A Detective Gets His Man: The Capture of Rustler Clabe Young

Clabe H. Young was one wild cowboy, his friends in Wyoming would have said. He was also a cattle thief. In his youth he killed a man in Texas, though he swore years later that he never meant to.

In 1883, as he traveled in chains back to his home state to face a murder charge, he sometimes talked and sometimes wept. He told the detective who had captured him a great deal about cattle stealing in central Wyoming Territory. All the cowboys were doing it, Clabe said, and many stole because their bosses told them to do so.

Cheyenne looked about like this in 1883 when Turtle Detective Agency operative John Finkbone of Chicago arrived to meet with the leaders of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association. Wyoming Tales and Trails.

The detective, John M. Finkbone of Chicago, arrived in Cheyenne, Wyoming Territory, late in July 1883. The Wyoming Stock Growers Association had hired the Turtle Detective Agency to figure out what to do about cattle thieves. Finkbone reported regularly to his boss in Chicago, William Turtle, who passed the reports back to the stock growers association in Wyoming.

This account is based mostly on Finkbone’s reports. He was frank in them, unafraid to name the names of owners of some of the biggest ranches in the territory, whom he suspected of committing theft or of encouraging it. By the time he delivered Clabe to the county sheriff in Tilden, Texas, Finkbone had come to better understand the thief and his actions in a world of widespread rustling on the Wyoming range.

The cattle business

The cattle business was booming in Wyoming. Clabe, his brothers Bill and Nate Young, and many like them arrived in the territory with Texas cattle herds. Clabe was born in 1853, which would have made him around 25 when he and his brothers arrived on the Wyoming ranges in the late 1870s.

Big ranches were established in that decade on the plains around Cheyenne and Laramie. Ranchers also began importing cattle from Oregon and Nevada and other places to the west. These were trailed in over the old emigrant roads and turned loose on various ranges in the territory, including the Sweetwater and Sand Creek ranges in central Wyoming. Clabe and his brothers were cowboying on Sand Creek and the Sweetwater by 1883.

Warren Livestock Company roundup camp near Cheyenne, 1898. Photo by Joseph Stimson, Wyoming Tales and Trails.

For a few years, the cattle business looked easy. All a person had to do was buy a small herd, hire a few men to keep an eye on it, turn the cattle loose and allow them to multiply. Each spring a new crop of calves could be branded with the owner’s brand. Each fall the calves would be big enough to wean from their mothers and ship to market. The money for each calf sold was almost pure profit. The cowboys didn’t have to be paid much and the grass was free. Investors from New York, Boston, London and Edinburgh put up tens, then hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy more herds and turn them loose on Wyoming ranges.

Investors bought and sold herds without counting the cattle. Herds were just expected to grow. That potential growth brought high prices from buyers, so sure were they of continued growth and riches.

But things were not well organized. One ranch’s cattle mixed freely with another’s. There were almost no fences. The cattle were often scattered, hard to find and hard to count.

The business depended largely on the roundups. The ranches in each district organized each spring to round up the cattle and brand them. Nursing calves follow their mothers, and so the cowboys knew who each calf belonged to by the brand on the mother cow. In the fall the cattle were gathered again. The ones chosen for sale were trailed to the railroad and shipped east to slaughterhouses and packing plants.

But every spring, calves slipped through the system. Once a calf was old enough that it no longer followed its mother, who it belonged to was anyone’s guess. It became common for a cowboy who found an unbranded animal to brand it for his boss or himself. Some foremen and owners paid cowboys bonuses for slapping the ranch’s brand on mavericks, as unbranded calves and yearlings were called.

It was a short step from branding mavericks to changing an animal’s brand to a brand of your own. Some ranchers paid their cowboys to raid their neighbors’ herds. A cowboy who was tough, intimidating and willing to steal could be an important asset to a growing ranch. The ranges were big and crimes like these were very hard to prove.

