When the Wild Wild West shows up in your family tree! (part 2)
Updated: Oct 10
A few years ago, I wrote an article about my great great uncle William R. Kidd who was murdered aboard a train very early on a Saturday morning in June of 1911 near Spencer, Idaho. Two men, who had just robbed a saloon in Monida, Montana, boarded the train which was ready to depart for Pocatello, Idaho. A short time after the train left, authorities in Monida wired the sheriff at a small town close to the next stop. The sheriff boarded the train at the Spencer station and confronted the two men. William was the conductor aboard the Oregon Short Line train. A sheriff from near Spencer, Idaho managed to stop the train and locate the two men. As the sheriff began to handcuff the two robbers, there was a scuffle. The Conductor Kidd jumped into the fight to assist the sheriff. As the fight continued, one of the two men managed to grab the sheriff's gun and shot the Conductor in the chest. He fell was seriously injured. The sheriff was also shot in the fray. The two robbers jumped off the train and managed to steal two horses and escaped.
The train quickly proceeded to Pocatello where Conductor Kidd and the sheriff were taken to a hospital for treatment. The sheriff survived however my uncle Conductor William Kidd died a few hours after arriving at the hospital. The event caused a great stir in the community and posses were formed to find these two criminals. Newspaper accounts talked about the event and described my uncle William as a wonderful man and how he would be missed by his family and the community. My ancestors told me the story years ago and I researched the story many years later. You can read more on the original article at this link to my website The Ancestor Guy.com: https://bit.ly/3ga0oHT.
I was always curious as to whether they ever found the man who killed my great great uncle. I heard several stories that he was never found and even one story where a man came down from the mountains and claimed he was the killer of the conductor. Family members and friends who lived in Idaho remembered hearing other stories about the tragedy and that the two outlaws were never caught. Apparently, there were lots of reports of people seeing the outlaws walking through the towns of the inter-mountain west. Recently, I started looking into the incident to see who these men were and whether they were caught. Since I did not have a name of the two men at the time, researching through the usual genealogy databases wouldn’t be very productive. So I went through newspaper sites such as newspapers.com to see if I could locate articles regarding the robbery and shooting to identify a name. To my surprise, I found numerous articles on the subject well after the incident in 1911. There were newspaper articles on the shooting from the western states into the 1920s and 1930s and as late as the 1960s. The men who were involved in the murder of my uncle became the most infamous outlaws of the west in the early 1900s. The names of the two were mentioned in an Idaho newspaper shortly after the shooting occurred. The 15 September 1911 edition of The Idaho Republican reprinted a Salt Lake City article that indicated the outlaw “who killed R W Kidd on an Oregon Short line train” was a man by the name of Hugh Whitney. Whitney, along with his brother Charley had gained notoriety as being some of the most wanted outlaws in the intermountain west after the turn of the 20th century. It was determined that Charley was not at the scene of the murder with his brother Hugh. Another man by the name of William Ross was an accomplice at the robbery of the saloon and the murder of Conductor William Kidd in June of 1911. A few months afterwards on 11 September of 1911, the two brothers, Hugh and Charley Whitney, were accused of robbing a bank in Cokeville, Wyoming.
Hugh Whitney and his brother Charley became two of the biggest outlaws in the intermountain west in the early 1900s. Much of their notoriety stemmed from Hugh Whitney’s shooting of Conductor William R. Kidd back in 1911. Their fame increased through the years as a result of the two never being brought to justice. There were several occasions police and sheriff’s posses thought they had captured the Whitney brothers only to find out it was a case of mistaken identity.
An article in the Montpelier Examiner newspaper in Idaho from 11 April 1913 indicated that William Ross, alias “Tom” Sharkey was arrested in Salt Lake City. As previously stated, Ross was again the accomplice of Hugh Whitney during the murder of Conductor Kidd. Ross was later released in June of 1913 after the material witness for the state failed to appear in court during Ross’ trial.
Another headline from the Salt Lake City Evening Telegram from 2 July 1914 declared “HUGH WHITNEY KILLED IN TRAIN ROBBERY!”  In fact, the article went on to mention that a gold watch was found on the desperado’s body that was inscribed “Hugh Whitney, 5-10-11.” The next article indicated that there was some doubt among authorities whether this was really Whitney. It turns out it wasn’t Hugh Whitney. However the men who robbed the train including the man who was killed, were accomplices of Hugh Whitney and one was even a cousin.
There were several newspaper accounts later on with headlines of the two Whitney brothers being captured or killed by authorities only to have an article in the following day’s paper quoting a sheriff or a detective indicating that the person they had in custody or in the morgue was not Hugh Whitney. One headline dated 21 July 1925 from the Salt Lake Tribune read “HUGH WHITNEY, ONE-TIME IDAHO BAD MAN, BELIEVED CAUGHT IN RENO, NEVADA.”  It was later determined that this individual was also not Hugh Whitney.
Both Hugh and Charley remained under the radar for most of their lives. The Idaho State Journal in Pocatello, Idaho printed a series of articles that was referred to as “Outlaws of the Old West.” The article on Hugh Whitney was published on 8 November 1963. According to the article, Charley Whitney had finally been arrested in Montana prior to the publishing of the article. By this time, Charley was already in his 60s. Although Charley Whitney was not involved in the shooting of Conductor Kidd, he was involved in several bank robberies including the one in Cokeville, Wyoming and felt he needed to pay his debt to society.
