is a time when he will come to life and wreak havoc on those who dare to deface his lair.

One week after the 1897 robbery, the Sun Advocate newspaper wrote a follow up story about the getaway. It speculated the outlaws passed through Black Dragon Canyon and crossed the San Rafael River. It claimed they camped on lands within the Tidwell Ranch on Wednesday night after their long ride from Castlegate. The land on the opposite side of the river from Black Dragon is now called Tidwell Bottoms and may have been the location of that ranch land.

Lone Writer followed the trail to the point where it connected to I-70 and used that bridge to cross the river. Once on the other side, he found a campsite on the hilltop above Tidwell Bottoms. As with the outlaws, it had been a long day. The next day would follow dirt roads to the Cassidy hideout on Robbers Roost. But that's another story.

PhotosView Slideshow


Castlegate to Black Dragon
The following position was taken at the historic marker for the Castlegate robbery between mile posts 229 and 230.

Trip Meter / Latitude (N) / Longitude (W) / Comments

0.0 / N39 43.9361 / W110 52.2514 / Historic marker for the Castlegate robbery. April 21, 1897. Between mile posts 229 and 230. When leaving go back to Price on Hwy 6/191 to the exit for Hwy 10 South.

Take Highway 10 south from Price. Between mile posts 56 and 57, turn east on SR 155 toward Cleveland, UT.

0.0 / N39 25.9735 / W110 52.0380 / Turn east off Hwy 10 and onto SR 155 to Cleveland. Continue straight through Cleveland stop sign onto County Road 204, which is Center Street.
7.3 / N39 19.6287 / W110 50.9175 / Left at stop sign.
7.5 / N39 19.5361 / W110 50.6211 / Right on Dinosaur Quarry Road. Pavement ends.
10.9 / N39 17.3759 / W110 48.9113 / Right at sign for Buckhorn Draw.
12.9 / N39 15.6431 / W110 49.3345 / Left at intersection.
19.3 / N39 10.5505 / W110 47.4786 / Left turn. Sign says Buckhorn Wash is 2 miles. By this time the outlaws had gone 41.8 miles. The posse from Castle Dale did not beat them here.
21.6 N39 10.2535 / W110 45.0751 / Turn right onto Buckhorn Wash Road. Reset Trip meter.

0.9 / N39 9.9307 / W110 44.1231 / Knudsen historic marker. Somewhere near this point, the posse from Castle Dale set up an ambush for the outlaws.
1.5 / N39 9.6639 / W110 43.7742 / Hiking path on left goes to dinosaur footprint.
N39 9.634 / W110 43.754 / Footprint.
2.3 / N39 9.2856 / W110 43.2308 / Hiking Path to Buckhorn Cattleguard Pictographs. Cattleguard is now gone.
4.1 / N39 8.2435 / W110 42.2075 / Matt Warner signature.
5.5 / N39 7.4037 / W110 41.6364 / Buckhorn Pictograph Panel. Picnic area with pit toilets.
9.2 / N39 4.9787 / W110 39.8506 / Pit toilets and campsites are available here.
0.0 / At this point, the outlaws had run about 53 miles from Castlegate. They were ahead of the posse. Reset your trip meter and continue across the bridge.

The road going left is the dead end road to Mexican Mountain. The outlaws took that route following the San Rafael River but environmentalists closed that road many years ago. We must continue straight to connect to the river near Black Dragon Canyon.

13.2 / N38 55.7862 / W110 36.0741 / Left turn across Sinkhole Flat. Reset trip meter.
1.6 / N38 55.0002 / W110 34.5135 / Left fork.
4.3 / N38 56.4737 / W110 32.9766 / Right fork.
6.0 / N38 56.4748 / W110 31.2634 / Left Fork.
6.5 / N38 56.8352 / W110 31.1240 / Right at sign for Black Dragon Canyon.
13.1 / N38 56.5659 / W110 25.4890 / Parking for Black Dragon Rock Art.
13.7 / N38 56.2396 / W110 25.1256 / Right turn into wash. Follow main route to I-70.
14.8 / N38 55.5214 / W110 25.0217 / Connects to I-70 by going through at this gate. You are at mile post 147 on I-70. Fuel and supplies are available in Green River at exit 158.

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