This is a story of drama and adventure in the great American Northwest. The year was 1893 and the country was just over one-hundred years along. President Grover Cleveland was beginning his second term and the country was trying to become adjusted to something called the modern age. Historians portray America in that era as a combination of large, smoky industrial cities and hundreds of small towns which were incorporated here and there along rivers and railroad routes. Every so often a new-fangled contraption called a horseless carriage could be seen putt-putting along busy center-city streets and in front of picket-fenced Queen Anne and bungalow styled homes and powered by a recently introduced and slightly hazardous chemical called gasoline. On May 1st the Chicago Worlds Fair opened its gates and the modern age really began. The fair, celebrating the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' first voyage to the New World, was to be a showcase for Chicago where twenty two years earlier Patrick and Catherine O'Leary's cow supposedly set the town's heart afire. Meanwhile, our setting, Montana, had become a state four years earlier and if you could quiz a select number of passengers on the Northern Pacific Express #4 after August 26th of that year, it was still the Wild West.
It was a dark cloud of desperate and irredeemable thoughts that disarranged Sam Shermer's mind
on this fateful summer day. Previously arrested in Big Timber, Montana for an Ohio post
office robbery a jury had found him not guilty and he had returned to Montana. Lately, he had been riding his horse from town-to-town, working little as possible and, generally, being a good-for-nothing ne'er do well. Still, Shermer had a magnetic persona, a palpable presence not gifted to other cowboys. Just under six feet, somewhere in his twenties, muscular and square-jawed, women turned when he entered a bar or restaurant with his tan canvas duster coat that reached almost to the heel of his boots. Underneath he wore brown cotton duck pants and vest over a white shirt. A faded wide-brimmed cowboy hat, that sat low just above his broad forehead, completed the ensemble. On his right hip he wore a California leather holster holding a Colt 45 single action army first generation pearl handled revolver. A dark leather cartridge belt surrounded his slim physique. It was automatic that the self-esteem of other men dropped lower than the depths of their brass spittoons when he entered a bar.
* * *
Sam was waiting for a train at the tracks. He sat on his horse, one knee high against the saddle horn. It was here, just east of Grey Cliff, where his next life's chapter would most likely spin out of control. As he sat, he reminisced over the badlands of his past life, the post office robbery, other troubles with the law and an affair. It had happened two weeks ago to the day.
* * *
"Hey, boy, welcome to Butte." It was a tall, young Englishman standing at the bar of the nastiest looking watering hole he had ever been in. Sam could hardly hear the man given the plink-plank of an old man thumping You Are My Sunshine on the piano and a bevy of girls screeching on-stage performing some kind of song and dance routine. Add to that at least a hundred men of every size and stripe milling about playing cards, talking, drinking and generally making a lot of busy noise and you had one raucous establishment.
"Come here old chap and I'll buy you a drink. You look drier than an Arizona saguaro."
"You look like something out of a Walter Scott novel," said Sam.
"I'll take that as a compliment, old boy. Are you another one of those daft, loathsome and barmy old copper miners this town is so full of?"
"Nope, just passing through," said Sam. "I am a bit shy of cash. No chance I can buy you a second drink."
"No need sir. My name is Chipman . . . Jack Chipman."
The Englishman was an inch taller than Sam. He wore a below the waist gray jacket, a bit much for an August day, and mid-calf low heeled black leather boots. His face was a pale white, much in line with the English lack of sun. Wire rimmed glasses spread across his nose ala Ben Franklin.
"Well, Chipman, old boy. What can I do for you? You didn't buy me this drink cause I'm so damn good lookin."
"I'm looking for someone full of beans and in need of cash like yourself and he doesn't care how he gets it, if you know what I mean," said Chipman.
"Not my cup of tea, Chipman if I get your meanin.' You couldn't make enough money to pay for my time," said Sam.
"Not so fast, mate. Just give me a minute to tell you about our plan and if you still don't like it you can chivvy along. First of all, I want you to meet my partner. Like you, he's a bit dodgy, but he's one of the best in what he does."
"And just what does he do?" asked Sam.
