In-law to Outlaw: The Story of Matt Warner

In 1876, Tom, Bill, and George McCarty moved with their family to central Utah, near the small towns of Ephraim and Levan. Tom met and married Tennie Christiansen, the daughter of a local merchant. Within a year or two, Bill and George were also married. The lure of good range near the La Sal Mountains in south-eastern Utah was strong and several other families joined the McCartys in a move to an area south of Monticello. The married McCarty brothers and their father, Dr. McCarty, soon established a successful ranch.

As the McCartys were settling in to their new homes, Teenie's younger brother, Willard Erastus Christiansen was enamored of Alice Sabey of Levan. After several run-ins over the girl with a local bully named Andrew Hendrickson, thirteen-year-old Willard settled the matter by picking up what was at hand and leaving the older boy unconscious on the ground. Believing he had killed the boy, Willard returned home for his outfit and his gun and left town in a hurry.

He worked as a ranchhand on his way north and eventually came to Diamond Mountain, which got its name from a diamond salting scam years earlier. The area, known as Brown's Hole was on the Green River, south of Rock Springs, Wyoming and had long been a haven for outlaws. A no-man's Land where Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah joined borders, Brown's Hole at that time was seldom molested by lawmen from anywhere. As a schooling ground for a budding outlaw, Willard could not have found a better campus.

He went to work for a local rancher named Jim Warren. Jim Warren, as Willard soon discovered, was pretty fast with a brand. Within a few months, Willard soon had enough of a herd to start his own ranch. After a gunfight with a Mexican named Polito, Willard began to consider himself a real badman and outlaw, although he rode 20 miles to get a doctor who saved the lung-shot man's life. While he would not know it for some time, the boy he had injured had also recovered. Regardless, the die was cast and another young outlaw was born. Somewhere along the trail, he began to call himself by the name he would make famous--or infamous, depending on your point of view--Matt Warner.

During the early 1880's, Matt built his ranch at Diamond Mountain and supplemented his income by various criminal activities. After joining in a large rustling raid with Cherokee Bangs, about whom little is known, Matt decided the Diamond Mountain ranch was a little too hot. He and Joe Brooks, one of his hands, picked up a wagon train somewhere headed for Arizona.

Upon arrival, Matt and Joe held up a combination store and bank in St. Johns, Arizona, netting the princely sum of $897. An unexpected chase by a local posse ran the pair all the way back to Robber's Roost in southeastern Utah, where they holed up for a couple of months. Leaving Robber's Roost, Joe headed back to Diamond Mountain and Matt went in search of his brother-in-law, Tom McCarty.

Matt found Tom and another man, Josh Swett (or Sweat), in Fort Wingate, Arizona. The three men formed a partnership and embarked on a cattle raid into Mexico. With 200 cattle, they returned safely to New Mexico where they sold the herd for $3.50 per head.

Matt reportedly met William Henry McCarty alias Kid Atrim and William Bonney, but better known as Billy the Kid, during this time. If true, the incident occurred before July of 1881 when Billy the Kid was killed by Pat Garrett.        For more about Billy the Kid go to

Another attempted raid into Mexico went well until they encountered Federal Officers after crossing the border. During the ensuing battle, the three men made their escape with Josh badly wounded. Thus began a 600-mile chase, which somehow Josh survived until he could be left in Kanab, Utah with friends. Matt and Tom continued to Frisco, a mining camp west of Milford, Utah.

Discovering the booming Frisco was a ready market for beef, Matt and Tom bought a small herd of cattle and drove them to Frisco. Billy Sackett, the town marshal, had heard of their escapades in New Mexico and arrested them for rustling. A trial was held shortly in Milford and the pair was acquitted. Angry over their release and apparently believing Matt and Tom guilty of local crimes, Sackett made them walk the fifteen miles to Frisco.

Upon reaching Frisco, Matt and Tom rode out to Tom (Black Jack) Ketchum's "ranch" some forty miles west of Milford. This ranch was known as a refuge for outlaws. Matt and Tom took a break safe from the eyes of the law--so they thought!

A few days later, two men claiming to be prospectors arrived at the ranch. Tom, however, was suspicious and examined their belongings with gun in hand. Handcuffs gave the men away and soon Tom sent them on their way in their own irons. Facing a long walk across the desert, the future looked bleak for the two officers. A short while later, Tom rode up to the frightened men.

