THANKS to Tom McCourt & the Tibbetts Family.
For years, I have been watching Moab move farther and farther away from its roots, to the point where it seems few people even know the history of the place anymore. Some of them don’t know OR care, but I think there are still many who have a respect for the past (I hope so, at least).Last winter I read Tom McCourt’s book on Bill Tibbetts and think it’s his finest work. I knew a bit about Bill,but the story was told so beautifully and I felt it was a very moving tribute, not just to Bill, but to those far off times.I see Moab as some alien world now, and I feel the most significant contribution I can make with the Zephyr these days, is to try and preserve the past in some fashion, or at least make it available for those readers who are interested. With Tom’s permission, the Canyonlands Natural History Association who published it, and with the good wishes and approval of Bill Tibbetts’ son Ray and the Tibbetts Family, we are pleased and honored to offer, over the next few months, excerpts from Tom’s excellent portrayal of ‘the Last Robbers Roost Outlaw.” JS
After escaping from the posse, Bill and Tom crossed the Green River and made their way into Elaterite Basin. Bill and Ephraim kept food and supplies stashed there in a shallow cave along the Big Water Wash. The boys were almost starved when they got to the place, and, to their delight, they found that Ephraim had recently stocked the wilderness pantry, knowing that the fugitives might try to get there. The boys made a feast of beans, rice, and cornmeal. They were also able to shoot a deer without fear of alerting the posse, and a diet of buckskin and biscuits soon had them in top form.
Elaterite was farther out on the desert than the Big Flat area where most of the posse members were searching for the two young outlaws, but Bill and Tom knew it was risky to stay there for long. They figured the posse had probably found the skid marks in the shale where they dove off the rim, and the sheriff might suspect Elaterite Basin would be their destination, if they survived.
But the outlaws had an ace in the hand they were playing. Neither the sheriff nor any of the posse members knew the trails in and out of Elaterite, and that gave Bill and Tom a big advantage. The boys camped for a few days and rested, watching their back-trail closely, knowing the way out if a posse did show up on the horizon.
While they were there, Uncle Ephraim stopped by to visit. He just happened to be in the area checking on his cows.
“Well, I’ll be damned, ain’t you two a sorry sight. I heard you got killed gettin’ away from old Albert Beach and his posse. They said you idiots went right off the White Rim and probably died there under the ledges along the river someplace. I expected your bones would wash up down by Hite or Hall’s Crossing one of these days.”
“Good to see you, Eph. You saved our lives with that big box of grub. How’s Mother, and how are things in town?”
“Amy sends her best,” Eph smiled. “But she’s sure been worried about you two. Old Sheriff Murphy camped out in her kitchen for quite some time trying to sweet talk her into telling him who broke you outlaws out of jail. She finally had to tell him to get the hell out of her house. Feisty woman, that mother of yours.”
“Wish I could have seen it.”
“Joe and Sog and the rest of the boys are all doin’ real fine. Everybody’s healthy, happy, and goin’ about their business. Last I heard the only prisoner in the Moab jail was some drunk from Grand Junction.”
“That’s good to hear. What happened to Ed Cottrell?”
“Ed got a change of venue. They sent him to Price so he could get an impartial jury. He changed his plea from innocent to involuntary manslaughter and they sentenced him to 18 months in the state pen. The judge allowed time off for what he already served in the county jail, so they figure he’ll be back home in about six months.”
“I hope things work out for him,” Bill said. “Me and Tom sure tried to get him to come with us. Ed’s a purdy decent guy. Keeps his mouth shut, too.”
“And how are you getting’ along, Eph?” Bill continued. “Have you caught any grief over any of this?”
“Oh, I had a visit from the sheriff and old Albert Beach, too,” Eph smiled. “They didn’t ask me any questions, just warned me that helpin’ you outlaws in any way was against the law. They said they’re gonna keep a close eye on me until you boys are back in jail where you belong.”
“What did you tell them?”
“I told ‘em to get the hell outta my house, too.”
“But I do have a problem,” Eph said. “There’s still a hell of a lot of work to be done with these cows, and me and little Kenny are havin’ a tough time keepin’ up.
We’ve got steers to gather and a trail drive to make to get these beeves to the railroad.”
