Did Wild Bunch rob Parachute train or were authorities fooled?
On June 7, 1904, a train robbery gone bad might have brought down Kid Curry, one of the most-wanted members of the Wild Bunch gang — and then again, maybe not.
The Wild Bunch was immortalized in the 1969 film “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” The gang attained legendary fame in the early 1900s by robbing banks, transports and trains. When practicing their trade in Colorado and Utah, they made their home at “Robbers Roost” in southeast Utah.
Our tale begins shortly after 11 p.m., when Train No. 5 stops at Parachute. As fireman John Anderson waits outside for the train to start up again, he watches a man board the tender, in which coal to fire the engine is stored. As the train gets under way, Anderson boards and goes to the rear of the tender to tell the man he must get off.
Instead, Anderson finds himself looking down the barrels of two revolvers.
The gunman tells Anderson to go to the engine. When they reach the engine, the gunman continues to point one of the guns at Anderson while aiming the other gun at the face of engineer Ed Allison.
The gunman instructs Allison that at two different locations he is to whistle as if he were whistling for stock on the track and that he is to stop the engine when he sees a campfire on the side of the track.
Allison later told a Sentinel reporter that when the train came to a stop, the first gunman was joined by two more men who came from the direction of the campfire.
Brakeman Ed Shellenberger ran forward when the train suddenly stopped to see what had happened. When he got to the front, one of the robbers shot him in the leg.
Meanwhile, one of the gunmen kept firing bullets along the train to terrorize the passengers into staying aboard, while the other one ordered Dan Shay, who was in charge of the express car, to unlock the car so he could enter.
Allison said that the gunmen first attempted to blow up the front part of the baggage car and, when that didn’t work, the gunman told Allison to run the train down the track a quarter of a mile. There, the baggage and mail car were uncoupled from the engine and express car.
With the engine and express car separated from the train, the gunmen set off a charge of dynamite, blew up the safe and took the contents.
When they were last seen, the three unmasked gunman were walking toward the river with the brakeman’s red lantern.
A posse quickly formed, and within two days after the train robbery, 13 posse members, including cowpunchers, had the three fugitives surrounded. A gun battle then began on O.C. Sweitzer’s property on the upper Divide Creek about 20 miles east of Glenwood Springs.
It was reported in the June 10, 1904, Daily Sentinel that J.H. Ross, one of the bandits, had been badly wounded and knew he wasn’t going to make it. He reportedly told the other two to make a run for it while he kept the posse at bay by firing numerous rounds of gunfire at them. When the two had made their escape, the wounded outlaw shot himself in the head.
Two bloodhounds were brought in from Leadville to sniff out the two gunmen, but after four days with no luck they returned to Leadville.
About a week after the train robbery, one J.H. Ross went to the authorities in Pueblo to let them know that the report of his death was premature. He said he was not the gunman who had died in a standoff at Divide Creek.
Now the authorities had no idea who the dead gunman was.
On July 11, Rowel Spence, a detective from Chicago, arrived in Grand Junction with photographs and identified the dead gunman as Harvey Logan, aka Kid Curry, a member of the Wild Bunch gang.
However, on July 21, Special Agent Brown of the Denver & Rio Grande detective service said he was positive it wasn’t Logan. Another detective identified the deceased train robber as George Bakerfield.
Pearl Barker, author of “The Wild Bunch at Robbers Roost,” wrote about attending a program by Harry Longabaugh Jr. in June of 1970. Longabaugh, who claimed to be the legitimate son of the Sundance Kid, said that Logan was one of the two who escaped from the posse and was killed in 1909 by a wild mule somewhere in South America.
Authorities said the gunmen got away with a total of $10 from the robbery of Train No. 5. Apparently the gang held up the wrong train. Speculation was that they wanted to rob Train No. 1 because it was the train that transported bullion going to the Philadelphia mint.
Kathy Jordan is retired from The Daily Sentinel. She is involved in many local preservation efforts and is on the board of directors for Colorado Preservation Inc.