Some of the world’s worst criminals reside at Florence’s supermax penitentiary , the nation’s most secure federal prison, including Mexican drug lord El Chapo, Al-Qaida cofounder Mamdouh Mahmud Salim and FBI agent-turned spy Robert P. Hanssen. But the Centennial state has its homegrown ‘heroes,’ as well. Running from the law is a time-honored Colorado tradition, and its history is rich with accounts of cattle rustlers and horse thieves, conmen and killers, and legendary bank robberies, train and stagecoach stickups, and shootouts in the untamed ‘Wild West.’ Here are just some of Colorado’s most notorious bad boys (and girls).
Few outlaws have more enduring fame than Robert Leroy Parker and Harry Alonzo Longabaugh, aka Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Before meeting an untimely end in Bolivia, Cassidy and Sundance and their ‘Wild Bunch’ (including ladies Etta Place, Annie Rogers, and Laura Bullion) rampaged through the West, holding up banks, trains, and stagecoaches. The mining town of Telluride is where Cassidy got his start, robbing the San Miguel Valley Bank on June 24, 1889.
Kid Curry rode with the Wild Bunch (and many other outlaws) during a criminal career that cost the lives of at least nine lawmen. After robbing a Denver & Rio Grande train outside the town of Parachute in 1904, a wounded Curry ended his own life to avoid capture. His grave in Glenwood Springs is close to that of another well-known Wild West name: gunslinging gambler and shootout at the O.K. Corral legend Doc Holliday.
Tom Horn was a U.S. Calvary scout who took part in the search for Apache Chief Geronimo before becoming a hired gun and assassin protecting the interests of powerful ranchers and cattle barons in Wyoming and Colorado. Unrepentant to the end, Horn was executed (for the murder of a 14-year-old boy) in 1903. He is buried in Boulder’s Columbia Cemetery.
Born to middle-class family in Canada and well-educated, Pearl Hart eloped with an abusive gambler at the age of 17. Fascinated with Annie Oakley and the ‘Wild West,’ she eventually made her way to Trinidad and was a popular saloon singer before falling in with the notorious Hole in the Wall Gang. Petite but fierce, Hart definitely broke into the ‘boys’ club’ of crime, making a name for herself and capturing the public’s eye while on trial for the daring stagecoach robbery committed with her partner, Joe Boot, and her subsequent escape. Recaptured, the “Bandit Queen” became something of a celebrity, her exploits widely covered in the press. Released after serving 18 months, she moved to Kansas City and lived a mostly quiet life before dying at the age of 79.
Law and order slowly gained ground, and the outlaws came to various ends — some in a hail of bullets and some in quiet obscurity. But their exploits live on, a testament to the wild and untamed days of Colorado and the Old West.