Josie Bassett: Pioneer Or Outlaw?

This is the home (or was until 1964) of a woman who was depicted by signboards within Dinosaur National Monument as a pioneer.

Such a sweet face at 85, right? The folks at Dinosaur National Monument paint her as pioneer. Ah, but isn’t there always more to the story. My vote for Josie Bassett McKnight Ranney Williams Wells Morris was that she was an outlaw. Bessie’s Photo is from NPS archives.

There is no doubt she “lived rough” as the saying goes. Dirt floor, crude fixtures, hot in summers and cold and snowy in winter, this was the homestead Josie established around 1900 when she was not quite 40. The plaque says she moved here “divorced and with her children grown.” That was the first red flag for me. Divorced in Utah (shunned perhaps with 4 or 5 ex-husbands?) and with her children grown (had to have them when she was in her late teens or very early 20s), there had to be more to the story.

This is one of several box canyons where livestock were kept. Perhaps not all of the livestock were hers. We got curious and asked at the desk back at the Visitor’s Center. A bit more of the story came out – she knew Butch Cassidy and sidekick, Sundance Kid among other notable outlaws of the late 1880s. Plus Josie had a sister who was crowned “Queen of the Cattle Rustlers”

Hmmm, maybe a real pioneer outlaw? I found the last word on a BLM website: “Butch divided his time between the hidden cabin and the Bassett ranch where he turned his attentions toward Josie Bassett. It was probably to Butch’s advantage that Josie did not return his affections. It would seem that Josie Bassett McKnight Ranney Williams Wells Morris had mighty poor luck at picking husbands and much better luck at getting rid of them.”


3 thoughts on “Josie Bassett: Pioneer Or Outlaw?

  1. She sure does look like a sweet old Granny. Don’t you feel just a bit guilty for turning the NPS story upside down? Looks can be deceiving…….

  2. sounds like my kind of woman-reminds me of my mother. I am sure my Mom could have run with Pancho Villa, and been his right hand “muchacha” family rumor has it that Mom’s nearest in age sister was a charter member of the Mile High Club-in the days of Constellation airplanes to boot….no reflection on current Mrs., however-she, in contrast is an angel.

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