"Here. I'll let him tell you. Hey, Charley, come over here," said Chipman. "I want you to meet somebody."
Chipman turned to Sam. "What was your name again?"
"Shermer, Sam Shermer."
Charley Jones, alias Charles Kinkaid, alias John Charles, rose from a nearby poker table. Jones was heavy set, scruffy hair and beard and looked as if he had been on a dusty trail for weeks.
"Budge up, Shermer. Make way for the best fixer in the territory. Charley, this is Sam Shermer and he's in need of a few quid. Do you think he would be a fit?" said Chipman.
"You're not a lawman, are you?" asked Charley.
"Yeah, I'm Wyatt Earp and you're under arrest," said Sam.
"Ha, ha. I like this guy, Chipman. Where did you come up with him?"
"He just wandered in here looking like the cracking gunfighter we need," said Chipman.
"Well, Sam Shermer. Meet me and Chipman at the livery stable at eight o'clock tomorrow morning and I'll spell out the plan," said Charley. "Be on time."
"So you want me to join your little band of outlaws, eh, Chipman?" said Sam.
"My boy, someone once said the difference between inlaws and outlaws is that outlaws are wanted," said Chipman.
"Ha, ha," laughed Sam. "I'll see what you've got in mind tomorrow. See you later."
* * *
"Hey, Shermer. Get ready the train's due here any minute," said Charley.
Sam woke from his daydream with a start. He threw his leg over the saddle and waited for the sound of the locomotive. It was getting dark.
* * *
Two lean and dusty cowboys had already settled in opposite leather seats as the Northern Pacific Express pulled out of Big Timber, a small community about a three hour ride from Helena the starting point of the train.
"Don't get settled in too much, Chipman. We'll be at the rendezvous point in about fifteen minutes," said Jack White, a man shorter than has companion, sporting a brown bearded face and grubby hair under a wide brim faded white hat.
"Don't get antsy, White. You'd better rest while you can. We've got a long ride ahead of us," said Chipman, who, as usual, stood out from the typical cowboy crowd. Someone had lately dubbed him, "dude cowboy."
"Tickets, boys." It was the conductor.
"Here you are sir," said White. "What do you have in those lunch boxes over there?"
"Beans, cornbread, salt pork and an apple. We'll hand them out later," said the conductor.
Following along behind the conductor the pair spotted a young boy about eight years old. He wore a white shirt with a sailor collar and blue knickerbockers. On top of his head he sported a flat blue cap.
"Hey there, young man, What's up?" said Chipman. "What's your name?"
"Bobby. You talk funny mister."
"I'm from England," said Chipman. "Have you ever heard of England?'
"Oh, yes sir. Me and my mommy and daddy have traveled a lot. My mommy and me are going to meet my daddy in Chicago. We're going to the World's Fair."
"The World's Fair," said Chipman. "Hmmm, I heard about such an event in London back in 1851. It was called the Great Exhibition. It was in a huge Crystal Palace and had all kinds of fancy new things like a printing machine, some beautiful horse carriages and new-fangled farm machinery."
"Mommy said the Chicago Fair has Cream of Wheat that you eat for breakfast," said Bobby. "They've got something called Juicy Fruit gum and Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer, too. I don't think mommy would let me drink beer though."
"Can the conversation," said White. "We've got to move."
"See you later Bobby," said Chipman. "Probably sooner than you know."
Sam waited with nervous anticipation near the tracks straddling a horse and a go, no-go
decision as Charley held a lantern, a sign for Chipman and White to stop the train. He thought
back to the events that morning two weeks ago at the livery stable in Butte.
Opening a side door to the livery Sam spied three men huddling in a far corner.
"Come over here, Sherman," said Chipman.
"Shermer, not Sherman, Chipman."
"You're a blinkered bloke, you are," said Chipman. "Here, I want you to meet our last man for the job. This is Jack White. Up until now Jack's been working the ranches."
"Glad to meet you White," said Sam. "I hear you and Charley go back aways."
"Yeah, I've known Charley since we worked for the "79" outfit along the Yellowstone."
