Outlaw William Coe & His
Known as "Captain" Bill Coe, little is known of William's
early life, except that he was a southern boy and worked as a carpenter
and stonemason, before he turned to a life of outlawry. Some say, he
fought with the
Confederates during the
Civil War, which may account for
the "Captain” title, but this is not confirmed.
He was thought to have arrived in the Oklahoma Panhandle
about 1864, settling in an area that, at the time, was referred to as "No
Man's Land.” The strip of land, measuring some 35 miles wide by 168 miles
long, was not included in any state and therefore left without any law and
order. For years, it was a haven for
outlaws, for which William Coe took
Located strategically on a long high ridge
jutting southwest from a large mesa near the town of Kenton,
Coe built a "fortress” to protect himself and his gang of some 30 to 50
members, who primarily rustled cattle, horses, sheep, and mules.
Robber's Roost, painting by Wayne Cooper of Depew,
Oklahoma State Senate in 2007.
made of rock walls some three feet thick, sported portholes for
protection rather than windows, as well as a fully stocked bar, living
quarters for his men, and a number of "soiled doves” for their
entertainment. His fortress became known as "Robber’s Roost.”
For several years, these men earned their livelihood raiding ranches
and military installations from Fort Union, New Mexico to the south, Taos,
New Mexico to the
west, and as far north as
Colorado. They also preyed on
freight caravans traveling along the
Trail, as well as area
ranches. Hiding the stock in a canyon some five miles northwest of
their hide-out, the rustlers built a fully equipped blacksmith shop,
which contained all the tools necessary to maintain the herds, as well
as changing the brands. When all hint of the previous owners were
removed, the desperado cowboys then moved the herds into
Missouri or Kansas to sell.
Though they had been getting away
with their lawlessness for several years, the gang made a major
mistake when they raided a large sheep ranch in
Las Vegas, New
in 1867, killing two men before making off with the herd to Pueblo,
Colorado. Though wanted before, these murders put Coe and his men on
the "wanted list” like never before and soon, the U.S. Army from
Colorado were pursuing them.
The army attacked the
Robber’s Roost fortress with a cannon, crumbling the walls and killing
and wounding several of the outlaws. Though Coe and others were able
to escape, several outlaws that weren’t killed in the battle were
hanged on the spot, while others were arrested and taken back to
maintained his lawless ways and his freedom for about a year, hiding
out in a small (now defunct) settlement of Madison, New Mexico, near
while he was sleeping in a woman's bunkhouse, her 14
year-old son rode from the ranch and contacted area soldiers, who soon
returned and arrested Coe. The fugitive was then taken to Pueblo,
Colorado to await trial and along the way, allegedly said, "I never
figured to be outgeneraled by a woman, a pony and a boy."
However, before he could come to trial, vigilantes took matters into
their own hands on the evening of July 20, 1868, forcibly removed him
from the jail. Loading him into a wagon, they then moved him to a
cottonwood tree on the bank of Fountain Creek and lynched him while he
was still handcuffed and shackled. The next day, his body was
discovered and buried under the tree that he was hanged from. Years
later, when a new road was being built in the vicinity of Fourth
Street in Pueblo, workers found the skeletal remains of what is
believed to have been Coe’s.
Without his leadership, the rest of
his gang headed for parts unknown and are lost in history.
But, that is not
the end of the tale. After his death, rumors began to abound that much of
his illegally earned riches are still hidden in the area of his old
hide-out near Kenton,
Oklahoma. One report alleges that he told his
executors that he had buried enough gold to make them all rich. Whether he
made the statement or not, it obviously wasn’t persuasive enough to
convince his captors.
later report tells of an Indian who had ridden with Coe and his gang,
claiming on his deathbed that the outlaws had once stumbled across a
rich pack train that had been attacked by Indians. In addition to all of
the debris left scattered in the attack, the outlaws
also found some $750,000 of gold and Spanish coins, which they allegedly
buried in a place called Flag Springs Arroyo.
Coe’s hideout, though located in
also just miles from New Mexico and Colorado, so
what state Flag Springs is in, is unknown.
Though it would make sense that if there was a significant stash at this
unknown place, one of the other
have returned for it, still the legend of lost treasure persists.
To this day none of Coe’s gold has
been reportedly found and most searches center on the areas of Robber’s
Roost, Black Mesa, Carrizozo Creek Valley, and Blacksmith Canyon. However,
this is a large and rugged area, so if the legend is true, it could be
hidden for eternity. Also, it should be noted that Robber’s Roost is on
private property. Only the foundation of the rock fortress that once
overlooked the Cimarron and Carrizo Valleys remain. After, it was
bombarded by the cavalry, most of the stones were carried away to make
is a semi-ghost town with only one open
business, Kathy Weiser, September, 2008. This image available for photo prints &
of America, updated May, 2014.
Kenton, Oklahoma & No Man's Land
Legends' General Store
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