Sunday, February 14, 2010

Telling tales and Butch's first bank


“An honest tale speeds best being plainly told,”
_ William Shakespeare

Back East, the story is usually some variation of “George Washington slept here.” In the Wild West, however, we seem to carry more respect for the violent and hardnosed. The best yarns usually have some element of “‘Butch’ and ‘Sundance’ robbed the train here,” or members of “the ‘Wild Bunch’ knocked off the bank over there,” or “this fellow was killed on the ‘Outlaw Trail’ while shooting at so-and-so...”
There is a metal plaque on the outside of the Mahr building at the corner of Pine and Main Streets in Telluride. It reads, simply, “Mahr Building. Site of the San Miguel Valley Bank. Butch Cassidy’s first bank robbery. June 24, 1889.”
The bank building burnt down long ago, but stories are still being told about what transpired there one summer day shortly after noon, when three outlaws rode into to the mining town wearing “silver-studded bridles, spurs, saddles and artillery, five-gallon hats, red bandanas, flashy shirts, chaps and high-heeled cowboy boots,” according to an account by one of the men involved, Matt Warner.
Warner took credit for having the idea to rob the bank. Both riders with a regional reputation for winning horse races, Warner said he approached his friend and fellow racer Butch Cassidy — and then, his own brother-in-law Tom McCarty. According to his version, Butch was excited by the prospect, while Tom was more reluctant. After riding into town and up to the bank, Warner says he placed his gun under the teller’s nose, while Cassidy gathered the cash, and Tom McCarty held the horses outside.
An account reported by a teller was slightly different, having one man coming into the bank, initially pretending to cash a check but then grabbing the teller by the neck, and then calling in his accomplices from outside.
According to reports the haul was nearly $20,000.
Perhaps because it was their first bank job, the inexperienced outlaws led the teller outside with his hands up, and in the process, alerted the entire town.
After firing a few shots to back off the crowd, the three made a beeline out of town, eventually ending up in the mountains near Mancos. Running so fast that they left the fresh horses behind, they ran into one of their former employers, Harry Adsit, who later helped the posse identify them and tell the pursuing group what direction they were headed.
Interestingly enough, Telluride Town Marshall, Jim Clark later confessed to Gunnison County Sheriff to being involved — by not being involved.
Clark reportedly told the Sheriff he received $2200 of the stolen money as payment for being out of town during the robbery and later acquired one of the horses used in the robbery.
Certain accounts speculate that the two horse racing friends, and now, bank robbers, along with McCarty and perhaps additional accomplices, changed horses in the Cortez area (perhaps even at Longabaugh ranch south of Cortez, home of Harry Longabaugh’s father. Harry, (a.k.a. ‘The Sundance Kid”) would later befriend Cassidy and famously ride with the “Wild Bunch,” in Wyoming, Montana, Utah, Texas and New Mexico.
One longtime resident of the area relates the following tale.
“My grandparents were John and Clementa Sagrillo,” says Sandra Watkins. “They had a place down around Lakeview. When Butch robbed the bank at Telluride the gang ended up in Mancos but Butch headed for his friends here in Cortez area, but it got dark and he had to stop. He ended up staying with my grandparents. I have a story written up in the family history that was told Aunt Jessie by her mother, she is the oldest child to John,” Watkins says.
“Grandpa was so impressed with Butch's six shooter that when he could afford it, he bought one just like Butch's. Butch told him that he and his gang had robbed the bank but, being new to this country, they kept their mouths shut. Grandma bragged that he liked her cooking and really liked polanta.”
The bank robbery at Telluride is cited as a turning point in Warner and Cassidy’s career as outlaws, as the Adsit identification allowed them to no longer dabble in the outlaw business — they began running from the law full time. They are given credit for various criminal activities in that area near Telluride, and all over the Western United States in the years to come.
Anecdotally, stories of them robbing the Rio Grande Southern train at Stoner, holing up in the Dunton area (one report has (Robert Leroy Parker’s initials, Butch’s given name, carved in the bar up there) and various deeds and misdeeds in the canyon country from Hole in the Wall, Brown’s Hole, Robber’s Roust, and all along the “Outlaw Trail” that connects them.
From information about the only train robbery at Stoner Creek that I can find record of, it didn’t sound like them. But then again, that is another story.
Undoubtedly some of the tales are true, and some are not.
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