The Ghosts of Outlaws Past

Butch Cassidy’s Glove?!

These days, Hole in the Wall, Wyoming is as rural as this country gets; long dirt roads lead on forever, with few signs to guide the way. Back in Wyoming’s Wild West days this place was even wilder: around the turn of the century, the steep and rugged Powder River canyons served as an outlaw hideout for the likes of Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid and the Wild Bunch.

The geography of the Hole in the Wall region, just west of Kaycee, Wyoming, is ideal for a hideout: impenetrable red cliffs leave only a few passages in from the east and the west is guarded by the deep and narrow Powder River canyons. Outlaws could graze stolen cattle and horses in the valley and retreat into the canyons if lawmen appeared on the treeless horizon.

Hole in the Wall Country

Outlaw Cave, one of the more infamous hideouts still standing – most of the cabins and corrals are long gone – remains as hard to find and hard to get to as you might imagine an outlaw hideout would be. I set out to find the cave with only a red dot on my Adventure Atlas to guide my way. Somewhat vague directions are available online, but I was in the mood for an adventure.

My quest took me down miles of back dirt roads, alongside one of which I found an abandoned newborn foal. Eventually, after reuniting the foal with her mother, I found a road sign for Outlaw Cave Road, but the road quickly deteriorated and I had to leave the Teardrop behind and then my Subaru and continue on foot.

A clue! Too bad it says camper trailers are not recommended down this road.

Abandoning the Subaru

At the end of the road I found a faint trail leading down into the Powder River canyon. The trail was extremely steep and rocky, at times, disappearing all together. With every step down, I couldn’t help but think about all the steps up I’d have to take to get out of this canyon. On a high after finding that foal, I kept on. This was a day for treasure.

The trail down into the Powder River canyon. We came down through that notch above.

At the bottom of the canyon, on the banks of the fast and cold river, the trail stopped. It was a hot day and I didn’t mind getting wet, so I followed the river downstream, getting soaked until I spotted a faint trail running above the river.

Powder River Self Portrait

Trail running above the Powder River

The trail was narrow and crumbly, above a long drop into the water. Right when the going was getting super sketchy and I was contemplating giving up and turning back, I looked up and saw the cave, in the cliffs above the river. A bit of scrambling and I was inside, hanging out by fire pits once frequented by some of the West’s most infamous outlaws.

Outlaw Cave!

Bowie in Outlaw Cave. Outlaw Cave isn’t big, maybe 20 feet wide and 20 feet deep, but it’s cozy and completely hidden from the rim.

Bowie and I hung out in the back of the cave, enjoying the cool cave air on a hot day, but Dio stayed by the entrance, on guard and uneasy. At one point, I swore I heard voices and thought somebody might be invading my hideout, but when I joined Dio at the entrance, the canyon was as quiet as they come. Shiver; in Wyoming, the Wild Bunch ghosts live on…

Me & Dio on the lookout in Outlaw Cave

About theblondecoyote

Mary Caperton Morton is a freelance science and travel writer with degrees in biology and geology and a master’s in science writing. A regular contributor to EARTH magazine, where her favorite beat is the Travels in Geology column, she has also written for the anthologies Best Women's Travel Writing 2010 and Best Travel Writing 2011. Mary is currently based in Big Sky, Montana. When she’s not at the computer she can usually be found outside -- hiking, skiing, climbing mountains and taking photographs. Visit her website at www.marycapertonmorton.com.
This entry was posted in Bowie & D.O.G., Cowboys & Horses, Hiking!, Photography, Uncategorized, Vagabonding 101. Bookmark the permalink.

31 Responses to The Ghosts of Outlaws Past

  1. mjspringett says:

    great story, thanks MJ

  2. Klbexplores says:

    What a wonderful but challenging trip! The very thing the best memories are made of!

