We Want Them Dead Rather Than Alive: Buffalo Bill the Lawman

WWHA Journal — December 2011

On the afternoon of November 1, 1904, two unidentified men rode into Cody, Wyoming. They dismounted, strolled into the First National Bank, pulled out their pistols, and shouted "hands-up!" to the teller and bank customers. From a side office, Ira O. Middaugh, cashier and part owner of the bank, heard the ruckus and stepped out to the lobby where he witnessed the two men with pistols drawn. Middaugh quickly retreated into the office, slamming the door behind him, and ran through the bank's side entrance onto the side street yelling for assistance. The larger of the two bank robbers ran toward the office door after Middaugh. Frustrated by the door's lock, Middaugh's pursuer retraced his steps through the front entrance, leaving his fellow outlaw in the bank.

Once on the street, the bandit fired through an open door of Judge Walls' office located next to the bank building, barely missing H. W. Darrah, a lumberman, and Judge Walls, owner of the bank building. Noticing Middaugh running in the street, the gunman rushed forward and grabbed him. Middaugh reached out and seized the pistol in the bandit's right hand desperately restraining him from firing. The robber struck Middaugh over the head with the pistol his left hand. After knocking Middaugh to the ground, the gunman deliberately aimed at the unarmed cashier and fired two shots, mortally wounding Middaugh in the neck and chest.

Hearing gunshots outside, the other bank robber fled the bank and mounted his horse for a hurried escape. Middaugh's killer followed the lead of his companion, and the unidentified men quickly rode out of town, without any money, firing their guns wildly. Cody residents returned fire at the fleeing bandits; later reports noted both sides exchanged over fifty gunshots that day. In the chaos of the gunfire, one of the robbers dropped his pistol, a .38 automatic Colt, and attempted to dismount to retrieve it but he changed his mind when his comrade yelled at him to hurry along. The Cody Enterprise described the killing and attempted robbery as "the most sensational event with a shocking termination that ever happened in Cody... creating an excitement of a character never before known in the town." [1]

Some Cody residents acted bravely throughout the ordeal; others did not. Details regarding various citizens' actions continued to change with the retellings of the events from that day. Initial reports claim Buffalo Bill's friend Colonel Frank Powell, also known as White Beaver, defended the town from the porch of the Irma Hotel. Later accounts recalling the event stated he paced back and forth in his nightshirt brandishing two revolvers - both useless due to missing cylinders. Mrs. W. L. Walls, noticing the robbery from her home, emptied her rifle at the fleeing robbers. Dr. Francis Lane, known by the locals as the "Lady Doc," braved the gunfire to help Middaugh in the street. Two Cody youths, Lorin Watkins and Charles Dale, exchanged shots with the outlaws as they fled to the outskirts of town and the bandits returned fire. Shortly after the encounter with the two young boys, the fleeing criminals met A. M. Plumb and Charles Blaine, who fired upon them, causing the two bandits to dismount and return fire briefly before continuing their hurried escape. [2]

After the excitement, famed fiction writer Caroline Lockhart provided an entertaining account depicting various individuals' actions. According to Lockhart, Mrs. Walls missed her husband's head by an inch. She characterized Powell as "a self styled scout and Indian fighter . . . was chagrined to discover the weapon with which he had been snapping away at the holdups had no cylinder." [3] The local sheriff held an ace in his hand and refused to leave his game to assist in putting an end to the robbery. A house painter stepped into a tar barrel in his effort to avoid the gunfire. A "capitalist from Iowa dived head foremost through the swinging doors of the hotel barroom and fell on his face." [4] Overall, Lockhart noted, "the bandits were so bold in their action so fast that everyone lost his presence of mind and did nothing." [5]

While Cody residents debated the actions of their fellow citizens that fateful day, all clearly mourned the loss of Ira Middaugh whose premature death devastated the community. Middaugh was thirty-six years old at the time of his death and left a wife and three daughters to mourn. A native from Michigan, Middaugh lived in Wyoming for twelve years. Before moving to Cody, he started a newspaper in Wheatland, Wyoming, and served in the Wyoming State Legislature. Middaugh moved to Cody and established the First National Bank, the target of the two outlaws, with Mr. Winterling, Mr. Brooks, and George T. Beck, one of the original town-founders. He was an active member of the Elks, the Cody Aerie of Eagles, and he was a 32-Degree Mason. [6]

The two unknown men whose actions resulted in the killing of Middaugh entered the bank unmasked but were not recognized by any witnesses. Citizens described both men as clumsy in their actions and unfamiliar with the town of Cody and the bank. The larger man was about thirty-five years old and the younger described as slender. The Cody Enterprise reported, "The larger man used his gun very coolly but the slender one was plainly rattled, throwing his gun around and shooting almost at random." [7] John Kearns started a subscription for a reward and quickly raised $1,000. The Cody town council, Amoretti Parks and Company, the First National Bank, and the town of Meeteetse, Wyoming, added additional funds bringing the total reward to $2,750 for the apprehension of the bandits, dead or alive.

