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Cover Story June 2, 2005


  by lyle e davis

by lyle e davis

 

It is perhaps appropriate that a lot of western history is full of BS . . . that ingredient that most every cowboy is famliar with.

 

In today’s look at the past, we shed some light on what was accurate, what wasn’t, and those areas that are unclear as to what did or didn’t happen.

 

Most of us are familiar with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid . . . primarily from the movie starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford.  Much of that movie is simply not accurate . . . though entertaining.

 

Others of us are familiar with a television series in the 1970’s known as “Alias Smith and Jones.”  The “Jones” part of this pair, Thaddeus Jones,  was loosely, very loosely, based on Kid Curry . . . whose real name was Harvey Logan.  Supposedly, at least in the tv series, Kid Curry was a carefree reformed outlaw, who only turned violent when he needed to protect himself.

 

Well, most of that is a prime example of where the BS begins.

 

Kid Curry would associate himself with “The Wild Bunch.”  But it didn’t start out that way.  He was an honest kid, a good cowboy, a hard worker . . . but he had a bit of a temper. 

 

He wasn’t a big guy.  Only stood about 5’7 1/2”, weighed between 146 and 160 . . . was dark complected and it is said he spoke slowly.

 

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were the principal players of “The Wild Bunch.” Exactly when Butch and Sundance first met is unknown, but both belonged to a loose-knit outlaw gang that operated in the Rocky Mountain West in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The gang was known by numerous names, “The Hole in the Wall Gang,” “The Robber’s Roost Gang,” and “The Train Robber’s Syndicate.”  Today, the group is usually called the Wild Bunch,  Yet it is said the Kid Curry was the wildest of “the Wild Bunch.”

 

The earliest recorded reference to the gang as the Wild Bunch -- slang for a group of cowboys on a spree, a herd of unbroken horses, or a band of outlaws -- came in a November 1902 memorandum from the Pinkerton Detective Agency to the American Bankers Association. By then, ironically, the gang had all but ceased to exist.

 

Some of his contemporaries viewed the real Kid Curry as a hard worker. Ranch bosses Granville Stuart, Robert Coburn, and Samuel Hansen certainly respected him as a good cowhand. Women who knew him described Curry as a caring and generous man. But history records yet another story. Once on the run from the law, Kid Curry was an outlaw for the rest of his life.

 

He was born Harvey Alexander Logan in Iowa in 1867. In 1876, at age nine, his mother died. Harvey and his three brothers Hank, Johnie, and Lonny went to live with their Aunt Lee in Dodson, Missouri.

 

Until at least 1883, Harvey was making an honest living breaking horses for the Cross L outfit near Big Spring, Texas. Then he rode with a trail herd bound for Pueblo, Colorado. Soon after arriving in Pueblo, Harvey got into a minor saloon brawl. It was his first incident of trouble.

 

After a quick departure from Pueblo, Logan arrived at Hole-in-the-Wall, Wyoming, a place then already known as an outlaw hideout. While there, Harvey met Flat Nose George Curry. It was from George that Harvey adopted his new last name. They had called him Kid in Texas, so when he took George's name he became Kid Curry. Lonny and Johnnie Logan, following the lead of their older brother, also adopted the last name of Curry.  Later, he would work for a number of other area ranchers.

 

He, his brother Hank, and friend Jim Thornhill bought a ranch at Rock Creek in Chouteau County, Montana. Powell "Pike" Landusky was a local prospector who had made a rich strike near the Curry ranch and a town had built up around the site of the mine.

 

This time is when Kid Curry went from ordinary, hard working cowboy to legendary outlaw. 

 

The generally accepted story is that Landusky got angry when he discovered that the Kid had been courting his daughter Elfie. He felt that the Kid was a ne'er-do-well and not near good enough for his daughter.

 

Pike Landusky filed assault charges against the Kid and he was arrested. Curry's friends, A.S. Lohman and Frank Plunkett, paid the $500 bond for Curry's release. The Kid got out of jail, but the charge was never dropped and he never stood trial. Elfie would later claim that it had been the Kid's brother Lonny she had been seeing.

 

Kid Curry promised to give Pike a beating for the humiliation he had suffered. On the night of December 27, 1894, the Kid caught up with Landusky in a local saloon. An altercation followed, in which Harvey threw the first punch. Once the Kid's anger was aroused, there was no stopping him. He beat Landusky until the man could no longer stand. Landusky was in bad shape when he drew his gun. The Kid was unarmed, but his friend Thornhill quickly gave the Kid his gun. Landusky fired first, but he missed Curry or maybe his gun misfired. The Kid fired back, killing Landusky. At the inquest, eleven people verified that Kid Curry killed Pike Landusky in self-defense.

 

The Kid knew that he faced an unfriendly judge named Debois. Pike Landusky had many friends in the area and Kid Curry had started the fight. Curry felt that he didn't stand much of a chance for a fair trial, so he hit the trail and became a fugitive from justice.

