It was June 28, 1897 when the Belle Fourche bank was robbed by the Curry Gang which had been joined by the now notorious outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but because they used aliases no one knew exactly who they were dealing with at the time. The robbery was partially successful. Successful in the fact that the bank was indeed robbed at gunpoint. Unsuccessful in the fact that the crew made off with about $100 rather than the $30,000 they estimated the take would be. The man they sent into town to scope out the situation, Tom O’Day, got drunk instead of his assigned duties. When he didn’t return, the outlaws decided to hold up the bank without their scout, but a town resident raised the alarm and the men fled — all except O’Day who, in his drunken stupor, came out of the bar when he heard the shooting start. He lost control of his horse and fled on foot. He was later captured in an outhouse.
A posse pursued, but with no luck until months later, when several of the men were captured by another posse and were hauled off to Deadwood’s jail to join O’Day. After a brief escape, they were recaptured but with the help of lawyers, and perhaps a few bribes, they were released. Cassidy, the Sundance Kid and their Wild Bunch and Hole-in-the-Wall gang would go on to rob more banks, hold-up trains and steal livestock in Wyoming, Utah and Colorado, but never returned to the Black Hills. The two are reported to have died in a shoot-out with authorities in Bolivia in November 1908, but even that chapter is not without speculation.
~ July 1, 1897 • Weekly Pioneer-Times ~
A Bold Bank Robbery
A partially successful attempt was made (June 28) forenoon to hold up the bank of Clay Robinson & Co. at Belle Fourche, and in consequence Thomas O’Day, an accomplice, is behind the bars in the Lawrence county jail. The bank had been open about half an hour when the robbers entered it. There were five of the latter, and they acted upon a clever plan, they had evidently been studiously prepared, but they failed to act in concert. Four of them had left their horses back of the Belle Fourche saloon, and entered the bank by a side door, while the fifth man rode up in front of the bank, dismounted without hitching his horse, and went in through the front door. Presiding Elder E. E. Clough was in the director’s office writing a letter, and a number of customers were waiting before the cashier’s window to transact some business. They were J. H. Chapman, of Deadwood, Dave Arnold, C. A. Dana, and Ernest Mitchell of Belle Fourche. Arthur H. Marble, cashier, and Harry Ticknor, an accountant, were behind the screens. Some of the robbers covered the men in the front part of the bank with six-shooters, while one man demanded the money of the cashier. Mr. Marble grabbed up a revolver at his elbow and snapped it at the intruder, but it missed fire, and before he could try it again he was looking down a pistol barrel and had to surrender.
Giles, the hardware man, whose store is almost opposite the bank, saw through the bank window, four or five men in a group with their hands up, and scenting trouble, ran across to the bank to ascertain. The interior of the bank bristled with six-shooters when he opened the door, and he hastily retreated across the street and into his store. Running out the back door of his building he gave the alarm. At this one of the robber, the one who had left his horse in the street, stepped out in front of the bank and fired several shots from his revolver, shooting up and down the street, and into the store of Giles and of Gay Bros. The senior member of the latter firm had a furrow plowed across his cheek by one of the bullets. At the firing the horse that was left unhitched made off, and joined the horses of the other four men, leaving its rider on foot.
The four men had taken what money was on the counter, said to be about fifty dollars, and mounting their horses, started away to the southwest. The town was aroused by this time, and a fusillade was begun with rifles upon the fleeing men, they returning the fire with a few desultory pistol shots. They were leading the horse of the fellow who had been left behind, and were evidently very anxious to get him, taking desperate chances in a shower of bullets waiting for him to overtake them, which he seemed to fail to understand. The riderless horse was finally hit in the foreleg with a ball, and the men then tied him to a wire fence.
Joseph Miller, a citizen, hurriedly saddled and mounted a horse and started in pursuit of the four men, but being mistaken for an accomplice, his horse was shot from under him before he had gone two hundred yards. It was with some difficultly that the men of the town who had guns were restrained from shooting him before he was recognized. In the meantime the man whose mount had deserted him was mingling with the crowd and was not noticed until he was then on an old mule, that had been tied near, trying to urge the animal in the direction that his own horse had taken. The mule was stubborn, however, and went the wrong way. About this time someone pointed the man out as one of the robbers. The fellow jumped off the mule when he saw he was recognized, and ran back of Sebastian’s saloon and into a water closet. Walter Simpson, of this city, saw him go in, and when he came out, covered him with a shot-gun, which he had picked up. The fellow had no fire arms about him, but some six-shooter cartridges were found about his clothes, and a search revealed the weapon and belt in the closet where he had concealed them. Cash to the amount of $392.50 cents was found in his pockets but it is the belief that this is not any of the money stolen from the bank.
