The wildbunch

Some letters left behind by bandits fleeing from the Winnemucca bank robbery and other recently discovered materials show that an obscure Dixon, Wyoming bartender was a vital link in Wild Bunch operations. His name was Mike Dunbar.
Dunbar had taken a one-year lease on an old bar in Dixon once owned by Phil S. Lerler. He painted, varnished and redecorated the bar in much the same manner as he was refurbishing his life. A newspaper report of the grand opening of the new bar in Dixon said "the liquor sold over this bar will transform very ordinary men into poets, orators, artists, statesmen and millionaires." Was he being facetious?
Some say the Wild Bunch gang got its name from hurrahing towns like Dixon and its neighbor in south central Wyoming, Baggs. People would say there goes that "Wild Bunch from Powder Springs." Powder Springs was the outlaw hideout west of the towns. And that put Mike Dunbar right in the middle of the action.
According to census records, William "Mike" Dunbar was born in Illinois in December, 1852. His family, including his brother, Jefferson, migrated west, through Kansas into Wyoming, where the boys apparently began to test the limits of the law.
On April 12,1892, Mike and Jeff were in the Carter & Brenham Saloon in Casper, Wyoming, where Mike was running a poker game. Jeff and a black man named Lewis Adams got into an argument which escalated with threats and abuse until Jeff drew his revolver. Adams grabbed a nearby billiards cue stick and advanced menacingly on Jeff, who fired three or four warning shots before killing Adams.
Jeff reholstered his gun and calmly walked out the rear of the saloon with Mike. Sheriff Rice and his deputy found them at a nearby stable and Jeff said, "Iím the one you want." At a preliminary hearing, Jeff was held over without bail and taken to Douglas, Wyoming, to stand trial on a charge of murder. He pleaded self-defense and was acquitted.
Mike and Jeff relocated to Dixon, Wyoming. On July 28, 1893, Mike leased the bar from Lefler, where in addition to liquor he sold supplies and ran a billiards table. Mike appeared to have settled down. He married Louisa, an immigrant from Norway, and they soon had a daughter, Ruth, born in August, 1893.
However, on December 31, Mike witnessed a shooting involving a man named Frank Howard. It occurred near Mike's saloon. He was called to testify at the trial, which began on January 1, 1894. Justice of the Peace and Acting Coroner D.C. Jones presided. Jones was known to fear and hate Mike's brother, Jeff, and therefore thought little of Mike's testimony.
Jeff, meanwhile, had gone to Craig, Colorado, where he remained for the duration of the trial. As much as Mike seemed to want to go straight, Jeff apparently drew him to outlaw life. Suspected as a rustler, thief and killer, his acquaintances were of questionable character. Jeff became a full-time outlaw on August 14, 1894, when he and George Huse robbed William Nichols of $200 on the Strip near Fort Duchesne, Utah. A warrant was issued in Vernal and Sheriff George Searle and a posse began searching for the culprits. Within a week Huse was captured and jailed but Jeff had eluded the posse. Sheriff heard that Jeff was hiding out in Dixon and notified the sheriff in Rawlins, Wyoming. However, there is no record of Jeff's arrest and things quieted down for the brothers for awhile.
A news item in the Craig Courier next mentioned that Jeff arrived in Baggs on August 15, 1896, from the Four Mile, a small gold-mining camp and a nest of rustlers and outlaws. Two months later, the paper reported that Mike Dunbar of Dixon had accidentally shot himself near the knee on the right leg while "recklessly handling" his gun. Both Mike and Jeff were in the Baggs and Dixon area at the same time that Harry Longabaugh, alias The Sundance Kid, was working for the nearby Al Reader Ranch. The brothers and Sundance became trusting friends and stayed in touch with each other when Sundance left the area.
On July 24, 1898,Jeff headed into Jim Davis' saloon in Dixon. An argument ensued and Jeff drew his gun and shot Davis, wounding him. Davis reached for his gun and fired four rounds, killing Jeff. According to Dunbar's front-page obituary, Jeff had been the leader of the Robbers Roost Gang, a band of 400 or so outlaws, which included Butch Cassidy, Isom Dart, and Bert Charters, among others. The reporter speculated that "Butch Cassidy will be Dunbar's successor as a leader, but it is generally believed that there is not a single man in all the league possessed of sufficient ability to hold the gang in line."
No sooner had Jeff been buried up on Blue Mountain than Mike's wife gave birth to a son, Charles. Mike no longer ran the saloon in Dixon but moved his growing family into Baggs. His friendship with Sundance and members of his brother's old gang continued, however. This resulted in Mike coming under surveillance of the Pinkerton Detective Agency.The Pinkertons dossier on Mike used the code name "Coyote" when referring to him in correspondence with their field agents.
The Pinkertons also were watching numerous other residents in the Snake River Valley, an area they considered a hotbed of banditry. Charles F. Tucker, a rancher in Dixon; Jack Ryan, Bert Charters, Sam Green, Jim Hanson, Chippy Reid, and Jim Ferguson, all of Rawlins; and Robert McIntosh, the postmaster at Slater, Colorado. All were under surveillance by Charles Ayers and Bob Meldrum both of Dixon.
Ayers, a rancher and stock association inspector from Dixon, was the first person to identify and describe the Sundance Kid to the Pinkertons. That description became well known on wanted posters and is found in the Wild Bunch files today. Meldrum was another story, however.
According to census records, Robert D. Meldrum was born in 1866 in England. The census shows him working as farm laborer but Pinkerton records identify him as a deputy sheriff in Dixon, with a code name "Cigar." Researcher Dan Davidson says that Meldrums' position with the Pinkerton's with similar to that of Tom Horn. Meldrum often walked a fine line between gun-for-hire and law officer.
Meldrum eventually crossed that line when he killed Chick Bowen in cold blood on January 19, 1912. Sentenced to five to seven years in the Wyoming State Penitentiary, Meldrum had plenty of time for his hobby, drawing. Now stored in the Wyoming State Archives and Museum, one of the sketches he made in 1914 was the saloon gunfight between Jim Davis and Jeff Dunbar.

