Historian recalls story of horse thieves during Last Frontier meeting
August 4, 2018
CRAIG — Attendees at the Preserving the Last Frontier group’s most recent meeting — held Saturday, July 28 — were treated to a presentation from Snake River Valley Museum Historian Linda Fleming, who told residents of Sunset Acres a story of horse thieves and western crimes.
Fleming said her account was compiled from newspaper articles and letters to the editor from Snake River Valley resident Perry Swezey. The story began in 1911, soon after Moffat County was carved out of Routt County, and two men on horseback rode up to Swezey’s house in the middle of the night and asked if they could stay.
In his letter to the editor, Swezey said he allowed the two men to stay the night and learned both were on their way to Chugwater. The next morning morning, two Moffat County sheriff’s deputies arrived and questioned Swezey about the two men who had stayed with him. It was then he learned the men were wanted fugitives Billy Morgan and Charles Franzen.
Both were still sleeping, and the deputies decided to wait for them to come out.
When they awoke, one of the fugitives went outside, and the sound of gunfire erupted. The man ran back in and yelled at his partner, “They’re after us.” The partner grabbed his rifle and began shooting at the deputies outside. The fugitives asked Swezey and his wife if they knew who was shooting at them. Both feigned ignorance, and the fugitives asked the couple to leave their home, because they would be needing it.
The Swezeys left with a message from the fugitives to the posse, saying they weren’t leaving. The deputies yelled at them to come out with their hands up and surrender. The fugitives’ response: “Come and get us.”
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The story’s finale was related in a Moffat County Courier article.
During the shootout at the Swezey home — and after one of the deputies was almost shot in the head — the lawmen decided to “quit playing cops and robbers” and tossed a few sticks of dynamite near the cabin. Afterward, both Morgan and Franzen threw down their guns and surrendered. Both were taken to Craig, where they were they were jailed and reunited with a friend, who was also in custody for stealing horses. The three horse thieves would later stage a breakout that led to a manhunt across borders.
Stories such as these are an important part of western history, Fleming said, and it is important they are remembered and told so future generations can remember how life used to be in the western frontier.