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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

MARK ANSON UTAH'S OLDEST SHERIFF

Part Two

I was not lacking in confidence. I had several times in the past proven myself the superior of grown men in mountaineering skills. There was not a doubt in my young mind that I could not lose this old man in the dust.


But still he came on. I watched as he stooped and examined the tracks, then mounted his horse nimbly and headed straight in my direction at a trot. I realized that I would have to resort to more stringent efforts to cover my tracks.

Mounting my horse, I rode her along the hard-pan where, I was convinced, no trace of passage could be seen. I stopped beyond the crest of a hill a mile or so away and secluded myself beneath the shadow of a cedar to watch. Sheriff Anson arrived at the hard-pan and stopped; he dismounted. He walked slowly around the area in a full-circle, stooped once to do something I couldn't quite make out, then mounted again. Without further hesitation, he rode directly toward me!

I rode hard for several hours, using every ruse I could imagine or remember to lose the old tracker, to no avail. Every zig-and-zag was followed unerringly; every back-track discovered; every blind-trail ignored and by-passed. My respect for the "old man" was growing by the hour.

By nightfall my horse was tired and thirsty. She was a young mare, heavy with colt, and I knew I couldn't push her. But it did give me an idea. Riding up to an escarpment where a cedar tree grew out from an overhang some eight feet above the ground, I pulled myself up into the tree from atop my horse, and spooked her down the trail. I then climbed to the top of the cliff, took up a post, and waited.

The old Sheriff came riding leisurely along and I smiled to myself as he by-passed my hiding place and continued along the trail left by the riderless horse. But, no more than half a mile away, I saw him stop, dismount, examine the trail again, and take a drink from his canteen. At last he remounted, just as the sun began to sink in the western sky over the rim of Hogsback Mountain, and I was relieved that he would be moving on: but he didn't. He turned around and rode straight back toward me. Who was this guy?

I traveled all night on foot, then made a dry camp and went to sleep. Before the sun rose I was up, scrambling up a promontory to scan the back trail. There, on the horizon, leisurely plodding along, was the old sheriff. It was nearly beyond belief

I had one last chance. About a mile away, in a wall of ledges overlooking South Valley, I knew of a crevice high on the cliff-side - where once I had explored an eagle's nest - where I could hide in complete concealment. I soon nestled in there, feeling quite secure.

The old Sheriff, whom I watched intently from a niche in the rocks, wound his way across the valley and stopped his horse directly beneath my hiding place. I held my breath as he unscrewed his canteen and took a drink, less than fifteen feet below my roost.

"Hot day,, isn't it boy?"

I jumped. How could he know I was there?

"Imagine you could use a drink of cold water just about now?"

He was right about that.

"Come on down, boy," he said. "I might be too old to climb up after you, but I can damned well out-wait you. " I knew he could. I climbed down. We rode double back down the valley to where my parents waited in a war-surplus Jeep. By the time we arrived, the Sheriff had gleaned my story from between parched lips. Before turning me over to my parents, he asked their permission to take me home with him: "I'd like to give him a little talking to," I heard him tell my father. "He ain't a bad boy. He just needs a little change of direction. "

"I ran away from home once," Mark told me, back at his house. "Damn near got me killed," he said. He leaned back in his leather chair and looked up at the pine rafters, as if his past history was displayed there, upon the mists of time.

"I was a little older than you are now," he began. "Maybe sixteen or seventeen. And I thought I knew everything there was to know. Nobody could tell me anything, you see."

"Why did you run away?" I asked, genuinely curious. His old wife Sarah brought us hot rolls with butter and honey, and hot chocolate to drink, fresh from a half-gallon tin of Baker's Brand Chocolate. While I dug in ravenously, he answered my question.

"My dad wanted me to hold up my end of chores around the ranch," he replied. "I thought there was a faster and easier way to make money. Must of have been about 1885..."

In about 1885 a notorious horse rustler named "Dutch" John Henselini came through Burnt Fork with a stolen herd; he needed an extra hand and hired the teen-aged Mark Anson to go along with him as a "gingler," or horse-wrangler. Unhappy at home, Mark went with the rustler without bothering to notify his family.