As the robbers fled town, newspaper reporter George Nelson mounted his horse and bravely rode after the criminals alone. John Thompson, Frank Meyers, town marshal Carl Hammitt, deputy sheriff Jeff Chapman, A. M. Plumb, C. D. Blaine, F. W. Chase, G. W. Fettes, Lorin Watkins, Ned Frost, and John Rogers soon joined Nelson, forming a makeshift posse. At dusk three of the group, Thompson, Nelson, and Hammitt, encountered the outlaws twelve miles from Cody near Sage Creek; once again, both sides exchanged gunfire but the bandits managed to escape in the dark. A few more miles into the chase, the three pursuers found two horses abandoned by the outlaws, who now rode fresh horses intentionally left at the location to increase their chances of escape. Nine miles east of Meeteetse on the road to Thermopolis, Wyoming, the three men caught up to their prey and fired upon them yet again only to lose their prey in the darkness. The three remaining posse members acquired fresh mounts in Meeteetse and continued their pursuit. While the search continued, Cody residents wired Bighorn County Sheriff Fenton who left the county seat of Basin, Wyoming, with additional deputies to join the chase. Chapman and Hammitt returned empty handed to Cody from Thermopolis; however, they remained confident Sheriff Fenton and his men would soon have the perpetrators, restoring law and order to the Bighorn Basin. [8]

As the posse chased the Cody bandits, the national press reported sensational accounts about the hold-up and noted that Buffalo Bill Cody would soon ride to the rescue. The New York Times proclaimed in their headline "Buffalo Bill in Pursuit." Other newspapers' headlines noted "'Buffalo Bill' Soon to Reach Trapped Outlaws, "'Buffalo Bill' on Trail of Bandits," and The New York Journal reported "Cody Bandits at Bay: 'No Quarter,' [says] Buffalo Bill's Command." All across America, the news depicted exaggerated details of the adventurous Buffalo Bill chasing down vicious Wyoming desperados. One newspaper speculated the shorter of the two bandits was the famed outlaw Harvey Logan, also known as "Kid Curry" of the Wild Bunch, who recently escaped from a jail cell in Knoxville, Tennessee. This account stated, "Logan was in Cody several days before the attempted robbery . . . Logan is a dead shot, is armed with automatic revolvers and can hardly be taken alive. For a long time Logan was the master mind of the Hole in the Wall band." [9] This description of the shorter outlaw greatly contradicted details from The Cody Enterprise, which noted the short one "was plainly rattled," not quite the "Wild Bunch" type. Due to "Kid Curry's" presence, the national news syndicate proclaimed the reward for the capture of the "badmen" now stood at $10,000. Even with the presence of the famed outlaw "Kid Curry," the public assumed Buffalo Bill would save the day by capturing the two violent outlaws who callously took the life of an innocent bank teller. One article byline stated Buffalo Bill "Will Battle to the Death."

At Omaha, Nebraska, Buffalo Bill gave reporters the following statement, "I have wired my manager at Cody, Col. Frank Powell, the old Indian fighter and scout, to offer a large reward for the capture alive of each robber . . . and I told him to double the reward if the outlaws were killed. We want them dead rather than alive." [10] When asked if he would join the posse, Cody replied, "Will we join the hunt? You bet we will . . . within ten minutes after our train arrives there [in Cody] we shall be in the saddle with our guns, and away we go. These Englishmen [Cody's guests] will get a real touch of Western life such as they never dreamed of . . . We don't intend to let those fellows get way if we have to follow them all winter." [11] Cody also introduced Chief Iron Tail, who sat at his side armed with two pistols, "And here is my old Indian scout . . . [and he is] dead anxious to get into the scrimmage." [12] When asked why the bandits targeted his Wyoming town, Buffalo Bill replied, "I am not surprised at the hold-up, for it was well known that the Government had hundreds of thousands of dollars on deposit in that bank. The Government is building a five million-dollar irrigating system in the Big Horn [Basin], and the funds are deposited in Cody. That's what tempted the robbers in this case. They undoubtedly came over from the Hole-in-the-Wall country and [they're] trying to get back into that den of thieves, but we will head them off, and of course a stiff fight will take place when we catch them." [13]

The New York Times followed with another report proclaiming that Buffalo Bill, accompanied by his English guests and Iron Tail, had reached Cody, Wyoming, where thirty local cowboys joined them. Buffalo Bill and his posse started on their all-night one-hundred-mile ride to join Sheriff Fenton who supposedly trapped the two outlaws in the badlands near Kirby, Wyoming. The New York Times also warned "Kid Curry" "may give [both Fenton's and Cody's] posses some hard fighting." [14] Surprisingly, the reporter writing this article believed Buffalo Bill and his posse would cover the distance to Kirby, over a hundred miles away, in fourteen to sixteen hours. Both the press and their readers naturally assumed it would only be a matter of time before Buffalo Bill caught these ferocious Wyoming bandits and punish them for their crimes. After all, Buffalo Bill captured numerous "bad guys" and in dime novels with exciting titles such as Buffalo Bill and His Merry Men; or, The Robin Hood Rivals; Buffalo Bill's Road-agent Round-up; or, The Mysterious Masked Men in Black; and Buffalo Bill's Daring; or, The Scourge of the Gold Trail. [15] Early in his acting career, Cody also fought bandits and renegades on stage in dramas entitled Scouts of the Prairie, Scouts of the Plains, and Twenty Days; or, Buffalo Bill's Pledge. [16] It seemed the legend would now become fact: William F. Cody, popularly known as Buffalo Bill, would play before a national stage and capture the famous western outlaw "Kid Curry". After all, between his stage performances in 1876 Cody participated in a skirmish immediately after the Battle of the Little Bighorn and fought his famous duel with Cheyenne Chief Yellow Hair, later mistranslated as Yellow Hand. Returning to the stage, Cody reenacted the killing of Yellow Hand in a play entitled Red Right Hand; or, Buffalo Bill's First Scalp for Custer. After he formed the famous Buffalo Bill's Wild West, Cody continued killing Yellow Hand before audiences in outdoor performances across the nation and throughout Europe.