Instead of killing them as the officers had feared, Tom had relented and freed them. Giving them canteens and bidding them goodbye, Tom rode off again.

Tom McCarty and Matt Warner soon separated, with Tom eventually wandering into Cortez, Colorado, and Matt heading again to Diamond Mountain. He discovered the law was still interested in him for earlier rustling activities in Wyoming and he moved his herd of horses into the White River country near Meeker, Colorado.

Matt sold a hundred horses to a man in Meeker who paid him off in hundred- dollar bills. A fellow named Cap Davis who ran a local boarding house where Matt stayed became very interested in Matt's bankroll. Being of a somewhat suspicious nature, Matt kept his eyes open and when he saw two riders approaching the next day, he was ready. Recognizing the men as two with whom Davis had been talking, Matt drew his gun and held them up instead of the other way around. Incidents such as this probably kept more attention on Matt than he needed. Prudently, he moved on again, this time to the La Sal Mountains near where the McCartys had ranched.

Dr. McCarty and his son George had long since moved to Haines, Oregon. Tom and Bill had sold out a few years later and when the money was gambled away, had hit the outlaw trail for good. Matt established himself and began training horses to race.

It was during a race at Telluride, Colorado in about 1885 he met a young ore hauler who called himself Roy Cassidy. Cassidy, soon to be known everywhere as Butch, was about nineteen and Matt was the ripe old age of twenty-one. Matt and Roy hit it off so well, despite Cassidy losing everything to Matt, they became partners in the racing business.

Using a horse called either Betty or Babe, depending on who is telling the story, the pair beat every horse in southern Colorado and Utah. They still found time for a reunion of Tom McCarty and Matt in Cortez. So far as we know, this is the first time McCarty and Cassidy met. It would not be the last.

Matt and Butch were so successful and well known on the racing circuit, eventually they could only find Indians who would race them. After winning one Indian's pony and a load of blankets, an Indian objected and Tom beat the objecting party with a quirt. Matt threw down on the crowd and the men left in a hurry for Tom's cabin.

Sure enough, the next morning the Indians arrived demanding their horse back. When one of them pointed a rifle at Tom, Tom shot the Indian off his horse, putting an end to further discussion.

Between 1885 and late 1887, these three desperadoes apparently were content to race and on occasion work as ranchhands. Then the Denver & Rio Grand train was stopped November 3, 1887 just outside Grand Junction, Colorado.

Despite careful planning, including blocking the track, the bandits came up empty-handed. Investigating officers blamed Tom, Bill, George McCarty, and their gang. More likely the leaders were Tom McCarty, Matt Warner, and Butch Cassidy as Bill and George were reportedly in the Northwest at that time.

Matt's next escapade of note was March 30, 1889. A man carrying a bottle of liquid walked into the First National Bank of Denver and demanded to see the president. Proclaiming the liquid to be nitro-glycerine, the man demanded $21,000, which the president promptly got from the cashier. Walking out of the bank, the man handed the money to an accomplice and faded into the crowd. Although Tom denied the robbery in his memoirs and Matt never mentioned it, evidence at the time pointed strongly to Tom and Matt.

June 24, 1889, Matt, Tom McCarty, Butch Cassidy, and others, rode back to Telluride. This time they had come to make a sizable withdrawal and they intended to beat a posse on their fast horses. The robbery was well planned and went off without a hitch. The only problem arose later when Cassidy's younger brother and another man were arrested while transporting supplies to the outlaws. Cassidy's younger brother, Dan Parker was sent to Wyoming to answer to old charges there and the other man talked his way out of trouble.

Matt and Tom spent the winter of 1889-1890 in Star Valley, south of Jackson, Wyoming on the Idaho-Wyoming border, using the names Tom Smith and Matt Willard. Matt married a fourteen-year-old girl named Rosa Rumel. Tom's wife had died and he married Sarah Lemberg.

Hard times fell on Star Valley that winter and the only storekeeper in Afton, Wyoming refused to extend any credit. Matt and Tom held him at gunpoint while the settlers took what they needed, then paid the man half his price. Such antics, to some extent probably apocryphal, were not necessarily done from any Christian charity; every outlaw knew he would need a place to lay up for a while and these acts of generosity with someone else's money bought a lot of friends.

