A Detective Gets His Man:
The Capture of Rustler Clabe Young
By TOM REA
Clabe H. Young was one wild cowboy, his friends in Wyoming would have said. He was also a cattle thief. In his youth he killed a man in Texas, though he swore years later that he never meant to. In 1883, as he traveled in chains back to Texas to face a murder charge, he sometimes talked and sometimes wept. He told the detective who had captured him a great deal about cattle stealing in central Wyoming Territory. All the cowboys were doing it, Clabe said, and many stole because their bosses paid them to.
The detective, John M. Finkbone of Chicago, arrived in Cheyenne (below) late in July 1883. He had been hired by the Wyoming Stock Growers Association to figure out what to do about cattle thieves. He reported regularly to his boss in Chicago, William Turtle, who passed the reports back to the Stock Growers Association in Wyoming. This account is based mostly on Finkbone’s reports. He was frank in them, unafraid to name names of some of the biggest ranchers in the territory, whom he suspected of theft or of encouraging thievery. By the time he delivered Clabe to the county sheriff in Tilden, Texas, Finkbone had come to feel something like sympathy for the thief.
The cattle business was booming in Wyoming. Clabe, his brothers Bill and Nate Young, and many like them arrived in Wyoming with Texas cattle herds. Big ranches were established in the 1870s on the plains around Cheyenne and Laramie. Ranchers also began importing cattle from Oregon and Nevada and other places to the west. These were trailed in over the old emigrant roads and turned loose on various ranges in the territory, including the Sweetwater and Sand Creek ranges in central Wyoming. Clabe and his brothers were cowboying on Sand Creek and the Sweetwater by 1883.
For a few years, the cattle business looked easy. All a person had to do was buy a small herd, hire a few men to keep an eye on it, turn the cattle loose, and allow them to multiply. Each spring a new crop of calves could be branded with the owner’s brand. Each fall the calves would be big enough to wean from their mothers and ship to market. The money for each calf sold was almost pure profit. The cowboys didn’t have to be paid much, and the grass was free. Investors from New York, Boston, London and Edinburgh put up tens, then hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy more herds and turn them loose on Wyoming ranges.
Investors bought and sold herds without counting the cattle. Herds were just expected to grow. That potential growth determined the price. It was a price many men were glad to pay, so sure were they of continued growth, and riches.
But things were not well organized. One ranch’s cattle mixed freely with another’s. There were almost no fences. The cattle were often scattered, hard to find, and hard to count.
The business depended on the roundups. The ranches in each district organized each spring to round up the cattle and brand them. Nursing calves follow their mothers, and so the cowboys knew who each calf belonged to by the brand on the mother cow. In the fall the cattle were gathered again. The ones for sale were trailed to the railroad, and shipped east to slaughterhouses and packing plants.
But every spring, calves slipped through the system. Once a calf was old enough that it no longer followed its mother, who it belonged to was anyone’s guess. It became common for a cowboy coming on an unbranded animal to brand it for his boss, or himself. Some foremen and owners paid cowboys bonuses for slapping the ranch’s brand on mavericks, as unbranded calves and yearlings were called.
It was a short step from branding mavericks to changing an animal’s brand to a brand of your own. Some ranchers paid their cowboys to raid their neighbors’ herds. A cowboy who was tough, intimidating, and willing to steal could be an important asset to a growing ranch. The ranges were big, and crimes like these were very hard to prove.
In Cheyenne, Detective Finkbone met with three important men. Joseph M. Carey was mayor of Cheyenne and president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association. Later he would be governor of Wyoming, and then U.S. senator. Alex Swan had been president of the association up through 1882. A Scotsman, Swan and his Scottish investors owned the largest ranch Wyoming ever saw. Their cattle grazed most of southeastern Wyoming. The third man on hand was one of the Jackson brothers, who ran a ranch in central Wyoming, on the Sweetwater River upstream from Devil’s Gate.
Suspecting the Young brothers but wanting more information, these cattlemen sent Finkbone to Rawlins to see what he could find out about cattle theft in the big stretches of Carbon County north and south of that railroad town. He spent three weeks there, posing as a cattle buyer from Chicago. He talked with cowboys, with other buyers, and investors. He bought a lot of cigars and drinks to get them to talk. He wasn’t impressed. “Rawlins is a nest of the cow boys,” Finkbone reported, “not smart generally speaking but on the contrary are ignorant and revengeful.” (Turtle report August 3, 1883, pp. 3-4, American Heritage Center, Wyoming Stock Growers Association collection, Box 222, folder 5.)
