Old Times and Old Timers

The Demise of Sam Ketchum. 

At about 10:30 on the evening of July 11, 1899, a gang of bandits made up of Sam Ketchum*, Harvey Logan and Elza Lay stopped the Colorado and Southern passenger train near two cinder cones called Twin Mountain, about five miles south of Folsum in Union County, New Mexico.

Train number 1 was on its regular run from Denver to Fort Worth. The thieves blew the safe in the express car and made good their escape. The railroad claimed the thieves got nothing, but other accounts at the time reported that the thieves made off with about $70,000. Logan and Lay were both regular members of Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch, but Cassidy himself did not participate in the Twin Mountain robbery.

W. H. Reno, a special agent for the railroad, accompanied by Sheriff Ed Farr of Huerfano County, Colorado, soon arrived in Cimarron, New Mexico. On Sunday, July 16, officers learned that three men who fit the descriptions of the robbers had been seen entering Turkey Canyon, about eight miles north of Cimarron. Reno and Farr organized a posse that included Henry N. Love, and Perfecto Cordova of Springer,

F. H. Smith of New York (who went along for “the fun of it”), and others.** At about 5:15 that afternoon, the posse came upon the outlaw camp.

Bullets began flying at once. Lay was hit first but remained able to return fire. Ketchum, hit in the arm, was put out of action. Logan laid down a withering fire. He had the advantage of using smokeless gunpowder which made it difficult for the lawmen to see where the bullets were coming from. Sheriff Farr took a bullet in the wrist. He calmly bandaged the wound with his handkerchief and continued the fight. Smith was hit in the calf of his leg and Farr was hit again, this time in the chest. He fell on top of Smith. “I’m done for,” he said, and died. Love was badly wounded in the thigh. Firing died down, then. It was nearly 6:00 p.m. and beginning to rain. The posse remained in Turkey Canyon throughout the rainy night as all three outlaws managed to escape.***

Sam Ketchum, his upper arm badly shattered by a bullet, made it to the Ute Creek headquarters of the Lambert ranch, about three miles west of Turkey Canyon. Ketchum told cowboys there he’d been shot in a hunting accident. They had not heard of the gun battle and believed him. A ranch hand in Cimarron for supplies the next day learned of the gunfight and told authorities that a wounded man had appeared at the ranch. W. H. Reno and others arrested Ketchum later that day without incident. Transferred to the Territorial Prison at Santa Fe, Ketchum’s arm was amputated, but that didn’t save him. He died of blood poisoning on July 24, 1899.

Logan and Lay rode all night and all the next day putting as much distance between themselves and Turkey Canyon as possible. Large posses searched the mountains for the outlaws, but they were severely hampered by almost continuous rain. One source says Logan left Lay with a man named Red Weaver who nursed the outlaw back to health. Another source says Logan paid a young Hispanic family a large sum of money to minister to Lay’s wounds. Whichever it was, Lay recovered and joined Logan at the Virgil Lusk Ranch, near Eddy (now Carlsbad), in mid August.

Lusk managed to get word to Eddy County Sheriff Cicero Stewart that the outlaws were at his place. The sheriff and two deputies, J. D. Cantrell and Rufus Thomas, hurried to the ranch. In a brief gunfight, Lusk, Thomas and Lay were all wounded and Lay was captured. Under the name McGinnis, Lay was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison for killing Sheriff Farr. On July 1, 1905, Governor Miguel A. Otero commuted the sentence to ten years. Elza Lay was released on January 10, 1906.

Harvey Logan, also known as Kid Curry, was considered one of the most violent members of the Wild Bunch. He was never prosecuted for the murder of Sheriff Farr although he was arrested in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1901. He escaped from jail there and made his way back to the West. Logan committed suicide in July 1903, near Glenwood Springs, Colorado, after a train robbery near Parachute, rather than submit to arrest.

Posseman Henry Love died of his wound. The rifle bullet struck Love in the upper leg and drove the blade of his pocketknife into his flesh. He had used his knife to treat cattle sick with blackleg — a form of anthrax — and the contaminated knife blade infected the cowboy with the disease and caused his death four days later at Springer.

* Sam Ketchum, about 45, was the older brother of Tom Ketchum who was one of several New Mexico outlaws who used the name “Black Jack.”

** Different sources include different posse members. One source says Deputy

U. S. Marshal Wilson Elliott was a part of the posse, and in fact led it. Two other sources fail to list Elliott as a posse member. Two sources list Miguel Lopez and a Captain Thacker as posse members, while a third omits them. One source says the posse was seven men strong, another says eight. The first news reports named six possemen. Some writers seem to confuse the posse which fought in Turkey Canyon with posses which took up pursuit of the bandits afterwards.

*** There arose a dispute after the battle as to who did what. U. S. Marshal Creighton Foraker claimed that deputy marshal Elliott was in charge at Turkey Canyon. Other reports said that Sheriff Farr had discretionary authority, and W. H Reno claimed he was personally in charge. The dispute got so acrimonious that Foraker claimed that Reno deserted the posse when the first shots were fired. There were also hard feelings because Sheriff Farr’s body remained at Turkey Canyon, in the rain, over night.

Howard Bryan, “The Black Jack Gangs: The Ketchum Brothers,” Robbers, Rogues and Ruffians, True Tales of the Wild West
Charles Kelly, The Outlaw Trail, A History of Butch Cassidy and His Wild Bunch
Bill O’Neal, Encyclopedia of Western Gunfighters, (This source incorrectly identifies Tom “Black Jack” Ketchum as a participant in the Twin Mountain train robbery of July 11, 1899. Tom Ketchum, alone, attempted to rob the same train on August 16, 1899.
Miguel A. Otero, My Nine Years As Governor of the Territory of New Mexico, 1897-1906
Santa Fe New Mexican, July 12, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21 & 25; August 16, 1899
Dan L. Thrapp, Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography
(Excerpted from New Mexico’s Finest: Peace Officers Killed in the Line of Duty, 1847-2010 by Don Bullis)