Louis Warren, in his recent biography of Buffalo Bill, noted Cody "crafted a life and a story to reflect and express one another. It is also a story of how the entertainment he devised allowed others to join him in fitting life to story, story to life, and the many ways the resulting spectacle resonated with a vast transatlantic public." [17] The attempted Cody bank robbery and the slaying of Middaugh challenged Cody's blend of story and life that he carefully balanced throughout his career, a life story he displayed in his autobiography, dime novels, and his Wild West exhibition. As he rode on the train toward "his" town of Cody, now suffering through the aftermath of a failed bank robbery and a bloody killing, he probably wondered how this event would shape his future career for good or bad. If the bandits escaped, would it tarnish his image as a scout and arbiter of justice? Surely if he caught the bandits, including "Kid Curry," it would be a tremendous boon to his acting career. [18]

In his first and subsequent autobiographies, Buffalo Bill praised famous western lawmen and noted he was close friends with many such individuals, especially Wild Bill Hickok. "'Wild Bill' I had known since 1857," wrote Buffalo Bill, "He and I shared the pleasure of walking a thousand miles to the Missouri River." Buffalo Bill praised Hickok's skill with a pistol and included a number of exciting narratives detailing Hickok's fights, including an exaggerated account of Wild Bill's fight with the McCandless gang and Wild Bill's duel with Dave Tutt. In the last published autobiography, Buffalo Bill described a card game where Wild Bill called out a cheater by drawing his pistol and clearly stating to the cheater, "I'm calling the hand that's in your hat." [19] Cody later attempted to make Hickok an actor, but the gunfighter did not fit well on stage. Hickok loved shooting pistol blanks next to the legs of actors pretending to be dead Indians, and then laughed as they jumped up and ran offstage screaming. Tiring of Wild Bill's antics, Cody gave up coaching Hickok's acting career, and Wild Bill moved to Deadwood where he met his fate at the hands of Jack McCall. [20]

One Wild Bill story that Cody surprisingly did not include in his autobiography involved the capture of eleven horse thieves. The Topeka Weekly Leader reported the following on April 2, 1868:

Band of Road Men Captured — W. F. Cody, government detective, and Wm. Haycock [Hickok] – Wild Bill – deputy U.S. Marshal, brought eleven prisoners and lodged them in our calaboose on Monday last. These prisoners belonged to a band of robbers having their headquarters on the Solomon and near Trinidad, and were headed by one Major Smith, once connected with the Kansas 7th. They are charged with stealing and secreting government property, and desertion from the army.

Seventeen men, belonging to this same band, were captured eleven miles from Trinidad, on the 13th March, and sent to Denver, Colorado Territory, for trial. [21]

Even without this story about the capture of eleven horse thieves with Wild Bill, Buffalo Bill's autobiography contained many accounts of him chasing and capturing various desperados, "All along the stage route were robbers and man-killers far more vicious than the Indians." [22]

Cody's first encounter with vicious outlaws occurred during his employment with Russell, Majors, and Waddell, when Buffalo Bill claimed he worked as a Pony Express rider, an assertion that many past and present historians question. According to Cody, he found himself "occasionally riding pony express and taking care of stock" at Horseshoe Station, located thirty-six miles West from Fort Laramie. [23] Joseph Alfred Slade, a violent gunfighter, managed the Horseshoe Station and acted as Buffalo Bill's boss. Well known throughout the West for his volatile temper, Slade's violent exploits committed on both sides of the law eventually led to his lynching in 1864 by an angry group of Montana vigilantes. As a station manager for the Pony Express, Slade killed a number of horse thieves and in one case, sliced the ears off his victim, dried out the gruesome remains, and carried the trophies in his pocket to honor the event. [24]

Famed writer Mark Twain described a tense encounter with Slade in his travelogue, Roughing It. After hearing a number of Slade's exploits from stagecoach drivers, Twain found himself sitting with Slade at the same table in an isolated stage station. Twain noticed the coffee pot contained one last cup of coffee yet both Twain's and Slade's mugs were empty. When Slade offered Twain the last cup of coffee, he quickly refused. Twain noted, "Although I wanted it, I politely declined. I was afraid he had not killed anybody that morning, and might be needing diversion." [25] Slade ignored Twain's refusal and filled the author's cup with coffee. Twain noted, "I thanked him and drank it, but it gave me no comfort, for I could not feel sure that he would not be sorry, presently, that he had given it away, and proceed to kill me to distract his thoughts from the loss." [26] Unlike Twain, Buffalo Bill did not fear Slade; instead, he noted in his autobiography "Slade, although rough at times and always a dangerous character – having killed many a man – was always kind to me. During the two years that I worked for him . . . he never spoke an angry word to me." [27]

During this time at Horseshoe Station, Buffalo Bill Cody recalled an adventure during a solo bear hunt near Laramie Peak. "Very early in my career as a frontiersman I had an encounter with a party of these [outlaws] from which I was extremely fortunate to escape with my life," wrote Buffalo Bill. [28] He did not kill any bears during this hunt; unfortunately, he found himself trapped in a den of horse-thieves. After killing two sage hens for his evening dinner, Buffalo Bill prepared a campsite for the night only to notice a herd of horses grazing near a dugout in the distance. Hoping to find shelter for the night, Buffalo Bill walked up to the dwelling and boldly knocked on the door. When the door opened, he found himself face-to-face with "eight as rough and villainous men as I ever saw in my life." [29] The outlaws recently killed a ranchman and ran off with his horses and Buffalo Bill noted they were "a hard crowd, and I concluded that the sooner I could get away from them the better it would be for me." [30] The suspicious outlaws questioned Cody about his presence in the area and asked if there were others accompanying him.