Back in Cheyenne on August 20, Finkbone met again with Carey, Swan, and Jackson, and with Thomas Sturgis, secretary of the Stock Growers Association. The detective had learned a lot. Two well-known and popular ranchers in the country north of Rawlins, Boney Earnest on Sand Creek and Tom Sun at Devil’s Gate on the Sweetwater, were employers and good friends of the Young boys. Bill Young had worked as Sun’s foreman and had recently gone to work for Earnest. Both ranchers, Finkbone implied, frequently bought and sold cattle they knew the Young boys had stolen.
The Youngs were also good friends of the Rankin brothers in Rawlins. Jim Rankin was a former Carbon County sheriff. Bob Rankin was jailer at the Carbon County Jail. Joe Rankin later served many years as a U.S. marshal. They ran a livery stable (left) in Rawlins, which was also a popular social hangout for cowboys. Finkbone believed the Rankins from time to time bought horses they knew were stolen, and resold them quickly.
Men like Sun, Earnest, and the Rankins had too many friends and were too well known in Carbon County for the Stock Growers Association to make any moves against them. But the Young brothers were another matter.
At first, Carey, Swan, Jackson, and Sturgis thought the simplest thing to do would be to ride out with a large party of armed men, and lynch Clabe and his brother Bill—“give them a few pulls by the neck,” Finkbone called it in his report. (Turtle report of Sept. 5, 1883, p. 3)
Then one of them remembered hearing there were outstanding murder charges against the Young brothers in Texas. They confirmed this with one of the Searight brothers. The Searights owned the Goose Egg Ranch near what’s now Casper. Swan suggested the association could take care of its problems with the Youngs more or less legally by sending Finkbone to Texas to get the proper papers for their arrest.
In Texas, Finkbone found that Clabe Young was wanted for murder in McMullen County south of San Antonio. Bill was wanted for murder in neighboring Live Oak County. After three weeks of train, stage, buggy and even steamship travel, help from various sheriffs, a prosecutor, and Texas Governor John Ireland, Finkbone returned with formal requisitions to Wyoming authorities that the Young brothers be returned to Texas for trial.
Finkbone arrived back in Rawlins Sept. 25. Immediately he began acting like a police captain. First, he called on Carbon County Sheriff I.C. Miller, whose help he would need to make Young’s arrest legal. Next, he summoned John Durbin to meet him at his Rawlins hotel room. Durbin and his brothers ranched some of the same Sweetwater and Sand Creek ranges as the Jacksons, Tom Sun and Boney Earnest---in fact the Durbins’ operation was bigger than all of theirs put together. The plan was to surprise the Youngs at Jim Cantlin’s ranch, 45 miles north of Rawlins on Sand Creek. Durbin agreed to meet them there—or else to intercept Finkbone’s party and let them know where the Youngs might be found.
The next night, Finkbone, Miller, and two deputies arrived at Cantlin’s (left), to find no sign of the Youngs. Durbin had been there and gone, Cantlin said, but left no word for them. Finkbone, furious, figured Durbin had leaked his plans to the rustlers.
During the night, however, they were awakened with the news that Clabe, his friend Mrs. Ursula Casto, and her two grown sons had just arrived at her place nearby. Finkbone, Miller, and the deputies went to Mrs. Casto’s. Carefully, they hid all the ropes, saddles and bridles they could find, and turned the horses loose from the corral. Then they hid until daybreak.
Without too much trouble, they captured Clabe at dawn, sitting on his bed at Mrs. Casto’s, with his pants and one boot on. He invited the men to sit down. As it was cold, he offered them a drink, and said he’d go into the next room for a bottle of whiskey. He pulled on his second boot, stood, and headed for the door. Two of the men moved to grab him. He made “a desperate lunge,” one newspaper reported later, but a deputy covered him with a pistol. They handcuffed him, and that was that. (“Run to Earth: Details of the Capture of Clabe Young: The Noted Texas Outlaw Safely a Prisoner and On His Way to This State.” Galveston Daily News, Saturday, Oct. 6, 1883, p. 4.)