 

Kid Curry fled to Hole-in-the-Wall, Wyoming, to hide out. At first he joined the Black Jack Ketchum band. While riding with Black Jack, the Kid heard that a rancher named James Winters, who lived near the Landusky ranch, had been spying on him.

 

So in January 1896, the Kid and brothers Lonny and Johnnie rode to Winter's ranch to shut him up. The adventure misfired and in the shootout, Winters killed Johnnie. Harvey and Lonny managed to escape.

 

Making one more attempt to stay on the right side of the law, Kid Curry and his cousin Bob Lee hired on as horse breakers at Frank Lamb's FL Bar ranch near Sand Gulch, Colorado.

 

But, in June 1897, the Kid and his gang decided to hold up the Butte County Bank at Belle Fourche, South Dakota. He and his friends got the money with little resistance, but the townspeople captured Tom O'Day. His horse had run away without him.

 

The others got away, but while planning another robbery a posse caught up with Curry in Fergus County, Montana. While packing his horse, the Kid was shot in the wrist. Then his horse was shot out from under him. Finally the posse captured the Kid, Flat Nose George Curry, and Walt Putney. The jail at Deadwood, South Dakota became home, until they broke out by overpowering the jailer.

 

After the escape, the men headed back to Montana, stealing horses and supplies along the way. Lawmen found them in the Bearpaw Mountains and there was a gunfight. The posse recovered the stolen goods and horses, but the gang got away on foot. They robbed two post offices on their way to the Hole-in-the-Wall.

 

Later that winter a posse went to the Hole and instigated a shootout with the outlaws when they caught up with the Curry gang. But the 30 or 40 outlaws who were at the hideout were well protected by the terrain and the structures they had built, so the posse finally gave up the fight.

 

The robbers from the Belle Fourche Bank holdup were never punished.

 

The Kid was riding with the Wild Bunch when, on June 2, 1899, they robbed the Union Pacific Overland Flyer train near Wilcox, Wyoming.

 

When the outlaws ordered the attendant, a man named Woodcock, to open the express car he refused, so the bandits were forced to blow the door open. Woodcock was knocked out by the force of the blast, so he was too dazed to remember the combination to the safe. So the outlaws blew the safe door open. The Kid was all for shooting the attendant for his obstinance, but Butch Cassidy held him back. From that point on, Cassidy was constantly having to hold back the Kid's more violent nature. Butch himself was only interested in stealing money and not in hurting anybody they robbed.

 

Posses were formed immediately.

 

During the escape attempt, the Kid shot Sheriff Joe Hazen. This stopped the posse long enough for the Wild Bunch to wade down a stream to throw the posse off their trail.

 

The race continued. More lawmen joined the hunt. This time the bad guys won by reaching the Hole-in-the-Wall before the new posse could catch them. Once they were at the Hole-in-the-Wall, they were in "bad men's" land and among friends.

 

Charles Siringo, a Pinkerton detective, was now assigned the task of bringing Kid Curry to justice. He made friends with Elfie Landusky Curry; she called herself Curry after acknowledging that Lonny Curry had got her pregnant, to get close to the Kid. He used the names of Charles L. Carter and passed himself off as an outlaw so he could get in with the bad element. Siringo also became friends with Jim Thornhill, because he believed Jim had been keeping regular correspondence with the Kid. Siringo told his superiors that he was now on the right track.

 

While Siringo was snooping out Curry's whereabouts, Curry was laying low at Robber's Roost in Utah. After awhile he got restless and rode to Alma, New Mexico, with Butch Cassidy and some other outlaws. There the men worked as ranch hands on the WS ranch. The foreman and manager were very happy with the Wild Bunch's work since the rustling stopped while they were employed at the ranch.

 

On July 11, 1899, while still working at the WS ranch, Kid Curry, Elza Lay, and Sam Ketchum robbed a train near Folsom, New Mexico. Lay and Ketchum were later captured, but the wounded Ketchum died, of blood poisoning, before he could stand trial. Lay was sentenced to life for the murder of the pursuing sheriff.

 

In January 1900, following the Folsom train robbery, Lonny Curry went to his aunt's house in Missouri. Soon afterwards some marked bills from the Wilcox train robbery were spent in town.

 

Lawmen came to Mrs. Lee's cabin on February 28, 1900, to arrest Lonny, but he wasn't going to be arrested without a fight. An officer killed Lonny in the resulting shootout.

 

While hiding out, the Kid heard of the death of his brother, Lonny, and vowed to get revenge. He had also heard of the killing of Flat Nose George Curry by lawmen in Moab County, Utah, in April 1900. The Kid rode to Utah, from New Mexico, and killed Sheriff John Tyler and Deputy Sheriff Sam Jenkins in a shootout.

 

Anther Union Pacific train was robbed near Tipton, Wyoming, on August 29, 1900. The train crew identified Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid, and Kid Curry as part of the gang.

 

To elude the law, the Bunch split up. Kid Curry and Ben Kilpatrick hid out at Hell's Half Acre in Fort Worth, Texas, while Butch Cassidy, Sundance Kid, and Bill Carver went out immediately and pulled another job at Winnemucca, Nevada. By then Butch and Sundance were planning to go to South America and still needed some extra money to get them there.

