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I've just returned from the annual convention of WWA held this year in Great Falls, Montana, and it was a blast, a long way from home but still a blast. A couple hundred writers from all over the country arrived by planes and cars; heck, some may even have hitch hiked. And when they got together to talk about the West over a beer or a wine, it was an education to behold. A couple of the best authors whom books I have read were in attendance, and willing to visit with any of us about their craft.

The Board of Directors even planned a series of events to let the membership see this part

of Montana and learn about its history. We had an informative trip to historic old Fort Benton

along the Missouri River, where a faithful dog became the mascot of the town after his owner

passed. My favorite excursion was to the C. M. Russell museum in Great Falls that contains

many of Charlie Russell’s famous paintings. The facility is masterfully managed, and the staff is

friendly and first rate. I bought a small copy of Russell’s “Hold Up,” the image that appears on

my book about Big Nose George. I believe the museum purchased the original painting about the time my book came out, and I look forward to eventually seeing it on display.

Driving home for over eleven hours after the convention, I had plenty of time to reflect

on the importance of writing about the America West. I think it is the authors, like those at the

convention, which keep the fabric of the west sewn together into a durable legacy we all can

appreciate. I take my Stetson off to them.

A minor local controversy has arisen over the question of Dutch Charley’s body after his 1879 lynching in Carbon by irate citizens. The record indicates that the mob left the outlaw’s body hanging overnight in Carbon before it was cut down, loaded on the train, and shipped to Rawlins where the coroner’s held his inquest.

The Carbon Cemetery today. Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office.

Some have argued that Dutch was buried on the hill just outside the fenced Carbon cemetery, but there is no record of interment. The question I raised in my book was, why would the citizens of Carbon County ship the body of a murderer back to Carbon from Rawlins for burial near the cemetery holding one of his victims? Citizens despised Dutch Charley, and we know from later evidence regarding other gang members that selecting the final resting place for a killer was not a high priority.

I suspect Dutch Charley was either buried in an unmarked grave in the vicinity of Rawlins, or otherwise disposed of by party/parties unknown after the inquest. History is silent on the actual circumstances. I will be discussing this topic in more details

I have a few book signings scheduled this month in Big Horn County, and many people there are curious about outlaw activity in the area during the late 1870s. One of the most provocative questions in the Big Nose George Saga is whether the famous outlaw, Frank James, brother of Jesse, was in the region at that time, and was one of the Powder River Gang. The escapades of the two James brothers are poorly known after the September 1876 Northfield, Minnesota raid and before the October 1879 Glendale, Missouri train robbery, a three-year cloud of mystery obscuring their movements.

Frank James 1898 - Wikipedia

A few sources suggest their presence in Mexico, Texas, and other states/territories, but little evidence supports most claims. Carl Breihan, noted authority on the James brothers, does mention Frank’s role with Big Nose George in 1878, and an overwintering episode in southwestern Wyoming with Jesse from late 1878 to early 1879. Breihan’s story is based on interviews with scores of personalities who may have known pieces of the outlaw history first-hand.

My book argues that Frank was indeed part of the Powder River Gang in 1878. At least three contemporary settlers in the Big Horn country claim knowledge of Frank’s presence there in the time before and/or shortly after the Elk Mountain murders, including O.P. Hanna, T.J. Foster, and May Davis-Howard.

Members of the gang itself, and legal authorities in Carbon County, also believed Frank James was in Wyoming. Big Nose George claimed James was a gang member, and the court accepted Parott’s testimony as truth in his trial. In addition, Carbon County indicted James, along with the rest of the gang, for the murders of Robert Widdowfield and Tip Vincent.

Frank (right) and brother Jesse James in 1872 - Wikipedia

One of the unfortunate outcomes was that the Parott case was costly to Carbon County so much so that they may have chosen not to pursue an extradition request for Frank James from Missouri in the early 1880s. If James had been ordered to stand trial in Wyoming, history may have partially resolved the question of Frank’s whereabouts in that three-year cloud of history.

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