Fearing a rescue attempt, Finkbone ordered Cantlin to ride fast for Rawlins and arrange for a special train. The main party-- Finkbone, Sheriff Miller, and Young in one wagon, Thomelson, the deputy, and the two Casto sons in the other—left later, and arrived at Rawlins about dusk.
Bill Young did try to rescue his brother. But first he had to catch the horses and find the saddles and bridles Finkbone had hidden at Mrs. Casto’s. He was too late to catch up. In Rawlins, Finkbone deposited the Castos in the Carbon County Jail, and then, with Clabe still in irons, left that night for Cheyenne on the special train. There, Finkbone deposited Clabe in the county jail, and a short while later reported his capture to Swan, Carey, Searight, and Jackson, in Swan’s office. Exhausted, Finkbone checked into a hotel room, and slept.
It turned out to be a long trip to Texas. Durbin and Mrs. Casto both came to the jail in Cheyenne, she to discuss money matters with Clabe, and Durbin, open now about his friendship with the prisoner, to tell him not to lose heart.
(Clabe Young, far right, with his horse Sam, and friends. Hanna Museum photo.)
Finkbone took Clabe to a jail in Denver for extra safety. Then he returned to Cheyenne for the newspapers. Stories ran two days in a row, on Saturday Sept. 29 and Sunday Sept. 30. The first story gave Clabe’s name as “Clate,” and described him as a hardened Texas criminal who when captured was living in adultery with a “Mrs. Castle” on Sand Creek. The story the next day changed completely: Clabe was a hard worker, well-liked by all who knew him, was living only as a boarder at “Mrs. Castle’s” ranch, and was confident that any Texas jury would understand that his shooting there of a man named O’Donnell in 1878 had been unintentional. Finkbone, the story noted, was “a braggart and a blowhard,” and a coward. Versions of the story soon ran in papers in Helena, Montana; Oshkosh, Wisconsin; Decatur, Illinois; Lincoln, Nebraska; Galveston, Texas; and Chicago.
Finkbone finally left Denver with his prisoner on October 2, bound first for Chicago where, the detective reported, he planned to “go to work on him to obtain a confession.”
Finkbone and his boss, "Captain" William Turtle, spent a long weekend “laboring with Young” in a hotel room in Chicago. But Clabe wouldn’t talk, at least about cattle stealing. One of the Jackson brothers from Wyoming turned up in Chicago and told Turtle and Finkbone that a confession would be “a glorious thing.”
By Sunday, October 7, Clabe was sick. The detectives called in a doctor to look at him. Finkbone reported Clabe “cries like a child by spells; is much afraid that he will be hung upon his arrival in Texas.” This may imply that the two detectives had been beating or torturing him for days, or only that he was severely depressed at the prospect of his death. By Tuesday Finkbone reported him weakening more, but still no confession. (Finkbone reports for 10/2-7/1883, pp. 6-7 in Turtle-Carey letter of 11/5/83.) That evening, Finkbone and Clabe Young boarded a train for Texas.
In Cairo, Illinois, Finkbone reported his prisoner sick and restless; in New Orleans, “quite sick.” They rested for a day. Clabe saw a doctor again. On Saturday, Oct. 12, they arrived in San Antonio. Finkbone housed his prisoner in the San Antonio jail. [Finkbone reports for 10/12/83 in Turtle-Carey 11/5/83, pp 8-9.]
The next day, who should show up but Mrs. Casto! She passed herself off as Clabe’s wife and talked the jailers into letting her have a long talk with him, while a guard listened. She told Clabe the whole thing was “a malicious piece of business,” Finkbone reported later. All his friends were behind him still—Durbin, Earnest, Joe Rankin, Sun (below, left), and Sun’s ranching partner C.E. Johnson, who was ready to lend Clabe as much money as he might need. She also told him his brother Bill was hiding safely in the hills near Sand Creek.
Finally, the next day, Clabe was willing to talk freely with Finkbone. With his friends and his friends’ money behind him, he may have felt confident about beating the murder charges—and may have realized that any Wyoming crimes wouldn’t matter much in Texas courts. Or the final persuader may have been Finkbone’s lie to Clabe, that Sun and Durbin had been betraying him—“were giving him away every day.”
