This is part three of a three-part story about Hugh Whitney. Previously I told you about his robbing a saloon in Monida, Montana, then hopping on a train into Idaho. He was briefly arrested on board the train by a deputy who had gotten on in Spencer, Idaho for that purpose. When the cuffs came out he shot the deputy, then the train conductor. The latter later died. Yesterday we ended with Whitney shooting three fingers off the hand of a deputy who tried to stop him when he crossed the Menan Bridge.
After that, wanted posters went up across a three-state area offering a $500 reward. This was before anyone knew much about Whitney, other than he was a cowhand and a killer, probably from Cokeville, Wyoming. Then officials found out he had grown up on a ranch in Adams County, Idaho, about three miles south of Council, where his parents still lived. Idaho Governor James Hawley added $500 to the reward money, and Oregon Shortline officials put in another $1,000.
It was about that time Whitney became a ghost and a boogeyman. He was nowhere and everywhere, terrorizing gentle folks with his very existence.
Sightings came in from Idaho, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming. On August 13, the Idaho Statesman reported that Whitney had been arrested in Rexburg. Except it turned out not to be Whitney, but a young man from Boise who had wandered away from his surveying crew and gotten lost.
Then, on September 10, Whitney was positively seen, along with his brother, Charles, holding up a bank in Cokeville, Wyoming. The brothers had worked as sheepherders in the area but had been fired because Hugh Whitney had a habit of herding sheep by firing his pistol at them. The Whitneys stole about $500, mostly from 14 bank customers since the safe was on a timer and couldn’t be opened for them. When they finished with their collection of offerings, they mounted up and, shooting as they went, galloped out of town. Hugh Whitney got away.
Large posses from Cokeville and Afton, Wyoming, as well as Montepelier, Idaho pursued the pair. The brothers were spotted crossing a toll bridge at Chubb Springs not far from the Blackfoot Reservoir. Posses from Idaho Falls and Rexburg set out to intercept them.
On September 15, the Montpelier paper carried a story of a sighting of the Whitneys there. In the same issue the paper took umbrage over a dispatch from Cokeville that went to the Salt Lake Herald-Republican that claimed the pair had been hiding out in Montpelier for weeks with the aid of local residents.
On September 18, reports hit the papers that posses were closing in on Hugh Whitney near the Idaho Wyoming border.
On September 22, the Whitneys were surely the two masked men who robbed a resort at Hailey and shot a musician dead.
The ghostly Whitneys then made a series of appearances, starting with their capture in Montpelier by two homesteaders. Then Hugh was taken into custody in a Pocatello barber shop. Then he was captured in Mackay. Except, no, he wasn’t. That rounded out 1912.
In July, 1913, Whitney showed up in The Pocatello Tribune if not in Rigby, where he might have robbed a bank. At this point, you would be well advised to get a refreshment of your choice and settle in for the reading of the next sentence, which I will quote verbatim. “That it was Hugh Whitney, notorious Wyoming and Idaho desperado, who held up the bank at Rigby Tuesday afternoon, escaping with $3500; that he eluded a sheriff’s posse by swinging around by Willow Creek and back to the main line of the Short Line at Firth; that he boarded train No. 2, southbound, early yesterday morning, alighting at Pocatello and taking eastbound train No. 5, bound for his Wyoming haunts; that a saddle horse left near the station at Firth with a sack of silver tied to the horn belonged to the desperado; that he is by this time safe among his friends somewhere north of Cokeville, and that it is useless to search further for him, is the belief of local officers of the law, who yesterday afternoon received word from Firth that a saddle horse was found hitched there yesterday morning, with a sack of silver tied to the saddlehorn.”
I hope you took a breath.
In September of 1913, Salt Lake officials captured Whitney. No, they didn’t. A few days later he was sighted all over town in Pocatello. No, he wasn’t.
On September 27, The Idaho Statesman quipped that “Any town that wants to be sure to stay on the map should at once capture Bandit Hugh Whitney.”
By March 1914, Whitney Fever had yet to subside. The Statesman reported that a “desperate looking character” was trailed by reporters hoping for a scoop, only to find it was a local man who had just returned from a wool-buying trip in Oregon.
In July of 1914, three years after the murder of Conductor Kidd, they had Whitney at last. He was involved in the robbery of a train near Pendleton, Oregon. Two outlaws got away, but the “body of the dead desperado (was) positively identified as that of Hugh Whitney.”
Alas, no it wasn’t. The body had been identified because there was a watch that purportedly belonged to Whitney among the man’s belongings.
In 1915, speculation was high that the man holding a prominent Bingham County rancher for ransom was Hugh Whitney. He wasn’t.
The fever cooled for a while, but in 1925 Reno, Nevada police thought they had Hugh Whitney in custody. Say it with me, “they didn’t.”
In 1926, Hugh Whitney was killed during a bank robbery in Roseville, California. Not.
Hugh Whitney, according to The Post Register of March 10, 1932, was living somewhere in the area of Idaho Falls. Montana officers had tipped them off that Whitney was living incognito so near to the many places he had frequented (or not) some 21 years earlier. The excitement soon faded away.
Little was heard of Hugh Whitney, save for those “25 years ago” columns until 1951. That’s when a rancher named Frank S. Taylor sat down for a little talk with the governor of Montana, whom he knew. “Frank” had a confession to make.
Frank Taylor was actually Charlie Whitney, brother of the notorious Hugh and sometimes partner in crime. He was coming forward to confess, because Hugh Whitney had died. Charlie wanted to come clean.
It seems the brothers had fled the West after the Cokeville bank robbery. They lived in Wisconsin and Minnesota for about a year, then changed their names and moved to Montana. They worked as ranch hands near Glasgow in northeastern Montana.
The brothers both enlisted in the army during WWI and fought in France. They returned to Montana after the war, but Hugh went to Saskatchewan in 1935, where he prospered as a rancher. On his deathbed Hugh had confessed to his crimes and absolved Charlie of participation in any of them, except for the Cokeville bank robbery.
Montana’s governor sent Wyoming’s governor a letter recommending clemency for Charlie’s role in that hold up.
Charlie Whitney-cum-Frank Taylor traveled to Cheyenne to face whatever music was playing there. He spent ten days in jail while a judge, named Robert Christmas, contemplated his fate. The Christmas present was that the judge saw no point in punishing the 63-year-old-man for robbing a bank that no longer existed. He pardoned Charlie, who returned to ranching in Montana, where he passed away in 1968. But Hugh? Hugh Whitney got away.