When the Wild Wild West shows up in your Family Tree!
(This was an article that I wrote in 2018 and was published in The Septs magazine October 2018, Volume 39, Number 4.)
Many Irish emigrated to America with the hopes and dreams of seeking a better life for themselves and their families. That was not always the case. Our immigrant families were often dealt with personal tragedies along the way. I found that to be the case even with my own family after their arrival into the U.S.
When I was young I was fascinated to hear the stories about the western U.S. during the 19th and early 20th centuries or the wild wild west as it was once called. I also enjoyed hearing family stories from the older generation. These stories recalled the lives of the previous generation who were no longer around. Little did I know that later in life when I began my genealogy search, I would discover an ancestor who was involved in another type of wild west tragedy. This particular story involved my great great uncle William R. Kidd. And to clarify things right from the beginning, I'm not referring to Billy the Kid.
My great aunt Ada Anthes had told me about this William Kidd who was shot and killed by robbers when he was a railroad conductor in Idaho. . She was 16 in 1911 when this tragedy occurred. My aunt remembered traveling, along with her family, to Idaho for the funeral of her uncle William R. Kidd. I always thought this intriguing but never knew anything beyond this until I was an adult and started working on my genealogy.
While researching my Kidd ancestry, I decided to look further into this incident which affected one of my family members. Who was William R. Kidd and was he really killed by train robbers?
Family notes pointed out that William was the only son of five children to my great great grandparents James Kidd and Martha Jane Mathews. Both James and Martha Jane were born in Ireland and immigrated to America in the 1850s. They departed Ireland at separate times. The two met in Oneida County, New York and later married at Calvary Episcopal Church in Utica, New York. They lived for a short time in New York State before migrating into western Wisconsin and settling at Colfax in Dunn County. William, according to these family notes, was born in Colfax.
This was certainly a family story I wanted to verify for accuracy. So, using the family notes that had been provided to me, interviews with my aunt as well as searching through several records. I could narrow down facts about William, where he lived, and his profession. The 1870 and 1880 U.S. Census shows the family living in Colfax, Wisconsin. The 1870 Census lists William as 1 year old. The 1880 Census indicates him as 11 which would verify he was born around 1869. Although James and the family are enumerated in Colfax in 1900, William is no longer listed with them.
A review of Familysearch.org records show William married to his wife Harriet and living in Idaho Falls, Idaho in the 1900 Census. The census also indicated they were the parents of three children. The first child had died by 1900. The second child Mildred, born in Pocatello Idaho in 1899. A third child James was born in Idaho Falls, Idaho in 1903. Harriet's sister in law Rebecca is enumerated with the family. William is listed as being born in January 1870. The 1900 Census also shows that William and Harriet were married in Utah in 1895. What is most important, the 1900 Census also lists William as a railroad conductor!
A review of the 1910 Census shows that William and his family are living in Pocatello, Idaho and his profession is a railroad conductor. I was now able to search records in a certain area that I knew this ancestor lived. Up to this point the family story is very accurate. Yes, William was a railroad conductor out in the western U.S. Yes, he lived in Idaho with his family. The question still not answered: what happened to this ancestor? There is no indication of anything tragic happening to William. However, having identified where he lived now allowed me to check other sources in Idaho.
The very next source was the newspapers of the local area and vital records from this part of Idaho. If something tragic happened to this ancestor, then it should appear in a newspaper account or in the death records for that area.
I tracked down the Idaho County Birth and Death records for Bannock County which is where Pocatello is located. And there it was! Among all the pneumonia and tuberculosis listings was the death record for William R. Kidd on June 18, 1911. It states that he was born in Colfax, Wisconsin to parents James Kidd and Martha Jane Mathews. And then I looked at the listing for the cause of death: "Gun shot!" So it appears the family story regarding William might just be correct. Now I really wanted to know more about this incident!
I started looking through obituaries from the Idaho Falls and Pocatello newspapers dated June 1911. Even though I knew something tragic had happened to William, I was still shocked with what I discovered! On the Front Page of the Idaho Register for 20 June 1911 I spotted the headline, "MANHUNT ON IN HILLS EAST OF CITY!" Below that "SEARCH CONTINUES WITH EVERY PROSPECT OF CAPTURE" and "LAST SEEN LATE YESTERDAY." Then the one that clinched it for me, "SLAYER OF KIDD AND WOUNDER OF THREE OTHERS STILL AT LARGE!"