According to his statement, both he and his brother decided to go straight. They eventually left Montana heading to Minnesota and Wisconsin for a time and then headed back to Montana. Both enlisted in the U.S. Army in World War 1 and served in France for a time. After the war, both brothers returned to the west, Hugh ended up in Canada and Charley in Montana. The two had already changed their names by this time. Hugh became George Walter Brown while Charley became Frank S. Taylor.
According to the article in 1963, Charley Whitney aka Frank S. Taylor was described as a man of integrity, was involved in community affairs and even served on the local school board. Frank was quoted in the article as saying that his brother Hugh Whitney died in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan on 25 October 1951. Frank was brought before a judge who sent him back home to serve five years probation. Charley Whitney died in Hot Springs, Montana on 13 November 1968. I located his death certificate which also lists his name as “Charley Whitney alias Frank S. Taylor.”
I was never able to find anything on Hugh Whitney alias George Walter Brown in 1951. Other than Charley’s comments to a Montana court, there doesn’t seem to be any information on the remainder of Hugh’s life in the U.S. or Canada. But it does appears that Hugh Whitney was never arrested nor did he ever serve time for the killing of my uncle Conductor William Kidd.
My great great grandfather, William’s father, James Kidd, was living in Wisconsin at the time of his son’s murder in 1911. The news of the tragedy peppered the local newspapers in the area where William grew up and James was still residing. William’s mother Martha Jane Mathews Kidd had died nine years earlier. So, she did not have to bear the pain of her son’s death. Much of the research was initiated based on a family story about the uncle who was murdered on a train in Idaho. Years ago, my great aunt had told me she remembered traveling to Pocatello, Idaho along with her parents to attend the funeral of this uncle.
So, the story about my great great uncle was true. The reason for writing this article was to verify the story of shooting and murder of Conductor William Kidd and to determine if the killer was ever captured and brought to justice. What I didn’t expect was all the information about the search for the men who caused this tragedy and the fact that this turned into the biggest manhunt in the west for many years afterwards.
Since it had appeared that no one had ever caught the man who murdered my great great uncle and none of the newspaper accounts were ever able to confirm any of the individuals who were caught was the right man who did the shooting. Other than occasional stories involving false claims of the capture or death of Hugh Whitney in later years, the whole incident faded in history and turned into another story of the west that was passed on to those who lived in the area.
It wasn’t until Hugh Whitney’s brother Charley stepped forward in the early 1960s and explained what happened after the murder of Conductor Kidd and the bank robbery later that year in Cokeville, Wyoming. It was then that we were able to understand the whole story and what really happened when Conductor Kidd was shot and killed early on a June Saturday morning back in 1911 and years afterwards.
Sometimes, genealogy is more than just writing down names and dates. Every so often, you are asked to verify and explain unbelievable and even tragic events such as this one and determining the facts behind the event for future generations. In this case, it’s also an opportunity to continue the memory of William Kidd.
 "Man Hunt on in hills east of city," microfilm, (The Idaho Register, Tuesday, 20 Jun 1911, No. 102, Column 1; citing death of William Kidd, 18 Jun 1911, Idaho Falls, Idaho, United States); obtained in letter from Frieda O. March, Idaho State Historical Society, accessed 17 January 1982.  "TWO BROTHERS ROB BANK," online database, Newspapers.com (www.newspapers.com), The American Falls Press, Thursday, 14 Sep 1911, page 2; citing the bank robbery by the Whitney brothers on 11 Sep 1911 in Cokeville, Wyoming; accessed 2 July 2020.  "WHITNEY’S ALLEGED AID RUNDOWN BY OFFICERS," online database, Newspapers.com (www.newspapers.com), Montpelier Examiner, Friday, 11 Apr 1913, page 2; citing the arrest of William Ross alias “Tom” Starkey in Salt Lake City Utah; accessed 2 July 2020.  "WITNESS DISAPPEARS, ROSS IS DISCHARGED," online database, Newspapers.com (www.newspapers.com), The Butte Miner, Tuesday, 3 June 1913, page 9; in reference to the release of William Ross after his trial; accessed 13 July 2020.  "HUGH WHITNEY KILLED IN TRAIN ROBBERY," online database, Newspapers.com (www.newspapers.com), Salt Lake City Evening Telegram, Friday, 2 July 1914, page 1; citing a train robbery in Oregon and one robber killed believed to be Hugh Whitney; accessed 24 June 2020.  " HUGH WHITNEY, ONE-TIME IDAHO BAD MAN, BELIEVED CAUGHT IN RENO, NEVADA," online database, Newspapers.com (www.newspapers.com), The Salt Lake Tribune, Tuesday, 21 July 1925, page 18; citing the arrest of J.W. Andrews believe to be Hugh Whitney; accessed 24 June 2020.  OUTLAW WHITNEY KILLED A MAN, NEVER PAID," online database, Newspapers.com (www.newspapers.com), The Idaho State Journal, Pocatello, Idaho, Friday, 8 November 1963, page 23; citing the testimony by Charley Whitney in 1963 and the death of Hugh Whitney in 1951; accessed 24 June 2020.  “MONTANA STATE DEATHS 1907-2016,” online database, Ancestry.com, (www,ancestry.com), Provo, UT, USA; Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2001. Original data: State of Montana, Montana State Deaths 1907-2016, State of Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, Office of Vital Statistics, Helena Montana, citing the death of Charley Spraig Whitney alias Frank S. Taylor, accessed 29 June 2020.