As the valley became more accessible that Spring, so did Matt and Tom. Moving on again, the two outlaws and their wives went to Butte, Montana where they blew the rest of their proceeds from Telluride. When the money was nearly gone, the wives were sent back to Star Valley; Matt and Tom headed out to Haines, Oregon.

There they found brother Bill, Letty, and Fred, Bill's teenage son, broke and having a tough time. Butch had remained in Wyoming and it took little persuasion for Bill to take a hand in the game. The first little robbery netted only enough for Matt to send for Rosa -- Sarah refused to come.

The bunch moved on as Haines became too hot for comfort. Using the name Ras Lewis, Matt and the rest bought the 7 U ranch near Cooley, Washington. Then they really went to work.

A string of robberies in Oregon and Washington filled the coffers but kept them on the move. Rosa was constantly complaining about the hardships and begging Matt to quit the business and settle down. There were reports Matt abused her during this period which he hotly denied to his dying day. Rosa's sister, Sadie Morgan, had come to live with them and she eventually caused Matt a great deal of trouble over her fears for Rosa.

A few days before his daughter was born, Matt and the gang robbed the bank at Roslyn, Washington of $20,000. When he returned after a hectic chase, he promised Rosa that in a few days he would dig up his stash and they would leave to make a new start. Unfortunately, the law had other plans.

Acting on a tip from Sadie, lawmen arrested Matt and soon had George McCarty in the same cell. A lawyer told Matt he could get off if he had enough money to put in the right places. Matt told the lawyer where he could find $41,000 and drew a map to the exact location.

Despite an aborted escape attempt, the two men were soon freed and Matt asked the lawyer how much their freedom had cost. When the lawyer replied, "$41,000," Matt was shocked. The lawyer, to prove what a decent fellow he was, gave Matt $500 out of his own pocket. Matt was broke again and he found his ranch trashed by treasure hunters.

Trading the ranch for a horse and saddle, Matt rode toward Diamond Mountain, where he lived more or less quietly for two years. Despite her statements to the press and the efforts of her mother and sister, Rosa rejoined Matt at the Diamond Mountain ranch.

On September 7, 1893--less than two months after Matt and George were freed -- Tom, Bill, and young Fred McCarty held up the Farmers and Merchants Bank in Delta, Colorado. This was to be the last venture into banking for any of them. When the smoke clear ed, Bill and Fred were dead, killed by a local sharpshooter named Simpson. Tom disappeared a few years later after sending his autobiography to Matt Warner's father who published the book in 1898.

Matt's wife, Rosa, developed bone cancer in her leg and Matt spent as much time as he could in Vernal, Utah where she went for treatment. A man named Coleman hired Matt and Bill Wall, a local gambler, to frighten off three men he believed were after his mining claim. The situation escalated into a sudden gun battle.

After all was said and done, two of the three were dead and the other a cripple for life. Matt and Wall were arrested and charged with murder, despite much evidence they had acted in self-defense. Matt was being tried for his past and, despite the best efforts of his friends--the Montpelier, Idaho bank robbery by Butch and company reportedly paid for defense counsel -- went to prison on September 21, 1896.

While he was in prison, a son was born (given away and not to survive to adulthood), and Rosa died. January 21, 1900, Matt was freed to begin his life anew.

Until he died, December 21, 1938, Matt lived as a respected man in Price, Utah. He remarried, fathered three children, was elected as justice of the peace, and served in several positions in law enforcement.

He ran for sheriff of Carbon County, Utah in 1912 and would surely have been elected had he run under the name of Matt Warner; as Willard Christiansen, he was soundly whipped because no-one knew the name.

The story ends here except for a post script.

Charles Kelly first published his book, "The Outlaw Trail," in 1938. According to a later revision, Matt Warner was totally angered by the reports published in the book that he had abused Rosa. Despite Kelly's efforts to assure Matt that all he had published was from newspaper articles quoting Rosa herself, Matt left for Price and drank himself all the way home and continued until he died a few days later. Kelly says Warner's family blames him for Matt's death.