The investigation

In Cheyenne in July 1883, Detective Finkbone met with three important men. Joseph M. Carey was president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association. Later, he would be U.S. senator from Wyoming, and later still, governor. Alex Swan had been president of the association up through 1882. Swan and his Scottish investors owned the territory’s largest ranch; their cattle grazed most of southeastern Wyoming. The third man on hand was one of the Jackson brothers who ran a ranch on the Sweetwater River upstream from Devil’s Gate.

Suspecting the Young brothers of rustling but wanting more information, these cattlemen sent Finkbone to Rawlins, Wyoming Territory, to see what he could find out about cattle theft in the big stretches of Carbon County north and south of that railroad town. He spent three weeks there posing as a cattle buyer from Chicago. He talked with cowboys, with other buyers and investors. He bought a lot of cigars and drinks to get them to talk.

The Rankin brothers' livery stable in Rawlins was a popular gathering place for the Youngs and other cowboys. Wyoming Tales and Trails.

He wasn’t impressed. “Rawlins is a nest of the cow boys,” Finkbone reported, “not smart generally speaking but on the contrary are ignorant and revengeful.”[1]

Back in Cheyenne on August 20, Finkbone met again with Carey, Swan and Jackson, and with Thomas Sturgis, secretary of the stock growers association. The detective had learned a lot. Two well-known and popular ranchers in the country north of Rawlins, Boney Earnest on Sand Creek and Tom Sun at Devil’s Gate on the Sweetwater, were employers and good friends of the Young boys. Bill Young had worked as Sun’s foreman and had recently gone to work for Earnest. Both ranchers, Finkbone implied, frequently bought and sold cattle they knew the Young boys had stolen.

The Youngs were also good friends of the Rankin brothers in Rawlins. Jim Rankin was a former Carbon County sheriff. Bob Rankin was jailer at the Carbon County jail. Joe Rankin later served many years as a U.S. marshal. In the town they ran a livery stable, which was also a popular social hangout for cowboys. Finkbone believed the Rankins from time to time bought horses they knew were stolen and resold them quickly.

Men like Sun, Earnest and the Rankins had too many friends and were too well known in Carbon County for the stock growers association to make any moves against them. But the Young brothers were another matter.

At first, Carey, Swan, Jackson and Sturgis thought the simplest thing to do would be to ride out with a large party of armed men and lynch Clabe and his brother Bill—“give them a few pulls by the neck,” Finkbone called it in his September 5 report to Turtle.[2]

The plan

Then one of them—Finkbone’s report implies it was Sturgis—remembered hearing there were outstanding murder charges against the Young brothers in Texas. They confirmed this with one of the Searight brothers. The Searights owned the Goose Egg Ranch at Red Buttes near what’s now Casper, Wyo. Swan suggested the association could take care of its problems with the Youngs more or less legally by sending Finkbone to Texas to get the proper papers for their arrest.

In Texas, Finkbone found that Clabe Young was wanted for murder in McMullen County south of San Antonio. Bill was wanted for murder in neighboring Live Oak County. After three weeks of train, stage, buggy and even steamship travel, help from various sheriffs, a prosecutor and Texas Governor John Ireland, Finkbone returned with formal requisitions to Wyoming authorities that the Young brothers be returned to Texas for trial.

Finkbone arrived back in Rawlins September 25. Immediately, he began acting like a police captain. First, he called on Carbon County Sheriff I.C. Miller, whose help he would need to make Young’s arrest legal. Next, he summoned John Durbin to meet him at his Rawlins hotel room. Durbin and his brothers ranched some of the same Sweetwater and Sand Creek ranges as the Jacksons, Tom Sun and Boney Earnest—in fact the Durbins’ operation was bigger than all of theirs put together.

The plan was to surprise the Youngs at Jim Cantlin’s ranch, 45 miles north of Rawlins on Sand Creek. Durbin agreed to meet them there—or else to intercept Finkbone’s party and let them know where the Youngs might be found.

