Last Full-Sized Train Robbery in Texas(Agent
Trousdale did it in the baggage car with the ice-mallet).
by Brewster Hudspeth
TE's Big Bend Correspondent
Kilpatrick mug shot circa 1901|
Ohio Federal Penitentiary
Courtesy of Arthur
of the story you are about to read is sometimes referred to as the last train
robbery in Texas. That's not entirely true, since the miniature train in Austin's
Zilker Park (currently called The Zephyr) was held up at gunpoint not
that long ago. We believe it was sometime in the early 1980s. Call Texas Monthly,
they'll know, since they gave the robbers one of their Bum Steer Awards.
more alcohol than planning, since the culprits were arrested before they got out
of the park.
the penultimate train robbery in Texas took place
in the scenic expanses west of Del
Rio. Ole (rhymes with Holy Moley) Hobek and Ben Kilpatrick
were in need of some excitement and cash money. Convenience stores hadn't
been invented yet, and Willie Sutton wasn't old enough to have made his famous
"that's where they keep the money" quote, so they decided to rob a train. While
we're not sure where Ole Hobek was from, we do know that Ben Kilpatrick
AKA the "Tall Texan" was from Knickerbocker,
Texas, just southwest of San
Angelo. Knickerbocker was an under- populated town that grew watermelons for
Fort Concho in season and exported
outlaws the rest of the year.
If the name sounds familiar to our wild-west buffs, yes, Ben was the same Tall
Texan who ran with The Wild Bunch. They weren't always running though,
and when they sat for that well- known photograph in Fort
Worth, Mr. Kilpatrick is sitting dead center. Most people assume he was Butch
Cassidy because of his prominent position and his look of authority. Various
sources have reported Ben as having two pupils in his left eye, however this was
not the case. We were contacted by a Mr. Arthur Soule of Utah who has written
an entire book on this incident. Ordering information will appear at the end of
repeats itself because men like Ben Kilpatrick didn't listen the first time. The
outlaw "Black Jack" Ketchum got his dubious place in history back in 1901
by being the only man ever hung for train robbery. He did kill some people, but
technically it was the train robbery that gave him the death penalty. Our sources
say the charge was "felonious assault upon a railroad."
Tall Texan was illiterate, so he missed the newspaper accounts of the Ketchum
hanging which had occurred ten years earlier. But both were from Knickerbocker
and both were Knickerbocker School of Hard Knocks alumni. One would assume that
Ketchum's failure was a topic of conversation in the barbershop there for many
Jack," who was a Caucasian, by the way, and was also not named after a cudgel,
got a painful arm wound in his last attempted train robbery which was in New Mexico.
The rest of the gang overslept and weren't there to meet the train, so BJ went
solo, which cost him his arm. After his capture, BJ's doctor decided that maybe
the operation should be upgraded to an amputation. BJ's refusal of anesthetic
during the removal isn't as brave as it sounds. He was often seen pummeling his
head with his pistols when he made mistakes, sometimes even when he didn't make
mistakes. This leads several historians to believe he might have enjoyed the pain.
Coincidentally, Ben's brother Sam had died of blood poisoning a few years earlier
when he refused to have his arm amputated after getting it shot in a train robbery
of his own.
Jack Goes to Hell - Head First.
day of Black Jack's departure arrived and during the high point of his not-so-excellent
adventure, the novice hangman either made the drop too long or tied the wrong
knot and Black Jack's head and body were separated. The event was photographed
both before and after, making it a lucrative day for photographers. The coroner
reunited the head and torso with needle and thread.
back on the tracks….
the Tall Texan knew of Mr. Ketchum's end, or if it would've made a difference
is a moot point. Ben Kilpatrick and Ole Hobeck had what Black Jack didn't have
- a novel plan and heads on their shoulders.
argument for counting your SWAG before leaving the scene.
The plan was that Ole and Ben would board the train in Dryden
as regular paying passengers. Black Jack Ketchum had robbed the train near Dryden
a few years before in one of his "successful" robberies. After dynamiting one
of the express car's two safes (the one the agent said held the cash), BJ and
Company fled to Mexico,
without looking closely at the contents of their bags. They left $90,000 behind.
wet-behind-the-ears desperado, waiting for the train.
this caper, Ben and Ole had an 11 year old boy (who was so eager to start a life
of crime, he had already chosen "The Cimmaron Kid" as his alias) stationed
with fresh horses about 10 miles east of Sanderson.