Buffalo Bill barely escaped his would-be captors by using a clever ruse; he claimed the need to tend his horse and retrieve his sage hens, which he left back at his campsite. Two outlaws accompanied Buffalo Bill to his campsite and back. As the three men trekked back to the dugout, Buffalo Bill intentionally dropped one of the sage hens and asked the closer outlaw to pick it up. When the villain bent down to retrieve the bird, Buffalo Bill hit the man over the head with his pistol and then shot and killed the other horse-thief. Quickly mounting his horse, he rode off into the darkness. After hearing the shot fired by Buffalo Bill, the remaining outlaws rode after the young adventurer. Buffalo Bill eluded the outlaws, now dangerously close, by abandoning his horse and then setting off on foot back to Horseshoe Station, twenty-five miles away. Upon his safe return, Buffalo Bill and Slade rode back to the dugout to capture the rest of the horse thieves only to find an empty dwelling and a fresh grave containing the body of the outlaw killed by Buffalo Bill. He later boasted that his "adventure at least resulted in clearing the country of horse- thieves. Once the gang had gone, no more depredations occurred for a long time." [31]

According to Buffalo Bill's autobiographical writings, the most infamous bandit he encountered in the West was Bill Bevins. Before the aggrandizement of other legendary outlaws like the Wild Bunch, Bill Bevins was considered one of Wyoming's most notorious bandits, making him the perfect foil to Buffalo Bill the lawman. According to Cody, Bevins and another outlaw named Williams stole some horses and mules from Fort Lyon in 1869. General Carr ordered Buffalo Bill, Bill Green, and others to retrieve the stolen livestock and bring the criminals to justice.

This posse tracked the desperados to Denver where they arrested Williams, who was trying to sell the government mules at a horse auction with the brands altered from "US" to "DB." When Cody and his crew threatened Williams with lynching, he told the scouts the location of the camp where they would find Bevins. Later, Buffalo Bill and his companions quietly surrounded the camp, then quickly surprised and captured Bevins.

Escorting the captured horse-thieves back to Fort Lyon proved to be even more challenging for Buffalo Bill and his fellow posse members. After traveling seventeen miles in the direction of Fort Lyon, the party camped on Cherry Creek for the night. To prevent Bevins and Williams from escaping, they removed the outlaws' shoes for the night. While Cody and his companions slept, Williams kicked the guard into the campfire allowing himself and Bevins a chance to escape. Bevins grabbed his shoes and ran off into the darkness. Buffalo Bill, awakened by the noise, managed to trip up Williams, preventing him from escaping. Green chased Bevins firing his pistol at the fleeing outlaw, causing Bevins to drop one of his shoes.

Buffalo Bill and Green then mounted their horses and set out to find Bevins, who managed to cover a great distance, despite having only one shoe, through the snow-covered plains infested with prickly pear cactus. Buffalo Bill recalled that blood stained nearly every one of Bevins' tracks. He also noted, "Bevin's run was the most remarkable feat of the kind ever known, either of a white man, or an Indian. A man who could run bare-footed in the snow eighteen miles through a prickly pear patch, was certainly a 'tough one,' and that is the kind of person Bill Bevins was . . . I considered him as 'game' a man as I have ever met." [32] When they sighted Bevins, "I cried to him to halt or I would shoot," recalled Buffalo Bill; "Knowing I was a good shot, he stopped, and, coolly sitting down, waited till we came up." [33] After surrendering, the outlaw requested Buffalo Bill's knife and proceeded to dig out the cactus quills from the bottom of his bare foot. Buffalo Bill and Green alternated riding one horse and offered the other to Bevins who never complained about his poor condition all the way back to camp.

After rejoining the rest of the posse with the recaptured Bevins, they continued on their way to Fort Lyon. On the Arkansas River, the posse and their prisoners camped in a vacant cabin. Due to Bevins' poor condition, the guards relaxed their vigilance for the night and Williams managed to escape. After reaching Fort Lyons with Bevins, Buffalo Bill escorted the prisoner to Bogg's Ranch on Picket Wire Creek and turned him over to the civil authorities from whom Bevins quickly escaped, not to Buffalo Bill's surprise. Bevins continued to plague the area with his crimes.

Cody wrote in his autobiography "I heard no more of [Bevins] until 1872, when I learned that he was skirmishing around on Laramie Plains at his old tricks. He sent word . . . that if he ever met me again he would kill me on sight." [34] Buffalo Bill summed up the later career of Bevins:

He finally was arrested and convicted for robbery and was confined in the prison at Laramie City. Again he made his escape, and soon afterwards he organized a desperate gang of outlaws north of the Union Pacific Railroad and, when the stages began to run between Cheyenne and Deadwood, in the Black Hills, they robbed the coaches and passengers, frequently making large hauls of plunder . . . till finally most of the gang were caught, tried and convicted, and sent to the penitentiary for a number of years. Bill Bevins and nearly all of his gang are now confined in the Nebraska state prison, to which they were transferred, from Wyoming. [35]

Many historians questioned the accuracy of Buffalo Bill's early adventures, due to the fact they are unable to verify many of the events Cody narrated in his autobiographies with outside historical sources. This includes Cody's accounts of his first Indian kill and his service in the Pony Express. Buffalo Bill's account of Bevins' capture does not appear in the Colorado papers; however, on April 21, 1869, The Colorado Transcript reported that Bill Green was in "this part of the country on duty, accompanying Bill Cody, Gen. Carr's chief of scouts." [36] Prison records and other historical accounts do verify Buffalo Bill's account of Bevins' later criminal career. On August 13, 1876, near Fort Halleck, Wyoming, Bevins and Herman Lessman, a well-known horse thief, attacked Robert Foote, a prominent rancher. Bevins pinned Foote to the ground and choked him until Mrs. Foote began hitting Bevins with a large stick. When Bevins grabbed for Mrs. Foote, her screams alerted a neighbor who rushed to the scene causing Bevins and Lessman to run away. Law officials captured Bevins near Fort Fetterman, Wyoming, and transported him to the Albany County jail in Laramie, Wyoming, to await his trial.

