March 16, 2013

Back on the Outlaw Trail

It's been a long winter, but we trekked down to the San Rafael Desert this week to give the horses and ourselves a workout.  Seeing the snow-covered Henry Mountains rising over the desert is always a thrill. 
We saddled up at Granary Springs and headed across the wide open spaces toward Robber's Roost (some characteristic cliffs in the area are pictured above).  That's where Butch Cassidy and numerous other outlaws hung out when the lawmen were on their trail.  It's a remote spot, and only the most dedicated of sheriffs were likely to bother traveling that far. 
Here's the Robber's Roost Spring, where the outlaws watered their horses.  As of mid-March, it's still ice-covered, but it's flowing enough to fill a modern-day rancher's cattle tank.  The outlaws claimed the water was good enough for stock, but the gypsum concentration made it taste bad.  Humans went a little farther up-canyon to get their drinking water. 
Our horses drank a little from the new improved tank, but without enthusiasm. 
Here's an old wooden tank, now filled with sand, built by rancher Joe Biddlecomb nearly 100 years ago. 
This old chimney belonged to Jack Cottrell's cabin.  Mr. Cottrell lived and ranched there for a few years around 1900, until his wife started complaining about the isolation.  After he left, outlaws and cowboys took up residence.  According to legend, some packrats were also living there.  A sheepherder using the place for shelter decided to burn out the packrats.  Unfortunately, he also burned down the cabin.  The chimney is all that's left. 
Here's the entrance to Silver Tip Spring Canyon.  Silver Tip was an "old" (about 40) horse thief who had some white hair in his sideburns.  His real name was Bill Wall.  In the 1890's, the horse thieves got a little overambitious and stole a few too many valuable animals.  A possee managed to follow the outlaw tracks from the Green River to the Roost, and on up the canyon toward what was known as the sweet spring, later named Silver Tip Spring.  Silver Tip, Blue John, and Indian Ed found themselves in a ticklish situation, stuck in a side canyon with the possee shooting at them.  Indian Ed was hit with a bullet to the leg.  Blue John returned fire, while Silver Tip climbed the 100 foot sandstone ridge and began shooting over the possee's heads from above.  His shots came a little too close for comfort, and the possee took off running.
Silver Tip later claimed he didn't intend to kill any of the lawmen, since that would likely bring  more trouble than rustling horses, or robbing trains and banks, which was the usual criminal activity indulged in by the Robber's Roosters.  The possee, however, wasn't so sure their lives weren't in danger.  They left and never came back. 
The Robber's Roost hideout was safe once again.
Besides taking in the history of the scenery, we saw plenty of interesting rock formations.  Long sandy stretches in the Robber's Roost Flats  allowed for a pleasant gallop on the way back to the trailer. 


  1. Beautiful country and really enjoyed the history you added.

  2. I saw your blog name on Troutbirder's blog and wanted to check out your Outlaw info. It was great fun reading the history you wrote. Thanks!

    I only know about Jesse James and the Northfield gang here in MN.


  3. Beautiful area, Janie. Glad you two could get out some. We had a gorgeous spring day here --and all of us I'm sure are READY for spring!!!!

    I have missed your blogging ---so I'm glad that you are back out on the trails again.

    Interesting story about Jack Cottrell's cabin... And I liked seeing the old wooden tank.... Thinking about Butch Cassiday and other outlaws being there makes it seem as if the area was very remote... Great post. Thanks!

  4. Glad you are back on the trails again and sharing it with us

  5. Cool history to go along with the gorgeous scenery. Yippee for spring!

  6. I love this. Great stories. I don't think the fireplace is long for this world.

  7. Beautiful vistas and fascinating history! Glad to see you back on line, Janie...:)

  8. Thank you for the beautiful scenery and interesting history. I'm glad you were able to get out and ride to Robbers Roost, and I hope this is only the first of many rides you will share with us this year.

  9. What lovely, gorgeous views! You've got me itchin' for a hike in the wilderness! How I miss those days. I hope we're not too old and worn out by the time we move back. lol!


  10. Your post is exactly the kind of life I want someday - so beautiful

    Love to you
    I've Become My Mother
    I've Become My Mother facebook

  11. How nice to be out riding the hills. I'm sympathetic to the sheepherder who tried to smoke out the packrats--I like seeing their dens in the rocky outcrops, but their odor would gag a maggot and I've slept outside of cabins rather than put up with the stink.

  12. I love the history of the old wild west along with the rouged landscapes you ride thru.
    I enjoyed looking over your adventurous shoulder Janie.

    Happy trails to you and Steve ~:)

  13. Thank you for sharing the history of the area as well these photos. I bet it feels great to be riding the trails again.

  14. So much history, and you ride in the most amazing country!

  15. yay! you guys are back to being our tour guides! I just LOVE that country. love your stories to go with the trails.
    - The Equestrian Vagabond

  16. If my history teacher gave history in bits and pieces with gorgeous photos like you....well, I would have enjoyed the class more! Gorgeous views; the bluest of blue skies too.
    I hope you are starting to warm up!

  17. So fun for me to see these images and hear this little bit of history. thanks for sharing.

  18. Robber's Roost is one of my husband's favorite places in the world! Found your blog this weekend after getting home from a trip in Goblin Valley and driving the Temple Mountain road. Very excited to look around

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