Ben Kilpatrick was one of the most prolific train robbers of the Old West.
Born in Concho County, Texas, on January 5, 1874, he was the third of nine children of a Tennessee-born farmer, George Washington Kilpatrick, and his wife, Mary. When he grew up, he worked as a cowboy where he made the acquaintances of other would-be outlaws, including Thomas and Sam Ketchum and William Carver.
At that time, he was described as being 6 feet, 2 inches tall, which led to the nickname “The Tall Texan.” He was light-complected with pale yellow eyes, each of which had a violet spot in it. Along the way, he developed excellent shooting skills and was considered “absolutely fearless.”
He and his other cowboy friends soon concluded there was an easier way to make money and formed the Ketchum Gang, which robbed trains in New Mexico. However, after a failed train robbery, he fled to the Robbers’ Roost in Utah and joined what became known as the Wild Bunch in 1898.
Along with leader Butch Cassidy, the gang included the Sundance Kid, Harvey Logan, George Curry, William Carver, Elza Lay, and Bob Meeks. While with the Wild Bunch, Ben also hooked up with Laura Bullion, who had previously been Will Carver’s girl. The gang began the most successful train robbing career in history.
On August 29, 1900, Kilpatrick, Butch Cassidy, Sundance Kid, Harvey Logan, and William Carver held up the Union Pacific train at Tipton, Wyoming. This was followed by a raid on the First National Bank of Winnemucca, Nevada, on September, 19th which netted $32,640. The following year the gang obtained $65,000 from the Great Northern train near Wagner, Montana. However, it would soon come to an end.
Kilpatrick was with William Carver when he was ambushed by Sheriff Elijah Briant and his deputies at Sonora, Texas, on April 2, 1901. Though Kilpatrick was able to escape, Carver died from his wounds. Ben and his girlfriend Laura Bullion made their way to St. Louis, Missouri, where the pair were both arrested on November 8, 1901. Kilpatrick was found guilty of robbery and sentenced to 15 years in prison, while Laura was sentenced to five. After serving 3 ½ years, Laura was released from the Missouri State Penitentiary, never seeing her lover again.
In the meantime, Kilpatrick was serving his time at the Federal Penitentiary in Atlanta, Georgia. After serving ten years of his 15 years sentence, he was released in June 1911. Within no time, he returned to a life of crime. He was thought to have participated in several train robberies outside of Memphis, Tennessee, in November 1911 and February 1912 and several other small robberies in West Texas. But, once again, it wouldn’t last.
On the evening of March 12, 1912, the Galveston, Harrisburg, & San Antonio Railroad Train No. 9 pulled away from Del Rio, Texas, with engineer D. E. Grosh at the throttle at about 8:00 p.m. Shortly before midnight, it stopped in Dryden to take on water, and as it was preparing to pull away, outlaws, Ben Kilpatrick and Ole Hobek, whom Kilpatrick met in prison, climbed aboard the engine. The masked men then ordered the engineer to proceed to the first iron bridge east of Baxter’s Curve, about halfway between Dryden and Sanderson. The bandits ordered the train to be stopped and the passenger cars and caboose to be uncoupled from the engine, mail, and baggage cars. Without the passengers, the engine then went across the bridge and about half a mile further down the tracks, where the robbers had horses waiting, ordered the train to stop again, and proceeded with the holdup.
While Ole Hobek stayed with the engineer, Ben Kilpatrick went back to the baggage car with David Trousdale, the Wells Fargo express agent assigned to the train. When the pair passed by a shipment of iced oysters, Trousdale picked up an ice mallet and hid it in his clothing. Kilpatrick then filled a bag with about $60,000, but, as he was preparing to leave, Trousdale struck him on the head with the ice mallet and killed him. The express manager then armed himself with the bandit’s gun, and when Hobek grew impatient and came looking for his partner, Trousdale shot him. The official time of the robbery is listed at 12:05 a.m. Afterward, the engineer backed up the train, re-coupled the passenger cars, and continued to Sanderson.
Agent Trousdale helped unload the dead bodies and turned over the six weapons the robbers had been carrying. The dead bodies of Ben Kilpatrick and Ole Hobek were held up for photographs and were later buried in a joint grave at the Cedar Grove cemetery in Sanderson, Texas.
The robbery, known as the Baxter’s Curve Train Robbery and the Sanderson Train Robbery, was one of the last train robberies in Texas. The Newton Gang has the honor of the last train robbery in Texas, near Uvalde in 1914.
©Kathy Weiser-Alexander/Legends of America, updated November 2021.
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