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Off-Road Adventures - The Outlaw Trail Part VII

Posted in Ultimate Adventure on January 18, 2007 Comment (0)
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Off-Road Adventures - The Outlaw Trail Part VII
The site of the original outlaw cabins. The cabins have been replaced by tents.  The area is now used for cookouts and campouts. The site of the original outlaw cabins. The cabins have been replaced by tents. The area is now used for cookouts and campouts.

On June 28, 1897, the Sundance Kid, Kid Curry, Tom Oday, Walt Puteney, and George Curry held up the bank in Belle Fourche, South Dakota. They got away with about $87. Long before the Sundance Kid began riding with Butch Cassidy, he was teamed up with Kid Curry. The two outlaws were a lot alike. Both were very fast and deadly accurate with six-guns. Both shot and killed lawmen as well as others who they considered to be a threat. Most of all, no matter how hard they tried, neither one could plan a successful robbery.

The Hole-in-the-Wall hiking trail begins at the BLM sign. The Hole-in-the-Wall hiking trail begins at the BLM sign.

Harry Longabaugh first became known as the Sundance Kid after spending time in the jail located in Sundance, Wyoming. He had been convicted of stealing a horse and saddle. We have visited with some of the local ranchers in that area. It seems the stories passed down to them from their grandfathers tended to suggest the Sundance Kid was framed by the people he worked for at the VVV Ranch. In any case, after being released from jail, the Sundance Kid wasted no time continuing a life of crime.

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The Belle Fourche Bank was only a short distance from the VVV Ranch and may have been targeted simply because Sundance was familiar with the town. Tom O'Day was sent into Belle Fourche the night before the holdup for the purpose of checking out the vulnerability of the bank and was expected to report back to the rest of the gang. Unfortunately, Tom stopped at the saloon, drank a little too much, and passed out. When Tom did not return, the decision was made to hit the bank anyway. The rest of the gang rode into town and entered the bank early the next morning. They quickly realized they had arrived too early.

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The safe was on a timer and that time had not arrived. Then, someone outside the bank noticed the robbers. Shooting began and the outlaws were forced to make a run for it. Tom came wobbling out of his sleeping spot but was still too drunk to get on his horse. The others left him behind and headed for Hole-in-the-Wall. When the outlaws reached Hole-in-the-Wall, they found it was a powder keg ready to explode. The big ranchers and local lawmen had reached the end of their tolerance for outlaws rustling cattle and taking them into Hole-in-the-Wall. Word was out: They were organizing a posse to clean it out.

While the outlaws were deciding which way to run, a friend came by to warn them of another problem. Apparently, Tom O'Day had been captured in Belle Fourche and had told the lawmen who the rest of the gang was and where they could be found. The outlaws decided they needed money, and a good place to get it would be to make a withdrawal at the bank in Red Lodge, Montana. They camped outside of town to plan the heist. The Sundance Kid and Kid Curry rode into town to get the layout. Unfortunately, the telegraph wires had been busy notifying lawmen about the Belle Fourche robbery and included descriptions of the men involved. They were immediately recognized and rode out of town with a posse close behind.

The road up Hole-in-the-Wall Slope requires high clearance. The road up Hole-in-the-Wall Slope requires high clearance.

In the meantime, plenty was going on at Hole-in-the-Wall. In the movie, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were being chased by a lawman named Joe Lafors. In reality, Lafors was a stock detective who led the first group into Hole-in-the-Wall to round up any cattle wearing brands from ranches outside the hideout. They were met by a band of outlaws and a gunfight broke out. Both sides suffered casualties, but the significant thing is that Hole-in-the-Wall had been breached. It was simply a matter of time before the next posse would come in and then the next until the once famous hideout became nothing more than another series of ranches.

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The cabins used by the outlaws were actually on the Willow Creek Ranch founded by a sheepherder named Kenneth MacDonald in 1882. That was 15 years prior to the Belle Fourche bank robbery and the Lafors roundup. The outlaws' spread consisted of several cabins and a corral located in a low-lying area beside Buffalo Creek. The hideout is not visible from any distance away; however, anyone staying there could climb a short distance to the hilltop behind it and have a view of all the access routes. In addition, anyone escaping on the access route going west could not be seen by anyone coming in on the access route from the east. The reverse is also true. In other words, it is the perfect location for a hideout.

Sheep trailing monument. Sheep trailing monument.

The ranch is now owned by Gene and Sammye Vieh. You can find them at www.willowcreekranch.com. The ranching experience they offer is unique. Their guests truly experience a step back in time. They have taken extra effort to preserve the way of life from the days of the outlaws. Guests who plan to spend some time on the ranch can participate in roundups and other activities. Cookouts are available at the location of the original outlaw cabins. Any guest who stays overnight receives a key for access to the 10-mile ranch road ending at the base of Hole-in-the-Wall.

