One hundred and five years ago tonight, on the first Christmas Eve of World War One, a curious thing happened.
World War One, or the Great War, began in 1914. Like other long conflicts in history, many soldiers had gone to the battlefields enthusiastically, believing the war would be brief. When the first wave of soldiers departed for the front in July 1914, many imagined they would return home in a month or two, flushed with victory. By December 1914, they had been thoroughly disillusioned. So many soldiers had perished on the battlefield already, and both sides now understood the war would be a prolonged death grapple, one in which they fervently believed their own army must triumph.
Somewhere, between the light and shadows, in the dark corners… there’s something unseen here. Photographer Alvin Langdon Coburn captured this image in 1905, when he was 23 years old. It’s called Weir’s Close.
In 1850, a Scotsman named Allan Pinkerton founded one of the most successful and well-known detective agencies in history in Cook County, Illinois- an organization so successful, it’s still operating 169 years later.
The Pinkerton National Detective Agency initially specialized in train robberies, but they quickly expanded into anti-labor union activities, including breaking up the Molly Maguires, a secret organization of coal miners. Allan Pinkerton claimed to have foiled an assassination plot against President-elect Abraham Lincoln.
Agency Motto: “We never sleep”
I happened upon an interesting stash of Wild West-related photos that the Pinkerton Agency donated to the Library of Congress archives. They would have been closely guarded artifacts back when these criminals were still operating.
The more I read about all of these characters and their complex web of relationships, the more I would like to write their individual stories! So for today, I’ll just introduce you to a few of them who were associated with the Wild Bunch gang:
The Wild Bunch, however, had over 20 members. In addition to Robert Leroy Parker (aka Butch Cassidy) and Harry A. Longabaugh (aka the Sundance Kid), there was Elzy Lay, Ben Kilpatrick, William Carver, George Curry, Harvey Logan, Bob Meeks, Lonny Curry, Bob Smith, Al Smith, Bob Taylor, Tom O’Day, Sam Carey, Tom “Black Jack” Ketchum, Jesse Linsley, the Roberts Brothers, and Camilla Hanks and Laura Bullion.
The Wild Bunch’s main target was often trains. The gang stole over $60,000 in two train robberies in the summer of 1899, which brought them to the attention of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency.
Without telling their full stories, we can learn a lot from these few photographs that have been preserved.
Annie Rogers (aka Della Moore or Maude Williams) and Harvey Logan (aka Kid Curry), circa 1900. Rogers was a prostitute and Harvey Logan’s girlfriend. Many of the men picked up girlfriends in brothels across the west.
Just a few years later, on July 7, 1904, Kid Curry committed suicide with a rifle , immediately following a hold up of Denver Bank Rio Grande train #5 at Parachute, Colorado.
Jesse Linsley, another member of the Wild Bunch gang. I couldn’t find much information about Linsley, but I imagine he’s an interesting guy from the way he wore his hat.
The star, of course, was Robert LeRoy Parker, alias Butch Cassidy. Born in 1866, he robbed his first bank in Telluride, Colorado at the age of 23.
This studio photograph wound up in the hands of Pinkerton. It shows Harry Longabaugh, aka the Sundance Kid, and his girlfriend, the mysterious Etta Place, circa 1900. Etta Place was known to be a refined woman, though it is likely the Sundance Kid picked her up at a brothel in Texas.
Ben Kilpatrick, alias the Tall Texan, was seated in the center of the famous photograph of the Wild Bunch.
He was arrested in 1901 for robbery, and served 10 years of a 15-year sentence.
Kilpatrick’s on-again, off-again girlfriend was Laura Bullion. Kilpatrick wrote to her from prison, but Laura had moved on. Bullion was the longest lived of the Wild Bunch, passing away peacefully in Memphis in 1961.
Upon Ben Kilpatrick’s release from prison, he returned to crime. On March 13, 1912, he and another outlaw, Ole Hobek, were killed during a train robbery near Sanderson, Texas. Pinkerton had a photo of that, too. Kilpatrick has the number 1 etched into the photo, just over his head. The number 2 is written over Hobek’s head. The other men in the photo are holding their bodies in place.