Western History & Genealogy Blog

The Last Outlaw of the West

Earl Durand
Posse Chasing Durand
Men Killed by Durand
Durand Dead

A Tale of a Depression Era Desperado 

On the evening of March 13, 1939 near Cody, Wyoming, Earl Durand – a mountain man who lived off the land – killed several out-of-season elk in Wyoming’s northern wilderness. While returning home from the hunting expedition, with a trunk full of poached elk meat, he attracted the unwanted attention of two game wardens. Before the car slid to a stop, Durand bolted from the cab and out of the warden’s reach. Durand’s defiant act would set into motion one of the most daring and deadly crime sprees to ever captivate the nation.

Durand was eventually captured by an informal posse on nearby Rattlesnake Mountain. While in jail and awaiting sentencing, Durand escaped by assaulting Deputy Noah Riley with a milk bottle taken from his dinner tray. Durand then forced Riley to drive him to his family farm in nearby Powell, Wyo. Word quickly spread of the daring escape and the Town Marshal and Undersheriff were dispatched to bring the vigilante to justice. When they approached the home, Durand shot and killed the two officers. He then stormed for the sanctuary of the surrounding wilderness.

By the next day, Durand was spotted in a fortified position on the mountainside. His position appeared impregnable causing most of the posse members to hang back in an attempt to wait the bandit out. Two non-posse men, though, unadvisedly charged Durand’s mountain turret. This rash action proved fatal as Durand fired several bullets into their bellies, killing them. Catching wind of the deadly debacle, the Montana National Guard rushed a mortar and howitzer to the scene in hopes of subduing the lone gunman’s rampage. The Sheriff also enlisted the assistance of a local pilot to drop a bevy of dynamite bombs and teargas grenades. As the pilot rained down destruction from above, Durand stealthily abandoned his encampment. He hijacked a car and headed back to the town of Powell.

With a rifle clutched tightly to his chest and a six-shooter strapped to his hip, Durand barged into the First National Bank in Powell and demanded $3,000. Terrorizing the nine employees and customers, Durand fired a barrage of bullets into the bank lights, walls and windows while screaming, “They’ll plug me anyway! They’ll plug me anyway!” Soon after his onslaught Durand grabbed three employees and marched them outside.

Unbeknownst to Durand the more than hardy inhabitants of Powell scaled the rooftop of the bank and stepped into the street with their shotguns and rifles. As Durand and the captives emerged from the bank, the citizens unleashed a volley of lead. As the bullets hit the hostages, Durand wildly returned fire and then made a break for his hijacked car. He would be struck in the chest by a bullet fired by a seventeen-year-old boy who had decided to skip school that day. The blast would drive Durand back inside the bank where he would eventually take his own life. The bizarre and sensational story would make the pages of Time Magazine and be made into a movie in 1974 titled: The Legend of Earl Durand, staring Martin Sheen and Slim Pickens. Checkout The Last Eleven Days of Earl Durand by Jerred Metz in the library’s catalog and the great photographs of the event in the library’s Rocky Mountain News Collection!

I've never understood why

I've never understood why Durand is portrayed as a hero either, and I'd even dispute the tag "mountain man" as applicable to him. As I noted here, on my Wyoming daily history blog, he was really a Powell area farm kid who engaged in poaching which lead to some pretty horrific criminal behavior:

http://wyominghistory.blogspot.com/2012/03/march-24.html

In some ways, his story seems to me to fit more into the lawless 1930s than into any particular end of era Western tale.

I think the choice of words

I think the choice of words could go either way. Durand was a man who spent a lot of time in the Wyoming wilderness but you are correct he was also a farmers son. As far as this being a Western tale I think this story is uniquely Western. Because many of the "gangsters" of that era (Capone, Dillinger, etc...) were men who committed their crimes in Eastern cities and were totting around tommy guns, were mixed up in the bootleg trade and evaded federal officials. While Durand, on the other hand, was an outlaw who was born in the West, guilty of poaching in the Western wilderness, and evaded informal posse's of men chasing him into a mountain stronghold. His end also has eerie similarities to the James/Younger gang's Northfield Raid. But you are indeed correct that there were many lawless men in that time period and whether this tale is Western certainly is debatable. Thank you for the comments they are always appreciated. 

I appreciate the attitude of

I appreciate the attitude of the article above. Sometimes it concerns me when people try to make Earl Durand into some kind of Robin Hood hero, because he shared game meat with the needy at times.
My uncle, Francis Cozzens, tells about a time Earl Durand visited our Uncle Paul Cozzens at his Beartooth Sheep camp. Paul fed him dinner, and when he left to check the sheep, Durand robbed his camp, taking all his food supply and stealing Francis and his brother's chaps that were at the camp. That was how he repaid the hospitality of a sheepman. I have a photo of Durand's headstone from the Powell cementary, and I have added the caption to my copy: "Not A Hero".

Lynette Hawkins Kelley

I'm glad you liked the

I'm glad you liked the article. Lynette. I tried to simply lay out the facts and not jump on one side or the other. I appreciate your comments and your willingness to share your thoughts. It is always welcome.