Butch Cassidy and Doc Kackley: A Wild West True Crime Story
It's a warm Spring day -- June 2, 1899, to be exact -- when Butch Cassidy's gang bursts into Soda Springs, Idaho. They'd held up the Overland Flyer of the Union Pacific Railroad a few days ago, and it hadn't gone well.
One of the gang has been shot. Slumped over in a saddle on his horse, barely alive, the bandit's bleeding badly, but not so bad that his comrades would think about leaving him behind.
They need a doctor, fast.
With Butch in the lead, the bandits rode hard and fast into Soda Springs, looking for one man, a doctor, whose reputation is known throughout this part of the West.
It won't be hard to find the sawbones they need. Butch and the gang are no strangers to Soda Springs. It's become one of their favorite locales to hide out after a bank or train robbery.
Once in Soda Springs, they burst into Dr. Ellis Kackley's office, stick a gun in his face, and demand that he treat their wounded buddy.
He might have a gun in his face, but Ellis doesn't flinch. This is a guy from Nashville, Tennessee, who headed west straight from medical school and carved out a place for himself in Soda Springs before there was much of a town here.
And, this sure as hell isn't the first time Doc Kackley has looked down the barrel of a loaded a six-shooter with an outlaw's sweaty finger on the trigger.
He just looks the gunman in the eye and moves the barrel away with one finger. Ellis says he'll treat the outlaw just as he would anyone who was injured.
"But I won't do it with a gun in my face," Doc Kackley says.
Butch Cassidy comes forward, sizes up Ellis, thinks for a moment, and finally says, "Come with us." The outlaws make a path for Doc Kackley and Butch, together they go to the wounded outlaw.
Ellis takes a look at the bleeding teenager and sees he needs a lot more than a patch and a shot of whiskey. This guy's hurting. His chances are about 50-50 as near as Doc Kackley can tell.
They wait until nightfall, and then, under cover of darkness, Ellis and the gang decide to move the wounded bandit into an abandoned church near Freedom, Wyoming.
It's a hard, nighttime ride. Sixty-two miles of rough terrain, pitch black, a tough hour on horseback even for guys like these who are accustomed to the worst life in the West has to offer.
Miraculously, the kid who's been shot at least twice survives the ride. Now, he is laid out on a dirty table. A few candles are flickering. His life is in Doc Kackley's hands.
Then, with Butch and his boys breathing down his neck. Ellis looks back over his shoulder and asks everyone to stand back. "Or better yet, get the hell out of here and let me work."
Nothing about this night would be easy. The light isn't right for surgery. Hell, it's not even a good light for reading, "if any of these guys could read," Ellis mutters to himself.
Everybody in the old church had a six-shooter in his holster and most were also holding shotguns or Winchesters.
Doc Kackley was unarmed. He knew he was safe, at least for the time being. But if anything went wrong, well, Ida and their boy would be on their own.
Thank heavens the bandit's out cold. Ellis has to dig deep into his back to find the bullets that threaten the young man's life. "Good God," Ellis mutters, “you're just a kid. Couldn't you find a better way to spend your days."
Doc Kackley knows his life depends on the success of this operation as much as the kid going under the knife. Nervous, yes, but it isn't the first time he's operated under conditions this bad. Ellis removes two slugs from the boy and patches him up the best he can.
Butch and his boys come into what passed for an operating room. Ellis says the patient will live, but he can't be moved for several weeks. The outlaws wonder how they can get food to him.
Doc Kackley, of course, has an answer. He says they can wear his wife's clothes. "Ride through town in a wagon dressed as a woman, nobody will bother you."
Butch Cassidy, laughs, grunts, and nods his approval. And for the next several weeks, a member of the Cassidy gang — dressed in one of Ellis' wife Ida's dresses — rides out to the old church in Freedom with food and medicine for their buddy.
Doc Kackley sneaks out at night to check on his patient.
Eventually, the bandit recovers—the Cassidy gang leaves.
However, everyone knows the best way to keep a secret amongst three people is for two of them to be dead. So it's no surprise that word of Doc Kackley aiding and abetting the murderous Butch Cassidy gang leaks out.
The local sheriff is faced with a real dilemma. Doc Kackley is one of the most loved men in town. He and his wife, Ida Kackley, have delivered hundreds of babies in this small town. Before he died in 1943, Doc Kackley birthed more than four-thousand babies in Soda Springs.
So, even though everyone believes Doc Kackley helped Butch Cassidy, how is the sheriff going to find a jury willing to put Ellis in jail?
"There's hardly a soul in town who wasn't brought into this world by Ellis," the sheriff explains weeks later to a newspaper reporter from out of town.
"Besides," the sheriff tells the reporter, "what he did is understandable. The SOB's always had a problem with authority."
(Yeah, Doc Kackley. One of my ancestors. Hope you liked the story, someday I might tell you about another Kackley who served as Stonewall Jackson's bodyguard, or guy named Benjamin Kackley who served under Gen. Benedict Arnold. -- Rod)
Now this is fiction, but I think it's a hell of a good story.
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