This pen and ink drawing done by Bob Meldrum in 1914 depicts James W. Davis, bartender, shooting Jeff Dunbar. Dunbar was killed. Meldrum never saw the actual shooting, but he was familiar with the people and the saloon where it took place in Dixon. Courtesy of the Wyoming State Museum.
By August 29, 1900, plans had been finalized for the Wild Bunch holdup of the Union Pacific train at Tipton, Wyoming. Many of Jeff Dunbar's old gang were being watched by Ayers and Meldrum and soon after were questioned as to their knowledge of the crime. Nearly all of those questioned had known some aspect of the robbery prior to the event. In fact, the Pinkerton report on Tipton mentions that four of these men should have been charged as accessories before and after the fact. Mike also knew about the robbery in advance because he was the contact person for correspondence between Sundance and the Wild Bunch lawyer Douglas A. Preston. Mike knew that Sundance would not be at Tipton but instead was headed for Nevada and the bank robbery in Winnemucca. He was helping Preston and Sundance make arrangements to dispose of some blackened gold and currency along the return trip from Nevada. On September 1, 1900, Mike had his wife, Louisa, addressed a letter to C.E. Rowe in Golconda, Nevada. It read, "Dear Friend: Yours at hand this evening. 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, Wyoming. Hoping to hear from you soon I am as ever, Your Friend, Mike." The letters which Mike had enclosed were from Preston and indicated a deal could be made to sell or trade "the black stuff." All arrangements had gone through Mike Dunbar.
Soon afterward, Mike dropped from sight. Through census records, we know that he and his wife remained in Wyoming at least through 1902 when their second son, Norman, was born. One report claims that Dunbar moved to Montana but that has not been verified. Maybe Mike just tired of being on the fringes of the lawless element and finally found a way to go straight.
While Mike and Jeff Dunbar certainly knew many of the Wild Bunch members and associates, they also made a mark of their own on the Snake River Valley.

Bill Doolin & His Wild Bunch