A Page Out of the Book Cliffs
Page 26 - Elmer Bair - Part 4
by AJ Rogers
Sep 06, 2018 | 256 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
I hope I left you hanging a little at the end of my column last week. Of course, I don’t mean the kind of hanging that had Elmer worried about a strong rope and a short drop. After all, he had just turned 22 years of age and had a lot of life left to live in this, the first month of the year 1921. To get on with the story, I’ll continue gleaning the facts from Elmer’s own autobiography written in 1987.

Elmer had just hooked up with Mr. Tangreen, the district attorney. (Now most of us know that there are a couple of ways to spell that name, especially in Grand County. The double ee’s are the way Elmer spelled it so that is the way I’ll do so too.) Anyway, Elmer got to tell his side of the story and Mr. Tangreen seemed to be interested. You might remember that the cattlemen (AKA: Black Masker’s) had accused Elmer of stealing a black horse, when according to Elmer it had just showed up in the night at his sheep camp with no brand. When Elmer finished his story, the D.A. left the jail but returned soon with a set of keys. He let Elmer out of the Moab hoosegow then they moseyed down town to his law office. Tangreen had the files for Elmer’s upcoming trial, and after perusing them awhile he turned to Elmer and asked: “Do you know Jim Warner and Eink (Ink) Harris?” Elmer said, “Yes, they are two of the masked men I told you about!” Tangreen told Elmer that they were two of the witnesses set to testify against him. He also asked about three others and Elmer confirmed they were also part of the masked bunch and that all five of them were responsible for the burnings and beatings suffered by the various sheep men in the Book Cliffs country recently, not to mention the disappearance of several pack strings. Then Tangreen asked if he knew a man named McCoy, but that was a new one on Elmer. This surprised the D.A. because McCoy was listed as the chief witness. He was supposedly the one who’d actually seen Elmer steal the black mare.

District Attorney Tangreen found a telephone number for McCoy and tried it, but whoever answered said the man was working at a small coal mine somewhere. Tangreen left a message saying there was an emergency and to please call back soon. Then the two sat and waited till finally getting a call back about 11 p.m. The D.A. asked McCoy if he knew Elmer Bair. McCoy said, “I never heard of him before.” Apparently, the cowboys hadn’t yet caught up with McCoy to let him know the part he was supposed to play at the trial. The D.A. questioned the man a little more till he was finally convinced that Elmer had been telling the truth all along. Elmer was immediately turned loose with a smile and best wishes, and the sheriff none the wiser as yet. For lack of a cheaper place, Elmer stayed the rest of the night at the same old rock palace in the company of Duran the wife shooter. Early the next morning he found the main door unlocked, and was able to catch the stage north about an hour before daylight.

Elmer stepped off the stage mid-morning in Thompson’s and immediately hotfooted it for his sheep camp, using a shortcut that a man on foot could take up through the rims. He made it to camp a few hours later. I guess that George, the herder, was mighty glad to see him. It turns out Elmer had arrived in the nick of time, because just ten minutes later they heard horses coming. Expecting the worst, Elmer grabbed his rifle, stepped behind a cedar tree and jacked in a cartridge. Sure enough, it was the same black masked gang of troublemakers who came trotting into camp. The men were so sure of themselves they hadn’t even bothered with the masks this time. I guess they all had their I-phones turned off, because none of them had a clue that The Bair Kid had gotten sprung from the slammer. They figured they only had George to deal with and were going to have an easy time taking him and the camp apart. The good old deputy sheriff from Green River was in the lead, holding a quart bottle of kerosene in one hand. Elmer let them come on till they were within 25 feet, then stepped out with his rifle trained on the whole pack. He related, “They couldn’t have been more surprised if the devil himself had just appeared.” It must have been a real, “Well Hells Bells,” kind of a moment. Then Elmer said, “There was not a word exchanged by either side.” The bad-asses just turned their nags around and vamoosed down their back trail.

Elmer went on to say that he was sure glad those boys made the smart choice, because he figured he was not in any mood to back up after what he’d been through the past long while. He concluded this story with the following: “Through the years, I have thanked the Lord many times that the cowboys made the quick decision to turn back without any argument. It probably saved me from becoming a fugitive from justice the rest of my life.”

I’m sure Elmer was correct about that last part. I’d say that wise decision also saved a couple of those cowboys from taking a long dirt nap.

Elmer didn’t mention whether Ink Harris was with the bunch on this particular day, but I’ll bet he was. This may have been the last straw which gave Ink the idea that fighting with the sheepers was a no win situation, and it just might be time to sell out.


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