Part III: The Book Cliff Trail
On Thursday night, April 22, 1897, the day after pulling off the most daring daylight robbery in Utah history, Butch Cassidy and his companions were resting easy on Robbers Roost. They had $7,000 in gold to spend but the only way to spend it on Robbers Roost was to gamble with each other. They needed to stay away from nearby towns until the posses gave up and went home.
A writer for the Sun Advocate newspaper wrote, "It is admitted that they are now as safe as though they had been swallowed up by the earth."
No one knew how many outlaws called Robbers Roost their home, but stories about their number grew every time they were told. If the truth had been known, the lawmen in that one posse probably outnumbered the outlaws on Robbers Roost two to one.
No one liked Robbers Roost. Water holes were few and far between. They were nearly impossible for anyone to find without guidance from someone who had already been shown where to look. The summer heat was deadly and the winters were extremely harsh. Getting onto the Roost from the north involved crossing 40 miles of open desert. Although anyone's disappearance was attributed to outlaws, it is more likely they died from exposure to the environment.
One writer claimed shady ladies from Green River heard about all the money taken to the Roost. They loaded a buckboard wagon and headed south. There was no doubt they could get some of that gold away from lonely outlaws hiding out in a place where there was nothing to do.
Our reference for the following information is The Outlaw Trail written by Charles Kelly in 1938. For sake of argument, we will assume the story he tells about the long ride to Brown's Hole from Robbers Roost came from sources still living after the events took place. With that assumption, the tale goes something like this:
By mid July, the outlaws had used up their patience. It was time to party. If they could make it to the Wyoming/Colorado border they would be safe among the Powder Springs Gang lead by old man Bender. Cassidy's Wild Bunch saddled up and headed north. They used the crossing at Green River and probably even rode through town in defiance of the lawmen there. After the crossing, they climbed into the Book Cliffs and used its rough terrain for cover as they rode to Thompson Canyon. They used an Indian trail to reach the top of the Book Cliffs. Once on top, they cut across lands now within the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation. They passed through the town of Ouray, then through Vernal, and finally used the Grouse Canyon access into Brown's Hole. No doubt they stopped at Jarvie's Outpost at the edge of Brown's Hole to get the latest news. That trip took five days on horseback. One day later they were in Powder Springs.
For this part of our series, Lone Writer began in the quiet community of Green River. It had been established at a point where the Green River could most easily be crossed for hundreds of miles in either direction. When the Wild Bunch passed through, it had already boomed once with the arrival of the railroad and had declined when the railroad moved its operations to another city. Even with that decline, it thrived as a river-crossing town.
There were other boom years based on uranium mining and oil, but one boom few people are aware of came in the 1960s. Green River became the base for the White Sands Missile Range annex. More than 100 missiles were fired from this range during the development of long-range nuclear weapons. The old bunkers are especially attractive, but watch for rattlesnakes hiding in the shadows.