White was a short man. Time, sun and wind had done a number on his face far beyond his 28 years. He looked 58.
"Okay, guys, here's the plan," said Charley, who now appeared to be the self-appointed leader of the group. "In two weeks we're gonna stop a train in the south part of the state. I hear it's got a safe on board with a lot of cash being transferred to a number of banks along the line. It could be in the thousands. Chipman and White will stop the train as it slows for Thompson's Grade about a mile east of Grey Cliff. Then Shermer and I will hop aboard and we'll crack the safe. It's a simple matter. Any questions?"
All three were silent.
"Okay, here are three envelopes. Each one has enough money to tide you over for two weeks plus train fare money for Chipman and White. I want Sam to go with me, cause I don't really know you. Do I Shermer?"
"Nope. I guess not," said Sam."
"You two can leave now or later. But watch for my lantern at Thompson's Grade just about dark two weeks from today."
* * *
Andie Hardin was walking on Mercury Street later that morning. Rain started to fall and mud began accumulating in the street. As she stepped off the wooden sidewalk in front of the Dumas Building she went plop right into the mud! Just at that moment Sam ran up to pull her to her feet.
Miss Andie was tall for a young lady of twenty-two years. Her legs, long and slim, stretched out, toes pointing straight upward toward the clouds as she wallowed in the mud. Lustrous black hair enveloped a dark complexion that highlighted her part Spanish, part Irish heritage. She wore a brown suede riding skirt and pink ruffled blouse. Her black cowboy boots were now more brown than black.
"Thank you, mister. I guess I wasn't watchin' where I was going."
"Don't mention it. Do you need to go back into the Dumas to change?" asked Sam.
"How dare you, sir? That is a building of ill repute. I would never go into that building!"
"I'm sorry. Here, I'm Sam. Let me scrape the mud off your boots."
"Unhand me, Sir! I will take care of myself, if you please."
"Okay . . . okay. Then, let me buy you a drink or a cup of coffee or something."
Andie took quick stock of her rescuer. She liked the look of this broad-shouldered cowboy.
"Well, I guess it wouldn't hurt to go into the general store for a sarsaparilla. They have a place where I can sit while I get my composure."
Sam watched the young lady sip her sarsaparilla.
"I am at your service, milady," said Sam.
"No one has ever called me milady. Andie. Andie Hardin is my name, Mr. Sam."
"Are you any relation to John Wesley Hardin?"
"Yep, he's my uncle on my dad's side. He's due to be let out of prison next year."
"That man killed over thirty people," said Sam. "I hear he killed a man just for snorin'. Did you know that?"
"Yes, you don't have to remind me of it."
"I want to see you again," said Sam.
"You work quick, Sam. We'll see."
* * *
Two days later Sam walked out of the new Thornton Hotel on East Broadway when he spied Andie getting off a one-horse carriage across the street.
"Hey, Andie. How have you been?"
"Sorry, Sam. I'm in a hurry."
"Why so fast? I've been asking around about you. I didn't know where you lived. Come on, have a cup of coffee with me in the hotel."
"Well, okay. But, just for a few minutes," said Andie.
Andie sat without speaking, eyeing her coffee. It was if she were miles away.
"Are you okay?" asked Sam.
"Sam, I'm in need of money. Would you be interested in helping me get it?"
"Well, I guess," said Sam. "What do I have to do?"
"I know about you and your gang, Sam. Charley Jones is my friend. He told me about your plans."
"And he didn't trust me," said Sam.
"Look Sam, before you go south I need you to help me. I have a client at the Dumas tonight and I want you to come in at a certain time and put him out. I'll make it worth your while."
"Ah, so you are a procurer at the Dumas. You're a chip off the old family Hardin block."
"Okay, so I lied. What do you say? Will you do it?"
"How do I know when it's time?" asked Sam.
"I'll leave the door open a crack. You can peek in and do the job when you think the time is right."
"All right. But, you will owe me one, young lady."
At that time Sam would have done about anything for Andie, prostitute or not. He was in love.