The Cantlin ranch, where Clabe Young was captured in 1883, is now part of the much larger Pathfinder Ranch. Tom Rea.

The capture

The next night, Finkbone, Miller and two deputies arrived at Cantlin’s to find no sign of the Youngs. Durbin had been there and gone, Cantlin said, but left no word for them. Finkbone, furious, figured Durbin had leaked his plans to the rustlers.

During the night, however, they were awakened with the news that Clabe, his friend Mrs. Ursula Casto and her two grown sons had just arrived at her place nearby. Finkbone, Miller and the deputies went to Mrs. Casto’s. Carefully, they hid all the ropes, saddles and bridles they could find and turned the horses loose from the corral. Then they hid until daybreak.

Without too much trouble, they captured Clabe at dawn, sitting on his bed at Mrs. Casto’s, with his pants and one boot on. He invited the men to sit down. As it was cold, he offered them a drink, and said he’d go into the next room for a bottle of whiskey. He pulled on his second boot, stood, and headed for the door.

Two of the men moved to grab him. He made “a desperate lunge,” one newspaper reported later, but a deputy aimed a pistol at him. They handcuffed him and that was that.[3]

Fearing a rescue attempt, Finkbone ordered Cantlin to ride fast for Rawlins and arrange for a special train. The main party—Finkbone, Sheriff Miller and Young in one wagon, two deputies and the two Casto sons in the other—left later and arrived at Rawlins about dusk.

Bill Young, it turns out, did try to rescue his brother, we know from the reports of a second Turtle detective, R.J. Holcomb, stationed in Rawlins at the time. Bill Young first had to catch the horses and find the saddles and bridles Finkbone had hidden at Mrs. Casto’s, however, and was too late to catch up with his captured brother.

In Rawlins, meanwhile, Finkbone deposited the Castos in the Carbon County jail, and then, with Clabe still in irons, left that night for Cheyenne on the special train. Finkbone deposited Clabe in the county jail in Cheyenne, and a short while later reported his capture to Swan, Carey, Searight and Jackson in Swan’s office. Exhausted, Finkbone checked into a hotel room and slept.

Clabe Young (with rope) and friends, probably in the late 1880s. Hanna Basin Museum.

The trip to the Lone Star State

It turned out to be a long trip to Texas. Durbin and Mrs. Casto both came to visit Clabe at the jail in Cheyenne, Finkbone reported, she to discuss money matters with him, and Durbin—open now about his friendship with the prisoner—to tell him not to lose heart.

Finkbone took Clabe to a jail in Denver for extra safety. Then he returned to Cheyenne pick up the Cheyenne newspapers. Stories ran two days in a row in the Cheyenne Daily Leader, on Saturday September 29 and Sunday September 30. The first story gave Clabe’s name as “Clate,” and described him as a hardened Texas criminal who, when captured, was living in adultery with a “Mrs. Castle” on Sand Creek.

The Daily Leader the next day changed its tone completely: Clabe was a hard worker, well-liked by all who knew him, was living only as a boarder at “Mrs. Castle’s” ranch and was confident that any Texas jury would understand that his shooting there of a man named O’Donnell in 1878 had been unintentional. Finkbone, the story noted, was “a braggart and a blowhard” and a coward. Versions of the second story soon ran in papers in Helena, Montana Territory. Oshkosh, Wis.; Decatur, Ill.; Lincoln, Neb.; Galveston, Texas; and Chicago.

Finkbone finally left Denver with his prisoner on October 2, bound first for Chicago where, the detective reported, he planned to “go to work on him to obtain a confession.”

Finkbone and his boss spent a long weekend “laboring with Young” in a hotel room in Chicago. But Clabe wouldn’t talk, at least not about cattle stealing. One of the Jackson brothers arrived in Chicago and told Turtle and Finkbone a confession would be “a glorious thing.”

