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Have you ever search for an outlaw while on a vacation? They can be found in the most unexpected places, and it might not be as dangerous as it sounds.
If you recognize this famous photo, you might just be an Old West enthusiast like I am! It’s Butch Cassidy (bottom right), the Sundance Kid (bottom left) and the Wild Bunch, and is known as the “Fort Worth Five” photo.
That fellow sitting in the middle – known as “The Tall Texan” – was the subject of my search in Sanderson, Texas. He was a handsome guy, but didn’t always make good choices.
Ben Kilpatrick was born just east of San Angelo in 1874. He worked as a cowboy for several years before he became acquainted with Texas outlaws Sam and Tom Ketchum, and ended up riding with the Ketchum Gang.
After a failed train robbery that ended in several of the members being caught, Kilpatrick fled to Robber’s Roost in Utah and joined the Wild Bunch. After some success, he and his girlfriend Laura Bullion made their way to St, Louis where they were arrested. Kilpatrick was seated to 15 years in prison for robbery, and Laura was sentence to five. After serving 31/2 years she was released, and went to Tennessee under an assumed name to make a new life.
Kilpatrick, on the other hand, was released after 10 years and went immediately back to a life of crime. Bad decision…
Train number 7 of the Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio Railroad pulled out of Del Rio on the evening of March 12, 1912. It made a brief stop for water in Dryden, but as it pulled away from the station Kilpatrick and Ole Hobek ( a friend from his prison days) jumped aboard.
The masked robbers ordered the engineer to go to the first iron bridge east of Baxter’s Curve, about halfway to Sanderson. Once there the bandits ordered the train to stop and the passenger cars and caboose uncoupled from the engine, mail and baggage cars.
Leaving the passengers behind, they ordered the engine across the bridge and about a mile down the tracks, where the robbers had staged horses for their getaway.
Hobek kept a gun on the engineer while Kilpatrick went back to the baggage car with Wells Fargo Express agent David Trousdale. As they were making their way to the back of the car, Trousdale picked up a mallet from a shipment of frozen oysters and hid it in his clothing. (Frozen oysters…who would have thought THAT would be on the train?!)
Kilpatrick was so busy filling a bag with $60,000 he didn’t see Trousdale sneak up to hit him over the head with the mallet. (Ouch!) The outlaw was killed with the one blow. Trousdale took the bandit’s gun and returned to the engine where he shot and killed Hobek just after midnight.
With the threat ended, the engineer backed up the train, re-coupled the passenger cars and proceeded to Sanderson.
The dead train robbers were held up for photographs, and later buried in a joint grave at Cedar Grove Cemetery in Sanderson. Trousdale, of course, was rewarded for his bravery.
Now known as the Baxter’s Curve Train Robbery (or the Sanderson Train Robbery), it was one of the last train robberies in the state.
In 2019, the mallet used in the incident, a photo of the dead bandits and the Wells Fargo accounts were sold at auction in Arizona for $64,900. It’s a bit ironic how close that amount is to the amount that the robber’s might have gotten away with, had there not been a quick thinking agent on board.
The train robbers’ grave was fairly easy to locate, surrounded by a decorative wrought iron fence and gate. The concrete slab that covers the plot was most likely poured in an effort to prevent gruesome souvenir hunters from robbing the grave.
As a taphophile, or someone who studies cemeteries, I’m always amazed at the stories that lie behind the stones if you only take time to investigate!