A Tour to Hole in the Wall

105182105411111CDPBy Neva Bodin

The Hole-in-the-Wall gang, if not already famous, was catapulted into public awareness back in 1969, by a fiction film, based on some fact, about one famous gang that frequented the place in Wyoming known as the hole in the wall: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Paul Newman and Robert Redford were the stars. The gang existed in the late 1800’s.

And, in 1988, Paul Newman opened The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp in Connecticut so that children coping with serious illnesses could have a special hideout where they could simply be kids. http://www.holeinthewallgang.org/Page.aspx?pid=471

In Wyoming, the Red Wall is a bluff of red sandstone connecting southwest Johnson County and Natrona County, approximately fifty miles long, It has one narrowing canyon dividing it. This canyon providing access to a valley of grass that nourished stolen cattle, became known as the “Hole-in-the-Wall.”

I have had the privilege of writing some homesteading stories for a local newspaper and interviewed a couple families who mentioned connections to the gang. In my research, I found out it was not just one gang, but several who lived in that area and used the secluded and hard-to-reach spot to hide from the law. It is a beautiful area.

The ruins of one of the cabins in the valley.

Perhaps there is some “honor among thieves” as, according to Wikipedia, the gangs built cabins, left each other to their own pursuits and managed to co-exist. I wonder how they kept the rustled cattle separate, if land boundaries were an issue, and did they get together for card games?

One rancher in this area, (about 30 miles from the hole-in-the-wall) put a notice in the paper that he was coming to get his cattle. The rustlers put an answering notice in, saying basically, “Come and get ‘em. We’re ready.”

One of the red buttes on the trail to Hole-in-the-Wall that makes up the Red Wall.

My husband and I had the privilege of going on a tour of the area in 2013. We had to have a four-wheel drive vehicle, take our place in a long line of 20+ other vehicles and snake our way, perhaps 11 miles, across a prairie surrounded by sharp-edged red buttes. The prairie also hid sudden deep and narrow arroyos to cross that I was sure our pick-up would be wedged into and not able to get out of again.

Me standing on the wheel of the chuckwagon where we ate our lunch on the tour.

It is a very informative tour, beginning with visiting a spot where events of the Johnson County War happened, and culminating with a picnic beside a chuck wagon, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. However, the small canyon where we ate had a trail coming into it that had been a stagecoach trail that became a county road for a time.

And if you could make it over a treacherous fence, a short walk along another arroyo led to petroglyphs on a rock wall.

To add to the ambience of the tour, Butch Cassidy’s great grand-nephew, Bill Betenson, who wrote the book, “Butch Cassidy My Uncle,” was on the tour and we ate lunch while sitting beside him, on a stump at an old wooden picnic table. It was great. Until it started to rain.

We hurried to our vehicles and began a treacherous, slow crawl across a prairie trail, now wet and slick with Bentonite. Bentonite, a clay formed by the decomposition of volcanic ash, is very slippery and can expand to several times its size. It is used in many products, some being cat litter, drilling mud for oil wells, sealants, and in wine purification. Wyoming is full of it.

Turning a sharp corner on that prairie road on the very slippery soil was not easy. Or coming up out of those narrow arroyos.

There is a deep canyon with a cave where the outlaws stayed nearby also. We have camped near there and hiked down…down…down to the river below and into the cave. Artifacts, like a table, etc, have been removed by sight-seers, so one must use imagination when standing in the cave. Some locals remember the items there.

And then one must use much stamina to get back out of the deep canyon—about a half hour crawl back up an almost vertical side. (You slide part of the way down.)

Beauty, awe at what outlaws accomplished and went through to practice their (dare I say craft?) lawlessness, and my meeting someone who actually supplied them with food because some were family, makes the history of this area, and the era of the late 1800’s to early 1900’s, fascinating to me. Oh, if I only knew all the secrets this dusty, red, brown, tan, green, gray and yellow ground holds. And if Butch and the Kid really died in Bolivia, or came back to Wyoming and died in obscurity.


18 thoughts on “A Tour to Hole in the Wall

  1. Very interesting post Neva. I would love to see and experience the wonder of the west and special places like this. Kudos to Paul Newman for opening the camp in Connecticut so children with life-threatenng illnesses can experience not only history but the fun of just being a kid. I enjoyed the site and noticed the kids looked so happy. It’s such a blessing that a star as famous as Newman had the heart to see a need and take action. I loved your narration of the area and facts about the land and bandits existing together. I’ve reblogged this – I think my readers will love it!


    1. Thanks Linda. I love learning the history of this area, my adopted state. It seems there was a different code of ethics, even for outlaws back in that era, although I’m sure there were exceptions. But it doesn’t seem so far removed from the present time when I rub elbows with folks who had ancestors involved in one way or another with some of that history. And I love this wide open land that sometimes hides its beauty. Thanks for reposting too.


  2. My first knowledge of Hole in the Wall was when I was a kid of about thirteen and saw a melodrama in Story, Wyoming, called Shoot Out at Hole in the Wall. I remember thinking it was probably about someone shooting a hole in a wall and how dumb was that, but it would be better than staying home and baby-sitting my younger brother. Kids think the darndest things, don’t they?


  3. I do enjoy history! This is a captivating post. Now that I’m a bit older, I am glad you can share your hikes and trips, for I’m not sure I could do them now. It allows me to feel like I’m there. Doris


  4. Loved the descriptions and photos. I’m writing another Western Romance and this gave me some ideas and made me want to watch Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid again. Maybe it’s on Netflix Thanks. Cher’ley


  5. That’s amazing, Neva. Great post. I’d love to do that kind of tour. I have to confess that when I saw your title I chuckled. I wondered what you were about to talk about since, in Scotland, we call a ‘hole in the wall’ the place where you can do cash withdrawals from a bank. You make me want to visit Wyoming and see that Bentonite. 🙂


    1. Love your use of “hole int he wall”! Would love to have you visit Wyoming, it’s not green like Ireland much, but it is colorful if you look at it closely. I paint landscapes so really notice. Thanks!


  6. Loved your post, Neva! The area you write about is truly beautiful and remote! I’ve not done the tour but seen parts of the area and of course heard the stories. I love exploring our state (many places in fact!) and I’m so thankful we are both still able to experience some diverse, amazing sites. Thanks for sharing your experiences!


    1. Sometimes I think there was some code of ethics even with outlaws (at least maybe some outlaws) back then. And they rustled cattle and robbed trains by horseback which had to indicate some interest in effort too I would think! It sounds like Butch was always polite to women too. And they sure did live close to beauty! Thanks.


  7. Love the post. My grandparents used to live in Estes Park, CO and I’ve also been to many parts of Arizona. Love it out there – the views, history, and ghost towns. Thanks for sharing your experiences.


  8. Great post, Neva! Really interesting facts/stories and great photos. I have been to Arizona and to Colorado a few times, but I’ve never made it to Wyoming. I think I’d like to. 🙂


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