The Hole-in-the Wall hideout was the favorite hiding place for the Old West outlaw gangs

Nikola Simonovski
Featured image
Photo Credit Bureau of Land Management  CC BY2.0

The Old West, or the Wild West, is most certainly one of the most romanticized periods in the history of the United States. The Wild West occurred when settlers and pioneers attempted to populate the territories west of the Mississippi River, and it continued after the Civil War, lasting around two centuries.

The Old West produced iconic stories from that time, presenting an endless well of ideas for movies, novels, comic books and all kinds of art forms for consumption.  Almost all of the Old West stories revolve around the clashes between the law and the outlaw. Therefore, it is no wonder the criminals of the Wild West became so popular.

The Hole in the Wall is actually a pass. Author: Caveman1949   CC BY-SA 3.0

These outlaws were often idealized and romanticized. There are lots of famous lawmen from the Wild West, like Pat Garrett, Wyatt Earp, Wild Bill Hickok, but still, the outlaws were, and still are by far, the more renowned. Among some of the most famous outlaws were Billy the Kid, the Dalton Brothers, Jesse James, Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid, Belle Starr and many others. Most of these outlaws had their own gangs with whom they committed all kinds of crimes, from robbing banks and trains, to killing people.

Hole-in-the-Wall site, Wyoming. Author: Sam Beebe  CC BY 2.0

Although the gangs operated separately, they supported each other, formed coalitions, and often shared hiding places, where they took refuge from the law. These hideouts provided the gangs with security and were hard to find. One of the most famous places of this kind was the Hole-in-the-Wall.

Monument for the Hole in the Wall Fight Author: Caveman1949   CC BY-SA 3.0

Located in the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming, “The Hole-in-the-Wall”  was a perfect hiding spot for the outlaws due to the hardly accessible road leading to it. The place was named after a hole in an eroded rock wall that was well used as a passage to the hideout. The term referred to the valley and the canyon, bordered by the Red Wall and the Big Horn Mountains. The area was far away from civilization; it was private and isolated. The horse ride trip to the hideout from the closest town took at least one day. The top of the wall was used by the outlaw guards to overlook the entire surrounding area. All the paths leading to the hideout were narrow and easy to defend. The lawmen had a hard time approaching the Hole-in-the-Wall, as it was impossible to reach it without alarming the outlaw gangs. Several cabins were built on the site, used by the bandits to hide and pass the harsh Wyoming winters. The place had stables, pens for the livestock and supply chambers. All the gangs that used the hideout contributed to the upkeep of the hideout.

The Hole-in-the-Wall is a spectacularly scenic part of the Old West. Author: Bureau of Land Management  CC BY2.0

The Hole-in-the-Wall was used by some of the most notorious outlaws, such as the Roberts Brothers, the Jesse James gang, the Butch Cassidy Wild Bunch, Kid Curry and many others. Even though these gangs operated separately, here they formed a coalition. The gangs made plans for their future robberies and operated with no interference from other gangs. They would meet only at the Hole-in-the-Wall, which they all used as a base for planning and resting.

Access road to BLM Hole in the Wall Trail Author: Caveman1949  CC BY-SA 3.0

Each of the gangs had their separate cabin and space for the horses and livestock. The hideout had rules, which each visitor had to respect. There was no official leader of the camp, but each gang was lead by its own chieftain. Stealing from another gang was prohibited, and disputes among gang members were solved in a well-established manner. The hideout functioned from the 1860’s to 1910, and in those 50 years, no lawmen successfully entered Hole-in-the-Wall. The hideout faded into oblivion after 1910.

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Even today, the area is still hardly accessible, connected with the outer world by a dusty road. The place is now under the Willow Creek Ranch. One of the cabins used by the notorious Butch Cassidy is now on display at the Old Trail Town Museum, in Cody, Wyoming.