Published: November 21st 2012November 21st 2012
Places like Hole in the Wall, Robbers Roost, and Brown’s Park are commonly associated with hideouts for Butch Cassidy and The Wild Bunch. Another safe haven for them was the JS Ranch on the San Francisco River near Alma, NM. They were well liked in that area under assumed names, were hard working, and caused no trouble. Butch, his mentor Elza Lay, and Will Carver were all highly regarded ranch hands at the JS. Butch, of course, did not much care for the long hours and hard labor required of drovers and when the opportunity came up he bought and ran a saloon in Alma. Elza and Will continued on at the ranch. The ranch had additional range property in Northeast New Mexico not far from the community of Folsom. Elza and Will worked there also, and while there they met the steely eyed bandits, Tom and Sam Ketchum. Tom and Sam had attempted, but failed, to rob the Colorado and Southern train on September 3, 1897 near Twin Mountain. The four of them determined to have another run at that same train. Tom was tougher and meaner than he was smart and when he insisted on leading the robbery the others drove him out of the gang. On July 11, 1899 Elza, Will and Sam robbed the train at the same place as before and made off with booty amounting to several thousand dollars. They fled to a hideout in Turkey Creek Canyon near Cimarron, New Mexico. Huerfano County Sheriff Ed Farr and a posse of six deputies tracked the outlaws down and the next morning attempted an arrest. Elza and Sam were both badly wounded and Will Carver, using smokeless ammo in his rifle, held the posse off all day; killing Farr and another deputy. When darkness fell the posse escaped down the canyon and the outlaws escaped up the canyon. Sam was unable to travel and was quickly captured at a nearby ranch. He has taken to the territorial prison in Santa Fe where his wound became infected and he died. Lay was captured a few weeks later near Carlsbad, charged with two counts of murder, convicted, and sent to the prison in Santa Fe. He was paroled in 1906 and went straight for the rest of his life. He had not killed anyone and was never charged with robbing the train for lack of evidence. Train robbery was a hanging offense in those days. After being paroled Elza briefly returned to Alma but he was a known criminal then and things were not the same for him there anymore. Eventually he became manager of the Imperial Irrigation District in California. He died in Los Angeles in 1934. Will took all of the loot and went on to further misdeeds finally being gunned down in Texas. The picture shows the peaceful little community of Alma where this story began.