By Sunday, October 7, Clabe was sick. The detectives called in a doctor to look at him. Finkbone reported Clabe “cries like a child by spells; is much afraid that he will be hung upon his arrival in Texas.” This may imply that the two detectives had been beating or torturing him for days, or only that he was severely depressed at the prospect of his death. By Tuesday Finkbone reported him weakening more, but still no confession. That evening, Finkbone and Clabe Young boarded a train for Texas.[4]

In Cairo, Ill., Finkbone reported his prisoner sick and restless; in New Orleans, “quite sick.” They rested for a day. Clabe saw a doctor again. On Saturday, October 12, they arrived in San Antonio. Finkbone housed his prisoner in the San Antonio jail.[5]

A confession of cattle theft

The next day, who should show up but Mrs. Casto! She passed herself off as Clabe’s wife and talked the jailers into letting her have a long talk with him while a guard listened. She told Clabe the whole thing was “a malicious piece of business,” Finkbone noted later. She reportedly said all of Clabe’s friends were behind him still, including Durbin, Earnest, Joe Rankin, Sun and Sun’s ranching partner C.E. Johnson, who was ready to lend Clabe as much money as he might need. She also told him his brother Bill was hiding safely in the hills near Sand Creek.

By the following day, Clabe was at last willing to talk freely with Finkbone. With his friends and his friends’ money behind him, he may have felt confident about beating the murder charges—and may have realized that any Wyoming crimes wouldn’t matter much now, when he was likely to be facing much more serious charges here, in Texas courts. Or the final persuader may have been Finkbone’s lie to Clabe, that Sun and Durbin had been betraying him—“were giving him away every day.”

Cowboys of all stripes, and not just the Youngs, had been stealing Searight’s cattle, Clabe said. Sun, Durbin and their ranching neighbor Bob Conners “told their foremen last spring to go out on the range and brand mavericks, and give old Searight’s range hell in particular.” From Searight’s range alone, Clabe said, they stole at least 1,100 head.[6]

Clabe said he didn’t know what the foremen were promised for branding Searight cattle. He did know, however, that some did not get paid what they’d been promised.

Then, weeping again, he added, “There ought to be other men here with these irons on besides me.” Owners like Durbin, Sun, Conners and Earnest, and foremen like Jack Cooper and Ed Lineburger were the real guilty ones, Clabe implied. “They know that we know too much about them, and they are afraid of us,” he said. Lineburger, for one, told Clabe, “Tom Sun had treated him like a dog about the money.”

The Tilden jail today. Texas Escapes.

Finkbone finally delivered his prisoner to McMullen County Sheriff M.H. Martin, in Tilden, Texas. On October 25, the detective returned to Chicago. On October 26, he updated his reports and then, apparently, passed, out of Wyoming’s history.

An acquittal and a new life

But Clabe did not hang in Texas. He was acquitted the following March. A year later, back in Rawlins, he married Ursula Casto. A few weeks later, Clabe sold Cantlin his cabin for $100, and she sold Cantlin her 160-acre ranch plus its house, barn, corrals and outbuildings for $2,000—a high price. Perhaps they were building a stake to move somewhere else.

In 1889, Clabe spent a season riding with Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West. The show that year spent six months in Paris, France; a week in Lyons; two weeks in Marseille; and four days in Barcelona, Spain. In the spring of 1893, according to a story in the Saratoga Sun, Clabe was preparing to ride his horse Bell Maceta in an 1,800-mile horse race from Boise, Idaho, to the huge Columbia Exposition in Chicago.

And in 1906, Clabe ran for sheriff of Big Horn County, Wyoming. He took out an ad in the Cowley Progress denying rumors of his wild past, and offering $100 cash to anyone who could prove he’d ever been “an all-round desperado.” He lost the election. In 1917, Ursula filed for divorce from him in Hot Springs County.