 

After the Winnemucca job, Kid Curry and Ben Kilpatrick joined other gang members at Fannie Porter's Sporting House in Fort Worth. While there, the Kid started a long term relationship with a prostitute named Annie Rogers. In his usual daring fashion, Curry had his picture taken with Annie, although his positive identification in a photograph would only help law enforcement officials.

  

 
Kid Curry with prostitute, Annie Rogers.

  

While in Rawlins, Wyoming, the Pinkerton Dectective, Siringo, learned that many Wild Bunch members spent a lot of time at Hole-in-the-Wall, Wyoming. He immediately set out to look for the area, but didn't catch anyone home. Siringo trailed the Kid back to Rawlins, where he had stashed some money from the Tipton robbery. The Kid used the money to pay a lawyer to defend Annie Rogers, who had been passing some of the stolen bills in St. Louis. This was as far as Siringo got with his investigation when he was called back east for another assignment. He was reluctant to let the case drop, but he had accumulated much helpful information for future use.

 

On July 3, 1901, near Wagner, Montana, members of the Wild Bunch hit the Great Northern train in their trademark style. This time, they got $65,000. This was a huge haul and it was the last job the Wild Bunch committed together.

 

As soon as the robbers started spending the money, the lawmen knew where they were and went after them. The first was Ben Kilpatrick. He was caught in Knoxville, Tennessee, on December 12, 1901, and at his trial he was given 15 years in prison.

 

Even though the Kid knew the law was close on his heels, he returned to Montana. It had taken five years, but now Curry avenged his brother Johnie's death. He shot rancher Jim Winters.

 

The end of the trail was near in 1902. The Kid was captured in a pool room in Knoxville, Tennessee. During the arrest a billy club was broken over his head. The wound left a three-inch scar on Curry's lower head and upper neck. When local officers filed their report they described the various marks on the Kid's body. They noted that there were buckshot scars on his back, a knife scar, teeth missing from both upper and lower jaws, and scars on his leg, right wrist, and left forearm.

 

Kid Curry stood trial for the Wagner, Montana, train robbery and was found guilty. On November 30, 1902, he was sentenced to twenty years of hard labor and a $5,000 fine.

 

On June 27, 1903, Curry escaped from the Knoxville jail. There were rumors that the deputy sheriff on duty had accepted an $8,000 bribe to let the Kid escape. Curry fled back west to Wagner, Montana. Here the Kid walked to his old hideout in the Thornhill Buttes and picked up some supplies. Curry had made a clean getaway. He could have started a new life, but he couldn't resist pulling one more robbery.

 

The Kid made plans to rob the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad train near Parachute, Colorado. Curry got George Kilpatrick and Charlie Howland from the Lamb ranch. Kid, George, and Charlie worked for the railroad as hands for a week while learning the terrain and the train schedules. The Kid and his gang were able to elude the posse for two days, but finally the posse trapped the three train robbers.

 

At first the posse didn't realize who they had cornered. They thought the Kid and his gang might be sheep rustlers. Over 200 shots were fired in the gun battle between the outlaws and the lawmen. The Kid was shot in the arm and both lungs. The Kid knew his time had come, so he held off the posse so that Ben and Charlie could get away. The end came on June 9, 1904, in a field near Rifle, Colorado. Harvey Logan, Kid Curry, simply shot himself with his Colt .45.

 

At first, the posse wasn't sure whose body they had. The coroner examined the body at Glenwood Springs, Colorado. When lawmen compared the scars on the Colorado body to those noted in the Knoxville arrest report, they found that they were the same. Pinkerton Detective Lowell Spence brought his own doctor to Colorado to examine the body. He was sure it was Kid Curry. The suspect's body was exhumed from the Glenwood Springs cemetery on July 6, 1904. The examination was just long enough to prove to Spence that he had found the body of Kid Curry. Then it was reburied.

 

The railroad companies never did pay the $30,000 posted reward, nor did they pay the $100 reward for the Parachute, Colorado, robbery.  They claimed a “lack of positive identification.”

 

The Pinkerton Detective Agency, however, was sure that Kid Curry, the most ruthless member of the Wild Bunch, was dead.

 

SOURCES:

 

"Kid Currey, Montana Cowboy," Kenneth Jesse Cole, The Montana Journal, Inner-Mountain Marketing, Missoula, MT, July-August 1990, p. 12.

 

"The Gunfighters," James D. Horan, Gramercy Books, Avenel, NJ, 1976.

 

"The Outlaw Trail: A History of Butch Cassidy and His Wild Bunch," Charles Kelly, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, Nebraska, 1996

 

"Wild and Woolly: An Encyclopedia of the Old West," Denis McLoughlin, Barnes & Noble, 1975.

 

"A Cowboy Detective, A True Story of Twenty-Two Years with a World-Famous Detective Agency," Charles Siringo, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, Nebraska, 1988 (originally published 1912).