Part II: Two Tracks over the Oregon Trail
Butch Cassidy and Elzy Lay walked into the Montpelier Bank to make a withdrawal while Bob Meeks waited outside with the horses. The day was August 13. The 13th deposit of the day had just been completed. The amount of the deposit was $13. The time was 3:13 pm. The bank teller who was shoved up against the wall by Elsie Lay said 13 was the cause of it all.
The first deputy to chase the outlaws did so on a bicycle. Another deputy caught up to him with horses and the chase continued, but the outlaws were long gone.
In the meantime, Matt Warner was locked up in Ogden, Utah, on the charge of murder. On May 7, 1896, he killed three men in a gunfight. According to him, the other three started it (see Part I of this series in our July issue).
Cassidy had only been out of prison since January 19. This robbery put him back in the saddle again. His decision to return to his old ways might have been influenced by the fact that he did not have money to help Matt with lawyers. After visiting his own lawyer in Rock Springs, Wyoming, he believed the only way to rescue Matt from the hangman’s noose was to come up with a lot of cash very quickly.
Lone Writer and Happy Jack decided it would be fun to look for a trail Cassidy might have used in getting from Rock Springs to Montpelier, Idaho. The most obvious choice for the outlaws would have been the Sublette Cutoff for the Oregon Trail. It was well established, easy riding, and was no longer in use.
The Oregon Trail was established by fur traders. The first documented use was in 1811. The first wagon train used the trail in 1836. From that time on, thousands of travelers used that route across the nation. Its use ended when the last spike was driven for the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869.
Lone Writer and Happy Jack were driving two brand new Nissan Xterras. They were both Pro-4X models with factory-equipped lockers and all the comforts of home. The most important feature for this trip turned out to be the air-conditioning. The trail was so dusty, the windows had to be kept tightly closed and the AC set for circulating inside air. That dust was a very fine powder that exploded into a cloud as the tires rolled through it.
The Oregon Trail crosses Highway 191 about 53 miles north of Rock Springs, Wyoming. The DeLorme Topo North America mapping program has the route plotted so finding it was a simple matter of laying the Earthmate GPS on the dash, connecting it to the laptop, and following the yellow arrow on the screen. The existing road follows closely to the original wagon trail but the exact path varied by a lot in those days. To avoid traveling in the lead wagon’s dust, the wagons would fan out while crossing wide flattened areas such as Sublette Flats. The current road we used and the route displayed in the mapping software are both in the general area and not on an exact wagon track.