recent column about "No
Man's Land" in the Oklahoma Panhandle brought in a great true
story from Roy McClellam of Spearman. Reading like a novel by Louis
L'amour, this tale tells of a Robber's Roost located right here
in the Panhandle area.
No Man's Land was created after Kansas, Texas and New Mexico were
admitted to the Union of States. This little corner, 35 miles wide
by 168 miles long, was not included in any state and was left without
law and order, for years making it a Mecca for outlaws.
One of the earliest and most notorious was Captain William Coe,
who established his Robber's Roost in the late 1860s. Located strategically
on a long high ridge jutting southwest from a large mesa near the
town of today's Kenton, Okla., the outlaw headquarters was large,
made of rock walls three feet thick, was topped with a thick sod
roof, had portholes instead of windows, sported a fully stocked
bar, a piano and bevy of sporting ladies.
Little is known
about Coe's early life except that he was from the South. He had
military experience and was an intelligent leader of men. He was
also an experienced carpenter and stonemason which was shown in
the building and design of his rock fortress sanctuary.
His gang of outlaws numbered 30 to 50 members who pillaged and raided
from Fort Union to the south, Denver to the north and Taos to the
west. They stole both civilian and military mules and horses, changed
the brands, then sold them in Missouri to settlers. A special canyon
still exists today named Blacksmith Canyon, where the stolen stock
were rested, the brands changed and their feet shod with equipment
and supplies stolen from wagons raided along the nearby Santa Fe
In 1867, the
gang attacked a large sheep operation from Las Vegas, N.M., killing
the men then driving the herds of sheep to Pueblo, Colo., to sell.
This brutal outrage brought complaints to the U.S. Army at Fort
Lyons located on the Arkansas River near Las Animas, Colo. No doubt
the Army did intervene but the stories vary.
Several versions exist telling of what happened when the Army attacked
Robber's Roost. Military records tell only of following a band of
Indians during this time, but somehow a six-inch cannon bombarded
the rock fortress, crumbling the walls killing and wounding several
outlaws. Coe and some of his gang escaped into the hills but several
survivors of the fight were hung on the spot.
Coe was captured twice, escaped and was hidden at a remote ranch.
The lady there sent her 14-year-old son to report the location of
Coe, who was captured and placed in handcuffs and leg shackles and
held in jail for indictment and trial.
On the night
of July 20, 1868, Vigilantes removed Coe from jail and loaded him
- handcuffs, shackles and all - into a wagon. He was hung and the
body buried under the tree. (The sites mentioned here exist today
but are located on private property.)
© Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew" January
16, 2008 Column
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