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We collected one of those keys and drove to the BLM marker for Hole-in-the-Wall. The actual route to the top of Red Wall is a horse trail. Hiking to the rim offers a fantastic view of the surrounding country, but it is a strenuous journey. From the marker, we drove to the site of the outlaw cabins. Nothing is left of them, but Willow Creek Ranch has turned it into a campout and cookout location for those who wish to spend the night there.

From the cabins, we used our key to exit the ranch going up Hole-in-the-Wall Slope. This section is extremely rough and requires good clearance. Although the trail outside the Willow Creek property is open for public access, it is a narrow corridor. All trails branching off that corridor are dead ends. The access does cross property owned by other ranches, so respect the fact that you are being permitted to use that route so long as you obey the postings.

Hazelton Road provides great scenery and wildlife viewing opportunities. Hazelton Road provides great scenery and wildlife viewing opportunities.

The route up Hole-in-the-Wall Slope connects to Hazelton Road at the 2 Cent Ranch. We turned left and used the road to return the key to Willow Creek, then returned to the intersection and took Hazelton Road going north toward the town of Ten Sleep. The scenery along this route is spectacular. It follows the ridge formed by the foothills of the Big Horn Mountain Range. Wildlife along the way includes a variety of hawks, eagles, deer, and antelope.

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The town of Ten Sleep marks a camping site along a trail used by Indians during the 1800s. They measured the distance of a trail by how many nights the journey took. This camp was the tenth night and therefore labeled Ten Sleep. This is a refueling and restocking location for anyone using our route along the Outlaw Trail. There is a campground with showers at the edge of town. From Ten Sleep, we continued north along the Indian Trail. That route is designated as a BLM Backway. It crosses barren country with no facilities until the dinosaur tracks historic site.

Wandering around the site takes a good imagination. The tracks are difficult to distinguish from other markings. In fact, even when looking directly at a designated track, we could not make out enough of it to make a good photo. There are numerous markers with excellent drawings describing the site. Pit toilets and picnic tables are also available.

Red Gulch dinosaur tracks site. Red Gulch dinosaur tracks site.

Continuing north took us to Highway 14 near Greybull. We then followed a gravel road along the banks of the Big Horn River. Before reaching Highway 14A, we came upon the historic ranch site established by Henry Clay Lovell. The nearby town of Lovell is named in his honor. Mr. Lovell is credited with bringing cattle ranching to the area, but the largest industry in the county is now sugar.

The Lovell Homestead has been preserved and is open for public inspection, but watch for rattlesnakes. A brochure is normally available at the gate describing the buildings and the history of the ranch. From Lovell in Wyoming to Belfry in Montana, we continued using backroads across open range and through oil fields. From Belfry to Red Lodge, we used the paved highway.

View Slideshow

At the time the outlaws attempted the robbery in Red Lodge, the primary purpose of the town was to support the coal mining industry. There are historic markers along the highway describing the history of the area. One such marker is beside the remains of the Smith Mine where in 1943 74 men died in Montana's worst mining disaster. That tragedy doomed the mine and some of the smaller towns that supported it.

Red Lodge was originally settled by a band of Crow Indians. They used red clay to paint the council tepee which was called Red Lodge. Some historians claim the area was inhabited long before that by prehistoric man, but of course there are others who disagree. By the time the outlaws rode into town, Red Lodge had been a thriving mining town for more than 10 years. The bank building they intended to rob was only a couple of years old. It still sits on the same corner but is no longer a bank. At the top of the building is the word "Bank" along with the year of construction.

Backroads to the Lovell Ranch. Backroads to the Lovell Ranch.

There are several other buildings stamped with dates from that same time period, including the Pollard Hotel across the street from the bank. The visitor center has brochures providing a walking tour around town for those interested in the history of the area. Stories about the events surrounding the attempted robbery come in a variety of versions. One story supposedly passed down by the lawmen who captured the outlaws seems very unlikely. In that version, the outlaws sent word to the sheriff informing him they were coming into town and he would be best advised to go fishing. Since the outlaws already had one posse on their tails from the Belle Fourche robbery, this version is very difficult to believe.

Another version claims Kid Curry was recognized because he had previously met the sheriff. Since Curry had spent some years ranching in Montana before becoming an outlaw, this version is easier to believe. Of course, the sheriff knew better than to face down two gunslingers like the Sundance Kid and Kid Curry, so they had time to make a run for it while he searched for others to form a posse.