* * *
"Why don't you make yourself comfortable Mr. Kincaid. I'll be right back after I refresh myself a bit," said Andie.
Sam peeked into the room and saw Andie's client sitting on the bed with his back to the door. Sam quietly entered the room and struck the man on the head with the handle of his gun. Andie ran into the room, took out his massive billfold and ordered Sam to drag him out into the alley. She knew Kincaid was a married man and wouldn't tell a soul.
"Okay, Andie. The job is done, now what?' asked Sam.
"I want to go south with you Sam," said Andie. "Take me with you."
"Well, maybe. Problem is, can I trust you?"
"Sammy, dear. I like you, maybe a lot. I think we can do big things together. What do you say?"
"Pack up, lady. Let's get out of here."
* * *
As they opened the train's passenger car door a rush of air greeted the two Jacks, Chipman and White, as they proceeded onto the coal tender and made their way to the engine. Holding their guns on John Brown, the engineer and Alex Wilson the fireman, they ordered the train to stop. Sam, sitting on his horse, awoke from his reverie. He heard the clickety-click of the train making its approach to Thompson's Grade. Charley swung the lantern to and fro. He had tethered two extra horses nearby. As the swoosch of the engine died off the quartet forced the engineer and fireman to walk to the baggage car.
"Did you bring the dynamite, Charley?" asked White.
"Yeah, in my back pocket," said Charley." Hey, you inside, baggage man. Open the door or these two gets it."
The huge baggage car door slid sideways and the four jumped into the car. After rifling through the mails and a few boxes, Chipman spied the safe.
"Charley, that safe's a monster. That little stick you got won't even make a dent."
"Crap," said Charley. "Okay, let's see what we can get from the passengers."
It was a tight fit in the passenger car as the four forced their way down the aisle.
"Ladies and Gentleman. This is a holdup," announced Charley. "Put all your money and valuables in this bag and you will be safely on your way. Don't give us any trouble."
Reluctantly, the passengers complied, men giving up cash and gold watches, the women, their jewelry, with the exception of one lady.
"I will not give you my money," she exclaimed.
Jack White said, "Shell out," and raised his gun as if to hit her when Chipman yelled, "Stop it Jack. That's Bobby's mom. We're not going to bother her. You got that?"
White lowered his pistol muttering to himself.
"Thank you, ladies and gentlemen," said Charley Jones. "Now if you don't mind we'll be taking four of those tasty looking lunches and we'll be on our way."
Less than concerned, as if the holdup was a daily occurrence, the four got on their horses and rode north.
The quartet rode at a slow gallop for most of the night. Riding over rolling meadows and rocky foothills they used the Crazy Mountains off to the west as a guide against a dim sky. Streaks of clouds covered the moon. Since Charley Jones had made an earlier trip from Judith Gap to Big Timber to originally case a bank, he knew the route very well. They were headed to a relay point near the Musselshell River where he had stashed fresh horses. As they rode Sam ruminated on their failure to rob the baggage car's safe. Who knows how much that haul could have been? He and Andie could have really celebrated. Maybe they could have gone to California. Now a bunch of Montana bankers wouldn't lose a dime. He remembered a quote from Mark Twain his dad had told him when he was young. "A banker is a fellow who lends you his umbrella when the sun is shining, but wants it back the minute it begins to rain."
"I hate bankers," said Sam aloud.
"What's that?" asked Chipman.
"I hate bankers."
"Me too, Sam. Bankers have provoked more wars in Europe than politicians ever could. They are society's dead flesh. It is our job to bleed them dry. Hey, Charley. How much further?"
"About another five miles," said Charley. "We've got it made boys."
"Yeah, and a pitiful reward for all our work," said White.
Sam reminisced about his dad again. A veteran, he recounted to Sam some of his Civil War exploits, incidents that, no doubt, caused his son to elect his life of crime. Eden Shermer once told Sam how he had met a Johnny Reb named Josiah in North Carolina. The rebel became separated from his unit and was shot during a brief skirmish. Meanwhile, both men found their way to an old cabin. Since the southern soldier was in no shape to give Eden any trouble it seems they decided on a truce right then and there. Eden dressed the soldier's wounds and helped him recuperate for a couple of days. Then they went their respective ways to reunite after the war and marry a couple of German girls who were also first cousins. Eden said his brother-in-law Josiah Cox always felt indebted to him.