Cowboys of all stripes, and not just the Youngs, had been stealing Searights’ cattle, Clabe said. Sun, Durbin, and their ranching neighbor Bob Conners “told their foremen last spring to go out on the range and brand mavericks, and give old Searight’s range hell in particular.” From Searight’s range alone, Clabe said, they stole at least 1,100 head. [Finkbone report for 10/13/83, pp. 9-10 in Turtle-Carey, 11/5/83].
Clabe said he didn’t know what the foremen were promised for branding Searight cattle. He did know, however, that some did not get paid what they’d been promised.
Then, weeping again, he added, “There ought to be other men here with these irons on besides me.” Owners like Durbin, Sun, Conners, and Earnest, and foremen like Jack Cooper and Ed Lineburger were the real guilty ones, Clabe implied. Now, “they know that we know too much about them, and they are afraid of us.” Lineburger, for one, told Clabe “Tom Sun had treated him like a dog about the money.”
Finkbone finally delivered his prisoner to McMullen County Sheriff Martin, in Tilden, Texas. (Tilden jail, right) On Oct. 25, he returned to Chicago. On October 26, he updated his reports and passed, as far as we know, out of Wyoming’s history.
But Clabe did not hang in Texas. He was acquitted the following March. A year later, back in Rawlins, he married Ursula Casto. A few weeks later, Clabe sold Cantlin his cabin for $100, and she sold Cantlin her 160-acre ranch plus its house, barn, corrals and outbuildings for $2,000—a high price. Perhaps they were building a stake to move somewhere else. In 1889, Clabe spent a season riding with Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West. The show that year spent six months in Paris, France, a week in Lyon, two weeks in Marseille, and four days in Barcelona, Spain. In the spring of 1893, according to a story in the Saratoga Sun, Clabe was preparing to ride his horse Bell Maceta in an 1,800-mile horse race from Boise, Idaho, to the huge Columbia Exposition in Chicago. And in 1906, Clabe ran for sheriff of Big Horn County, Wyoming. He took out an ad in the Cowley Progress denying rumors of his wild past, and offering $100 cash to anyone who could prove he’d ever been “an all-around desperado.”
Buffalo Bill's Wild West in Rome, 1890. Bill Cody, in long coat with walking stick on left. Clabe Young may be in this picture. Denver Public Library photo.
This account is based primarily on Detective Finkbone’s reports. Finkbone as a rule filed them by mail to his boss in Chicago, William Turtle. Turtle then mailed the reports back to Stock Growers Association President Joseph Carey in Cheyenne, or past President Alex Swan. These reports, along with copies of Finkbone’s telegrams from Texas and other places, and other related correspondence, are all in Folders 5 and 6 of Box 222 of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association Collection at the American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming.
Clabe’s acquittal of the murder charge in Texas on March 26, 1884 is recorded on pages 153 and 158 of the District Court Minutes of McMullen County, Texas, on microfilm at the Texas State Archives, microfilm reel 1012552, vol. 1, 1879-1897.
Ursula Casto’s divorce from her first husband, William Casto, is Carbon County civil case 185, on microfilm at the Wyoming State Archives in Cheyenne. It makes good reading. Ursula claimed William was a habitual drunkard who had threatened her life and the lives of others in his rages, and who deserted her and her two children (apparently from an earlier marriage). The divorce was final Oct. 21, 1884.
Clabe married Ursula R. Casto on March 16, 1885. Their marriage license is on file with other county records in the basement of the Carbon County Courthouse.
Ursula R. Young’s sale of her ranch to James Cantlin in May 1885 is recorded in Carbon County Deed Record Book B, pp. 478-479. Clabe Young’s sale of his cabin to James Cantlin in August 1885 is recorded in Carbon County Deed Record Book H, p. 21.