While waiting for a court appeal, Bevins escaped with three other prisoners from the Albany County jail, aided by the assistance of "Pawnee Liz," a local prostitute, who sawed through the bars on the cell window. Bevins soon found his way to the Black Hills were he joined Clark Pelton and Duncan Blackburn, forming a gang of road agents who then robbed three Cheyenne-Deadwood stagecoaches. Some suspected Bevins might have participated in the infamous Deadwood stage robbery that resulted in the unfortunate death of the guard Johnny Slaughter. [37]

Bevins later fell on hard times due to a woman of "bad character." Some historians believe this woman was Calamity Jane with whom Bevins may have lived as husband and wife. Some also claim Calamity Jane rode with Bevins' Black Hills gang. Many years later, Montana frontiersman Ben Arnold asked Calamity Jane if she knew Bevins and she retorted, "I can go to his grave as straight as an Indian goes to dog soup." [38] After the gang fled from the Black Hills to Wyoming to elude the law, the woman identified as Calamity Jane overheard Bevins and the other gang members threatening to kill fellow outlaw Robert McKimie, a.k.a "Little Reddy," who was then buying supplies at South Pass City. When McKimie returned, Calamity Jane informed him of the band's murderous intentions and the two rode off with the gang's $8,000 in plundered gold dust, leaving Bevins with nothing to show for his crimes except a pocket watch he took from a passenger. Law officials recaptured the wronged Bevins in Lander, Wyoming, on July 6, 1877, as he ate his dinner.

Albany County Sheriff Daniel Notage escorted Bevins back to Laramie to stand trial for the attack of Foote, where Bevins attempted to escape by digging a tunnel under the floor of the jail. Shortly after, Bevins broke free from his cell, but law officials recaptured and returned him to his cell. At his trial, the judge sentenced Bevins to serve eight years in the Wyoming Territorial Prison for attacking Robert Foote; the courts never tried Bevins for his stagecoach robberies. On August 6, 1877, William Bevins became inmate number 141 at the Wyoming Territorial Prison. Prison records indicate Bevins was 39 years old and listed his occupation as a farmer and noted his mother lived in Ohio and he had an uncle who lived at Hat Creek, Wyoming. On February 9, 1877, officials transferred Bevins to the Nebraska State Prison where he remained until his release on March 12, 1883, serving 5 years and 7 months. [39]

Frank Grouard, famed army scout and close acquaintance of Buffalo Bill, surprisingly was a friend of Bevins. In the account of his life written by Joe Debarthe, Grouard offered a different perspective of the infamous outlaw. Grouard met Bevins in the 1860s during the Montana Gold Rush, where Bevins was shot and cut eighteen times for "winning" $120,000 at the poker tables. In the Black Hills region, Grouard nearly arrested Bevins a number of times for stealing horses and robbing stagecoaches, but he would always let him go, "on account of his being so friendly to me in my boyhood when I met him at Helena years before." [40] In 1886 Grouard met Bevins for the last time and the former outlaw did not have a penny to his name. Grouard reported that Bevins died in Spearfish, South Dakota, shortly after their last meeting. "Bevins was between forty-five and fifty years old at the time of his death," according to Grouard, "He was an odd man, anyway you could take him. He would do anything for a friend. He was a perfect type of the western hard man of his time." [41]

Clearly, the historical record is silent regarding the details of Buffalo Bill's capture of Bevins; however, Cody's autobiographical account of Bevins' later life closely reflects details found in outside accounts; depicting Bevins as a shady character with the uncanny ability to escape from justice. Did Buffalo Bill select Bevins to be the perfect foil in a fictional account of his capture? If that is the case, why did Cody not highlight his capture of eleven horse thieves with his close companion Wild Bill? Until other historical records are uncovered, the accuracy of Cody's account will remain uncertain. The residents of Golden, Colorado, clearly did not view Buffalo Bill as an upstanding, law-abiding individual when he returned to the region in 1873. That year the Golden Weekly Globe reported that "'Buffalo Bill' and 'Texas Jack,' two Nebraska dead beats, who hunt buffalos and drink poor whiskey; are thinking of coming to Colorado. They are just such men as they hang out here." [42]

Little did the Colorado newspapers know at that time Buffalo Bill would become a famed frontier character renowned for bringing law and order to the West. Buffalo Bill's public persona as a frontier detective evolved through numerous dime novels. In these dime novel stories, Buffalo Bill evolved from a scraggly-bearded frontiersman in buckskins to a sharp-dressed detective sporting a well-groomed goatee and mustache. On the other hand, in one strange story written by Colonel Prentiss Ingraham, young Cody assumed the role of a female express rider to win the heart of a stagecoach bandit. Using his cover as an attractive girl, Cody lured his unsuspecting and heart-crazed prey into the hands of law officials. The vignette concluded, "The road-agent foamed and swore... Buffalo Bill got the reward for his capture . . . and he certainly deserved all that he received for his daring exploit in the guise of a young girl, and a pretty one too." [43]

His role as lawman along the trails and stage routes later found its way into his Wild West programs. In the 1902 season, performers reenacted the violent lynching of a horse thief, later dropped from the Wild West performances due to its violent nature. [44] The attack on the Deadwood Stage was one of Cody's original acts and more than likely, Cody's English guests read the following in the 1904 Wild West program from the UK tour the detailed the history of the Deadwood stagecoach and expected some lawlessness to occur on their trip to Wyoming:

In its first season the dangerous places on the route were Buffalo Gap, Lame Johnny Creek, Red Canyon, and Squaw Gap, all which were made famous by scenes of slaughter and the devilry of the banditti. Conspicuous among the later were "Curly" Grimes, who was killed on the Cheyenne River; "Dunk" Blackburn, who is now in the Nebraska State Prison, and others of the same class, representing the most fearless of the road agents of the West. [45]

Cody's own stories of his encounters with outlaws furthered the image of Buffalo Bill as an arbiter of justice. Buffalo Bill's worthy foes tested his strengths; American Indian warriors, brave and bold, tested Cody's physical prowess and fighting ability; and cunning and dastardly outlaws tested Cody's intelligence and cleverness. No wonder the press, and probably his English guests, believed the two thugs in Wyoming who dared rob the bank in his town would surely pay for their dastardly crimes.

Meanwhile, back in Cody, Wyoming . . . .