He died in October 1921 at his ranch at Warren, near Manderson, Wyo. in Big Horn County. His obituary in the Powell Tribune notes that he was a sure shot; a skilled roper who, during a lifetime of brandings, had roped 1,032 calves on 1,033 throws; and that on his tour of Europe with the Wild West show he had been presented to Queen Victoria, gone bar-hopping with the Prince of Wales and “chatted for hours” with the Pope after a tour of the Vatican.

The cast of Buffalo Bill's Wild West show in Rome, 1890. W.F. Cody is in the long coat, at left. Clabe Young may be in this picture. Much later in his life, he told friends he ''chatted for hours'' with the Pope that year after touring the Vatican. Denver Public Library.


Primary sources

  • This account is based primarily on Detective Finkbone’s reports, the most startling claims of which I have cited in the footnotes. Finkbone as a rule filed them by mail to his boss in Chicago, William Turtle. Turtle then mailed the reports back to Wyoming Stock Growers Association President Joseph Carey in Cheyenne or to past President Alex Swan. These reports, along with copies of Finkbone’s telegrams from Texas and other places, and other related correspondence are all in Folders 5 and 6 of Box 222 of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association Collection at the American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming.
  • Clabe’s acquittal of the murder charge in Texas on March 26, 1884, is recorded on pages 153 and 158 of the District Court Minutes of McMullen County, Texas, on microfilm at the Texas State Archives, microfilm reel 1012552, vol. 1, 1879-1897.
  • Ursula Casto’s divorce from her first husband, William Casto, is Carbon County civil case 185, on microfilm at the Wyoming State Archives in Cheyenne. It makes good reading. Ursula claimed William was a habitual drunkard who had threatened her life and the lives of others in his rages, and who deserted her and her two children (apparently from an earlier marriage). The divorce was final Oct. 21, 1884.
  • Clabe married Ursula R. Casto on March 16, 1885. Their marriage license is on file with other county records in the basement of the Carbon County courthouse.
  • Ursula R. Young’s sale of her ranch to James Cantlin in May 1885 is recorded in Carbon County Deed Record Book B, pp. 478-479. Clabe Young’s sale of his cabin to James Cantlin in August 1885 is recorded in Carbon County Deed Record Book H, p. 21.
  • In January 1917 she filed for divorce from Young in Hot Springs County. See legal notices in the Thermopolis Record, p. 3, Jan. 18, Feb. 1 and Feb. 15, 1917.
  • Clabe’s capture and other events of his life were reported in newspapers in Wyoming and around the West. For online versions of the Wyoming reports, see the Wyoming Newspaper Project. In chorological order, these reports include:
  • “A Desperado Jailed. The Arrest of a Man Charged With a Series of Crimes,” Cheyenne Daily Leader, Sept. 29, 1883.
  • “Clabe Young. What He May Be and What He May Not Be. He and His Brothers Viewed as They Have Been Known in Wyoming. An Ostentatious Arrest.” Cheyenne Daily Leader, Sept. 30, 1883.
  • “Badly Wanted By Sheriff,” –an announcement of a $500 reward for the capture of Bill Young—Cheyenne Daily Leader Oct. 20, 1883.
  • “Clabe Captured. Clabe Young, a Well-Known Cattle Man Arrested for Murder Committed in Texas Five Years Ago. Carbon County Journal, Sept. 29, 1883.
  • “Stockman’s Say. Some Very Severe Criticisms Upon the Present Mode of Handling Cattle.” Carbon County Journal, Oct. 27, 1883.
  • “Bell Maceta,” Saratoga Sun, March 30, 1893.
  • “Read, Then Vote” and “A Brief Sketch of Claborn Young’s Life.” The Cowley Progress, Oct. 26, 1906.
  • Untitled item beginning “Although Big Horn County …” The [Sheridan] Semi-weekly Post, Nov. 13, 1906, p. 4.
  • “Picturesque Old Citizen of Warren Dies.” Powell Tribune, October 28, 1921, p. 4.
  • Outside Wyoming, see
  • “Run to Earth. Details of the Capture of Clabe Young the Noted Texas Outlaw Safely a Prisoner and on His Way to This State.” Galveston (Texas) Daily News, Oct. 6, 1883, p. 4; and similar stories in the Helena (Montana) Independent, Oct. 6, 1883; Saturday Herald (Decatur, Ill.) Oct. 13, 1883; Oshkosh (Wisconsin) Daily Northwestern, Oct. 5, 1883; Daily (Lincoln) Nebraska State Journal, Oct. 6, 1883. All available at
  • “Claib Young” is listed along with other cowboys on p. 18 of the French program for Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show for 1889, MS6, Series VI: A, Box 1, McCracken Library, Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Cody, Wyo.