Clabe’s capture was reported widely in newspapers around the West. In Wyoming, see “A Desperado Jailed. The Arrest of a Man Charged With a Series of Crimes,” Cheyenne Daily Leader, Sept. 29, 1883; “Clabe Young. What He May be and What He May Not be. He and His Brothers Viewed as They Have Been Known in Wyoming. An Ostentatious Arrest.” Cheyenne Daily Leader, Sept. 30, 1883; “Badly Wanted By Sheriff,” –an announcement of a $500 reward for the capture of Bill Young—Cheyenne Daily Leader Oct. 20, 1883. “Clabe Captured. Clabe Young, a Well-Known Cattle Man Arrested for Murder Committed in Texas Five Years Ago. Carbon County Journal, Sept. 29, 1883; Stockman’s Say. Some Very Severe Criticisms Upon the Present Mode of Handling Cattle.” Carbon County Journal October 27, 1883.
Elsewhere see “Run to Earth. Details of the Capture of Clabe Young the Noted Texas Outlaw Safely a Prisoner and on His Way to This State.” Galveston (Texas) Daily News, Saturday, October 6, 1883, p. 4; and similar stories in the Helena (Montana) Independent, Oct. 6, 1883; Saturday Herald (Decatur, Illinois) Oct. 13, 1883; Oshkosh (Wisconsin) Daily Northwestern, Oct. 5, 1883; Daily (Lincoln) Nebraska State Journal, Oct. 6, 1883. All available at http://www.newspaperarchive.com. (This is a paid service, but many Wyoming libraries subscribe. Look for "databases" on your library's homepage.
“Claib Young” is listed along with other cowboys on p. 18 of the French program for Buffalo Bill’s Wild West company for 1889, MS6, Series VI:A, Box 1, McCracken Library, Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Cody, WY.
For the story about Clabe and the upcoming Boise-Chicago horse race, see “Bell Maceta” in the Saratoga Sun, March 30, 1893.
For items on Clabe’s candidacy for Big Horn County sheriff, see “Read, Then Vote” and “A Brief Sketch of Claborn Young’s Life.” The Cowley Progress, Oct. 26, 1906.
Burroughs, John Rolfe. Guardian of the Grasslands: The First Hundred Years of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association. Cheyenne: Pioneer Printing and Stationery Co., 1971, pp. 119-125. This is an account of Clabe’s career and arrest, also written from the Finkbone reports. Burroughs sympathizes with the Stock Growers Association.
Clay, John. My Life on the Range. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1962, pp. 79-86 for a more general discussion of cattle theft on the Sweetwater that mentions Nate but not Clabe Young. John Clay was active as a financier, ranch manager, and cattle buyer in Wyoming in the 1880s. This account was first written in the 1920s.
Meschter, Daniel. Sweetwater Sunset: A History of the lynching of James Averell and Ella Watson near Independence Rock, Wyoming on July 20, 1889. Wenatchee, WA: privately published, 1996. The Young brothers are mentioned on p. 121, but the book throughout gives a vivid and thorough picture of ranching, theft, and land disputes on the Sweetwater and Sand Creek ranges in the 1880s.
See more good photos of early Wyoming roundups and ranch life at http://www.wyomingtalesandtrails.com/cattle2.html.
See Renee Smelley's article on Boothill Cemetery in Tilden, Texas, where Clabe's victim, Mr. O'Donnell, may be buried in an unmarked grave.
The Finkbone file in the Wyoming Stock Growers Association might be a good place to start learning about the treasures in the archives at the American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming in Laramie.
Engraving of Inter-Ocean Hotel, Cheyenne, 1877, from Leslie's Illustrated News, Wyoming Tales and Trails; Roundup Along the Belle Fourche River, 1890, photo by John C. H. Grabill, Wyoming Tales and Trails; Roundup Camp, Warren Livestock Company, near Cheyenne, 1898, photo by Joseph Stimson, WT&T ; Rankin stables WT&T photo; Likely site of Cantlin Ranch, Tom Rea photo; Clabe Young and Friends courtesy of Mary Lou Korkow, whose great-grandfather John Watkins purchased, probably in the late 1880s, a series series of photos including this one, Nancy Anderson says, that are now well known. The photographer may be Fred Baker, who had a studio in Carbon. Thanks also to Nancy and Victor Anderson, who have scanned tens of thousands of photos into the Hanna Museum collection; Tom Sun, ca. 1880, Wyoming State Archives photo, Sub Neg # 27787; Tilden Jail from Texas Escapes; Buffalo Bill's Wild West cast in Rome from Denver Public Library's swell online collection of Buffalo Bills Wild West photos.