A posse started after the other four men, and was augmented until nearly one hundred men were on the trail, including a number of cow-punchers that had been set out by the VVV cattle outfit. A report reached Belle Fourche in the afternoon that the fugitives were at bay in a small timber tract near the VVV ranch, and were surrounded by the posse. In response to a call for reinforcements several buggies loaded with men were sent out to the locality in which the robbers were said to be ensconced.
Bitter expressions were uttered against the captured man, who gave the name of Thomas O’Day, and it was even recommended that he be hung. When he heard this talk O’Day said to those about him, “Go ahead and hang me, boys. You never see a man die any gamer than I will.” He was identified by Cashier Marble and Elder Clough as one of the men who had entered the bank with drawn pistols. Deputy Sheriff Arnold brought him up on the freight train yesterday afternoon, and is now confined in the Lawrence county jail. He protests his innocence and says he was drinking in Sebastian’s saloon when the firing began.
An amusing phase is related concerning with the connection of Dr. Clough with the holdup. The Doctor was writing a letter when the robbers entered the bank, and, starting forward at an unusual noise, was confronted by a row of six-shooter muzzles, with an injunction to put up his hands. The Doctor managed to say, “Why, I’m only a poor Methodist preacher. You don’t want anything of me,” —“Preacher be d———d” came the reply. “Put up your hands.” It is told of the Doctor that he ran into the vault when he discovered how lightly the culprits regarded the cloth.
~ July 1, 1897 • Weekly Pioneer-Times ~
Hot On Their Trail
A Posse of Determined Men Closing in On the Belle Fourche Bank Robbers.
One Horse and Winchester Captured and the Other Horses Are Fagged.
The last report from the chase for the four men who held up the Butte County Bank, at the Belle Fourche received last night about 8 o’clock, stated that the fugitives had been compelled to abandon one horse, and two of them were riding one animal. The posse had sighted them at frequent intervals during the day, and the leaders were several times well upon the fleeing men, but were reluctant about crowding into them in the teeth of four healthy six shooters. One of the escaping men had left his horse at the time the gang took to the woods Monday evening, and the pursuers captured the animal, together with a Winchester rifle, cartridges and saddle. The horse had become winded and was unable to proceed any farther. The wooded ground in which the robbers had taken refuge was very rough and broken, and the officers were wary of this the robbers slipped out unseen yesterday morning, and bolted off, getting a good start before the pursuers had discovered they had been eluded. They had been herding the fellows successfully all night, to be baffled when daylight came. The chase was resumed, on the fresh trail of the darling quartette, who bore away in the direction of the Hashknife ranch, on the Little Missouri. The last word received was by courier who left the posse at the head of Owl Creek.
Manager Craig, of the VVV outfit, is with the posse, and has been near enough to the robbers to recognize them as members of the Curry gang. Curry himself being among them. They are men who were implicated with the Johnson county cattle rustlers in Wyoming, in ’92, and Mr. Craig who was at that time manager of the 71 outfit, west of Buffalo, had several hostile engagements with them. It was believed at the time the last courier left the posse yesterday that the robbers would be compelled to surrender before night, or at any event come to a halt, as their horses were sadly fagged, and were traveling laboriously.
The man who was captured Monday, giving the name of Thomas O’Day, was taken to Belle Fourche yesterday for preliminary examination in justice court. The examination had to be put over until today, the prisoner being confined in the vault at the bank, to keep him from getting away and to save his neck from the hands and rope of an infuriated populace. The feeling against him in the town is intense. He has been identified as the man wanted for the killing of an officer in Johnson county, Wyo. either during or shortly after the uprising of 1892, and a reward that was offered for him at that time still hangs over him.
Deputy Sheriff Arnold telephoned from Belle Fourche last night asking that the Pioneer-Times make a correction. He stated that R. P. Bowman, of Belle Fourche instead of Walter Simpson, captured O’Day, and that Bowman would get the reward of $200 for the bank robbery offense, besides the reward offered by Johnson county. Rewards for $100 each have been offered for the four men who are at large.