Regardless of how it began, most stories agree that the posse caught up with the outlaws north of Red Lodge. Kid Curry was shot in the arm during the capture. The Sundance Kid and Walt Puteney were captured without a shootout. The outlaws were taken back to Belle Fourche, but the jail had recently burned down (the most popular story is that an incarcerated drunk got cold during the night and started a fire to keep warm), so the outlaws were then taken to Deadwood to await a trial. There are several versions of how they broke out of that jail. Regardless of how it was done, the Deadwood jail could not hold the infamous Sundance Kid and Kid Curry, and they went looking for Butch Cassidy. Maybe they realized bank robbery was a little too complicated for them and they needed someone else to run the operation - someone who could keep them from being captured again.

Coming soon in OFF-ROAD, we follow the Outlaw Trail from Red Lodge to the hideout in the Missouri Breaks of Montana. Join us for a pleasant ride through wide-open country across the state of Montana.

Larry E. Heck is the author and creator of numerous books and videos dating back to 1985. For more information about guided tours, as well as other trails and tales, visit his website at www.lone-writer.com or call (303) 910-7647.

View Slideshow

Hole-in-the-Wall to Red Lodge, Montana. This route begins at the Willow Creek Ranch and extends to Red Lodge, Montana.

Trip Meter Latitude Longitude Notes
0.0 43 25.6092 106 49.4331 Left at tanks at Willow Creek Ranch.
8.9 43 25.5638 106 58.6697 Right on 110.
21.0/0.0 43 30.6834 107 8.7212 Right at triangle intersection. Historic marker in center. This is Hazelton Road.
1.0 43 31.5530 107 8.5402 2 Cent Ranch Road to HITW, outlaw cave, and Kaycee.
6.3/0 43 34.6001 107 8.5556 Middle Fork Campground - pit toilet, picnic area.
13.2 43 44.0995 107 8.1499 Right on 81.
29.5 43 54.8759 107 2.7074 Left.
35.1 43 58.9193 107 4.3616 Left on Rome Hill Road.
55.2 44 3.1949 107 23.5236 Left on Highway 16 to Ten Sleep.
58.7 44 2.0338 107 26.7092 Ten Sleep Museum. Supplies available in town. To continue route, go to west end of town.
0.0 44 2.0532 107 27.0698 Turn north on Cottonwood Street across from RV park.
9.0 44 8.2459 107 32.0705 Turn right on 54.
17.7 44 14.7739 107 36.1649 Hyattville - no gas.
18.2 44 15.1948 107 36.1954 Right turn.
18.5 44 15.4605 107 36.1785 Straight on gravel on Alkali Road.
21.1 44 17.2756 107 37.5216 Right fork on byway.
33.0 44 24.6969 107 33.4201 Left, staying on byway.
48.3/0.0 44 27.8517 107 48.9106 Dinosaur tracks parking on left. Also outhouse. Route is right.
5.2 44 31.1837 107 51.6979 Left onto highway between Mile Posts 10 and 11.
8.3/0 44 31.2214 107 55.4481 Right on Davis Lane after Mile Post 8.
1.1 44 32.2013 107 55.4744 Left. Note warning signs.
4.8 44 32.0966 107 59.7661 Right turn.
6.7 44 33.4953 108 0.7355 Left onto Crystal Creek Road.
17.0 44 41.1816 108 4.4769 Left.
19.4 44 41.4991 108 7.0995 Right fork.
28.7 44 47.8218 108 9.6569 Left on two-track trail going north.
31.1 44 49.7227 108 9.5237 Turn left and follow road around homestead.
31.4 44 49.8717 108 9.5320 Right fork going up hill is highway.
31.7 44 49.9114 108 9.2510 Left on highway between Mile Posts 59 and 60. Drive through Lovell to Cowley.
51.0/0.0 44 53.0218 108 28.1563 Right on Division Street in Cowley. Watch for airport sign.
1.6 44 54.4322 108 27.9387 Left onto gravel road.
3.6 44 54.8088 108 29.9232 Right turn.
4.7 44 54.8896 108 31.1504 Left turn.
5.2 44 54.4555 108 31.1658 Right turn.
8.0 44 54.4611 108 34.4837 Right turn.
14.2 44 {{{57}}}.9620 108 37.2893 Right to pass through town of Frannie.
14.4 44 58.1582 108 37.3013 Left at post office.
26.4 44 58.3703 108 50.3189 Right turn, then immediate left fork.
30.9 45 0.0000 108 54.0473 Montana border.
43.7 45 9.5940 108 57.8953 Left on Dutch Lane.
45.7/0.0 45 9.5960 109 0.3510 Left on 72.
1.5 45 8.5079 109 0.6759 Town of Belfry. Take right fork. Highway 308.
16.1 45 10.4382 109 15.0118 Right on 212. Red Lodge.

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