“We’ll help you all we can,” Bill promised. “You keep the line camps supplied with groceries and we’ll bunch all of the steers we can find. We should be able to help here in Laterite and along the river bottoms, but we won’t be able to go back over on the Big Flat. Too many concerned citizens. You’ll have to gather my stock over there. ”
“I’m sure we can help each other out,” Eph said. “But before you boys do too much with the cows, I think you should lay low for another week or two. I expect Sheriff Murphy to be here in Laterite in the next few days. That posse figured out that you monkeys went over the rim, and when they don’t find your bones along the river, they’ll probably come lookin’ for you over here. If it was me, I’d take the North Trail outta here and go hide out on the Roost for a while. I’ll stay here for a few days to cover your tracks and have a polite little get-together with the posse when they show up.”
“Sounds good,” Bill agreed.
“You fellers take one of the packhorses and all the grub you can carry. I brought a couple a wool blankets and some other things you might need. And I got a stack of old newspapers for you to read, too. You boys have been purdy famous since your big jailbreak. I though you might want to read all about it. I’ll bet you didn’t know you got a bounty on your ears like a couple a sheep-eatin’ coyotes.”
Bill and Tom took Ephraim’s advice and rode out of Elaterite Basin along the North Trail and into the Robbers Roost. There, they vanished amid the canyons and sand dunes of Butch Cassidy’s old hideout.
The boys found a shallow cave that fit the requirements for an outlaw hideaway, and they settled in to spend the winter.
“Well, I guess this is home,” Tom said with just a touch of melancholy as he cleared a flat spot at the back of the cave for his bedroll. “I always liked campin’ out, but I never figured that one day I’d be hidin’ out like a wild Indian.”
“This is a great spot,” Bill assured him. “We got everything we need. We got grass and water for the horses. We got shelter from the wind and snow. We got firewood and deer tracks in the cedars. We got two or three good escape routes with plenty of places to cache supplies. And we can see the whole country from here. What else would an outlaw need?”
“Oh, I don’t know. There’s this girl named Wanda who lives over by Monticello who said if I ever get lonesome I should…”
“Oh, knock it off,” Bill growled with an amused smile. “We got no room for Wandas in this outlaw camp. You wanna see Wanda you better go surrender to the San Juan county sheriff. Maybe they’ll lock you up in the jailhouse in Monticello and Wanda can stop by for a visit.”
“I’ll bet she’d bring me a cake with a file in it,” Tom grinned.
“Come here and take a look at this,” Bill said, changing the subject. While they had been talking, he had been carving his name into the sandstone wall of the cave.
Tom walked over and read the inscription. It said:
Sept. 15, 1924
“What do ya think?” Bill asked. “You want to put your name there, too?”
“Looks like something they might put on your tombstone,” Tom said with a wry smile. “I think I’ll pass.”
“Well, if you ain’t the most depressing soul to talk to. I think it looks purdy. Kinda homey like a welcome mat.”
“People wipe their shitty feet on welcome mats.”
“That’s why I put it near the ceiling, asshole.”
Once safely settled in their outlaw camp, the young men were incredulous when they read about their exploits in the Moab newspaper. The story in the paper wasn’t anything like the real-life adventure they had experienced. To their dismay, the sheriff and the posse had reported the facts all wrong. They laughed when they read about how Sheriff Murphy and Deputy Beach had chased them for ten miles up Standing Rock Canyon. The way they remembered it, the good sheriff and his right hand man were pinned down in a mosquito-infested swamp the whole time. There was nothing about the sabotaged boat motor and the sheriff walking all the way back to Moab, either.
The boys found the newspaper stories amusing, but the half-truths and outright lies really got their dander up. They were frustrated because there was nothing a couple of self-respecting outlaws could do to set the record straight. Until finally, after stewing about it for a few days, they decided to fight fire with fire. With righteous indignation and in the spirit of fair play, they wrote a long letter to the editor of the Moab newspaper, explaining their point of view on the whole matter. They were pleasantly surprised when the letter was actually printed, with a few omissions, of course.
It is interesting to note that the letter is dated September 16, just one day after Bill carved the inscription in the outlaw cave. It took another month for the letter to find its way to the offices of The Times-Independent newspaper in Moab.
“Oh, Bill, is it really you?” his mother said as she reached out to hug her wayward son. “We’ve been so worried. All those men leavin’ town with guns to hunt for you and Tom. I’ve been worried sick.
“Aw, me and Tom can take care of ourselves,” Bill grinned. “Let’s pull down the window shades so no one can see I’m here.”