"And well he should," thought Sam.
"Hey, Sam, old boy. Where did you stash that chippy you met in Butte?" asked Chipman.
"I left her in Dillon on my way down," said Sam. "And don't call her a chippy."
Upon reaching the relay camp the men continued northwest until they reached the Little Belt Mountains.
* * *
John Ramsey was the Yellowstone County sheriff. On the day of the robbery Ramsey was visiting friends in Stillwater. When word came down about the holdup, Ramsey quickly put together a posse of thirteen men, loaded them, horses and all, in a box car and steamed to Grey Cliff. Park County Sheriff John Conrow met Ramsey at the depot with his own posse of fifteen and the force steamed to the location of the crime. Along with the group was Deputy Sheriff Sam Jackson from Livingston who was an expert bounty hunter. A big man with a red beard, Jackson was deputized in Park, Yellowstone and Meagher counties and soon got on the outlaw trail. One set of tracks caught his eye right away, that of Jack Chipman's horse that had "plated or running shoes." Such horseshoes were primarily used for horse racing.
Two days after the robbery, the posse came upon the relay camp south of Merino. As they walked around, Sheriff Ramsey spotted a torn letter near the campfire. Putting it together it revealed the name of the owner, Jack Chipman. The next day they came upon another cold campfire and found a watch fob belonging to the train conductor. In total, the posse followed the gang for a week until they arrived near the town of Uber where they gave up the chase. Since the posse only traveled during daylight hours and the bandits rode day and night it soon became obvious the chase was futile.
On September 10, the outlaws purchased supplies in Belt and pitched camp outside of town. The nights were getting cooler and the four huddled around a campfire. Charley Jones lay on his bedroll across the fire from Sam. Charley, a short man who had reached his weatherworn mid- thirties working horses and cattle, filled a cigarette paper with tobacco poured from a Bull Durham sack. He licked the paper and lit the limp roll-your-own with a match.
As he blew smoke rings into the fire he said, "It's a good thing you pulled me out of that poker game back in Butte, Sam."
"Why is that?" asked Sam.
"Didn't you check out those two I was playing with? One was cheatin.' I just know it. We coulda had some real trouble there."
"All I remember is one wore a weird, what do you call it . . . a Bowler Hat? Looked outta place to me."
"That's the key to cheatin,' Sam. You gotta look good. That's number one. Second, what I think he was doin' was that he was waitin' for a good hand. Then, he takes this one card and hides it underneath his leg. He keeps the rest of his cards together by placing them down on the table in a pile so you don't notice. He remembers the card under his leg and goes on playing like nothings goin' on. But, soon he switches that card with another one when he needs it. He does this by acting sorta stumped or something and lowers his hand by his leg in an ordinary gesture. Then, when he wants to stop cheatin' he just pulls up the card and folds."
"Who were they Charley?" asked Sam.
"One was Bob Parker. The other was Harry Longabaugh?Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid."
* * *
Deputy Sam Jackson took on the job alone. He not only was made a special agent for the Northern Pacific Railroad, but was promised a commission as a Deputy U.S. Marshal. Anticipating the four men were on their way to Canada, Jackson took a train to the Blackfeet Indian Reservation where he contacted the Indian agent who was in the process of relocating his office to Willow Creek, near Browning, Montana. The agent told Jackson he had seen four cowhands who fit the outlaws' descriptions. In fact, he had ordered them off the reservation as they appeared up to no good. Quietly, Jackson enlisted the agent's help in gathering a number of Indian police. The new posse soon took a train to Midvale. Unknown to the outlaws, two of Jackson's men had followed them to Midvale and then to a cabin two miles east of town on Two Medicine Creek. Previously, back in Midvale, a hanger-on had become part of the gang. Eighteen-year-old Jimmy Moots was impressed by Charley Jones' quiet composure while holding two deuces in a winning poker game in the Two-Gun Saloon. Later, outside the general store, Jones leaned his stocky physique against a supporting pole.
