Philip A. Homan, Catalog Librarian and Associate Professor at the Eli M. Oboler Library, has received a research grant from Idaho State University’s Faculty Research Committee to support work on his biography of Kittie Wilkins, the Horse Queen of Idaho. Homan is the first ISU librarian to receive a research grant from ISU. He is also the first Oboler Library representative on ISU’s Research Council, a council of the ISU Faculty Senate.
The ISU grant is the largest of the four research grants Homan has received each year since beginning his project in 2007. He is researching the first scholarly, book-length biography of Kittie Wilkins, an Owyhee County, Idaho, horse rancher and the most famous Western American woman at the turn of the twentieth century. The only woman whose sole occupation was horse dealing, Wilkins sold horses by the trainloads in the livestock markets of the Midwest. She owned the largest herd of horses in the American West.
Entitled “Powder Face: The Horse That Robbed the Winnemucca Bank,” the ISU grant will support Homan’s research this summer at the Nevada Historical Society in Reno, in the Nevada State Library and Archives in Carson City, and with the Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency Records at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.
At the center of the folklore of Butch Cassidy as the American Robin Hood is Cassidy’s gift of a white horse to a boy near Winnemucca, Nevada, in 1900. On their way through Idaho to rob the First National Bank in Winnemucca on September 19, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid stole the white Arabian horse from an Owyhee County ranch to use in the robbery. When the famous outlaw pair camped at the CS Ranch near Winnemucca, young Vic Button, the ranch foreman’s son, raced Cassidy and the Arabian on the saddle horses from the ranch, but he couldn’t outrun them. Cassidy told the boy, “You like that horse? Some day he will be yours.”
Fort Worth Five, Fort Worth, Texas, 1900
(Left to Right: Sundance Kid, Will Carver, Ben Kilpatrick, Harvey Logan, and Butch Cassidy)
Courtesy Denver Public Library, Western History and Genealogy, Z-49
During their getaway back into Idaho after the robbery, Cassidy and Sundance kept just ahead of the posse, which admired the speed of the Arabian horse. When changing to a fresh horse he had relayed on a neighboring ranch, Cassidy hollered to the posse behind him, “Give this white horse to the kid at the CS Ranch!” The posse took the unbranded, unidentified horse to the 10-year-old boy, who named it “Patsy” and kept it for the rest of its life. “I can only say,” said Vic Button, “that for Butch to remember his promise to a kid when the posse was so close, he could not have been all bad.”
Later, in Texas, Cassidy and Sundance met up with other members of the Wild Bunch to celebrate the Winnemucca job—their biggest holdup—and they had a group picture taken. According to the folklore, Cassidy sent the photograph of the “Fort Worth Five” to the First National Bank as a thank-you for the new clothes, as well as to the boy Vic Button. The lark was a bad mistake for the outlaw pair. Seeing the photograph displayed in the window of the photography studio, a Wells Fargo detective recognized one of the other Wild Bunch members, and the Pinkerton Detective Agency was soon able to identify the two leaders of the Wild Bunch for the first time. The gang dispersed, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid financed their escape to South America with the $32,640 they took from the Winnemucca bank—their last robbery in the United States.
Always thankful for that white Arabian horse which outran the posse after the bank robbery in Winnemucca, the Sundance Kid later told a friend in Argentina, “If you want to get good, fast, long-winded race horses, go to Winnemucca. They’ve got them, or at least they had some once upon a time.”
While in the archives of the Idaho State Historical Society in Boise last year researching his biography of Kittie Wilkins, Homan discovered that the white Arabian horse that Cassidy stole in Idaho, rode in his getaway from the Winnemucca bank robbery, and gave to Vic Button was Wilkins’s saddle horse Powder Face. The Idaho Horse Queen therefore played a role in the success of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’s “last hurrah.”
Besides visiting archives in Nevada, Homan will interview the daughter of Vic Button, who lives in Reno. He will use his research to develop another program for the Idaho Humanities Council Speakers Bureau.
Philip A. Homan, Associate Professor, Eli M. Oboler Library