~ July 8, 1897 • Weekly Pioneer-Times ~
The Bank Robbers
Jame’s T. Craig, foreman of the VVV cattle ranch, owned by Clay, Robinson & Co., who also owns the bank of Belle Fourche, which was robbed last Monday, came up from that place yesterday. Mr. Craig says nothing has been heard of the Curry gang who did the robbery, and they have not been seen since they went into the woods above the VVV ranch on Monday afternoon. He was out on the round up on Monday, and came into the ranch about 4 o’clock in the afternoon when he heard of the robbery. He took his Winchester and started after the party, overtaking them at the woods where the robbers disappeared. They searched the woods thoroughly but could not find a sign of the pursued. It was then dark and the chase was given up until the next morning, when they found fresh tracks of the three horses and followed them. The tracks were followed out to Box Elder about 20 miles northwest of the Little Missouri river, where the trail was lost entirely. The party returned but Sheriff Butts and Stock Inspector Long, and two men sent out by Mr. Craig are pursuing a search in a northeasterly direction down the Moreau river it being the belief they went that way. The sheriff of Johnson county, Wyoming and four deputies are also hunting for the gang as they are wanted in that country.
Mr. Craig visited O’Day at the county jail yesterday but the prisoner stoutly maintained that he was not with the robbers and had not seen Curry since April. Mr. Craig will return to the ranch this morning and put men on the trail. He has the utmost confidence in running down the gang as they are known and can be accurately described.
~ July 28, 1897 • Queen City Mail ~
Bank Robbers spotted
A report is in circulation that Sheriff Sproule of Johnson county, Wyoming, had run across the band of stock thieves and bank robbers from Belle Fourche, S. Dak., on upper Powder river, and during the fusillade Sheriff Sproule was shot through the body, barely missing his lungs.
~ September 30, 1897 • Weekly Pioneer-Times ~
The Bank Robbers
Frank and Thomas Jones and J. L. Smith, Captured Near Red Lodge, Mont. Officers Will Arrive Here With Them Today.
The Pioneer-Times published the capture of three of the Currie crowd last week. The Billings Gazette, of Friday, contained a full account of the capture which was given in a readable manner. The three men were taken by surprise at about 5 o’clock last Monday evening about 25 miles north of Lavina, Mont. They were heading for the British possessions and had gone into camp after a hard day’s ride. They were taken completely by surprise and were caught without their arms.
After perpetrating the bank robbery the bold band of desperadoes rode furiously out of Belle Fourche and found a safe rendezvous with the cattle rustlers in the notorious Hole-in-the-wall country of Wyoming. About a week ago they emerged from their secure retreat and undertook the foolhardy task of endeavoring to reach the British possessions through the state of Montana. The trio of outlaws arrived at Red Lodge last Saturday and were recognized by a gentleman who did not inform the officers until the following day. Upon receiving information as to the recent presence in the coal camp of the bank robbers, Sheriff Dunn, accompanied by Stock Detective Dick Hicks and Attorney Oscar C. Stone, took the trail and tracked the fugitives across the Yellowstone bridge at Columbus, where the officers were joined by Stock Detective W. D. Smith and Constable Calhoun. Monday night these five officers accomplished their purpose. The outlaws had gone into camp for the night, and the posse got within a hundred yards of two of the men before their presence was noticed. These two men were on their way to a spring, while the third man was engaged in picketing his horse, some fifty yards distant. As soon as the approach of the posse was notices by outlaws one of the two men bound for the spring sprang over the edge of the bluff, while the other made a rush for his horse and sprang into the saddle. He then drew his Winchester and, indian fashion, slid down on the opposite side of the horse from the posse. Before he had time to fire, however, the animal sprang forward, leaped over the cliff and landed with a broken neck squarely in the spring. The rider, however, escaped uninjured and joined his companion just beneath the edge of the bluff.
While this stirring scene was being enacted, the third outlaw, who was engaged in picketing his horse, was commanded to throw up his hands. Instead of complying with the request, however, he pulled his revolver and, putting first one hand and then the other up, attempted to reach his Winchester, which lay with the saddle a short distance away. Again came the stern command, “Throw up your hands.” The outlaw, however, still kept edging nearer his Winchester, saying, “Don’t shoot; give me a little time and I’ll surrender.” The next instant he darted behind his horse, which he was leading by a rope, threw his leg over the animal and with his body hid from view urged the steed forward on the dead run. The next instant three rifle shots rang out upon the still air and all three of the bullets found a lodging place in the animal’s body. One of the bullets passed clear through the horse and struck the rider in the wrist, knocking the revolver out of his hand. The horse ran for fully a mile before it dropped dead. As the animal fell the rider crawled away in the grass and secreted himself in a buffalo wallow.