Secondary sources

  • Burroughs, John Rolfe. Guardian of the Grasslands: The First Hundred Years of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association. Cheyenne: Pioneer Printing and Stationery Co., 1971, pp. 119-125. This gives an account of Clabe’s career and arrest, also written from the Finkbone reports. Burroughs, though, sympathizes with the Wyoming Stock Growers Association.
  • Clay, John. My Life on the Range. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1962, pp. 79-86. A more general discussion of cattle theft on the Sweetwater that mentions Nate but not Clabe Young. John Clay was active as a financier, ranch manager and cattle buyer in Wyoming in the 1880s. This account was first written in the 1920s.
  • Meschter, Daniel. Sweetwater Sunset: A History of the Lynching of James Averell and Ella Watson near Independence Rock, Wyoming on July 20, 1889. Wenatchee, Wash.: privately published, 1996. The Young brothers are mentioned on p. 121, but the book throughout gives a vivid and thorough picture of ranching, theft and land disputes on the Sweetwater and Sand Creek ranges in the 1880s, carefully documented from Carbon County land and court records.


  • The 1877 Leslie's Illustrated News image of the Inter-Ocean Hotel, Cheyenne, the colorized Joseph Stimson photo of the 1898 Warren Livestock Company roundup camp and the photo of the Rankin stables are all from Wyoming Tales and Trails. Used with thanks.
  • The photo of the likely site of the Cantlin Ranch, where Clabe Young was captured in 1883, is by Tom Rea.
  • The photo of Clabe Young showing his roping skills to friends is from the collections at the Hanna Basin Museum in Hanna, Wyo. It is courtesy of Mary Lou Korkow, whose great-grandfather John Watkins purchased probably in the late 1880s a series of photos including this one that are now well known, says Hanna Museum Director Nancy Anderson. The photographer may be Fred Baker, who had a studio in Carbon, Wyo. Thanks also to Nancy and Victor Anderson, who have scanned tens of thousands of photos into the Hanna Museum collection. Used with permission and thanks.
  • Tom Sun, about 1880, is from the Wyoming State Archives, Sub Neg # 27787. Used with permission and thanks.
  • The photo of the Tilden jail is from Texas Escapes. Used with thanks.
  • The photo of Buffalo Bill's Wild West cast in Rome in 1890 is from the Denver Public Library. Used with thanks.

[1] Turtle report Aug. 3, 1883, pp. 3-4, American Heritage Center, Wyoming Stock Growers Association collection, Box 222, folder 5.

[2] Turtle report Sept. 5, 1883, p. 3.

[3] “Run to Earth: Details of the Capture of Clabe Young: The Noted Texas Outlaw Safely a Prisoner and On His Way to This State.” Galveston Daily News, Saturday, Oct. 6, 1883, p. 4.

[4] Finkbone reports for Oct. 2-7, 1883 in Turtle-Carey letter of Nov. 5, 1883, pp. 6-7.

[5] Finkbone reports for Oct. 12, 1883 in Turtle-Carey letter of Nov. 5, 1883, pp. 8-9.

[6] Finkbone report for Oct. 13, 1883 in Turtle-Carey letter of Nov. 5, 1883, pp. 9-10.