(Image credit: Smithsonian Institute)
This famous photograph, sometimes called the “Fort Worth Five,” was taken in 1900 an the Schwartz Studio in old downtown Fort Worth. Pictured are the following: left to right, front row: Harry A. Longabaugh (aka the Sundance Kid), Ben Kilpatrick (aka the Tall Texan), Robert Leroy Parker (aka Butch Cassidy); standing: Will Carver and Harvey Logan (aka Kid Curry). The photo is said to have helped authorities later to identify each of them and within twelve years, they would all be dead. Carver was killed in a shootout in Sonora, Texas the following year. Logan was killed in a shootout with a posse in Parachute, Colorado in 1904. He may have taken his own life rather than submit to being captured. Longabaugh and Parker are believed to have been killed in a shootout in Bolivia in 1908. Kilpatrick died in 1912.
Ben Kilpatrick was born on January 5, 1874 to a farming family in Coleman County, Texas. His parents were George Washington and Mary Davis Kilpatrick. Not a lot is known about Ben’s early years, but he married the former Nancy Elmina Williams in 1892 and the couple had two children during the 1890s. Beyond this, not much is known about their union, nor when it ended. Kilpatrick got his nickname “the Tall Texan” due to his height. He was relatively tall for the time, about six feet two inches in height. By the end of the decade, Ben had been associated for a while with the gang of Black Jack Ketchum, who operated during much of his career in New Mexico until he was finally wounded and apprehended in during an attempted train robbery. The remaining members of his gang may have formed the nucleus of the “Wild Bunch.” By 1900, Kilpatrick was operating as a member of the latter group, which by then included everyone in the above photo. The name “Wild Bunch” was not unique to Longabaugh, Parker and the others, as it can be found in newspapers prior to 1900 applied to other outlaw gangs which operated in the Southwest United States.
The gang would often commit robberies of trains and then split up, making arrangements to meet later as far north as Wyoming. It was after two successful robberies that the five are believed to have taken some time off and met in Fort Worth where the photo was taken in November, 1900. Carver had married a local woman named Laura Bullion, who is said to have been a prostitute in Fort Worth. After Carver’s death, she is believed to have taken up with Kilpatrick although they never married, by all accounts. The remaining gang is known to have committed at least one more robbery in the summer of 1901 in Montana before disbanding under pressure from law enforcement authorities and posses that were searching for them. Longabaugh and Parker fled to New York and on to South America. Kilpatrick and Laura Bullion were arrested in St. Louis, Missouri in November of 1901. After their individual trials and convictions, Kilpatrick was sent to prison in Georgia and Bullion was sent to Tennessee to a women’s prison. It is unknown if they ever got back together.
Ben Kilpatrick served 10 years of a 15 year sentence, was released in the summer of 1911 but immediately brought to Texas to be tried for an earlier murder, of which he was acquitted. While he was briefly incarcerated in Texas, he is thought to have shared a cell with H. “Ole” Hobek (or Beck). Once they were both released, the duo committed a few more train robberies. Then they planned a robbery of a Southern Pacific short line railroad called the Sunset Flyer that ran from Sanderson to Dryden, Texas, located northwest of Del Rio and near the Mexican border.
On March 13, 1912, Hobek and Kilpatrick boarded the train at a water stop near Eldridge, Texas. They had the engineer uncouple some of the cars, leaving the baggage and mail cars attached to the engine. Then they ordered the engineer to drive the stub train around a bend to a place known as Baxter’s Curve, so the bandits could set about looking for loot. When the duo attempted to examine the car, a Wells Fargo messenger and hostage named David A. Trousdale opened the door to let them in. After that, the attempted robbery went badly for them. Kilpatrick entered the car first. Trousdale said in a newspaper interview that as Kilpatrick turned his back on him either to go through the safe or look in the car for another possible hostage (the accounts vary), he took an ice maul, a mallet, and overpowered Kilpatrick by striking him several times on the back of the head. Kilpatrick was fatally wounded then and there. Trousdale then took one of Kilpatrick’s guns and shot Hobek in the head as he entered the car, also fatally wounding him. They examined the bodies of the outlaws. In addition to carrying at least six weapons between them, the duo also had several bottles of nitroglycerin to use in blowing up the safe, if they had needed them. When the rest of the train was recoupled, it went on its way. Once it reached Dryden, the bodies of the two outlaws were carried off the train, propped up and photographed.
Trousdale received a $1,000 reward and a $250 gold watch for his actions. He was also promoted to supervising messenger at a salary of $2,000 per year. The bodies of Kilpatrick and Hobek were buried in a small cemetery in Sanderson.
© 2020, all rights reserved.