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Exerter Creek Crossing - The Outlaw Trail Part IX

Jeep Rear Exerter Creek
Larry E. Heck | Writer
Posted December 1, 2007

Exeter Creek Train Robbery

About mid-May of 1901, Kid Curry and Ben Kilpatrick stepped off the train in Lewistown, Montana. They were on their way to meet other members of the Wild Bunch. There was still a lot of planning to do before they would rob the Great Northern train at the Exeter Creek Crossing.

Historians disagree as to which outlaws participated in the robbery. The Outlaw Trail book by Charles Kelley and Kid Curry by Bruce Lamb both claim Butch Cassidy did most of the planning and that the Sundance Kid boarded the train in Malta, Montana, with Kid Curry. It seems unlikely that Kid Curry would give Cassidy the credit for making those plans if it was not true. Curry was a braggart and always put himself in the leadership role when telling his stories.

On the other hand, many historians claim Cassidy and Sundance were already in South America. They argue that tickets and hotel rooms were purchased using aliases known to be those of the two outlaws. In those days, outlaws and wanna-be outlaws changed names as often as they changed clothes. It is possible that other people were using the aliases or even the real names of Cassidy and Sundance. It's also possible that Kid Curry was lying and that Cassidy and Sundance were not involved in the Exeter Creek Robbery. Another possibility is that Cassidy and Sundance went to South America and returned because they needed more money to purchase the ranch they wanted down there. Nothing can be proved beyond dispute. For this story, Lone Writer chose to use the Kid Curry version.

The road to Winifred, Montana.

Lewistown was familiar territory for Kid Curry. Before becoming an outlaw, he and his brothers ran cattle throughout the area and even had their own ranch headquarters near Landusky.

Ben Kilpatrick often rode with Kid Curry but had never been to Montana. He got a geography lesson as the two outlaws rode west for the crossing of the Missouri River on the Cow Island Ferry.

The Cow Island Ferry was one of several busy crossings until the modern-day bridge was built in 1959. Although it was referred to by that name, it was actually a short distance downriver from the island. The actual location of Cow Island provides a more shallow crossing and was used by drovers moving their cattle from one side of the river to the other.

Lone Writer spent the night in Lewistown and had breakfast at the 4 Aces Caf. On other trips, he camped in the Judith Mountains nearby. The mountains provide terrific views of the surrounding country, but it takes a little longer to get there. It is also a bad place to be during storms, and the whole area was having a dandy storm that night.

The town of Winifred.

Leaving Lewistown behind, Lone Writer followed paved roads for a few miles then turned onto county roads that went cross-country to the town of Winifred. Rains the previous night had left the roads very slippery. Within a short time, the wheelwells of the Jeep were packed with mud. The odometer readings for this part of the trip may be high due to frequently spinning tires.

Winifred did not exist when the outlaws passed through. It was founded in 1913 as a railroad town. It is now a very small supply point for nearby ranches: Gas, food, and other basics are available. It's a good idea to top off gas tanks in Winifred since there isn't another opportunity until Malta. The gas station is open during normal business hours, Monday through Saturday. Nearby bars also have tasty sandwiches to take along.

Lone Writer left Winifred about noon and took the gravel road with the sign for D-Y Trail. That trail leads to the Cow Island Ferry crossing. The first section is a major gravel road classified as "all-weather" by the BLM. It consists of mostly level and gently rolling lands that provide no indication of the wild country ahead. There are numerous ranch homes along the way.

Eventually, the gravel surface gives way to dirt, which can be impassible when wet. The grassy lands lead into lightly forested areas, and the hills become much more prominent. There are some intersections, but the correct choice is always the D-Y Trail. Eventually, one intersection takes the D-Y Trail radically downhill on a winding, seldom-used dirt road. That road leads to the banks of the Missouri River where the Cow Island Ferry had its docking ramps.

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