Tuesday, February 21, 2012

My More Genuine Connection To Outlaws!

Long before I literally bumped into Robert Redford in a shoebox-sized store dedicated solely to selling country-western apparel/boots on the road between Provo and Springville, Utah in 1971, my family history included a connection with the real Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid.

I wasn't aware of this bit of family history when a couple of years before I had seen the Oscar-winning movie starring Redford and fellow actor Paul Newman.  I was familiar with the story of Redford's connection to that area where I went to college along the Orem Bench that runs along the Wasatch Range of the Rocky Mountains.

While I was in college Redford had purchased a circa 1944 rope-tow ski area named Timp Haven on the other side of Provo and christened it Sundance after his character in the movie and now also the namesake of the famed Institute and festival he co-founded.

I thought until recently that my maternal grandfather’s fascination with the real Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid was because of the famous movie or because he was always an avid student of the history of the settlement of the Intermountain West.

I knew my great-grandfather, George Frederick White, had been a stagecoach driver in northern Nevada on the route from the railhead at Wells south to the silver mines at Cherry Creek and back as he convalesced with so-called sedentary work from a bout of typhoid fever he had caught in the late 1890s while working as a cowboy and foreman on the now historic and continuously-operating 71 Ranch then part of the original Halleck Land and Cattle Company in the shadow of the Ruby Mountains near Deeth.

While my great-grandmother Eleanor operated the stage line station in Wells, my great-grandfather would drive the stagecoach, probably on contract with Wells Fargo to carry mail, freight and passengers, down the Ruby Valley along what is now US 93, overnight in Cherry Creek, and then drive the return route the next day.

Now a ghost town, Cherry Creek is coincidentally just five miles off the Pony Express/Central Overland Mail Route that a great-great grandfather on another maternal line had guarded from Shoshone Indian attacks as a Union Army Cavalry Trooper thirty years earlier during the Civil War.  Today the old ghost town is an hour’s drive north off US Route 50, “The Loneliest Highway In America” and the first to traverse the continent.

According to memoirs my great-grandfather White was probably driving a Studebaker Mountain Spring model, rather than the earlier Concord stagecoach used in most movies.  It would have been similar to the one at this link with canvas sides that could be dropped down when needed and it may have been pulled by teams of huge Shire heavy-draught horses bred from stock that his 71 Ranch’s owners had imported from England along with Hereford cattle a couple of decades earlier.

But I wasn't aware until recently that a few years later my great-grandfather also drove stagecoach on the route through the 40-mile-long and petroglyph-rich Nine Mile Canyon to and from the US Cavalry Fort Duchesne near that nook carved out of Northeast Utah for Wyoming and Colorado.

At the time the route was regularly used by Butch Cassidy (Robert LeRoy Parker), the Sundance Kid (Harry Longabaugh) and their gang of outlaws known as the Wild Bunch to transfer stolen horses between hideouts in Wyoming and Utah.  Some of the outlaws even worked at the time on a ranch along the route.

Had I known sooner I would've taken a detour along that same route just a year ago this month when I passed its railhead of Price, Utah as Mugsy, my English Bulldog, and I drove up from the incredible Arches region of that state on a segment of what would be a 6,000 mile cross-country trip to visit my daughter and grandsons and sisters and mom, the 83-year-old granddaughter of George F. White and Eleanor Harper.

While one of my great-grandfathers was driving stagecoach another maternal great-grandfather was a sharpshooter riding atop railcars filled with gold from the mine at Mercur and one of my paternal great-grandfathers was homesteading ranches in the shadow of the Tetons near Yellowstone.

I didn’t grow up to be a cowboy although I was sometimes accused of being one when I ran community destination marketing organizations over a 40 year period.  Maybe that apple didn't fall too far from the tree after all!

But by now you know it really is in my DNA, and maybe through family historical vignettes such as this my grandsons will continue to appreciate the people who are part of theirs.

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