Bad Boys of the Black Hills
...And Some Wild Women, Too

by Barbara Fifer

foreword by Jerry Bryant

published by Farcountry Press

  • The lively romp details some of the Wild West's most engaging stories, specifically in the Black Hills and Deadwood, home to prostitutes and poets, desperados and dancehall girls, fortune tellers and fugitives. Readers will meet a host of rowdies ranging from madams to stagecoach robbers, from tall-tale tellers to killers.



190 pages, 6'' x 9'', 20 b/w photos, 5 illustrations, 2 map(s), index, 34 softcovers per case

softcover
ISBN 10: 1560374357
ISBN 13: 9781560374350
$14.95


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Bad Boys of the Black Hills
...And Some Wild Women, Too

Frank K. Towle
Beheaded by Boone May

Frank Towle (pronounced "toll") became more famous for what happened after his death than for the crimes he helped commit as a member of the Collins-Bass gang.

That Towle valued lawmen's lives but little was made clear in the final confession of "Big Nose" George Parrott in 1902. He recalled a time when he and Towle were in a gang trying to rob a Union Pacific train in Wyoming Territory in August 1878. They'd been camped and working to pry loose a rail so the train would wreck, but they not were having any luck because they hadn't brought a long enough crowbar. When they spotted two horsemen approaching, the bad boys hid in the brush.

The pair turned out to be railroad employee Henry "Tip" Vincent and Carbon County deputy sheriff Robert Widdowfield. The latter dismounted at the robbers' campsite and discovered that their fire was still warm, then shouted to Vincent that "we will catch them before long."

Frank Towle yelled out, "Let's fire!" and some men aimed at the squatting Widdowfield while others fired at Vincent, who was trying to escape on his horse. Both men were killed.

The month before, Towle had taken part in a robbery of U.S. mail from the stagecoach headed down to Cheyenne—or maybe in two robberies. The July 23 and 25 of 1878 robberies were the first times when the mail had been stolen, which historian Agnes Wright Spring attributes to the fact that the Monitor treasure coach was now in service. Robbers turned their attention to mail, hoping to find money or gold dust, even if in small quantities.

Postal detective John B. Furay, investigating in the area, said he had no doubt about the identities of the well-masked bandits, mentioning Towle as one of them, but regretfully admitted that he had no legal proof to take to court.

Late on the night of September 13, Frank Towle was with a gang who stopped the Deadwood-bound stage at Old Woman's Fork. They found only two passengers, a woman and a working man. After relieving the latter of only $10, the robbers returned it to him, took the mailbags, and let the coach go. They settled down to await the Cheyenne-bound coach and see what it had to offer.

Meanwhile, the Deadwood stage passed the Cheyenne coach, and its driver warned the other driver—and his shotgun messengers, Boone May and John Zimmerman—of robbers who might still be in the area. May and Zimmerman were riding horseback, not on the coach, and now they purposefully fell behind and out of sight.

Towle and the others stopped the Cheyenne stage, pulled off the mailbags, and began taking money and jewelry from individual passengers. Suddenly they discovered the approaching shotgun messengers and began firing at them. May and Zimmerman shot back, and Frank Towle fell. The other robbers yelled to the coach to go on as they retreated into a tight gulch and kept up their fire at May and Zimmerman. With no hope of rushing the robbers, the shotgun messengers left the scene with the stagecoach.

When lawmen returned in daylight, they found the mailbags left beside a pool of blood. Boone May claimed that he'd fired the shot that hit Frank Towle, but no one knew whether it had been fatal.

They found out three months later, after John Irwin had been sentenced to life in prison for his part in the Vincent-Widdowfield killings. He confessed that he'd been in on the September 13 robbery and that he and another robber had buried Frank Towle, and he gave directions to the grave.

By now, reward money was being offered for these murderous robbers, so Boone May found the grave, dug it up, and beheaded Towle's body. He carried the head to county commissioners in Cheyenne to claim his reward and also applied to the Carbon County commissioners at Rawlins, near where the murders occurred. But no one accepted that the grisly item May offered in a gunnysack was proof that he had dispatched Towle, so May went without the extra money.

-from Chapter 4: Robbers, Rustlers & Plain Old Thieves





Barbara Fifer align= Barbara Fifer is a freelance writer and editor in Helena, Montana. She is the author and co-author of popular histories and geographies for adults and children, including five books on the Lewis and Clark Expedition.


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