They drove the stolen herd into Utah, across the Green River at Cottonwood Crossing near the Flaming Gorge, and out onto the cedar flats above Red Canyon (where Flaming Gorge Dam on the Green River is presently located; Dutch John Flat, named for the rustler-chief, is today the town of Dutch John, Daggett County, Utah).

The Dutch John Gang consisted of about six or seven men. They rustled stock in northern Wyoming and Montana and drove them to Dutch John Flat. Here they had erected corrals of cedar- posts where they corralled the stolen animals for brand alterations before driving them further south for sale.

"It was my job," Mark told me, "to herd the horses on Dutch John Flat when the gang was away. I would be left alone there for weeks on end, but when they came back, their pockets would be jingling with gold, and old Dutch John paid me good. I had no complaints. I was feelin'pretty cocky about myself I was thumbing my nose at the law and making more money in a month than my dad made on the ranch in a whole year. Yeah, I thought that runnin' away was the smartest thing I ever done."

Then one day, while the gang was camped on the Flat (where the town now stands), some of the horses strayed over the ridge and Dutch John sent young Mark to fetch them back. He had only barely left the camp when "all hell broke loose."

A sheriffs posse from Vernal had crossed the river at Little Brown's Hole about five miles to the east, and had slipped up on them stealthily by way of Dripping Springs. A running gunfight ensued, during which all five or six members of the gang - including Dutch John - were killed. Mark watched from a pinnacle above Dutch John Gap.

"I was never so scared in all my young life," old Mark said, taking a sip of his cocoa. "My life had been saved by only a few minutes, but I knew, too, that if they saw me, I could still be killed, or spend years in prison. I high-tailed it out of there. I swam the Green River and walked over forty miles up Henry's Fork to my dad's ranch. No place ever looked better to me than the old home place did at that moment."

Subsequently, I learned, Mark enlisted in the U.S. Cavalry: his father thought it would help to mature. He had been one of the guards who watched over the famous Sitting Bull, following his arrest upon his return from Canada where he had fled following the Battle of Little Big Horn.

"We got to be pretty good friends," Mark told me, getting up from his comfortable chair, surprisingly agile for his age - and considering that he had been chasing me in the hills for two days - he opened an old trunk near his bedroom door and removed an old 45-70 Cavalry rifle and handed it to me. It was heavy. On the stock were brass studs, imbedded in the wood in the shape of a cross.

"Sitting Bull gave this to me," he said, replacing it carefully in the trunk. He handed me a 45- 70 cartridge and told me I could keep it. "Sitting Bull was murdered, you know," he added reflectively. "They said he was killed trying to escape, but he wasn't. He was murdered. I Know- I was there."

When his cavalry term ended he returned home and not long afterward became a deputy sheriff under Sheriff John Ward of Uinta County, Wyoming. His co-deputy was Robert Calverly, formerly foreman of the Carter Cattle Company, but more renowned as the only lawman ever to capture the notorious Butch Cassidy and send him to prison (1894).

In 1898 his biggest coup as a lawman occurred when the Union Pacific flyer was robbed at Bryan Station, about mid-way between Fort Bridger and Green River City, Wyoming. The Red Sash Gang, to whom the robbery was attributed, escaped with $85,000 in heavy-gold coin and bullion, carried away in the panniers of several pack-mules. The robbers, six or eight in number, passed through the buttes just east of Burnt Fork. Deputy Anson organized a posse and set out in hasty pursuit, hoping to head them off before they reached the high Uintahs.

The outlaws stopped briefly in Connor Basin to steal one of George Solomon' s best horses Solomon was away at the time, serving as flag-bearer for Torrey's Rough Riders in the Spanish- American War. Then they proceeded up Sol's Canyon, still encumbered by the gold.

"At Half-Moon Park," Mark said, a grin breaking his face, "old Charley Brant came riding along in the opposite direction. Just as he rode out into the Park out of the timber, he spots the outlaws comin'his way. 'Hey,'he yells out. 'Where the hell you fellers going to with old Sol's horse His answer was hot lead, and he beat it back into the timber with his tail between his legs."