Shortly after the attempted robbery of the First National Bank in Cody, bad news began to appear in the national press. The New York World reported the fleeing outlaws evaded the posse and reached the Hole-in-the-Wall country. Sheriff Fenton and his men planned to sneak into the outlaws' lair in disguise to bring the outlaws to justice. [46] While the national papers reported the Cody robbery and the intense manhunt for the bandits, The Cody Enterprise reported a far less exciting narrative of the incident and criticized the coverage provided by their eastern counterparts. "Some of the write-ups of the horrible occurrence in Cody . . . are of the burlesque order and treat the deplorable happening as a subject for the exhibition of a large amount of humor," reported The Cody Enterprise. [47] It also noted, "This flippant style, doubtless prepared solely for eastern consumption, where the citizens' literary and news diet consists principally of dare-devil doings and murderous happenings 'in the West,' conveys doubtless an impression that our people are of the semi-barbarous stamp." [48] Ironically, to illustrate their point of eastern press exaggeration, The Cody Enterprise quickly dispelled the notion the Cody bank held millions of dollars in deposits, "It will be many years probably before the bank contains any such enormous sums of money as mentioned." [49]

As for Buffalo Bill bringing the two bandits to justice and restoring law and order to the Bighorn Basin, the residents of Cody, Wyoming, had no such expectations of their heroic town-founder. Townspeople were more worried about not properly welcoming Buffalo Bill back to the town of Cody, because of the failed bank hold-up and slaying of Middaugh. The Cody Enterprise reported the robbery ruined a planned reception for Buffalo Bill and "acted as a damper upon the festivities planned . . . However, it is nevertheless true that our people are pleased to again welcome one who has acquired such great fame at home and in foreign lands." [50] The local paper noted that Buffalo Bill and his guests checked into the Irma Hotel the evening of November 3rd. Accompanying Buffalo Bill and his close friend Chief Iron Tail were the following guests: English officer and veteran from the Boer War, Captain W. R. Corfield; Mr. and Mrs. E. F. Stanley of London; Mr. Henry Lusk, a German scholar; Mike Russell of Deadwood and close friend of Buffalo Bill; Russell's son James; William Sweeney, the conductor of the Wild West Band; Mr. H. Brooks and Judge M. Camplin from Sheridan, Wyoming; and Mr. H. S. Ridgely of Cody.

Buffalo Bill and his party never did join the posse. After they rested a few days in Cody at the Irma Hotel, Buffalo Bill escorted his guests to the middle fork of the Shoshone River, as he originally planned.

Cody detailed these plans to his sister Julia in a letter dated August 27, 1904:

I will land in Cody Nove. 3rd the 5th go to Middlefork, then have a hunt till 15th. I will have some Wealthy Englishmen with me. Walter [Goodman, Cody's nephew] was never on a big hunt I would like to take him. He can sleep with me . . . tell him to have his horse ready. If he wants a gun to practice with tell Mr. Schwoob [manager of the Cody Trading Company] to fit him out and I will pay him, for he must have a gun a 30 30 that he can kill big game with, he must Kill [an] Elk. [51]

Despite not shooting his new 30-30 at bandits in an exciting chase, Walter did kill his first elk. His uncle Buffalo Bill mounted the elk head. Walter Goodman, Jr., recalled seeing the taxidermy mount in 1935 hanging in a garage during a visit to Cody, Wyoming, with his father. [52] Cody and his guests camped at his hunting lodge and hotel, Pahaska Teepee, still under construction in 1904, where Cody posed for a photo on the unfinished porch. He and his hunting entourage also posed for a photo in front of the lodge and later R. Farrington Elwell, a Boston illustrator who lived in Wyoming at the time, depicted the scene in a painting entitled Pahaska Hunting Party. [53] Elwell's painting reflects the common image of steadfast hunters preparing for a big game hunt, clearly lacking the excitement of an artistic rendition of a posse tracking down bandits.

As the excitement that resulted from the attempted bank robbery eased, The Cody Enterprise joked, "Bandits on Tuesday, railroad president and other big corporation officials on Sunday. It's getting so in Cody that a fellow can't tell whether to wear his six-shooter or his full dress coat upon going out." [54] As Buffalo Bill hunted near his future resort east of Yellowstone National Park, the residents of Cody went back to their daily routines and the two bandits, one of whom killed Middaugh, successfully escaped.

Occasionally, Wyoming law officials arrested possible suspects linked to the murder in Cody, Wyoming, only to later determine the people in question could not have committed the crime. Local Wyoming newspapers detailed the continued search for the two suspects. The Cody Enterprise reported deputy sheriff Jeff Chapman and Carl Hammitt of Cody traveled to Thermopolis in pursuit of the bandits but failed to capture their men. Despite their failure to capture their prey, they learned about a man using the alias George Merritt who bought some ammunition and other things with $50 worth of nickels and dimes just a few days before the bank robbery. Based on the great number of nickels and dimes used in the purchase, similar to an amount taken in recent robberies of Primm's Saloon and Roth's place, both in Cody, Chapman and Hammitt believed "Merrit" used his ill-gotten funds to purchase supplies in Thermopolis for the Cody bank robbery. [55]

News of Sheriff Fenton arresting a suspect arrived on December 22, 1904, when The Cody Enterprise reported the arrest of Bob Irwin, or Erwin, identified as the ringleader of the bandit duo. The Laramie Boomerang offered detailed information about "Erwin" noting officials arrested him on Gooseberry Creek, forty miles north of Thermopolis, Wyoming. In fear of lynching by Cody residents, Fenton held Irwin/Erwin at the jail in Basin until positively identified as one of the robbers. Despite the headlines proclaiming the arrest of one of the bandits, no subsequent articles detail what happened to Irwin/Erwin. On January 19, 1905, The Natrona County Tribune reported the arrest of another suspect, Chris Schonwandt, who also feared lynching by Cody residents. A week later, The Natrona County Tribune reported Sheriff Fenton returned to Basin without Schonwandt. Despite the excitement generated by these two arrests, further research cannot locate any article documenting the reason for the release of the suspects. More than likely, local officials quietly released these two suspects after they provided an alibi or witnesses to the robbery failed to identify the suspects as one of the two bandits. [56]

