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  Texas : Features : Small Town Sagas :

The Tall Texan :
The Story of Ben Kilpatrick

by Arthur Soule

Texas Escapes' Outlaw Correspondent, Arthur Soule, has forwarded an excerpt from his book The Tall Texan: The Story of Ben Kilpatrick. Mr. Soule's meticulous research shows in this representative piece.

We are replacing "The Last full-sized Train Robbery in Texas" with this excerpt, since Brewster Hudspeth, our previous West Texas consultant got character's names, places and dates all out of order. Brewster is now working as the greens keeper at the Terlingua Golf Course/ Cemetery. He has been replaced by Otis Windburn, who has had extensive and intensive experiences "West of the Pecos." Otis was responsible for changing the Marfa Lights from 1948 to 1956 and again from 1973 to 1977.

A short introduction would be in order to fill the reader in. Hobeck refers to one of the robbers who attempted the robbery near Sanderson in 1912. - Editor

Ben Kilpatrick
Ben Kilpatrick mug shot circa 1901 Ohio Federal Penitentiary
Courtesy of Arthur Soule

Western writers have chided Ben Kilpatrick as incompetent and unable to carry out a single robbery without the guidance of a Butch Cassidy or Kid Curry. Such is not true. Upon Ben's release he would execute a series of spectacular train and bank robberies in a very short period of time. His downfall was the inability to secure a large amount of funds from this series of robberies, necessitating further robberies. Eventually the odds would catch up with him.

Hobek's location and actions from his release until the Spring of 1911 are unknown. However, anticipating Ben's release, he makes an appearance in West Texas in the Spring of 1911. Claiming to be a detective, he shared a hack with two San Angelo men taking a trip to Sheffield. Once there, he gave them the slip without paying his share of the bill. Investigators would determine he contacted someone in Christoval by phone. Ben had relatives living in both Sheffield and Christoval. There the trail ended. He next shows up in Memphis, Tennessee, working for the L.B. Price Mercantile Company from July, 1911 until February 5, 1912.

Even after almost ten years of prison, Law Enforcement was not ready to have Ben on the loose. His application for Executive Clemency was turned down. He was also turned down for Parole. He was released from the prison on June 11, 1911, but was immediately arrested under Warrant For Murder in the Oliver Thornton case by the Sheriff of Concho County, Texas. Upon his return to Texas Ben completed a Write of Habeas Corpus on June 14, 1911. He would be released on June 27, 1911 with a Court hearing set for July 3, 1911. Appearing in Court on July 3, 1911, the case against him was dismissed for lack of evidence. Ten years to the day after the Great Northern Robbery at Exeter Creek, Montana, he walked away a free man.

Ben and Hobek would not wait long to put there plans into action. A series of unexplained Bank and Train Robberies began occurring in West Texas and Tennessee. A mail train was robbed a short distance out of Memphis on the Tennessee/Arkansas border on the evening of November 1, 1911 and again on February 6, 1912. The first took place while Hobek was employed in Memphis and the latter took place one day after Hobek quit his job in Memphis. The descriptions of the robbers match that of Ben and Hobek. The method of robbery was classic Wild Bunch with the exception of fleeing a great distance immediately after the robbery. The robbers returned and hid within the confines of the city after each robbery. There were others involved and suspicion centered around Ben's brother Felix Kilpatrick and Outlaw Dan Sheffield, brother to Ben's sister in-law (Boone's wife, Truda Sheffield).

Other robberies of interested include the attempted holdup of the bank at Dale, Oklahoma by two masked men on January 12, 1912; the night time robbery of the bank at Elmo, Texas (twenty-five miles outside of Dallas) by two men. The safe was blown using nitroglycerin. The First National Bank of Seminole in Seminole County Texas would be robbed of $3500 by two masked men on February 15, 1912. Next on March 8, 1912 a railroad station just south of San Antonio, at San Diego, Texas would be robbed of $600 by two masked men.

Ben and Hobek had not yet realized the big pay day. To achieve this Ben fell back on an old success. He would attempt to rob the same Express hit by Black Jack Ketchum and in which he was a likely participant. The robbery was the Lozier, Texas train robbery of May 10, 1897 fifty miles east of Sanderson, Texas.

Leading up to the robbery, Ole Hobek was observed in San Angelo, Texas, two weeks prior, in route to join Ben. Ben is working on Berry Kethchums West Texas ranch. Just before the robbery several horses are stolen in Upton County, Texas, Ben being the suspect. The citizens of Ozona have the Ozona National Bank guarded for several days before the robbery. Ben's in town and numerous telephone calls made by him between Ozona and Sheffield arouse the citizenry's suspicions.

The night before the robbery an express messenger reports seeing Ben at the Sanderson depot. He asks the messenger several question about the express before disappearing into the dark.

On the evening of March 12, 1912. Ben and Hobek board Westbound GH&SA #9 upon its arrival in Dryden. They force the engineer to stop the train at the first iron bridge just east of Baxter's Curve. The train crew are searched. The forward cars consisting of the engine, combination baggage & mail and express car are uncoupled from the passenger cars. They are ridden about a mile ahead. Ben, taking the Express Messenger, a man named David Trousdale and several others back, works his way to the Wells Fargo Express Car. Securing only $37 from the safe he begins looting the car. Trousdale had managed to grab and hide an ice mallet underneath the rear portion of his overcoat. He shows Ben a package and tells him it is valuable. Ben rests his rifle against his leg and stoops down to pick up the package. While in this position Trousdale removes the ice mallet from underneath his coat and strikes three vicious blows to Ben's neck and skull, breaking his neck, crushing his skull and splattering his brains on the train car wall.

After Ben is dead, Trousdale and his two companions take Ben's two revolvers and rifle. They wait for Hobek to make an appearance. Trousdale lures him in by shooting a round into the roof of the train. Hobek bites, entering the car cautiously and calling out for Ben. Trousdale shoots and kills him with one round from Ben's rifle striking about an inch above his left eye.

After Ben and Hobek are killed, the looted mail and express are secured. The body and contents are taken to Sanderson, Texas where the process of identification begins. The train arrives at Sanderson at 5:00 AM. Trousdale and the train crew prop up Ben and Hobek for the now famous photograph taken at the Sanderson depot. David Trousdale the Express messenger is hailed a hero. Ben and Hobek will be wrapped in sheets and buried together in a single box. They will remain partners for eternity.

(From Ben Kilpatrick - The Tall Texan, Website, (c) 1999, by Arthur Soule & Soule, Arthur, The Tall Texan - The Story of Ben Kilpatrick, TrailDust Publishing Inc., 1996.
Used with permission)

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