Tom Ross: A history of Baggs, Wyo., home to outlaws

Wyoming town linked to Northwest Colorado; located about 41 miles from Craig

Tom Ross

Did you know that a developer named Butch Cassidy once owned real estate in Baggs, Wyo?

We came perilously close to spending a portion of our holiday weekend in scenic downtown Baggs. When our plans changed at the last minute, I decided to research the place anyway. It turns out, Baggs can claim a fascinating place in the history of the Wild West.

Baggs is a historic ranching community on the Little Snake River about 41 miles north of Craig. Craig actually is closer to Baggs than any town of 10,000 in Wyoming. Rawlins, 76 miles away, is the best bet. The present population of Baggs, which is in Carbon County, is just under 350 souls. Baggs also is a place where Butch Cassidy and his notorious band of outlaws, the Wild Bunch, liked to hang out. The Gaddis/Matthews cabin on Wyoming Highway 789 in Baggs was one of Butch’s hangouts.

Author Helen Morgan takes the Butch Cassidy legend a step further in Volume Two of her self-published book, “Snake River Profiles.” “Life on Snake River has never been drab or colorless or without excitement,” Morgan writes. “There were Indians, outlaws, horse thieves and what have you periodically coming in, staying awhile and moving on.” In her book, Morgan published two photos reputed to be linked to the outlaw. One is of the remains of Cassidy’s Cabin, really just a cellar overgrown with sage, and a second shows the remains of Cassidy’s barn “near Powder Wash, Colo.”

It is significant to note that Morgan did not publish a map to the ruins. Morgan also reports that an old timer took her to three unmarked graves in the Baggs Cemetery which he said belong to members of the Wild Bunch. Legends pertaining to Cassidy’s presence in the wild country on the Colorado/Wyoming border are sketchier than the stories of other true pioneers.

Fur trapper and mountain man Jim Baker is buried in a small cemetery near Baggs, his tall stonemarker overlooking the mountain that bears his name. The inscription on the marker describes him as a contemporary of Kit Carson and Jim Bridger.

Baker was a member of a hunting party that took part in perhaps the biggest fight with Native Americans in the Rocky Mountains. In August of 1841, the hunters had built a temporary fort and corral on a defensible hillock upstream from what is now Baggs. Although they were taking precautions, they could not have guessed they would later have to hole up in the fort and defend it against an estimated 700 warriors from three tribes, including Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapahoe. As the legend goes, the hunters were down to their last bullets when their tormentors finally decided they had enough and retreated from the scene. Anyone can easily spot Battle Mountain and Battle Creek, which commemorate the site, on the Forest Service map of the region. Baker later returned to the Baggs area to establish a cattle ranch and raise 15 children by two wives who were Shoshone sisters. The historical guide to Routt County provides one of the best records of the founding family of Baggs.

When George Baggs brought his Texas longhorns to Browns Park in 1871 (then a part of Routt County, later to become a part of Moffat County) they represented the first major herd to come into the region. In subsequent years, absentee owners would send thousands of head into the area for the good grazing.

Baggs quickly moved his cattle to the Little Snake River Valley and built a ranch at the site that is now the town of Baggs. George Baggs had a common-law wife named Maggie, who was known to intimidate. Some even said she took advantage of, the cowhands on the Double Eleven Ranch. When a cowboy named Jack Farrell, while on a roundup, named a pointy promontory in the region after a part of Maggie’s anatomy, she had him horsewhipped.

Maggie later ran off to California with a cowhand named Mike Sweet and was not seen in these parts again.

Now that I’ve missed my November trip to Baggs, I think I’ll put off a visit until summer. But come July, I’m going to head up Routt County Road 129 and keep on driving until the countryside turns into Wyoming. I’m going to see if I can’t get permission to fish on the Little Snake, take in the rodeo in Dixon, then head on to Baggs to check out the historic bank building. I might even camp overnight by the river — if they’ll have me.

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