Tom Ross: Remembering a Steamboat bank robber in drag
June 19, 2010
Steamboat Springs — There can't be many old-timers left to recall the day in 1932 when a kindly bachelor rancher named Chick Yock donned a pathetic female disguise and robbed Steamboat Springs Bank at high noon.
However, the odds that the story of Martin John "Chick" Yock will be told forever increased substantially this week when his family's log homestead cabin was carefully dismantled so that it could be restored.
The cabin sat just to the southwest of the historic More Barn in a new city park off Pine Grove Road. It's across the road from Central Park Plaza. The cabin's roof and walls had all but collapsed, and it was not included when the barn was designated a historic landmark by the city in 2009.
Towny Anderson, of Historic Routt County, said the cabin was probably left out of the historic designation because it appeared to be beyond salvaging.
"We don't know for sure what happened to it," Anderson said. "There was a massive failure. The whole thing shifted west."
Anderson is convinced that the cabin could someday stand as one of the few remaining examples of an original homestead within the limits of a Western city.
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The precise date the cabin was built remains a mystery. But we know for certain that it was dismantled in a very deliberate way this week by contractor Bud Rogers with help from the new Historic Preservation Corps of the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps. The individual logs in the little building were carefully numbered and the plan is to reassemble it with added reinforcement in July.
But you're probably eager to hear more about the botched bank robbery and the mild-mannered son of pioneers who returned to live out his years in Steamboat.
I'm going to let longtime Steamboat historian Sureva Towler tell the story. Towler, who was a copyreader and gossip columnist for the Steamboat Pilot in November 1972, interviewed Chick at his white clapboard ranch house not far from the homestead cabin on Pine Grove Road. He was 75 at the time, and would die 13 months later.
Chick was born in Cowles, Neb., on Feb. 23, 1897. He was just 4 when his family moved to Steamboat. They came by covered wagon over Buffalo Pass on Oct. 7, 1901. The Yocks had the misfortune of getting caught in a snowstorm that covered the wagon trail they were trying to follow.
The Yocks survived the trip over Buffalo Pass and soon purchased 158 acres of dry sagebrush ground south of Fish Creek from Jerry McWilliams, Towler wrote. One can assume that they soon built their homestead cabin, or perhaps McWilliams already had built a part of it. When it was surveyed by the city in 2009, the historic preservation staff noted that it appeared to be two smaller cabins joined in an "L shape. Chick's folks, Lewis (Lem) and Lena, kept dairy cows in the barn that until recently was owned by Jerry More.
Chick took over the farm from his parents and never married. He told Towler that he'd been afraid of women ever since he attempted to deliver a Valentine to a young lady he was courting. He was aggressively harassed by her brother and his dog, and he didn't get over it until he turned 70.
But you're still waiting to hear about the robbery.
Towler began her article by writing that Steamboat old-timers described Chick's disguise — a woman's wig and a dress (the latter made from the curtains in his ranch house) — as so unconvincing that the bank teller recognized him.
He slyly claimed innocence.
"I don't see how I could have done it," he told Towler on that late autumn day in 1972. "The $1,500 in gold pieces were found 10 miles south of Steamboat minutes after I walked up to the bank and was arrested."
But another account of the robbery indicated the money was never found. That led some early Steamboat conspiracy theorists to speculate that the robbery was an inside job, with Chick taking the fall so someone else could stash the loot.
But you'd have to think that if that were the case, Chick would have been encouraged to steal more than $1,500.
Others gossiped that Chick needed the dough to pay off a poker debt to barber Shorty Lawless.
Chick told Towler he spent three years, 29 days and three hours in the pen.
"I don't bear no grudges about anything," he said.
She noted that the old gentleman bank robber kept a gilt-framed picture of the prison warden's wife on his bedside table in Steamboat. Towler theorized that he was nurturing a longstanding crush on the woman.
Chick Yock, the kindly, Bible-quoting bank robber in drag, and the little cabin he grew up in will always have a unique place in Steamboat history.