I wondered how generic “Robbers’ Roost” was. Was it just a handy shortcut to describe any outlaw hideout?
Probably the most famous Robbers’ Roost was in southeastern Utah, the hideout of Butch Cassidy and his Wild Bunch. There’s an Idaho history connection to that one because some of those infamous outlaws robbed the bank in Montpelier in 1891. The particular gunmen were Butch Cassidy and Eliza Lay. Bob Meeks served as something of a getaway driver, hanging onto the horses while his partners in crime stuffed a gunny sack full of money inside the bank. The irony was that only Meeks was ever arrested and convicted.
There was a Robber’s Roost in Oklahoma, positioned on the highest point of land in that state. Wyoming had one, as well as the famous Hole in the Wall, which served a similar purpose for bandits. And, yes, Idaho had a Robber’s Roost, too. Maybe I should say “has” a Robber’s Roost, since there is a creek and an Idaho Fish and Game Wildlife Management Area near McCammon which both carry the name.
Idaho’s Robber’s Roost was not so much a hideout as a notorious area for stagecoach robberies. During the 1860s stages ran regularly through Portneuf Canyon between Salt Lake City and the mines at Virginia City. The canyon was filled with dense brush providing ample cover for those who would rather pack off gold in a bag or box rather than mine for it. The canyon was surrounded by lava encrusted desert that complicated tracking for those who might want to pursue the robbers. A good summary of the hold-ups there can be found on the Idaho Genealogy website.
There were rumors of another Robbers’ Roost. The August 23, 1870 edition of the Idaho Statesman had an article that said, “It is now generally believed that an organized band of highwaymen exists in the mountains skirting the Snake River, in Idaho and Utah; with headquarters somewhere in the vicinity of Salmon Falls.” That seemed to be a generic use of the term.
Robbers’ Roost was used generically again in 1907 when the Statesman explained why the shortcut road that ran through Boise Barracks to Idaho City was closed. It seems fencing, lumber, firewood, lead pipe and anything that could be carried away from the post was being carried away by people using the road. Captain Dudley, the commandant of the post, closed the road because things “disappeared so steadily as to look almost like the road must lead to a regular robbers’ roost at one end of the line.”
Generic as that reference probably was, the Statesman carried a detailed description of a Robbers’ Roost in northwestern Utah in the May 20, 1906 edition of the paper. A Mr. E.W. Johnson reported on a trip he had just returned from. The stage he was riding stopped to let passengers view a curious structure.
“The man who constructed the building selected a site on a bluff overlooking a stream. The rear portion of the building projects over the bluff, and beneath that portion is an apartment in the nature of a cellar. From this cellar an excavation extends into the hill some 60 feet. This is large enough to shelter a lot of horses and most anything else.
“From the windows there is an unobstructed view up and down the stream for miles and over all the mesa lands on both sides. Nobody could approach the place in daylight without being seen a long distance away.”
So, another Robbers’ Roost. Generic or not, the term paints a picture of an impenetrable hideout where those who found themselves on the wrong side of the law could get away to safety, a common theme in stories of the West if not in fact so common in the real West.