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The Exploits of Clifton W. Ragan, AKA Pat Russell

Dr. Robert A. Pearce has shared some of his research concerning Clifton W. Ragan. Having been given a brief history of Clifton's exploits while touring the Winnemucca, Nevada cemetery I found Dr. Pearce's information of interest. I hope you enjoy it also.


Story of Cliff Ragan as Told by A.A. Brierly
Cliff's Wanted Poster
Gun Fight in Auberry Valley
Picture of Cliff
Group of interested people at grave site.

This is the story of Cliff Ragan as told by my grandfather who knew him. My grandfather was Inyo County Under Sheriff in 1914 when Cliff was arrested and sentenced to San Quentin for the third time. My grandfather wrote this story during the 1970's. In Pa's (what we called my grandfather) story on Cliff he mentions a saddle and bit he bought from Cliff. I still have both the bit and saddle. They are in amazing shape for their age. [Robert A. Pearce]

The Story of Cliff Ragan as Told by A.A. Brierly

The summer I was 14, in 1898, my father, mother, myself, and little sister Emily (she was 7) made a trip to Yosemite. We went by wagon as far as Mammoth, left our wagon there and then went horseback with a pack animal to Yosemite and out by Tuolumne Meadows, Bloody Canyon, Mono Lake and back to Mammoth, and then home by wagon.

Somewhere on that trip I heard first of Cliff Ragan. A train had been robbed somewhere in the San Joaquin Valley and Cliff Ragan was accused of the job. When I came to know him years later he said he never had anything to do with it, but at the time was working as a cowboy for T.B. Rickey between Black Rock and Long Valley.

But in 1898 he had served one term in San Quentin for robbing a Chinaman and I do not suppose he was a model young man when he got out so when a train was robbed, he did it or was supposed to have done it. Anyway they were after him.

I may have been near Fresno Flat or maybe Yosemite where I heard about it.

I heard no more about him until 1911 when he was working for Schabbell at the Fort (Fort Independence). Fred Schabbell had a beautiful saddle horse and a good one too. One morning the horse was gone and so was Cliff Ragan. When he took the horse -- of course he took it though no one ever saw him with the horse -- he did not ride off in the road where tracks might be seen, but rode off in a ditch. The horse was finally found out the other side of Tonopah where Ragan had disposed of him but Ragan was gone to parts unknown. Fred went on and got his horse but he told me the horse was never the same afterward. Ragan in a hurry to get away had ridden him too hard.

Charley Collins, Sheriff at the time, went to Nevada to get Ragan but never found him, but did hear a lot more about him. He went under several names, one being Pat Russell. Sheriff Lamb of Elko new him and told of once when on a stolen horse the officers shot at Ragan, hit the corner of his saddle blanket and killed the horse, but Ragan got away. Another time when the officers were after him he threw himself on the opposite side of the horse with one foot hooked over the cantle, he was shot in the heel but got away again. Another time he came to town with another cowboy to take in the sights. The other chap had a better horse than Ragan and when he went to get his horse it was gone and so was Ragan. He afterward sold the horse and skipped.

Collins came back without any Ragan. Sheriff Lamb told Collins that the proper way to deal with men like Ragan was to shoot him first and ask him to surrender afterward. Lamb was later shot while riding in a buggy and his assailant got away on horseback and was never caught.

And now we are getting back to where I knew Ragan. I was Under Sheriff at the time and Dan Nichols was constable in Lone Pine. Dan phoned from Oasis that he had had a run in with some horse thieves near there, had shot the horses from under two of the men but a third had got away, and wanted help. He had passed through Independence on the trail of these men and could have told then a little of what was up, but I think he wanted to build up a reputation for himself and only called when the job got too big for him.

I called up Les Horton in Bishop (Collins was gone) and told him what was up and made arrangements for him to meet me in Big Pine and we would go to where Dan was.

I do not remember who drove the car but Les and I met in Big Pine. Another chap wanted to go with us but his wife would not let him. She did not want a husband with a possible chance of getting a bullet in his belly. So Les and I went up what was then known as the Toll Road (now known as Westguard Pass). Scott Broder who built the toll road in 1873 was keeping the road open and charging toll for traveling it. But when he found out we were after horse thieves he would not charge anything, for he had lived in a day when horse thieves, when caught, were strung up to the nearest tree, and still believed they should be caught.

We passed through Deep Springs Valley and Les showed me where he and Collins had headed off a man who had stolen a horse in Bishop. But the man saw them, whirled his horse and was making a getaway until the horse bumped into a boulder, threw the man off and what happened to him nobody ever knew. The horse was recovered but the man was never found. Les was of the opinion that he was hurt when thrown from the horse and died some place where he was never found.

We reached Oasis and found Dan waiting for us. He had Ed Ober a dead shot with a rifle and when in the right mood somewhat of a gun man, with him, and two prisoners. Ed had shot the horses from under these two, but Ragan had played smart and managed to get the packhorse between him and Ober and then spurred his horse to a run and got away.