The first paragraph of this chilling story told of two individuals who were involved in a series of events which began with a saloon robbery in the town of Monida along the Montana-Idaho border. This led to a series of shootings, including the one on the train which led to the death of William Kidd.
"Idaho Falls and the surrounding country, particularly in the neighborhood east of Iona and the Gray's Lake sections, is waiting news of the capture of the desperado who is charged with the killing of William Kidd, the Oregon Short Line of Fremont County, the shooting of Edgar McGill, a young rancher, of Hamer, and Reube Scott, a constable of the Menan Neighborhood."
The article mentions the shootout inside the train which resulted in William's fatal injury to the chest after he attempted to overcome one of the robbers. Another sentence tells of the deputy sheriff who was shot by the other robber. The story goes on to mention how the robbers jumped off the train and split up, with one heading west and the other heading to the Teton range east of Idaho Falls. The first robber later shot a rancher and stole his horse in the process along with some sandwiches.
After it was determined that William had died, the authorities boarded a train from Pocatello to join other officers and "armed men" in the area around the shooting near Spencer. They joined with other men, police officials and trained dogs to begin tracking down these two men.
The newspaper account explains that one of the men was reported to have had breakfast at a ranch before heading on to "Jackson Hole country." The article ends with a paragraph about a $1000 reward offered by the Oregon Short Line Railroad followed by a short paragraph on the funeral of William Kidd. What started as a quiet Saturday morning on the Oregon Short Line on 18 June 1911 ended in a series of incidents that shocked the area for many years afterwards.
Hundreds of miles away in William's hometown of Colfax, Wisconsin the local newspaper printed the details of the tragedy and death of their former resident. On 23 June 1911, the Colfax Messenger published the story titled "Colfax Boy Shot and Killed" about the shooting death of William. Surprisingly, the article in the very next column of that same issue of the Colfax Messenger which described a church celebration honoring William's father James Kidd. The celebration had occurred the day before the shooting. A longer and more detailed article was printed by the Messenger on 30 June 1911. A regional newspaper, the Dunn County News also printed details of the incident.
Aunt Ada was correct in her recollection of the events regarding William Kidd and the shooting onboard the train during the morning of 18 June 1911 which eventually led to his tragic death. Using U.S. Census records, newspaper accounts of the events and vital records from that time frame, I was able to verify the story of William Kidd, the conductor on the Oregon Short Line railroad who was shot and killed by saloon robbers.
Many of us have been told family stories by the older relatives throughout our lives. Sometimes these stories are true. Sometimes, due to time and individual recollections of events, these stories aren't always accurate. It is up to us as family historians to prove or disprove these stories for our own knowledge as well as for the benefit of future generations. But most importantly, we want to make sure these stories are correct, that we remember our ancestors who were part of these events; and that we accurately pass the story on to a new generation. And every so often, we may discover a family story that is as wild as the wild west itself!
 "Idaho, Birth Index, 1861-1911", database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:Q2MB-YYYG : 1 February 2016), William Robert Kidd in entry for Mildred Louise Kidd, 1899, accessed 20 March 2017.  "Idaho, Birth Index, 1861-1911", database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:Q2MB-16WS : 1 February 2016), William Robert Kidd in entry for William Robert Kidd, 1903, accessed 20 march 2017.  "United States Census, 1900," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MM5L-TBW : accessed 20 March 2017), William R. Kidd, Idaho Falls, Fairview, Shelly Precincts Idaho Falls city Ward 1-3, Bingham, Idaho, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) 20, sheet 9B, family 190, NARA microfilm publication T623 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1972.); FHL microfilm 1,240,232, accessed 20 March 2017.  "Idaho, County Birth and Death Records, 1883-1929," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QK6K-JKC6 : 28 September 2015), Wm R Kidd, 18 Jun 1911; citing Death, 18 Jun 1911, Pocatello, Bannock, Idaho, United States, p. 13, County courthouses, Idaho; FHL microfilm 1,527,295, accessed 20 March 2017.  "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.  "Former Colfax Boy Shot and Killed," microfilm, (The Colfax Messenger, Tuesday, 23 Jun 1911; citing death of William Kidd, 18 Jun 1911, Colfax, Wisconsin, United States); accessed 1997.