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The Outlaw Trail was never a planned route.  It was not designed by any individual or government entity.  It evolved out of necessity for those who fought to survive in a land invaded by cattle barons after the first transcontinental railroad was completed across Wyoming in 1869.  Thousands of cattle were moved in and the barons claimed all the land as their own.

Some ranches were larger than the smaller states in the east.  The barons backed those claims with force.  Small ranchers and homesteaders were forced to keep moving or were buried where they could never be found.   The only cattlemen allowed to stay were the ones employed by the barons.


Cattle roamed free and unmanaged across the open range. Barons sent their hired hands into the range to find new born calves.  There was one catch to that process.  By unwritten law, the first ranch to brand a calf owned it.


Some of those hired hands and other unemployed cowboys put their own brand on the calves.  Instead of leaving them for the barons, they ran the calves into well hidden hideouts.  Sometimes the cow followed her calf and brands had to be reworked. 



After one cowboy got away with it, others joined in until they actually became a threat to the cattle barons.


The Outlaw Trail was more of a term than an actual trail. It was also called the Owl Hoot Trail.  Any person being pursued by the law was said to be on the Outlaw Trail or Owl Hoot Trail.  It was not a trail that could be pointed to because it included any route that connected an outlaw to a hideout.


The largest and probably the first of those hideouts was in Browns Hole located in the area where the borders of Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado join.  Another hideout in Wyoming took on the name of Hole in the Wall.  Others followed including Robbers Roost in Utah.   


Barons hired assassins to infiltrate the hideouts and dispose of outlaw leaders.  One dead cowboy lead to another and revenge killings took the lives of others.  There became an undeclared war between the barons and those who were labeled as outlaws.

The outlaws needed a way to sell their cattle.  Barons made sure they could not use the railroad.


When someone backs a wildcat into a box, the box is bound to get torn to pieces.  In this case, the outlaws were the wildcats and shutting them off from the market was the box.  The outlaws rounded up their cattle and ran some north through Hole in the Wall and some south through Robbers Roost.

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