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Poison Spring Canyon

Poison Spring Canyon
Larry E. Heck | Writer
Posted November 20, 2013

Looking for Outlaw Rock Art

The one subject Lone Writer is best known for is the Outlaw Trail. He has spent hundreds of hours over 30 years following the trails outlaws used before and after holdups of banks and trains. One reader suggested he is an old soul who lived on earth during another life spanning the 1890s, and this other life was spent either chasing the outlaws or riding with them. Lone Writer's vivid imagination can easily relate to such a theory. In any case, he spends a lot of his time researching and visiting the trails and hideouts used by the Wild Bunch. Every clue and every lead eventually is investigated.

The latest clue came from a retired rancher named Denzel. "I used to be a rancher running cattle in Poison Spring Canyon. I know where there is a Butch Cassidy signature that just might be original." That was all it took to send Lone Writer back into the Utah desert.

During the early 1800s, Poison Spring Canyon was a main route for rustlers getting cattle and horses on and off Robbers' Roost. At the end of the century, rustlers were replaced by those who robbed banks and trains. They used Robbers' Roost as a sanctuary from the law. They created a notion that the hideout was populated by hundreds of thieves, gunfighters, and outlaws. Lawmen truly believed sending a posse onto Robbers' Roost would be sending them into the jaws of death.

Lone Writer and some of his other pals met Denzel in Hanksville on a sunny morning in May. Denzel took the lead and the group was soon driving along the floor of Poison Spring Canyon. Lone Writer and his pals had been there dozens of times over the past three decades but none of them knew canyon the way Denzel knew it. During his younger years, he lived in the canyon for days at a time searching every nook and cranny for maverick cattle. He told many stories about his mother, father, and brother including some near death experiences as they endured the desert heat and even flash floods herding their cattle in and out of the canyon.

Along the way, the group stopped to visit some rock art on the canyon wall. It was far enough off the trail to be hidden from anyone who was not looking for it. There were three such panels within a short drive of each other. Another side canyon led to Poison Spring Cave. Reaching it involved some climbing, which was a challenge for Lone Writer's arthritic knees. The cave is about the size of a small apartment and appears to have been used for that purpose in the past.

Driving down the canyon is a pleasant cruise. High rock walls carved out over millions of years by the quietly flowing creek at the floor of the canyon provide a feeling of isolation. Those walls of rock are made of many colors and a variety of minerals. There are also trees, brush, and flowers decorating the canyon floor. In the fall, aspen groves fill some areas with a golden glow.

Denzel stopped at a campsite where Lone Writer's old travel club (Pass Patrol) had spent many nights back in the 1990s. Anyone who has a copy of Larry Heck's guidebook titled In Search of the Outlaw Trail has seen this campsite listed in the navigation logs. All the books in the series, called the Adventures of Pass Patrol, are no longer in print but can sometimes be found online. New stories about the Outlaw Trail are frequently added to We ask you to visit that site and like us on Facebook.

When Denzel stepped out of his vehicle, he had a big smile on his face. "You're gonna kick yourself when you see where this signature is. Your tent was right around the corner from it." Denzel had read Lone Writer's book and knew the history of Pass Patrol.

At the outside edge of the campsite, a huge rock stood alone near the south wall of the canyon. On the backside of that rock some signatures were carved into the surface. The signatures were weather worn and had obviously been there for a very long time. Due to the color of the rock, they were not instantly visible at first glance. One of those signatures was dated 1869 with the initials "S.J." When S.J. carved his name into the rock, Butch Cassidy was only 3 years old.


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