#Lookback: Douglas Preston: Butch Cassidy’s Lawyer

A County 10 series in partnership with the Fremont County Museum System
where we take a #Lookback at the stories and history of our community and
presented by Mick Pryor, Financial Advisor with Edward Jones.

One of the colorful attorneys in Lander’s history was Douglas Preston, who was born in Illinois in December of 1858 and arrived in Wyoming about 1887. When he first came to Cheyenne he worked as a law clerk in the office of the Wyoming Attorney General and then moved on topractice law in Rawlins before setting up a law practice in Lander in 1888. He specialized in criminal law in Lander until 1895, then he moved his practice to Rock Springs. He was sent as a Democratic delegate to the Constitutional Convention from Fremont County in 1889 and was a signatory on the Wyoming Constitution.

According to Lulu Parker, Butch Cassidy’s sister, George Cassidy and Douglas Preston first met when “Butch” saved Preston’s life in a saloon brawl. Preston felt indebted to Cassidy for saving his life and frequently helped his friend with legal problems.

Cassidy and his partner Al Hainer were charged with stealing horses and the trial convened on June 20, 1893, in Lander. One of Cassidy’s friends, Eugene Amoretti Jr. served on the jury and after two days of trial and after only two hours of deliberations a verdict was returned, “We, the jury, find the above-named defendants, George Cassidy and Al Hainer not guilty.”

This verdict irritated the state’s stock growers, so new horse-stealing charges were brought against Cassidy and Hainer, and a second trial against the two men started about a year later on June 30, 1894. This time the jury convicted Cassidy but found Hainer not guilty. Cassidy was sentenced to two years in the state prison in Laramie.Preston’s appeal was rejected.

After being petitioned by many of Lander’s leading citizens, including the judge who convicted Cassidy, the governor pardoned Cassidy after 18 months under the condition he would not break the law in Wyoming. Preston was the defense attorney in both trials, and William Simpson, Senator Alan Simpson’s great grandfather was the prosecutor. A few months before Cassidy was taken to Laramie, Preston helped him with a real estate transaction. Cassidy and Al Hainer co-owned a horse ranch upstream from Dubois on Horse Creek. A property Cassidy bought with the proceeds of his first bank robbery. They sold this ranch to Cassidy’s friend Eugene Amoretti Jr. in January of 1894. The museum has a copy of the receipt Preston issued when Amoretti Jr. made a payment of $76 for the property.

Eight months after Cassidy was released from prison, his friend Matt Warner, who was trying to look for honest work, took a job protecting mining claims near Vernal Utah. Warner shot and killed two men while trying to protect these claims near Vernal. Warner was charged with murder in Utah.Cassidy offered to break his friend out of jail, but Warner refused, and instead, he asked for money to hire a lawyer. Cassidy didn’t have any money, so Cassidy again contacted his friend, Preston for legal advice. Cassidy needed to raise money fast to hire an attorney and save his friend, Matt Warner. Cassidy and his friend, Elzy Lay decided to rob the Montpelier bank in Idaho to raise the funds. Cassidy and Lay met with Preston in Piedmont WY along the transcontinental railroad to discuss the case.With the proceeds from that robbery, Preston hired two attorneys in Utah. Preston immediately inquired of Utah authorities when the trial was scheduled to start. Warner was convicted of manslaughter instead of murder.

Another place Cassidy met with Preston when he was on the run was in the area of the Boars Tusk on the Red desert. The site was remote. Cassidy was still a wanted man.

Cassidy probably did not actively participate in the train robberies at Wilcox and Tipton in Wyoming, but he probably helped to plan the robberies. Perhaps at Lanigan’s bar in Lander. It is probably not a coincidence that Preston was a passenger on the next train on the tracks after the Wilcox train robbery.

Three months after the robbery of the First National Bank of Winnemucca, Nevada in September of 1900, at an abandoned outlaw’s camp three letters were found torn into strips. They read as follows,

Law Office

D.A. Preston

Rock Springs, Wyo.

Rock Springs, Wyo

8/24/1900

My dear Sir,—-

Several influential parties are becoming interested and the chance of a sale are getting favorable.

Yours truly,

D.A. Preston

A second letter in the same handwriting but without a letterhead read,

Send me at once a map of the country and describe as near as you can the place where you found that black stuff so I can go to it.

Tell me how you want it handled. You don’t know its value. If I can get hold of it first, I can fix a good many things favorable. Say nothing to anyone about this.

P

A third letter on different paper read:

Riverside, Wy, Sept 1st 1900

C.E. Rowe

Golconda, Nev

Dear Friends ——-

Yours at hand this morning. We are glad to know you are getting along well.In regard to sale enclosed letters will explain everything. I am so glad that everything is favorable. We have left Baggs so write us at Encampment, Wyo….Hoping to hear from you soon. I am as always,

Your friend,

Mike

U.S. Marshall Frank A. Hadsell of Wyoming had received information that the outlaws had exchanged some burned currency and some sooty gold coins. Gold coins were taken during the Wilcox train robbery. The Pinkertons suspected Preston of helping launder some of the outlaw’s money, but charges were never filed against him. Soon after the stolen loot was recovered, Cassidy left for South America and an outlaw legend was established.

Preston went on to serve as a State House delegate in 1903 from Sweetwater county and Wyoming State Attorney General from 1911 to 1919 under both Democratic and Republican governors. Preston died of a heart attack after an automobile accident in 1929. He is now a part of Wyoming’s outlaw history.

Next up for the Fremont County Museums

May 5th, 6 pm at the Riverton Museum “Historic Preservation Efforts in Riverton”

Wyoming Community Bank Discovery Speakers Series

May 13th,7 pm at the Pioneer Museum “Wyoming Outlaws” By Ray Maple

Wyoming Community Bank Discovery Speakers Series

May 14th-28th, 9-5 Daily at the Pioneer Museum “Abraham: Out of One, Many” Art Exhibit in the Western Gallery

May 14th, 10 pm at the Pioneer Museum “Downtown Lander Historic Walking Tour”

Wind River Visitors Council Adventure Trek Series

May 18th,9-2 pm at the Dubois Museum “Mason Draw Adventure Trek”

Wind River Visitors Council Adventure Trek Series

Joe Scheuerle Art Exhibit: “Native Americans of Wind River Country”, 9-5 Monday-Saturday, Pioneer Museum, Lander, Handle with Care: Art Moving

The Dubois Museum, the Pioneer Museum in Lander and the Riverton Museum are seeing significantly decreased visitation this summer as a result of Covid-19. As a result, the self-generated revenue we rely so heavily on to make ends meet is not keeping pace. We are counting on private donations to continue to maintain successful and engaging museums during this time. We urge you to make a tax-deductible contribution to be used specifically for the benefit of the museum of your choosing by sending a check to Fremont County Museums 450 N 2ndRm 320 or taking it directly to the museum you choose to support.

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