How the Cattle Rustlers Were Driven Out at Last

St. Paul Globe/July 3, 1904

CHEYENNE, Wyo.. July 3.—lt is about all up with the cattle rustlers. As a profession in Wyoming it has received a most discouraging setback through the recent capture of Tom O’Day, known as. the “king of the cattle rustlers.” The death of his partner, “Flat Nose” George Curry, about the same time, marks another chapter in the desperate fight the authorities of the state of Wyoming have been waging against the cattle thieves in the Lost Cabin district.

For years O’Day has been one of the leading spirits of the Lost Cabin gang of cattle rustlers and sheep stealers. He has also been hand in glove with the Hole in the Wall gang of desperadoes, and has taken part in some of the bank and train robbing expeditions of the gang. His chief operations, however, have been in stealing cattle and sheep, his practice of this gentle art being so expert that he has caused losses of many thousands of dollars to Wyoming and Montana stockmen.

Captured by Sheriff

O’Day was recently captured by a daring sheriff and after a long and exciting time in court, during which he had three trials, he was sentenced to six years in the penitentiary. Such was the fear the desperado exercised over the jurors that two disagreements resulted, though the evidence against O’Day was perfectly plain. As he left the court room the desperado cursed the man who had arrested him and boasted that he would escape from the penitentiary before three months had passed. Inasmuch as jail breaking has always been one of the chief amusements of O’Day’s gang, his threat is not looked upon as a mere idle boast.

Most of the “bad men” of the West have possessed redeeming traits that will always make them objects of a certain kind of admiration. But if the Wyoming authorities are to be believed, there is nothing admirable about the “king of the cattle rustlers.” O’Day is a heavy drinker, is quarrelsome in disposition, and always ready to resort to rifle or pistol, with both of which weapons he is a crack shot. His hair is thick and dark, and grows low on his forehead, and this, with his heavy, scowling eyebrows and long unkempt mustache, makes a combination calculated to frighten the tenderfoot and awe the initiated. O’Day is an inveterate gambler, and the authorities assert that he has killed at least two men in gambling table brawls.

“Flat Nose” George Curry, whose name is enough to make any Wyoming or Montana stockman draw a rueful face today, was Tom O’Day’s guide and mentor in the cattle stealing industry. Curry was a Nebraskan who moved to Wyoming in the ’80s, before the range had been broken up, and when great herds were roaming the foothills. Curry organized a gang of cattle rustlers and began operation on a wholesale scale. He was an expert in the use of the running iron, a branding implement with which an expert can quickly change the form of a brand. The running iron is simply a point of iron, which is heated red hot and then used as a sort of pencil to change the brand on an animal’s hide. For instance, if a steer is branded with a V, It requires only an instant’s use of the running iron to change the V to W. There was hardly a combination of brands among the Wyoming and Montana herds which “Flat Nose” George did not know how to change to his own advantage. If a brand defied his ingenuity, however he simply cut it out altogether and claimed the steer as a maverick or unbranded animal.

Was a Young Dare Devil

It was only natural that “Flat Nose” George should have appealed to Tom O’Day, who was at that time a daredevil young cowboy with an idea that the world owed him a better living than could be honestly gained from the saddle. O’Day joined “Flat Nose” George in his rustling operations. He proved an able lieutenant and the depredations of the two men became so great that the Cattlemen’s association got after them and made it so hot that the rustlers were forced to go to Montana, where they operated with greater safety. When things quieted down in Wyoming the cattle rustlers returned and levied their wholesale tribute on cattle and sheep men. Most of the individual cattle owners were intimidated, and those who showed fight were one by one assassinated, some member of the gang being chosen to commit each murder.

The gang made its headquarters at Lost Cabin, in a desolate part of Wyoming which for some years has been almost as notorious as the Hole in the Wall. When there was little to be done in cattle stealing, the bolder spirits in the gang embarked on more hazardous ventures of fortune. O’Day was admitted to the councils of the Hole in the Wall gang, which included “Butch” Cassidy, Harvey Logan, and a half-dozen other bandits no less desperate. From Lost Cabin, which is about fifty miles from Thermopolis, Wyo., the gang made a descent on the bank at Belle Fourche, S. D., and here it was that Tom O’Day came near ingloriously closing his career as a “bad man.” Tom had been sent ahead of the gang to observe the “lay of the land” about the bank and to inform the other members of the crowd if things did not look propitious for the daylight robbery.

Fell Into Drunken Sleep

But Tom took one drink after another, and finally fell into a drunken sleep in a saloon, propped against the wall and snoring comfortably in his chair. The gang heard nothing from Tom and supposed the coast to be clear. They rode into town, firing at everything in sight, and clattered up to the bank, where they secured a considerable sum of money. O’Day was roused by the firing and ran out of the saloon to the aid of his companions. He found the robbers closely beset by the townspeople, who had flocked to the scene armed with rifles, and who were shooting from behind every building that offered shelter.

All the robbers except O’Day made their escape. At Tom’s trial, though the evidence against him was perfectly clear, he put on such a terrifying front that the witnesses who were to testify against him were frightened out of their intention and there was nothing to do but let him go free. Then the bandit rode triumphantly away and once more entered his career of crime near Lost Cabin.

It is believed that O’Day was a member of the gang that held up the Union Pacific express at Wilcox., Wyo., in 1899. About $8,000 was secured in this robbery, and a posse of Pinkertons and deputies was soon put on the trail of the robbers. The gang made a stand in Converse County, Wyoming, resulting in the killing of Sheriff Hason of that county, and the escape of the bandits. The Pinkertons are satisfied that the Logans and Flat Nose George Curry were in this job, and it is more than likely that O’Day was with Curry.

Flat Nose George was hunted long and industriously by Pinkertons, stock detectives, sheriffs and other officials, and finally his career was ended in 1901. With a confederate named Tom Cartwright, Curry was hunted down by Pinkertons and a sheriff’s posse on the banks of the Green River. A desperate battle ensued, in which the “King of the Cattle Rustlers” met his death and his title passed to Tom O’Day. In spite of the fact that the range has been greatly depleted of cattle in late years and that the herds are much smaller and less scattered than before, O’Day continued his daring work until this year. Much of the Wyoming grazing land is now taken up by sheep, but this made no difference to O’Day. He found that sheep were readily marketed and easy to steal, and he rustled them by hundreds, intimidating the herders and boldly taking what he wanted from under their very guns. But recently a plucky sheriff had the hardihood to invade the Lost Cabin district and to beard the outlaw in his den. He “got the drop” on O’Day and had the outlaw handcuffed and on the road to jail before Tom’s confederates realized what had happened. Tom boasted that his cowboy friends would descend on the jail at Thermopolis and release him, but the boast proved ill-founded. The jail was heavily guarded for many days, but no outlaws appeared and O’Day was three times tried and finally sentenced.

Unless O’Day makes good his threat of breaking out of the penitentiary, the authorities believe that they have finally ended cattle rustling in Wyoming, at least on a wholesale scale. The war against cattle rustlers has cost scores of lives in the last twenty years, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in stock have been sacrificed in the aggregate. The cattlemen will welcome the peace that is promised by the capture.

(Source: Chronicling America,