"You say you got a cabin near here, Moots?" asked Jones.
"Yes, sir. I sure do," said Moots. "I can put you guys up for a spell should you take a mind."
Upon arriving at the cabin, as the five unloaded their supplies, they were unaware of two men sneaking in the brush nearby.
The cabin wasn't much. The one room shed-like affair had a dirt floor and no ceiling to speak of. The exterior was a combination of squared-off logs and quartered log pieces held together by mud plaster. There were no windows. It was a close-quartered shut-in with no escape. At 10 a.m. on the dot Deputy Jackson, having arrived with a combination of ten Indian police and a number of volunteers, shouted out?"You there, in the house. Put up your hands and come out!"
"We gotta get outta here!" screamed young Moots.
Automatically the four outlaws positioned themselves toward the front of the house, broke chinking out of the mud plaster and began firing their pistols. Immediately one of the Indian police called Duck Head was shot in the shoulder. The posse quickly drew back but kept firing. The gun battle lasted for what seemed an eternity for all involved. It was actually about thirty minutes. Then, another member of the posse named Henry Schubert was shot and died later on the posse's ride to Midvale. During the half hour of firing Jones and Chipman used small shovels they had purchased earlier and began digging their way out of back wall of the cabin. Soon they had dug a space large enough for all five to crawl out and escape on foot. Due to their hasty departure they left hundreds of rounds of ammunition, coats, blankets, a huge meat supply of ham and beef, extra saddles and eight horses penned up outside.
On foot the crooks made slow time as they trudged through lodge pole forests, down aspen glades, running and falling down in various snow depths all the while heading toward Marias Pass that straddles the Continental Divide. The posse now increased in number to around sixty. They followed their snow tracks, spotting them at times, but hesitated to close in on them in the thick forests staying close to the railroad that ran through the pass. Then, one of the sheriffs named Gangner put a few men on a special set of train cars and steamed through the Pass. Night fell as Gangner and his men got off the train and walked upward on the tracks toward the crest of a mountain. As coincidence would have it, both sets of men began walking toward each other in the darkness. Each group could hear whispering. Within a few feet of each other the posse began firing, killing Jack Chipman and wounding Sam in the hip. Jimmy Moots surrendered on the spot. Jack White and Charley Jones slipped away into the darkness. The cold night was too much for Jones as the next morning he walked into the Java section house and surrendered to a railroad employee who turned him over to Sheriff Gangner. White subsequently got away, but was shot and killed a few days later by a former neighbor named Gensman who was after a $500 reward.
* * *
Kalispell, Montana was chosen to be the county seat the year Sam Shermer became a wounded prisoner in its jail. Even though the town had a hospital he lay dying on a jail bunk. On the third day following the shootout a young lady walked into the jail to see her lover. As Sam looked up he barely recognized his Andie.
"Hello girl. I hoped to see you. I fear I'm not in the best of shape."
"Shh, Sam. Let me do the talking. I love you Sam. I will always love you. Let me get you to the hospital."
"It's too late girl. Always remember me. Tell them all. Tell them I was Sam Shermer, famous outlaw of the West. Keep my name alive, girl."
With that utterance, Sam Shermer expired. Andie slowly walked out the door never to be seen again. Sam and Jack Chipman were buried in Kalispell later that day in unmarked graves, perhaps fitting for their discreditable notoriety.
It was the same year of the Great Grey Cliff train robbery that America went into its worst economic depression up until that time. Some call it the Panic of 1893, a period marked by the overbuilding and shaky financing of America's railroads. The panic resulted in a series of bank failures and a run on the gold supply. Nearby to our story many western silver mines closed, of which a large number never re-opened. A significant number of western mountain narrow-gauge railroads, which had been built to serve the mines, also went out of business. By 1897 the nation's economy began to recover following the election of Republican William McKinley. Then, in July of 1897, a far more interesting event took precedence over stories of the bad boys of the Old West. It was the Klondike Gold Rush.