One century ago next week, the wild west outlaw Harvey Logan, a.k.a. Kid Curry, train robber and assassin late of Butch Cassidy's Wild Bunch, had a little scrape in a downtown saloon. It happened one chilly Friday evening at Ike Jones' place down on Central, when this well-dressed stranger started making trouble with the regulars. Knoxville policemen Robert Saylor and William Dinwiddie heard the drunken brawl back in the pool room and tried to break it up with billy clubs.
Logan, a killer several times over who sometimes scared his outlaw colleagues, pulled his pistol and shot both helmeted policemen; then badly injured by blows from the policemen's clubs, he escaped out the back, tumbling down the embankment to First Creek, and staggered away. A posse caught up with him camping near Jefferson City and brought him back on the train under heavy guard.
The famous outlaw spent the next year and a half of his life in the Knox County Jail on Hill Avenue as lawyers argued about where he should be tried, and for what. There were a lot of options.
At length, Logan met his jury in Knoxville's federal court. They found him guilty of his misconduct in connection to some stolen bank notes in Montana. The verdict made the newspapers across the nation.
By all accounts, Logan enjoyed his celebrity here, and especially the comments of locals who came into the jailhouse to gawk at him and remark that he looked a lot like Napoleon. Artist Lloyd Branson came to make a portrait of him. Then, when he'd had enough of it, Logan escaped. He used a wire from an unwrapped broom to choke a guard. He stole a horse and fled across the Gay Street Bridge, never to be seen—or positively identified, at least—again.
Readers sometimes compliment me on my story about Kid Curry. I'm never quite sure what to do with compliments, but in this case it's not just humility. The fact is, I don't think I've ever written about Kid Curry.
I've referred to him now and then. It's hard not to. He looms pretty large in Knoxville history. He became a poster boy for the Women's Christian Temperance Union and, in absentia, may have hastened the passage of local prohibition; Knoxville men who drank were potential Harvey Logans, pure and simple. In our issue recounting Knoxville's 10 most embarrassing moments of the 20th century, we listed his escape prominently. I've always thought restaurants should name dishes after characters in local folklore, and I remember suggesting that his alias would be a great one for an Indian dish, perhaps with goat.
But I've never written just about him, mainly because so many other people know the story better than I do. It was the subject of a good article by Fred Brown in the daily a few years ago; well-attended lectures by attorney Don Paine; and even a comprehensive, well-illustrated 1998 book by Sylvia Lynch called Harvey Logan In Knoxville.
I haven't written about Logan/Curry because I didn't necessarily have anything to add. But a while back, a neighbor of mine, Michael Cartwright, passed me a paperback book with a few startling paragraphs in it. The name of the book is In Patagonia, and it's a fascinating personal tour of the more remote parts of southern Argentina. The author is Bruce Chatwin, the eccentric English author best known for his exotic travel pieces. On page 48, as he treks across the remote Argentine wilderness, Chatwin suddenly brings up Harvey Logan's sojourn in Knoxville.
Many authorities seem to agree that Logan died by his own hand, in a Colorado gunfight in 1904. But he was never fingerprinted, and some thought the dead man didn't look much like Harvey Logan. Stories persisted that that body belonged to somebody else, and that Logan fled the country.
Chatwin heard that alternate version. He heard it in Argentina. In his travels in the 1970s, Chatwin spent some time in the cabin in Cholila, Argentina, a tiny settlement near the border with Chile. It was reputedly the cabin where Butch Cassidy had lived during his exile there some 65 years earlier. People around there still told stories about the American outlaws who were once their neighbors: Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid, and—besides Sundance's girlfriend, Etta Place—a third gringo.
Chatwin described how Butch and Sundance had tried to live peacefully, but within a couple of years returned to their old habit of robbing banks. "Perhaps they were spurred on by the arrival of their friend Harvey Logan." Those are astonishing words to those of us who were used to the idea that, by then, he was dead.
"In 1903 he had wormed his way out of jail in Knoxville, Tennessee," Chatwin continues. "He turned up in Patagonia under the name of Andrew Duffy, an alias he had already used in Montana."
"In 1905 the reconstituted Wild Bunch broke out and robbed a bank in Southern Santa Cruz. They repeated the performance on the Banco de la Nacion at Villa Mercedes in San Luis in the summer of 1907. It seems that Harvey Logan shot the manager through the head....
"In December 1907 they sold Cholila, in a hurry, to a beef syndicate and scattered into the Cordillera. None of their neighbors ever heard from them again...." Chatwin does mention a rumor that Logan had helped spirit an English lover of Etta's to safety in Ireland.
Chatwin doesn't mention Logan after 1907—some sources claim he died of gunshot wounds there in 1910. Chatwin does describe the various theories about the fate of Butch and Sundance, who either committed suicide in Bolivia in 1909 or died in a shootout with the Uruguayan police in 1911. Or, perhaps, returned to America and survived into the era of Social Security.
Chatwin spoke with several Patagonians about the gringos' escapades, including grandchildren of Butch Cassidy's neighbors at Cholila, and got some of his information about the gringo banditos from them. But he doesn't cite his specific sources for these matter-of-fact accounts of Harvey Logan's actions in Argentina after many believed him dead in the U.S.A.
Over the years, some have doubted some particulars of Chatwin's exotic accounts of life abroad. He didn't offer footnotes, but most of his historical research seems close to the mark. Unfortunately for the record, Chatwin died a dozen years ago, at the age of 46.
The saloon Harvey Logan shot up, on a once-dangerous part of Central a couple of blocks south of the Old City, was in a two-story building that vanished decades ago. Go to that bleak spot of asphalt and grass today and there's hardly even enough there to deserve the word place. The Hill Avenue jailhouse that was the Kid's dormitory for a year and a half is long gone, too. The federal courthouse where he was tried, though, was in the Custom House. It was on the third floor, what's now the McClung Collection, which still has the elaborate lofty ceilings of an old-fashioned courtroom. It's where I do most of my scrounging.
And the same Gay Street Bridge where we waved goodbye to Kid Curry is still there, though now closed for repairs. It sounds like it will still be closed during the centennial of Kid Curry's escape in June, 2003, preempting any notions of a reenactment.