The Montpelier Bank Robbery
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.
On the first day of this journey, Happy Jack learned about the automatic door locks on his Xterra. He left the keys in the car and the doors locked tight when he got out. The only choice we had was to break out a back window to get in. There are a lot of cars designed these days with doors that lock automatically. The Xterra is one of them. For us old timers with many years of bad habits, it would be nice if there was a way to turn that feature off.
Along the way, we came across the grave of Lucinda B. Wright. She was originally Lucinda Watt from Kentucky born in 1806. Her first marriage was in 1924 to James Birchfield. They moved to McLean County, Illinois, and had three children. James died in 1835. Lucinda then married Thomas H. Wright in 1836 and had four more children. In 1853 the family began their long journey along the Oregon Trail. In June of that year, Lucinda died and was buried in a shallow grave at this location. She was 47 years old.
The 50-mile route covered in this story crosses very isolated lands. There are no services along the way. It is highly recommended not to travel alone. Always carry enough water and food in case you end up camping in one spot for a few days. It is a good idea to let someone know where to look for you. The road is not difficult for an experienced backcountry traveler in a 4x4 but there is plenty of opportunity to get into trouble. Much of the trail is two-track with dry brush growing between the tracks. Lone Writer once had an Isuzu that caught fire when that brush got caught between the skidplate and the catalytic converter. That was not a good day.
The road is occasionally used by ranchers and hunters, but it might be many days between those visits. Cell phone service is non-existent on much of the route. Getting stuck alone on this trail in bad weather could result in another grave marker beside the one of Lucinda Wright.
Traveling the Sublette Cutoff is an excellent way to get a feeling of what it might have been like traveling from Kansas City to Oregon in the 1830s. The people in that first wagon train left their lives behind and ventured into the unknown where survival challenges occurred every day. The only people they might have encountered along the way were Indians they could not communicate with.
A short time after the bank robbery, two high-priced lawyers arrived at the jail house to visit Matt Warner. They represented him in the trial and saved him from the hangman. He served three years in prison. A few years later he served as justice of the peace and as a deputy. The book about his life is difficult to find but fun to read.
References used for this story include The Last of the Bandit Riders written by Murray E. King and narrated by Matt Warner, The Outlaw Trail written by Charles Kelley, and several website references on the Internet. The Xterra Pro-4X driven by Lone Writer was provided by Nissan. Tires are provided by BFGoodrich. GPS and mapping software is provided by DeLorme. For more information, visit www.lone-writer.com.
|Navigation: GPS Positions|
|Historic markers have been placed along much of this trail to help make the correct turns while navigating. Some of the markers consist of wooden posts and others are made of concrete. The following navigation has been condensed to waypoints. If you are not traveling with a GPS, contact Lone Writer for detailed odometer readings.|
|N42° 14.0843||W109° 27.8566||The Oregon Trail crosses Highway 191 at this point. Turn off the highway on the existing road going west.|
|N42° 14.6334||W109° 36.4618||Using this as a waypoint will help keep you going in the right direction. When in doubt, continue going west.|
|N42° 15.8639||W109° 48.1204||This waypoint is on the west side of Eighteen Mile Canyon. Getting across the canyon is not difficult but does involve some turns.|
|N42° 15.7682||W109° 50.3545||This waypoint is on the west side of another canyon but we did not find a name for it. We chose the right fork to get across but you might find another you like better.|
|N42° 15.6087||W109° 54.9898||Crossing Hunt Road required going north a short distance, then going back west at this waypoint.|
|N42° 14.5946||W110° 0.5659||Getting to the gravesite requires a short side trip to this waypoint. The grave is on the original trail but the current road passes on the north side of it.|
|N42° 15.5913||W110° 1.9290||We turned south on County Line Road. You can use it to get to the crossing for the Green River. We did not do that.|
|N42° 14.6238||W110° 2.8365||We turned right at this intersection.|
|N42° 14.0090||W110° 5.5454||We turned left.|
|N42° 13.7498||W110° 5.8760||We used this narrow two-track road to descend the canyon wall.|
|N42° 11.5609||W110° 9.7328||This is the waypoint for the bridge crossing the Green River. From there, connect to Highway 189 and make the rest of the journey on pavement.|