In February 1905, The Cody Enterprise proclaimed on the first page "The Bandits Captured, Cashier Middaugh's Murderer and Bank Hold-Ups in Custody – Sheriff Fenton Has Gone After Them." The same article quoted a dispatch from Judge W. L. Walls noting, "Got both of them. Fully identified." [57] Despite their initial optimism, a few months later Cody residents read that the two suspects held in the Basin jail, Dave Fraughton and Al Caldwell, had a sound alibi. Judge Walls stuck to his original opinion that the two men were indeed the Cody bank robbers but in August Fraughton and Caldwell's alibi proved true and Judge W. S. Metz ordered their release. Joe LeFors, the famed marshal who arrested Tom Horn and chased the Wild Bunch, verified both men worked at the Atlantic City, Wyoming, mines during the robbery. The Wyoming Tribune of August 15 hinted the two men might possibly sue for false imprisonment. [58]

Despite the verification of the suspects' alibi and their subsequent release from jail, The Cody Enterprise printed the following editorial:

Well, it may be that Fraughton and Caldwell, the two men discharged, from custody last week at Basin, from connection with the bank hold-up here, are innocent but if they are they acted in a manner very peculiar for innocent people. When arrested their first movement was to secure a postponement of trial, even though the parties through whom they expected to prove an alibi could have been reached and brought to the county seat within 48 hours. Their choice of remaining in jail for several months instead of demanding an immediate hearing was quite suspicious. Besides their identification by Judge Walls and others certainly should have consideration. The statement that our fellow citizen did not have a good chance to see them is as ridiculous as the accompanying one that he used an old crooked-barrel pistol while shooting at them. As a matter of fact the weapon is a new, late model one, in perfect order then as now. An alibi, furnished by interested parties, as is well established, is far from convincing and is often abused. The fact that these suspects were held up till within a few weeks of the fall session of the court, when a trial to determine their innocence or guilt could been had, certainly would have been far more satisfactory, at least to the people of this end of the county. [59]

Clearly, Cody residents felt the frustration of losing their confidence the two bandits were behind bars and speculated two guilty men now roamed free.

On September 21, 1905, a cautious Cody Enterprise reported the arrest of two suspects under the headline "May Be Cody Bandits." Based on a dispatch from Cripple Creek, Colorado, the current suspects were Frank Buster and the late Lee Sheridan, who recently died from a bullet wound. Buster and Sheridan arrived in Victor, Colorado, shortly after the failed attempt to rob the Cody bank and Sheridan claimed he shot himself accidently "while toying with a gun." [60] Upon Sheridan's death, continued the article, "great blisters were found on his feet, suggesting he had done much walking . . . it is believed that he walked much of the distance by devious routes to Victor to evade arrest." [61] Apparently, some assumed the blisters and the gunshot wound made Sheridan a prime suspect for the Cody robbery. At the time of the article's release, officials in Cripple Creek were holding Buster for the killing of Martin O'Connor. Again, the story of the current suspects faded and the crime remained unsolved.

A full year after the robbery, The Wyoming Stockgrower and Farmer reported the arrest of a suspect at Sulphur Springs, Colorado, who confessed to the killing of Middaugh. [62] The Cody Enterprise countered the alleged suspect William Hartley proved to be a farce under the headline, "Much Ado About Nothing." Joe LeFors travelled to Sulphur Springs to investigate and discovered the "confession is a huge joke, and Joe has had a sight-seeing expedition at the state's expense." [63] LeFors learned William Hartley was Willie Norton, a former bellhop and clerk from the Irma Hotel. Norton "proceeded to fill up on bad bug-juice and with an unholy desire boldly confessed to the dastardly deed. William was promptly jailed but after becoming sober confessed to not being a bank robber but an unlimited prevaricator." Law officials allowed Willie "to rest in peace within the confines of the prison walls until he recovers from his mania to be bad." [64] The same issue of The Cody Enterprise noted William F. Cody's return to Wyoming after his tour of France. Cody citizens planned a big ball and luncheon to honor the return of the town's namesake, a ceremony that did not occur the past year because of the killing of Middaugh. To this day, the case of the Cody Bank robbery remains unsolved. Luckily, for the two Cody bank robbers, the legend did not become fact; instead, two ferocious desperados escaped the legendary lawman Buffalo Bill, much to the disappointment of his admiring spectators.

"Kid Curry's" supposed participation in the bank robbery faded, but speculation of his involvement occasionally resurfaces. The Pinkerton Detective Agency eventually verified "Kid Curry" could not have committed the Cody bank robbery and killed Middaugh. On June 7, 1904, months before the deadly incident in Cody, three outlaws stopped the westbound Denver Rio Grande train near Parachute, Colorado, around 11:00 at night. The bandits forced the train crew to uncouple the passenger cars and moved the engine along with the mail and express cars down the track. The continued stopping and starting of the train alerted express manager D. J. Shea something was amiss. When asked to open the door to the express car he refused. Shea's defiance resulted in an explosion from a charge of dynamite set by the train robbers against the door to gain entrance, which threw him across the car. After removing the stunned Shea, the bandits exploded another charge of dynamite, thoroughly wrecking the express car. Grabbing a sealed bag from the wreckage, the three outlaws rode into the night towards the Grand River, leaving behind $12,000 they overlooked in their search of the express car. [65]

Near Divide Creek two days later, the Colorado posse chasing the three men received a break when they encountered two young men, the Larson Boys, who reported the outlaws stole some horses from their family ranch. The posse and the two boys cornered the three fleeing bandits. In the exchange of gunfire, a posse member shot one of the outlaws in the left shoulder; shortly after, the wounded bandit shot himself in the temple with his revolver. The confusion emerging from this suicide allowed the two other suspects to flee from the region into Wyoming. Jim Cox, a Grand Valley, Colorado, rancher, trailed the two men to Shoshoni, Wyoming, and then to the Bighorn Mountains before he gave up the chase. Possibly these two men, who have never been positively identified, may have later held up the bank in Cody, Wyoming, but currently no evidence links the two separate crimes.

