Tales from the Tread: Tracy and Neiman — outlaw and lawman

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When you hear the term, “Wild West,” what comes to mind? For many, the Wild West describes the raw and untamed life in the Western part of the United States around the end of the 19th century. During this time, settlers were moving west, where the land was rough and rugged, and life was hard.

Tales from the Tread

Tales from the Tread columns publish the first and third Wednesdays in the Steamboat Today.

photo

Tread of Pioneers Museum/courtesy

Historical photo of the outlaw Harry Tracy.

photo

Tread of Pioneers Museum/courtesy

These leg irons, which were used in the capture of outlaw Harry Tracy, are on display at the Tread of Pioneers Museum.

Hollywood often adds to this picture with movies featuring notorious outlaws and heroic lawmen going head-to-head in gunfights. These scenes were a reality in the early days of rowdy Routt County, and the confrontation between Routt County Sheriff Charlie Neiman and outlaw Harry Tracy was as wild as it gets.

The year was 1898. Neiman traveled to Brown’s Park, then a part of Routt County, to track down an outlaw wanted for murder. While on the manhunt, the sheriff and his deputies encountered Tracy, a member of Butch Cassidy’s gang. During the standoff, Tracy killed one of Neiman’s deputies, Valentine Hoy.

After a significant struggle, Neiman finally captured Tracy and his accomplice, David Lant, and took them to the Routt County jail at Hahn’s Peak, where they were held for trial. Neiman took special precautions to secure Tracy and Lant in the Hahn’s Peak jail, because he knew they had recently escaped from the Utah State Penitentiary. However, after only a few weeks, Lant and Tracy tricked the sheriff, beat him up and escaped from the Hahn’s Peak jail. The two tricksters left Neiman injured and locked in a jail cell before they stole two horses and rode to Steamboat Springs.

Neiman and a deputy eventually recaptured the two outlaws while they were boarding the Steamboat-Wolcott stage in Sidney, just south of Steamboat Springs. This time, Neiman kept the two men chained together with a log chain, padlocks and heavy ankle irons.

Neiman had the men transferred to a more secure jail in Aspen for safekeeping. But using their same tricks, Tracy and Lant managed to escape from that jail, as well.

Lant and Tracy eventually split up, and in 1902, Tracy killed himself to avoid capture in Washington state.

Learn more about Routt County’s wild and storied past during a visit to the Tread of Pioneers Museum. The leg irons used to detain Tracy and other artifacts related to the outlaw’s capture are now on display, and Routt County residents receive free admission every day.

Research and writing by the late Jean Wren. Candice Bannister is executive director of the Tread of Pioneers Museum.

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