Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Laura Bullion ~ The Thorny Rose

Laura Bullion was born in Knickerbocker, Tom Green Co., TX to Henry Bullion and Fereby E. Byler. Most sources, as well as Bullion's grave marker, provide December 2, 1876 as the date of her birth. Her mother was German and her father was Native American.

Henry Bullion had been an outlaw and was acquainted with William Carver ("News Carver") and Ben Kilpatrick ("The Tall Texan") both of whom Laura met when she was around 13 years old. Her aunt, Viana Byler, married Carver in 1891, but died soon after the marriage from fever.

At age 15, Laura began a romance with Carver, who for a time after his wife's death had been involved with female outlaw Josie Bassett, sister to Cassidy's girlfriend Ann Bassett. She also worked as a prostitute until reaching the age of either 16 or 17. She is believed to have returned to prostitution from time to time, working mostly in Madame Fannie Porters brothel in San Antonio, TX, a frequent hideaway for the gang.

When Laura first became involved with Carver, he was riding with the Tom Ketchum ("Black Jack Ketchum") gang, and she wanted to join him. He wouldn't allow it at first, so they only saw one another between robberies. While in Utah and on the run from lawmen, Carver became involved with the Wild Bunch gang, led by Butch Cassidy and Elzy Lay. Members of the Wild Bunch nicknamed her Della Rose, a name she came by after meeting Kid Curry's girlfriend Della Moore. She was also referred to as the Rose of the Wild Bunch.

In the early 1890s, she became involved romantically with Ben Kilpatrick ("The Tall Texan"), after Carver began a relationship with a prostitute named Lillie Davis, whom he had met while at Fannie Porter's brothel in San Antonio, TX. As the gang robbed trains, Bullion supported them by selling stolen goods and making connections that could give the gang steady supplies and horses.

By 1901, Laura was again involved romantically with Carver, as well as occasional involvement with other members of the gang. When Carver was killed by lawmen, on April 1, 1901, Bullion became involved romantically with Kilpatrick again, and the two fled to Knoxville, Tennessee. Della Moore and Kid Curry met up with them there, and the four stayed together for a number of months, until in October, when Della Moore was arrested for passing money linked to one of the gangs robberies.

Mugshot, 1901
On November 6, 1901, Laura was arrested on federal charges for "forgery of signatures to banknotes" at the Laclede Hotel in St. Louis. She had $8,500 worth of robbed banknotes in her possession, stolen in the Great Northern train robbery. In an arrest report dated November 6, 1901, her name is filed as "Della Rose" and her aliases are stated to be "Clara Hays" and "Laura Casey & [Laura] Bullion". The arrest report lists her profession as prostitute.
According to a New York Times article, she was "masquerading as Mrs. Nellie Rose" at the time of her arrest. The same article also mentions a suspicion that Laura Bullion, "disguised as a boy", might have taken part in a train robbery in Montana. The paper cites Chief of Detectives Desmond: "I wouldn’t think helping to hold up a train was too much for her. She is cool, shows absolutely no fear, and in male attire would readily pass for a boy. She has a masculine face, and that would give her assurance in her disguise."
On December 12 1901, Kilpatrick was arrested. Curry escaped capture on December 13, 1901, killing two Knoxville policemen in the process. Bullion and Kilpatrick were both convicted of robbery, with Bullion being sentenced to five years in prison, and Kilpatrick receiving a twenty year sentence. She spent three and a half years before being released in 1905. Kilpatrick was not released from prison until 1911.
Kilpatrick stayed in contact with Laura through letters. By the time of his release from prison in 1911, she had become involved with at least four other men, but they never reconnected nor did they ever see one another again. Kilpatrick was killed robbing a train on March 13, 1912. By that time, all the members of the Wild Bunch gang were either in prison, dead or had served a prison sentence and moved on to other things in their lives.
In 1918, she moved to Memphis, where she spent the remainder of her life working as a householder and seamstress, later as a drapery maker, dress maker and interior designer. Claiming to be the war widow of Maurice Lincoln, she lived in Memphis for 43 years under the assumed names of "Freda Lincoln", "Freda Bullion Lincoln" or "Mrs. Maurice Lincoln".
According to her obituary, Laura died of heart disease at the Shelby County Hospital at 6:45 p.m. on December 2, 1961. Her death certificate gives October 4, 1887 as her birthday, making her about ten years younger than she was. On her grave marker at the Memorial Park Cemetery in Memphis, her name is inscribed as "Freda Bullion Lincoln" and "Laura Bullion", her birth name. The grave marker has a decoration of embossed rose vines along the edges. The decoration and her epitaph, The Thorny Rose, refer to Bullion's nickname in the Wild Bunch.
It is unknown who chose the decoration or the epitaph for her grave marker. Laura was the last surviving member of the Wild Bunch gang.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting this and sharing, it was very informative.