Chronicle of the Old West article… but with an addition 

The Old West had dumb outlaws and smart outlaws.  This week’s story is about an outlaw and his buddy who were supposedly very smart - Dakota Lively

It is said of Robert LeRoy Parker, or as we know him, Butch Cassidy, that if he was alive today, and he was an honest man, he would be a CEO of some corporation. Butch’s robberies were well planned. He would even station fresh horses on the escape route to make it easy to outdistance the lawmen. Butch’s lieutenant was Ellsworth Lay, who went by the nickname, Elza. Elza was also known to be a brilliant man. 

On April 21, 1897, Butch and Elza decided to pool their brilliance, and pull off a payroll robbery. At one time Butch had worked at a large mining camp near Castle Grande, Utah. So, he knew when the payroll was received, and when it was distributed to the miners. Waiting until the exact moment after receipt and before payment, Butch and Elza rushed into camp, and scooped up the $8,000 payroll. To make sure the camp couldn’t notify the law, they cut the telegraph wire.

Then they headed over to the New Mexico Territory. Now, most outlaws would go to the nearest tavern, and celebrate. But not Butch and Elza. They knew the posses would be looking for a couple of cowboys having a good time. 

So, Butch and Elza went to a local ranch and got jobs as cowboys. Where they worked until the heat was off.

But, then, on the other hand, maybe Butch wasn’t all that smart. The law did chase him down to South America where he was supposedly killed in a shootout at the age of 43. Now, his buddy, Elza did live to be 66, but during his lifetime, he was shot more than once, and he was sentenced to life in prison. 

(Dakota ends this story with the comment… they weren’t that smart.)


[stories like this always make me more curious… so I wanted to know a bit more about this Elzy guy]


William Ellsworth "Elzy" Lay (Nov 25, 1868 – Nov 10, 1934) 

Lay was born in Mount Pleasant, Ohio. Shortly after his birth, his family moved to northeastern Colorado. At the age of 18, he left home looking for adventure In 1889, Lay met Butch Cassidy. The two became close friends. He worked briefly on the ranch of Matt Warner, and it was Warner who gave Lay his first tip for a robbery. Lay learned that a shopkeeper had a large sum of cash. Warner, his nephew, and Lay robbed the man and split the money.

Lay then opened up a gambling house in Vernal, Utah. For a time, it did well, but it was shut down by the Sheriff. Lay moved back to Matt's ranch. He remained there until Butch Cassidy was released from an eighteen-month prison sentence. During that time, Lay became involved with, Maude Davis. In August 1896, Matt Warner killed two prospectors, during a shootout near Vernal. Warner had been employed by E.B. Coleman to scare the two away from a mining claim. The intimidation turned into a gun fight. Warner, and two others were arrested, and transported to Ogden, Utah, where they were jailed. In a plea for help to Cassidy, Warner for help with a lawyer. Cassidy and Lay robbed a bank in Montpelier, Idaho, using the funds to get an attorney for Warner. Warner and one other were convicted of manslaughter, and received a five-years, the third was found not guilty.

Cassidy and Lay began hiding out at what was called "Robbers Roost", in Utah. Maude Davis and Ann Bassett joined them there. In April 1897, the two women were sent home, while Cassidy and Lay began planning the robbery of a payroll shipment in Castle Gate, Utah. On April 21, 1897, the payroll arrived, and Cassidy and his gang simply walked up in broad daylight and took it at gunpoint. A gang member is said to have disabled the telegraph lines to prevent word getting out to nearby law enforcement.

By this time, Maude and Elzy had married and Maude and was pregnant. After the birth of their daughter, Maude insisted he leave the outlaw life and settle down. He refused. Cassidy and Lay traveled to New Mexico, and by this time were calling their gang the "Wild Bunch". There, they worked for a short time on the "WS Ranch", before heading north to Wyoming. They committed their most famous robbery on June 2, 1899, by robbing a Union Pacific train near Wilcox, Wyoming. Following the robbery, they fled to the Hole-in-the-Wall, successfully evading posses. Kid Curry, now a member of the gang, killed Converse County Sheriff Josiah Hazen during that pursuit. The gang split up for a time, which was a common following any of the robberies.

On July 11, 1899, Lay led Curry, Ketchum and Carver in the robbery of a train near Folsom, New Mexico. The robbery was successful, but a well-led posse under the direction of Huerfano County Sheriff Ed Farr soon cornered them near Turkey Creek. In the first gun battle, Doña Ana County Deputy Kent Kearney was shot, dying the next day. Another deputy and Sam Ketchum were badly wounded. The gang escaped this immediate threat, but Ketchum's wounds held them up, and again they were cornered in the same area. They engaged Sheriff Farr and Colfax County Deputy Henry Love in a gunfight, resulting in Sheriff Farr being killed and Love dying a few days later from his wounds. Lay was also wounded, but escaped (as did Curry and Carver). Ketchum however, was captured and died in custody.

On August 16, 1899, while gathering supplies, Lay was cornered in Carlsbad, New Mexico and captured. He was charged and convicted of the killings and the robbery. He received a life sentence, which he served in the New Mexico State Penitentiary.

Lay spent seven years in prison, where he became a trustee to the warden. He accompanied the warden to Santa Fe. Upon their return, they found the inmates had taken the warden's wife and daughter hostage. Lay was able to convince the prisoners to release them, and Governor Miguel Antonio Otero pardoned him on January 10, 1906. Upon his release he found his way to Baggs, Wyoming, a small town north of the Colorado border. There he worked as an oil explorer and saloon owner with little success. He also met and married Mary Calvert. He and Mary moved to Southern California where he supervised the building of the All American Canal system in Riverside and Imperial Valley.

Other than an alleged visit to the Bassett sisters, Lay had no known contact with members of the Wild Bunch after his release. By this time Cassidy and the Sundance Kid had gone to South America, Kid Curry was killed in Colorado. Ben Kilpatrick was captured in Knoxville, and George "Flat Nosed" Curry was killed in Utah, and several others were either dead or in prison.

Lay died on November 10, 1934 in Los Angeles. He is buried at Forest Lawn in Glendale, California   

[ok… he WAS sentenced to life in prison but only served 7 years, released in 1906.  And THAT…. Is the rest of the story ]


                                                                     © Michelle Young 2012