| Features | Railroads
Full-Sized Train Robbery in Texas
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 Soule
Part 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.
was more alcohol than planning, since the culprits were arrested
before they got out of the park.
Anyway, 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 this story.
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."
The Tall Texan
was illiterate, so he missed the newspaper accounts of the Ketchum
hanging which had occurred ten years earlier. But both were from
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 years.
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.
Black Jack Goes
to Hell - Head First.
The 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….
If 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.
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
desperado, waiting for the train.
For 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
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.
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.
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.
After 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
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.
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,
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
They 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 Sanderson.
© John Troesser
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 unknown facts.
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
Robberies, Murders, Hangings, Gun Fights, Mysteries... Related
Topics: Columns | Texas
Towns | People
| Texas |