In the meantime a portion of the posse’s attention was directed toward the other two outlaws who were under the cliff with their Winchesters. They tried their best to get a bead on the officers, but every time they showed their heads above the edge of the cliff, the guns of the officers belched forth. After a fierce fusillade on the part of the posse, the two cornered men concluded to surrender, and came over the bluff with their empty hands extended in the direction of the cloudless sky.
The third outlaw was soon discovered in the buffalo wallow and he was ordered to throw up his hands and stand erect. The wounded outlaw, however, could only put up one hand, and when commanded to throw up the other, arose to his knees, and, partly raising the disable arm, informed his captor that he had been shot.
The prisoners asked what they were wanted for, and upon being told, protested their innocence and declared that they were not the right men. Their description, however, tallies exactly with that sent out from Belle Fourche, and the officers are positive that they have the men wanted.
~ March 2, 1898 • Daily Deadwood Pioneer-Times ~
Casper, Wyo., Feb. 28—For a week news has been coming to Casper of one of the biggest “cattle drives” ever known in Central Wyoming.
It appears that Harvey Ray and other escaped Belle Fourche bank robbers have been joined by a party of Powder Springs thieves and together they have ridden down on the open range within fifteen or twenty miles of Casper and driven everything before them to the Hole-in-the-Wall region. They are said to have scattered and started their “drive” in a way that would be likely to create the lease suspicion, but they were discovered and Ray, one of the Smiths and others were recognized. There were upwards of twenty of the riders and they were well mounted and heavily armed.
A month ago the authorities here were informed that this gang was in hiding in the Hole-in-the-Wall country, but nothing was done.
After killing Bob Smith, capture of Bob Taylor and crippling of another Smith by a round-up party last year, it was thought the thieves would quit the country, but it appears they are concentrating and growing more daring.
~ November 3, 1897 • Queen City Mail ~
Jail Birds Escape
Five Desperate Criminals Confined in the Lawrence County Jail Made Their Escape Sunday Evening.
Last Sunday evening shortly before 9 o’clock five prisoners made a daring escape from the Lawrence country jail. At that hour John Mansfield, the jailer, went in to lock the prisoners in their respective cages for the night. He was accompanied by his wife. On entering the cell room he discovered that the spring lock on the big door had been tampered with. In order to fix it so it would throw the bolts he entered what is termed the “bull pen”, where a number of the prisoners were lounging about. He had no sooner entered the room than one of the prisoners knocked him down, and in less time it takes to tell about it five desperate men were at liberty. The escaped men are the four Belle Fourche bank robbers and the negro who was being held for murdering a man near Englewood a few weeks ago. The night was dark and the prisoners made fast time so soon as they gained the open air. In less than an hour posses of men were started from Spearfish, Belle Fourche, Deadwood, Lead and other points, in an effort to intercept the runaways. Every road and by-way leading to or from Deadwood was soon alive with armed men, over sixty in all from the various points. Telephone lines were kept hot with messages to every point in the Hills, and every effort was made by Sheriff Plunkett and his deputies to get trace of the fugitives. It seems to be generally conceded that it was a preconcerted plan on the part of the prisoners, and it is also thought they were aided from the outside so soon as they gained their liberty. It was an extremely careless act on the part of the jailer to go among a gang of such desperate men. He could easily have held them inside the jail walls until help arrived. They could not have escaped until he unlocked the jail door, and with one of two deputies to assist him the jailer could have driven every one of them into their cells without trouble. But he carelessly went in without a gun or any means of repelling an attack, and the consequence was that they took him at a disadvantage.
Monday evening two of the prisoners attempted to hold up a man on horseback and take his horse, but they were unarmed and the man made his escape. Men were sent from Spearfish Monday night to patrol the False Bottom and Garden City roads. The prisoners were seen once or twice, but evaded capture until yesterday afternoon, when City Marshal Craig of Spearfish located them and took them in. They were completely exhausted, having gone without food since Sunday evening. The other three men are still at liberty. Two horses were stolen out in the Crow Creek country Monday afternoon, and it may have been the work of the refugees. Posses of men from Belle Fourche were in Spearfish this morning getting ready to take up the chase.
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