On Thursday, August 13, 1896, Montpelier, Idaho sweltered under a blistering afternoon sun. Three riders walked their horses along a street, trailing a pack mare behind them. Had the local jeweler seen them, he might have recognized the three men he’d hired to gather hay on his ranch near the Wyoming border. His wife, who handled the spread while her husband ran his shop, considered them good workers.
|Montpelier, ca. 1910.|
Source uncertain: Wyoming Tales & Trails.
Founded by Mormon colonists in 1864, Montpelier grew only modestly until the Oregon Short Line railroad built a station there in 1884. The three riders stopped first at a general store.
The storekeeper thought the three might be sheepherders. Finished, the strangers remounted and walked their horses east along the street. The time was after 3:00 p.m. when they stopped in front of the bank and dismounted. Two men standing on the board sidewalk glanced at them, didn’t recognize the riders, and resumed their conversation.
They paid sudden attention when two of the men, now masked with bandanas, accosted them with drawn revolvers. Terse commands urged them inside, where they found three bank employees and several customers. The robbers ordered everyone except the Assistant Cashier to line up facing the wall.
The blond, stocky leader held them at gunpoint while the taller bandit stuffed all the bank’s cash money into a large sack. After raiding the vault, the man tossed loose silver coins into the bag, then dumped a stack of gold coins into a cloth bank bag. Finished, he carried the loot outside and loaded the bags onto his horse and the pack mare.
The blond robber waited inside until his partner completed the loading. He warned them not to make a fuss for at least ten minutes, then strolled out to mount up himself. The bandits turned their horses toward the edge of town.
The Cashier hurried to tell the deputy sheriff as soon as the hoofbeats subsided. However, the deputy was mostly a process server and owned neither gun nor horse. Still, willing to try, he grabbed a “penny-farthing” – a bicycle with giant front wheel and tiny rear – and gave chase. He soon gave up, but did find that the crooks had galloped east, towards the Wyoming border.
|Butch Cassidy. Utah Historical Society.|
The bandits had planned well. They apparently used the haying job as a cover while they traced the best escape route and located a spot to hide a quick change of horses. Fortunately, the third bandit, who held the horses ready, had not worn a mask. Outside on the street, that might have attracted unwanted attention. The Assistant Cashier got a good look at him.
That man turned out to be Bob Meeks, a member of Butch Cassidy’s notorious “Wild Bunch.” He was the only one caught and convicted for the robbery. The blond leader was surely Butch himself
For some reason, there seems to be no authoritative answer as to how much the bandits got away with. Reports vary widely, from as little as $5 thousand, to around $16 thousand, to over $50 thousand. A figure of about $7 thousand is most generally accepted. Whatever the amount, none of the money was ever recovered.
|References: [Brit], [Illust-State]|
|Richard M. Patterson, Butch Cassidy: A Biography, University of Nebraska Press (1998).|
|J. Patrick Wilde, Treasured Tidbits of Time, © J. P. Wilde, Montpelier, Idaho (1977).|