It was getting night and we had to make arrangements for Dan and Ed to get horses to follow Ragan the next day, so we stayed all night.

There was no jail but a two-story cabin and we put the two prisoners in there and to make assurance doubly sure I went in with them while Les and Dan guarded outside. I'll admit I did not exactly enjoy going in with the two to sleep there when I did not know what they might try and I do not think I slept much.

Morning finally arrived and Dan and Ed Ober were fitted out with horses to follow Ragan. Les and I took the two captives and came home.

When we arrived in Big Pine the whole town was out to see us and the "desperados."

We arrived in Independence in short order and locked our two prisoners up. Of course word had been sent to Tonopah to look out for Ragan and we found out our two men were wanted there for something or other. One of them had a scar clear across his belly where he had been knifed in some affray. We had not been home long when word arrived that Ragan had been caught. The officer over there when looking for him saw a campfire smoke and found Ragan by the campfire and got up to him before Ragan knew he was even there. Ragan was brought to Independence and out other two turned over to the Nevada Officers.

If Ragan and his two pals had not broken into a cabin in Olancha and Dan Nichol on their trail, Inyo County would never have know a thing about them. They had been in Bakersfield, got a ride to South Fork Valley where Smith had cattle and horses. They caught what horses they needed by spreading hay on the ground with a big loop around the hay and when a horse walked into the loop they pulled up and caught him by the fore feet. They had saddles with them (I suppose stolen too but nobody ever asked).

Ragan while in jail kept his head covered up whenever visitors were around, except for mama. She knew some of his folks and he did hide from her.

When taken into Court he entered a plea of guilty and received rather a light sentence to San Quentin. I do not remember the exact term but coming down the stairs from the Courtroom he was a very happy man saying, "I was sure I'd get 25 years." He had been a model prisoner and Collins had put in a good word for him with the Judge, calling his attention to the fact that in all Ragan's wild career he had never harmed any man.

And so he left for his third term in San Quentin. I do not remember the details of why he had been sent the second time but do know it was a horse-stealing affair.

I had expressed a willingness to buy his saddle and bridle and when he priced the whole outfit at $25.00 I bought it.

I heard no more about him until sometime after 1918 when I had cattle at Palmetto (Westgard Pass Area). Tom Webb and I were gathering cattle in Fish Lake Valley and who should I run into but Cliff Ragan punching cows for some Nevada outfit. When riding along one day I said to him "you ought to know this saddle." He took a look and of course knew it and then recognized me and became quite talkative. Behind some cattle one day he said, "If I had all the cattle I have stolen I'd be a millionaire." He told me too of being a stage driver in Oregon, where he was wanted but did not say what for and how the Sheriff at the end of his run one time asked him to have a drink in the saloon, and of how he became suspicious when they lined up at the bar and a deputy sheriff got on the other side of him. After the drink was downed and socialibilities were exchanged the Sheriff said to him, "I think you had better come across the street with us, there are some questions I'd like to ask you." So across the street he went with the Sheriff and deputy. They question him and stripped him for a thorough examination but someway failed to notice the crippled heel where he had been shot, and finally turned him loose with the remark, "I guess you are not the right man." Ragan to show he was not scared invited the Sheriff and deputy back to the saloon to have a drink on him. When that was over with he said, "You can bet I lost no time in getting out of that town." I suppose he stole a horse to get away on though he did not say so.

He evidently had his eye on his old saddle and the horse I was riding for he asked all kinds of questions about the horse but Webb was just as smart and he told how little account the horse was.

The next I heard of him he had stolen a horse in Nevada but didn't get very far as they caught him in Las Vegas and back to prison he went, this time to Carson.

I am a little hazy as to just what happened to him later but do know that he was sent back to Carson for a second time for stealing some alfalfa seed. He evidently was slipping for in his horse stealing days he would not have taken a second look at alfalfa seed.

He was one man that I do not believe wanted to be anything more than what he was, it was the thrill of stealing and the excitement of getting away that appealed to him. He said, "You cannot imagine how exciting it is to be riding your horse at a dead run with someone taking a shot at you whenever there is an opening." He did say though that the sound of the San Quentin doors closing behind him was a most depressing sound. But San Quentin itself was a "poor man's paradise" if it wasn't that the doors were locked, hot and cold running water all the time, movies and ball games on Sunday. And of course he was smart enough to be a fine prisoner so he became a trustee. He was not locked up at night, his job being to lock whole row of cells. He and the other trustees had a good time playing poker. He said many of the prisoners when first locked up stayed in their cells for days before coming out at all.

I stopped in the Carson Prison but Ragan was gone, he had made his getaway while on parole. They knew where he was, in Lewiston, Idaho, but had not gone after him.

And that is about all I know of Cliff Ragan who stole horses for fun and excitement but never hurt anybody.

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