“He stayed at our camp over on the Roost. We got horses to care for and somebody needed to stay with our stuff. I just came to town to get us some winter clothes, boots, and a couple more blankets before it snows out there on the desert.”
“How in the world did you get to town without the sheriff catchin’ you?”
“I worked it out with Sog. We been sendin’ notes through Uncle Ephraim. Sog picked me up just out of Green River in old man Tomlinson’s Ford truck. We drove here right down the main road. Until it got dark, I just ducked whenever we passed another outfit. Sog’s gonna take me back in the morning with a load of potatoes.”
“You had better be careful, Bill.”
“Sometimes the best place to hide is right out in the open,” Bill smiled. “People don’t look for you there.”
“Let me fix you something to eat. I’ll bet you haven’t had a proper meal for weeks.”
“That’d be great Mom. By the way, I got a letter here I want you to take to the post office in the morning. It’s to the editor of the newspaper. They’ve been tellin’ lies about me and Tom. I’ve got to set ‘em straight on some things
Bill Tibbetts and Tom Perkins, Escaped Jail-breakers,
Take Their Pen in Hand to Tell Us All About It
From their hide-out on “Wildcat Bend” in the rimrocks and inaccessible canyons along the Green river, Bill Tibbetts and Tom Perkins, alleged cow thieves who escaped from the county jail on the night of July 30 by breaking through the bars of the front door, have written The Times Independent an extended letter in which they give “their side of the case”
The letter was received by The Times Independent Tuesday morning. The envelope was postmarked October 14. Inclosed with the letter giving the fugitives version of the cow stealing case, was a brief note to the editor, signed by J W. (Bill) Tibbetts, asking that we publish the attached communication.
The note follows:
Moab, Utah, Oct 13, 1924
Dear Sir. I am sending herewith a letter stating our side of the case that was framed up against Tom Perkins and myself. Would like to have it published, but if you don’t feel like giving us a fair hearing return the letter to Amy E Allred.
The note to the editor was written under the date of October 13, the day before The Times Independent received the letter at the postoffice. The note is also dated at Moab, Utah. Whether the fugitives came to Moab to post the letter, or whether they sent it to the pos toffice by a friend, is of course unknown to us.
In the letter which they asked to have published, Tibbitts and Perkins claim that they were the victims of a frame up on the part of other cattle men on whose range they had intruded. They assert, in effect, that there was a general conspiracy on the part of their accusers, the prosecuting office, the county commissioners, the town paper, and in fact half the town to blacken their reputations and give them a rotten deal all around. They state that accounts of their arrest, hearing and escape from jail as published in The Times Independent were badly overdrawn and exaggerated, and offer to give us and exaggerated and offer to give us (sic)
They claim their preliminary hearing was a farce. They have a few uncomplimentary things to say about the judge who heard their case, they pay their respects to the prosecuting attorney, they harshly criticize and condemn their own attorney who represented them at the trial, and finally they severely castigate the sheriff for the treatment accorded them in the county jail.
For two reasons The Times Independent would like to publish verbatim the communication from Tibbitts and Perkins. First, we endeavor at all times to print both sides and versions of any criminal case which comes before our courts, and we try to be just as fair as possible in the presentation of news matter: second, the communication from the fugitives would prove entertaining and perhaps somewhat amusing to a large portion of our readers. However, the authors of the letter have not conformed to proper newspaper style in framing their letter. They make positive assertions which possibly could not be proved in a court of law; the words “perjurers,” “liars,” “bribe,” “thieves” and similar complimentary references appear quite frequently. The coauthors are perhaps unfamiliar with our libel laws, which make a newspaper publisher legally responsible for the matter which appears in his paper. Naturally The Times Independent has no desire to jump into a libel suit, and therefore we are unable to give publicity to the communication in its entirety. We nevertheless wish to oblige the boys to as great an extent as we consistently can do, and we will attempt to fairly print “their side of the case” by deleting certain parts of the epistle which are considered libelous.
In according space to the communication, it is needless to say that The Times Independent does not vouch for any of the statements made therein. We are merely following our usual policy of placing our columns at the disposal of the people for the dissemination of news with absolute fairness to all. Times-Independent readers will recall the evidence in the Tibbetts-Perkins case as published at the time of the hearing. We now are privileged to present to them “the other side of the case.” The communication from the fugitives, with certain parts necessarily deleted, follows:
Wildcat Bend, Green River
Sept. 16, 1924
“We have read the accounts published by The Times-Independent of our arrest, hearing and escape from the county jail, and in most cases the facts were badly overdrawn and exaggerated, probably on account of misinformation on the part of the reporter.
