Charlie Russell Chew-Choo

Charlie Russell Chew-Choo

Salt Creek Gang Rides Again

On July 3, 1901, near Wagner, Montana, Kid Curry and members of the Wild Bunch hit the Great Northern train in their trademark style. This time, they got $65,000. It was a huge haul, but the last job the Wild Bunch would ever pull together

Even though the days of the Wild West are gone, nostalgia for the rough and tumble frontier endures worldwide. Outlaws and train robberies seem to symbolize a romantic, red velvet era in American history, conquered by 20th-century industrial civilization

Aboard the Charlie Russell Chew-Choo, however, the legend lives on through the Salt Creek Gang. A dozen or so cowboys-turned-outlaws accompanied by their soiled doves, all possible descendents of those who more than 100 years ago hid out with the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang, ride on

Every other weekend, June through September, their storybook images suddenly appear around the wooden porch of an old saloon, where the rugged range surrounds the remains of a once-lively Montana boomtown. The scene is complete with a corral, an outhouse and the formidable hang-man’s noose

The dusty earth awakens with the quake of bandits’ boots. Ladies dressed in satin and black lace hang their wash and pass the cactus juice. Their laughter jingles in the warm summer air. One roughneck jostles a madam’s hair and gives her shoulder a friendly squeeze. Another saunters up the steps to check the hanging rope. Then all heads turn as the earth softly rumbles beneath their feet

Two riders take the ridge to spot the iron horse now running down the tracks. A shot is fired into the air and the girls all run and hide. The outlaws mount their horses, don their masks and cock their guns, because the Charlie Russell Chew-Choo is headed straight into their trap.

The passengers on board haven’t got a clue. Lulled by locomotion, a prime rib dinner and western music, they sit easy in their seats. The engineer rounds the bend and the outlaws race along. Suddenly, guns are blazing and the horses are gaining when a small boy peers outside.

No matter if it’s fantasy, his shivers are quite real as the engine slows the cars and the robbers board the train. Six guns, rifles, and the smell of smoke and dust fill the aisles as the outlaws check for cash and jewels.

“The Salt Creek Gang has ambushed the Charlie Russell Chew-Choo,” calls out the narrator, “But don’t worry folks, as outlaws go these guys and gals are fun. The robbers want your money, but only $7 bills will do. The ladies of the night have boarded and they all want a smooch. Once the outlaws gather up the loot and the girls have left their mark, they’ll pause for some pictures before they disembark.”

But you know outlaw stories don’t end without a fight. The Salt Creek Gang has a skit and it’s different every time. Most likely one bandit will want the treasure for himself, or the red-silk ladies may lay a plot to trip the outlaws and steal the cash. Passengers aboard the train watch the shoot-out through the windows. It’s gunsmoke and mayhem as the outlaws all turn on one another.

The train begins to roll as the last outlaw hits the ground. The Salt Creek Gang is gone again like so many yesterdays. But another train will venture in just a week or two when the outlaws and saloon girls ride again for those who board the Charlie Russell Chew-Choo.