  3. Joni says:

    Perhaps I need to go back to the beginning of this blog to figure out how in the world you are able to travel alone as a woman and you’re still alive…LOL. I guess my age is showing (I’m 57) and I would LOVE to do what I’ve only read about you doing in the last few days in your blog but there are too many freaky people out there. Monsters and ghosts don’t bother me, it is the psycho humans. When I was in my 20’s I used to dream about walking the Appalachian Trail. But, alas, life, brutal life happened and I knew I’d never be able to go out on my own. My son has travelled all over the country and I envy anyone who has the nerve to do it. But, seriously…do you carry a gun or other protection? What a wonderful way to be able to live! Good for you!!!
    Joni

    • Hi Joni, I’m so sorry you’ve found the world a brutal place. I’ve been traveling more or less on my own for seven years and have never met a psycho. Maybe it’s the way I carry myself or the fact that I travel almost everywhere with two large, loyal dogs or maybe I’ve just been lucky. Sure, I’ve had my share of scary, weird and creepy encounters, including grizzly bears, angry moose and a near-mortal injury far from help, but I’ve always stood my ground with no weapons in hand. Believing in yourself and trusting your own capabilities is the most powerful weapon there is. M

  4. Always wanted to seek out the cave the summer I spent as a wrangler in Wyoming. Good on you for persevering and finding it. Would love to do a paranormal investigation there!

  5. I’ve lived in Wyoming for a year now and have barely scratched the surface of all the places to explore. Thanks for the story.

  6. Don West says:

    Very cool adventure! I bet your mind wandered with imaginings of what they did there, how long they stayed, what they discussed…

  7. Noel says:

    Cool trip and great pics! Thank you.

  8. canonsett says:

    That is wonderful. No wonder they could disappear out of the law’s way. Definitely ghosts there I think. Sheila x

  9. I love your blog. You are doing something I have always wanted to do. Beautiful pictures, also.

  10. moversti says:

    Great pictures and stories.

  11. Rachael says:

    Good for you not giving up. A lot of folks would have. Well worth it in the end.

  12. Terrific photos and a fine story! 🙂

  13. Michael says:

    Nice that you finally found the cave. After many books and movies, I’ve always been curious about the Hole In The Wall. In the last photo I couldn’t help but notice you are wearing a hat again. Did you find a replacement Akubra?

    • Good eye! I haven’t found another Akubra yet. That’s a Scala hat that will do in the meantime. Similar shape, but not quite as sharp. It’ll do for now! Thanks! M

  14. ritaroberts says:

    Hello,Each time I leave a comment I never know what to call you please enlighten me as I visit your blog often. Love this one by the way. Never heard of the whole in the wall but it certainly conjures up the spirits of the outlaws. I did wonder if you traveled alone,well not really your dogs are you companions and protectors. Its great you are doing this while you are young. You will have so many memories to look back on.Thanks for sharing your travels with us.

    • Call me Mary. I do sometimes manage to talk friends into copiloting with me on trips, but if I depended on other people to travel I’d never go anywhere! The dogs will go anywhere at any time with endless enthusiasm- they’re the best traveling partners anybody could ask for! Thanks for reading, Rita! M

  15. Great post as usual.

    I’ve got a question for you (or anyone else out there in the blogsphere): the area I moved to is prone to outages in winters, and I got to wondering what I can do for heat sources.

    I know there are camp stoves, but do they get warm enough to warm a small space up? Or is there a safe alternative I haven’t found?

    I don’t want to get a kerosene heater, they stink, plus this place isn’t really set up for ventilation – windows are painted shut. Appreciate your thoughts!

  16. Max Reynolds says:

    As always, great post and photos. Thanks for sharing it. -Max-

  17. Kurateesi says:

    That’s some amazing scenery on the riverside trail. Wish I could stand there and take it all in.

  18. evea192 says:

    Breath taking fotos. Love to come and have a look here. I bet there are a couple of jealous people out there, i know, i am one of them.

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  20. meekermeri1957 says:

    Reblogged this on meekermeri.

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  24. beachman says:

    COOL…very cool, thanks…

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