Five miles east of Half-Moon Park, in a small meadow in the heavy timber, the outlaws abandoned the pack-mules - emptied other burden. The place ever after became known as "Jackass Park. "

Deputy Anson's posse was now hot on their heels. A telegram had been sent over the mountain to Sheriff Bill Preece of Vernal, who was already underway with another posse to head the robbers off. The two posses converged upon the outlaws in Dowd's Hole and a desperate gunfight ensued. Four of the robbers were killed, two wounded and captured, and two others escaped. The gold was never recovered.

"The gold had to have been hidden within the five miles between Half-Moon Park and Jackass Park," Mark lamented. "They had less than two hours to do it. Two of the captured men died in prison in Illinois. The gang's cook, a black man, before he died, told the story to another black man called Nigger Turner. He had half a map to the place where the gold was buried - smuggled it out of prison drawn on the instep of his shoe. I knew old Nigger Turner well in later years. He lived in a cabin at McKinnon (Wyo.) and hunted for the gold. One day his horse came back with blood on the saddle. Nobody ever seen him again."

It was apparent that the Red Sash gold was one of the old man's favorite topics. He assured me that he had been searching for the gold for more than fifty years. "It's gettin' o little late," he surmised, "but I still have hopes that somebody will find it before I die." They didn't.

The leader of the robbers was a man called Red Bob. He escaped. It was later learned that he was none other than Harry Alonzo Longabaugh - better known as The Sundance Kid. What the wizened old Sheriff could not have known then was that Longabaugh removed the gold in 1908.

Mark Anson was a font of information on early law enforcement in Wyoming and Utah, having known both the famous and infamous on both sides of the law. His memory was an encyclopedia of history. One story interested me greatly.

"I knew Butch Cassidy," he told me, "both before he went to South America, and later, when he came back."

This wasn't exactly a revelation to me. The usually accepted version of Cassidy's fate was that he and The Sundance Kid had been shot down in a gun battle with Bolivian soldiers in 1908 or 1909. My grandfather, Willard Schofield, who had grown up with Butch in southern Utah, and knew him later, had informed me that Butch survived and returned to the United States. But I was interested in Mark Anson's version.

"Butch was back here in 1908. He met his father down at Smith & Larsen's Mercantile that fall and they had a long talk about Butch reforming his ways before it was too late. I met him again about 1919 or 1920. 1 ran into him face-to-face as he stepped down from the Price stage, coming to Vernal. We recognized each other right away. 'You still a lawman? He asked me. I said, 'Hell, yes.' 'Well,'he says to me, 'I'm counting on our friendship. I hope you won't mention that you've seen me."'Mark paused for effect. The suspense got to me: I had to ask: "What did you tell him?"

"I told him," he grinned, "that the last I heard of Butch Cassidy, he was killed in South America. We shook hands and went our separate ways. I never seen him again, but I heard that he was around. "

"You see," the old sheriff added, "I chased Butch Cassidy when he was on the wrong side of the law, but when he quit the Outlaw Trail and went straight, we could meet as old friends. It's called giving a man a break. "

I could see he was leading up to something.

"Now you can say that you was trailed by the lawman who trailed Butch Cassidy. I gave him a break, and son, I'm gonna give you one, too. You just go on back home now, and if you don't ever do it again, it will be something you look back upon one day as a story to tell your grand-kids. But if you ever do run away again... " - he leaned forward and gave me a cold stare I have never forgotten

come after you again, and next time, I'll have your ass!"

Mark Anson remained an active lawman until he turned eight-seven. He had given me a break, taught me a lesson, and like Butch Cassidy, we became friends. Mark encouraged me to write about the history of northeastern Utah, and I began doing so at about the age of twelve. When the old sheriff died, several years into his nineties, I went to his funeral. Before the earth was heaped upon his coffin, I tossed the 45-70 cartridge into the open grave. Somehow, it seemed a fitting tribute.

Sources:

1. Personal interviews with Mark Anson prior to his death, and access to his papers in later years.

2. Flamina Gorize Country, by Dick Dunham.

3. History & Biography of Southwestern Wyoming Pioneers, Wyoming Historical Society.

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1 comment:

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