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.”


No Country For Old Dinosaurs 1

No, it’s not a diorama, it’s real life. Well, as much as Photoshop and my imagination will let me. The location is Dinosaur National Monument not far from Vernal, Utah and that’s a stegosaurus checking out the Green River and the Yampa Plateau. To the dinosaur this is now a very foreign landscape – once this was a much broader and swampy landscape.


In 1909 Earl Douglass from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History began excavation here at this site. Long before this building was erected, he and fellow paleontologist removed thousands upon thousands of bones and a few complete skeletons of a wide variety of prehistoric creatures including insects.


Sill in place are many more thousands of bones and fragments. In 1915 Dinosaur National Monument was created then expanded later to cover over 300 square miles. 


This young lady helps you to understand the scale and size of some of what used to roam the area.


Even the landscape, bony and misshapen, is suggestive that prehistoric creatures are still among us.

BTW, if you have been to the Monument then maybe you know what I started with to create the first image. This is at the entrance to the visitor center.