What made this plan novel was that the horses had been shod with their horseshoes
backward (Really). After conducting business, they would gallop off, seemingly
in the opposite direction or something like that.
wasn't to be, though, for a Wells-Fargo employee named Dave A. Trousdale,
rained on their parade by not cooperating. Ole met his end by having his vertebrae
compressed with an ice-mallet and the Tall Texan was shot minutes later.
The bandits climbed into the Engine compartment at Baxter's Curve and introduced
themselves to the engineer. They wore bandana masks and throughout the robbery
called each other by the names "Frank" and "Pardner". These guys thought of everything!
The Engineer was told to take the engine to the first iron bridge. The passenger
cars were then disconnected and rolled down the incline.
robbers had a member of the train crew order the express agent to open the door
and this was done. According to Mr. Trousdale's account, the two men (Trousdale
and Hobek) walked down the aisle of the express car past a shipment of oysters
and the ice that preserved them. Trousdale slipped an ice tool under his coat.
When Holbeck put his rifle down to examine the contents of a mail sack, Trousdale
hit him in the back of the neck with the tool. Second and third blows to the top
of the head finished the job.
some time, the Tall Texan approached the car and asked for a progress report.
What he got was a bullet. The Cimmaron Kid was left holding the feed bag.
was given a reward of a gold watch by Mr. Wells and Mr. Fargo and
the passengers gave him a fob with a diamond set in a Texas star. The Cimmaron
Kid went straight. Years later, in 1972, the "Kid" who's last name was Longbaugh
and claimed to be the son of the Sundance Kid, died in a hotel fire in Montana.
Anderson of Sanderson
The two dead outlaws were taken to Sanderson
where they were photographed standing up (with a little help). In the photo they
appear very drunk or only slightly dead. The Tall Texan resembles a sleepy Bruce
Willis. At the time of this fiasco, Sanderson's
Sherrif was named Anderson. We'd like to say more about him, but our sources only
mention that he was there.
Double in a Single Grave
were buried in Potter's Field in Sanderson
as unknowns. A marker was placed over their graves many years later and while
the headstone is a double header, the truth is they were simply dumped in the
hole together. We are told their graves are a major tourist attraction in present-day
© John Troesser
Soule of Utah has
written an entire book on the incident at Baxter's Curve and it's participants.
A more factual account and biographies of both Ben Kilpatrick and Ole
Holbeck can be found at http://members.networld.com/soulpatrol/ including
ordering information for the book.|
Bibliography: Frontier Violence:
Another Look, W. Eugene Hollon, Oxford University Press, 1976 The Shooters by
Leon Claire Metz, Berkley Press, 1996 Etta Place: Her Life and Times with Butch
Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, by Gail Drago, Republic of Texas Press, 1996
Our special thanks to Dorothy Marquart, Curator of the Terrell
County Memorial Museum, in Sanderson for her telephone interview, reading the
official records to the editor, and sending copies of Trousdale's official report.
Our special thanks to Arthur Soule, author of "The
Tall Texan" for correcting certain errors and contributing previously
Subject: Correction about
Black Jack Ketchum gang
There are three errors in the "The Last Full-Sized
Train Robbery in Texas": (1) the rest of the gang 'overslept' is a figment of
the writers imagination. No serious researcher or writer has found the reason
why Black Jack went on this escapade alone. (2) It wasn't Ben's brother Sam, but
Black Jack's brother Sam that died of blood poisoning in the NM Territorial
Prison after trying to escape from a posse that had chased them to Cimmaron, NM
after a train robbery. (He was my great grandfather). And, I believe that he was
shot in the leg, not the arm, according to Jeff Burton, a respected researcher/expert
on this gang. (3) Ketchum's is misspelled.
I have reseached the Ketchum
family genealogy for 30+ years, and of course, I have come across much information
regarding the two outlaw brothers but that was not my main intent. I have about
3,000 people on my list of kin, including the great grandfather of Black Jack
and Sam, and his descendants down to the present time. My web page has most of
my info, but hasn't been updated in almost a year....and the html code is outdated
and so some of my text and photo borders have turned red :-) http://www.hal-pc.org/~berrys
- Berry Spradley, July 14, 2004