From the folklore, rumors and fairy tales of southwestern Colorado, comes the idea that Butch Cassidy (Robert Leroy Parker) and perhaps other members of the notorious “Wild Bunch,” robbed the train at Stoner Creek. The idea probably originated because of Butch's and Matt Warner’s legendary status resulting from a previous successful bank robbery in Telluride a few years prior. And the Wilcox train robbery and dynamiting in June of the year following the Stoner holdup, adds to the romance.
Chances are, it was someone else who held up the Rio Grande Southern that summer day in 1898 — but it makes a livelier story to blame it on Butch and boys.
Following is how the Telluride Daily Journal reported it on its front page “Four Masked Men Capture the Durango Flyer This Morning Below Rico,” relates a “Special to the Daily Journal.”
We all know newspapers never get the facts wrong.
“Rico, July 5. — Train No. ? on the Rio Grande Southern, the San Juan Special, north bound, was held up by four masked men at Stoner Creek, twenty four miles below here, at 11 o’clock today. The bandits secured about $80 in money, a gold watch and chain and a Winchester rifle. No further particulars are obtainable.”
Not the kind of loot Cassidy and friends were used to, if correctly reported, and you consider that their haul from San Miguel Valley Bank was nearly $20,000.
“Later — several persons who were on the train arrived in Telluride at 3 o’clock, among them two ladies from New Jersey who had not yet fully recovered from their fright. One of them said she had a thousand dollars on her person which she promptly stuck down in her stocking.”
The paper went on to speculate, “The fellows appeared to be amateurs at the business, and were evidently Mexicans.”
What evidence pointed to that was not revealed in the story.
“One man stood at the car door while another went through. The fellow at the door told his partner not to disturb the women and they were not bothered. They took $4 from a Catholic priest and gave him half of it back.”
But the desperados were not above the use of violence.
“There is only a water tank at Stoner Creek and the fireman, who was taking water, did not hear the order to hold up his hands which was repeated, when they took a shot at him and his neck is badly powder burned as a result.”
The story of the train robbery at Stoner, like a small seed cast into the wind long ago, perhaps found fertile ground and imagination in the bottom land of the river valley, sprouted, and grew into something completely different than the "genuine article." Not that the genuine article was correct either.
Photo info: Rio Grande Southern narrow gauge locomotive, engine number 20, engine type 4-6-0, Robert W. Richardson, photographer. Right rear view of engine, close view, at water tank, brush at rear of tender. Photographed: Stoner, Colorado, May 23, 1951. Western History Department, Denver Public Library.