“It might have occurred to some of your readers there could be two sides to our case. If The Times is willing to give us a fair hearing we would like to state a few facts concerning our case and the treatment received by us while in the custody of the sheriff.
“In the first place the charges made against us were made upon a little bit of doubtful circumstantial evidence (such as some three-weeks-old horse and cattle tracks, and a cow said to have been seen bawling a half mile from where we had killed a beef ) sworn to by a number of cattlemen * * * *. The only thing they had in the way of evidence was their own lies, for example when they swore that one of us (Bill Tibbetts) had offered to pay for the cattle killed on Horsethief point. The main reason for our arrest was the fact that we had put some cattle on a part of the range used by our accusers and they wanted to get rid of us. They have been in the habit in the past of keeping cattle and sheep off this range by threats of violence and where threats didn’t work by the wholesale stealing of stock put on the range * * * *. In our case threats had availed them nothing so they tried persecution by getting the county to hold us while they and others jumped onto our backs. The prosecuting bunch, the county commissioners, the town paper, and all of the false accusers in Moab and vicinity united to exaggerate all of the false rumors that have been circulating about us for years, and give us a rotten deal generally. To start with our hearing was a farce * * * *. The prosecuting attorney and others were overheard talking about our case so we knew that it was already fixed that we were to be bound over and our bonds boosted.
“After we were taken through the formality of a hearing we were bound over and placed under two thousand dollar bonds each, which they knew we couldn’t give, all * * * * that they might keep us under lock and key while they went about to circulate lies, and create prejudice against us.
“We might have bore the outrages already mentioned but the alleged food served us at the county jail boarding house was simply unendurable. A conglomeration of bread, meat, and vegetable scraps called Scrappo, refuse and offals from tables, donated by neighbors to feed the chickens, was served to us along with dried scraps and crusts of bread, obtained from the same source. Wilted, unstrung string beans, seasoned with scraps of meat of questionable quality left on our plates from previous meals. Such stuff was served us and hunger forced us to eat small quantities of it until we found a cat tooth in the Scrappo (the house cat had disappeared a few days before) when we refused to eat it, but the same mess was served up day after day (apparently it was that or nothing) and onions were added in an effort to kill the odor. Our friends brought us in cake, pie and other edibles which kept us alive and we would have stayed and stood trial in the district court and proved to the citizens of Grand county that our persecutors had but slight cause to even accuse us (Here follows a somewhat caustic criticism by the defendants of their attorney and his handling of the case). That was going one too strong for us so we decided to leave, which we did on the night of the 30th of July.
“We went down the Colorado river and on account of shallow water and sandbars our progress was slow by day, so we camped at night and as a consequence was overtaken by the sheriff ’s posse in the motor boat. We left our boat about five minutes before the posse arrived and took to the rough hillside. When the motor boat landed some of the men got out and were looking around on the sand bar for signs of us. We fired one shot into the air and they all took refuge under the river bank. Beach was sitting in the rear end of the motor boat and you’d a thought he had wings to have seen him cross the sandbar. We had previously agreed between ourselves to submit to capture rather than shoot anyone, so when the men went under the bank we laid our guns down by the rock where we sat, and walked away.
“We have been branded as thieves, desperadoes, and murderers, and have had our characters dragged through the mire by people who are anxious to drag our reputations down on a level with their own, fed on slop by the side of which six days eating grasshoppers seemed like a picnic. We were told on one occasion that there wasn’t anything very good to eat but it was good enough for dogs.
“We wouldn’t mention this food question (for we consider anyone that would take advantage of people because they are in jail to feed them slop that is unfit for a swine to be entirely beneath our contempt) only that the county commissioners might know what kind of treatment the county’s prisoners are being subjected to, and what the county’s money is being paid for, and perhaps prevent the same thing happening to somebody else. Of course we all understand that everything must be kept in the family.
“We are not trying to pose as examples of innocence, but when we are stoned to death we would like to have someone found among our accusers that is at least as honest as ourselves to throw the first stone. We have heard that the law reads that a man is to be considered innocent until he is proven guilty, but in our case we were considered guilty and treated as convicts right from the start.
“We have no hard feelings even against our accusers for having us arrested or for anything they told that was the truth, it is their lies that we resent.