Each afternoon for a week, two men rode their unsaddled horses to the train depot at Castle Gate, Utah, to await the arrival of the Denver & Rio Grande Western. A few people eyed the behavior with suspicion but failed to convey their concerns to anyone. 

Caper At Castle Gate

Castle Gate, a large coal mining town in Carbon County in eastern Utah, got its name from a rock formation that resembled a giant gate near the mouth of Price Canyon. Two sheer sandstone walls flanked the Price River.

Officials of the Pleasant Valley Coal Company, which owned the mine, always felt a little edgy on paydays because Castle Gate stood between two well-known outlaw hideouts—Brown’s Hole and Robber’s Roost.

Because of the concern, company officials routinely changed the payday to discourage robbery attempts.

Miners received no notice of paydays. And neither did Paymaster E.L. Carpenter.

Precautions were also in place for the trains to be well-guarded.

Outlaws Butch Cassidy and Ellsworth “Elza” or “Elzy” Lay arrived in Castle Gate at mid-morning in the second week of April 1897. 

Cassidy never liked loose ends. In addition to preparing detailed plans before any robbery attempt, he also developed effective escape strategies.

The leader of the Wild Bunch gang knew it would be pointless to attempt to rob the train en route because he wouldn’t know which train transported the payroll.

His wait-and-see strategy paid off.

On a bright, sunny Wednesday, April 21st, the DRGW pulled into Castle Gate. But this time, a whistle blast accompanied its arrival, a signal to miners the payroll was aboard.

Paymaster Carpenter and his assistant met the train and gathered the payroll bags containing about $7,000 in twenty-dollar gold pieces, currency, and silver.

When the two mining employees walked toward the company office on the second floor of a stone building seventy-five yards away, Butch Cassidy fell in behind them.

He shoved his Colt .45 into Carpenter’s rib with a clear warning. “I’ll take the money bags, sir. Stay calm since I’d have to shoot a hole in you.”

Elza Lay waited aboard his horse a few feet away and watched Carpenter let the bags of gold fall to the ground. The assistant dropped the bag of silver he had been holding.

Cassidy picked up the gold and handed it to Lay. The bag of silver, he decided, was too heavy to transport. Paymaster Carpenter broke away, raced up the stairs toward the office, and yelled a warning about the robbery.

The sound of a gunshot spooked Cassidy’s horse spooked, but he and Lay managed to escape through the steep and narrow canyon with the payroll. They left the bag of silver because it was too heavy to lug along.

Mining company officials tried telegraphing the county sheriff, but other members of Cassidy’s gang had cut the lines.

The Castle Gate caper represented the first of eight significant robberies committed by the Wild Bunch between 1897 and 1901.

Thanks to more sophisticated communication, authorities were able to improve tracking skills and began closing in on the gang.

At that point, Cassidy and one of his partners, Harry Alonzo Longabaugh—also known as the Sundance Kid—saw the writing on the wall. 

To avoid frontier lawmen, Cassidy and Longabaugh headed for South America in February 1901.

Once they left, most of the remaining members of the Wild Bunch were either jailed or killed.


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6 comments to “THE CAPER AT CASTLE GATE”

  • Another great store on a little known event by well-known characters.
    This type of robbery is how the Hole-in-the-Wall gang made their reputation. The area around Castle Gate is worth a drive along the back roads. It’s too bad Butch didn’t put his ingenuity into legal pursuits.

  • Good point, Frank. He would have made an excellent business manager or strategist.

  • I was born in Northeast Utah and I heard a lot about Butch Cassidy growing up. My uncle Oscar Beebe was a deputy sheriff in Price and he and a friend deputy arrested a couple of Butch’s gang along Nine-Mile Road, a dirt road between Price and Roosevelt Utah. He was awarded a rifle for this. Nine-Mile Road is one of those scenic drives.

  • Wow, Oscar, great story. Given a rifle for corraling a couple gang members. Not every day that happens. Thanks for sharing.

  • Hi Cheryl–glad you liked it. It was fun writing it.

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