Otto Chenoweth was born to a wealthy Massachusetts family, but the lure of the Wild West brought him to Wyoming in the 1880s, where he found friendship among cattle rustlers and horse thieves.
After committing numerous robberies in Wyoming, Montana, and the Dakotas, in 1901 Otto was arrested in southwest North Dakota with a trainload of stolen horses in his possession. Having grown up a cultured young man back East, Otto’s pleasant demeanor and fine manners made him a welcome guest at the jail in Medora, where his kindly disposition earned him the trust of the Sheriff.
On this date in 1902, two months after his arrest, the Sheriff found Otto’s cell empty. All that was left was a friendly letter, bidding good tidings to those who had been kind to Otto during his internment. Otto’s letter said he objected to being in jail, and that he had to leave, and if he stole a horse during his escape he would return it in due time. Otto took his crime spree west of the Rockies, making another jailbreak in Oregon, but he was eventually captured in Wyoming.
While being held at a ranch house by the Sheriff, Otto made another escape. The Sheriff let Otto to go to the kitchen for a glass of water, but he kept right on through the house, escaping through a parlor where a dance was being held. The Sheriff was only a few steps behind when he, too, barged through the dance, gun drawn, in pursuit of Otto. The horse thief made it a few hundred yards before the Sheriff caught him. Upon returning to the ranch, Otto apologized to the gentlemen and ladies in the parlor for disrupting their dance, as well as the Sheriff’s rudeness in drawing his revolver in the house.
Otto was then returned to Medora for trial without incident. Otto’s mother, Mary Chenoweth, had been traveling the western plains trying to find her son to bring him home. Mary testified at Otto’s trial that her son was insane, and rather than being punished for stealing horses Otto was sent to the state hospital in Jamestown. In the end, Mrs. Chenoweth made arrangements to have Otto moved back to a private sanitarium in Massachusetts, until he could be cured of his desire to steal horses.
This Dakota Datebook written by Derek Dahlsad.
“Local Notes”, Winnipeg Free Press, 2/4/1902
“Cheneworth Regrets”, Bismarck Daily Tribune, 1/17/1902
“Hole-in-the-Wall Gang and Other Bad Men”, http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~wytttp/natrona/history/chapter22.htm, retrieved 12/21/2013
“Chenoweth Badly Wanted”, The Anaconda (MT) Standard, 4/20/1906
“She Thinks Outlaw Son Insane,” The Indianapolis Sun, 8/11/1902.
“A Look Back in Time”, Daniel Sandoval, Casper (WY) Star Tribune, http://trib.com/news/local/a-look-back-in-time-animals-share-their-world/article_8c5e8bed-eaea-5873-bf44-cb3ddd774ae2.html Retrieved 12/21/2013.