The posse returned to Parachute with the body of the dead outlaw. With their arrival, speculation regarding the identity of the body began. After hearing the description of the corpse, James McPharland of the Pinkerton Detective agency proclaimed the dead man was indeed "Kid Curry." Before burying the body in the Glenwood Springs Cemetery, officials of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, however, declared the dead bandit was Tap Duncan, not "Kid Curry". To put an end to the question of the bandit's identity, William A. Pinkerton sent agent Lowell Spence to Colorado to exhume the body and end the question of the mysterious bandit's identity. On July 16, 1904, Spence positively identified the decaying corpse as Harvey Logan; however, speculation continued that "Kid Curry" was not the bandit killed after the Parachute train robbery.

According to historian James Horan in his study of the Pinkerton Detective agency, this speculation led, "Buffalo Bill, a whiskey-soaked ghost out of America's past . . . gathered a posse together to chase Kid Curry," after the robbery in Cody, Wyoming. [66] Horan clearly based his flippant remark regarding William F. Cody chasing "Kid Curry" on the sensational news coverage following the Cody bank robbery. Although arresting the infamous "Kid Curry" would have been a great coup for the old scout, Buffalo Bill realized it was fruitless to chase the bandits across Wyoming and made the "sober" decision to go hunting.

Despite the evidence that "Kid Curry" committed suicide, rumors of his involvement in the Cody bank robbery continued to flourish. Alfred Mokler in his 1923 book, History of Natrona County, retold a number of Hole-in-the-Wall-Gang stories and placed "Kid Curry" in the Wyoming area in 1903 and Dr. Schulke treated Logan for a wounded leg. In 1936, Tacetta Walker wrote a similar story in her book Stories of Early Days in Wyoming that "Harve" Logan returned to Wyoming shortly after his escape from the Knoxville jail. According to Walker, Logan stole some horses and rode toward Thermopolis where Sheriff Webb shot and wounded him in the leg. According to Walker, Dr. Richard treated Logan's leg, not Dr. Schulke, and then kept quiet about "Kid Curry's" hiding-spot. Edward J. Farlow, a long-time resident in the Wind River area, noted the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang ran the Bighorn Basin until 1905, a year after the Cody robbery. Former members of Wild Bunch did reside in the Thermopolis region, leading many to identify the community as an outlaw stronghold. When Robert Redford retraced the Outlaw Trail in the 1970s, a local resident told Redford that "Kid Curry" recovered from his leg wound in Thermopolis and then robbed the bank in Cody. With the controversy regarding Harvey Logan's death and the desire to connect communities to the lawless Wild West, many continue to link "Kid Curry" to the bank robbery and killing of Middaugh, despite evidence he lay in a grave in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, at the time of the event. [67]

Despite his failure to capture the Cody bandits, or for that matter "Kid Curry", Cody did manage "to save the day" before an audience of thousands night after night. In 1907 and 1908, the Wild West performed a reenactment of a train robbery entitled The Great Hold-up and Bandit Hunters of the Union Pacific. The storyline was simple: bandits stop a mock-up train powered by an automobile, uncouple the express car, dynamite the express car and safe, and then rob the passengers. The act concluded with Buffalo Bill riding into the arena followed by a posse and saving the day. The Wild West promoted the show through a colorful poster; however, the poster proved too graphic for citizens of Paterson, New Jersey. According to the New York Times, officials censured the image due to its violent depiction of outlaws armed with guns and knives. [68]

Most historians assumed this act pantomimed the movie The Great Train Robbery filmed at Thomas Edison's studios in 1903. Both follow a storyline similar to the Wild Bunch's train holdups at Wilcox, Wyoming, in 1899 and Tipton, Wyoming, in 1900. The action also paralleled "Kid Curry's" successful 1901 train robbery at Exeter Creek, Montana. Historian Sara Blackstone noted Cody included the train robbery act after the deaths of his manager Nate Salsbury and investor James Bailey. Upon their passing, Cody felt free to include more acts of his liking, including the Great Hold-Up. Perhaps Buffalo Bill wanted another chance to catch "Kid Curry," a chance that eluded him in 1904. Despite his failure to capture the real Cody bandits, under the bright lights of the arena, Buffalo Bill and his regiment of cowboys saved the day repeatedly by quickly dispatching imaginary bandits. Therefore, in a way, Cody eventually did capture "Kid Curry" and put an end to the Wild Bunch's crime spree in Wyoming. As Sarah Blackstone noted, "the millions of people who saw [Cody's] show in a dozen countries were exposed to a version of the winning of the West that claimed to be genuine but was in fact based almost entirely on illusion." [69] However, Blackstone also notes, "This show was being performed by men and women who had actually participated in the Western movement and who claimed to be giving truthful and realistic performances of actual events, which gave the resulting mythic version of life on the frontier the weight and influence of truth." [70] With the attempted bank robbery in Cody and the slaying of Middaugh, once again, William F. Cody, Buffalo Bill, managed to blend fact and fiction into a continuing narrative of the Wild West where justice always prevailed and Buffalo Bill the lawman eventually got his man, albeit he was just playing dead.

Editor's note: Jeremy Johnston is the Managing Editor of the Papers of William F. Cody at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming. Johnston's paper is from his speech at the 2011 WWHA Roundup.