Rob Koelling, professor of English and chairperson of Humanities Division at Northwest College in Powell, and Rowene Weems, director/curator of Homesteader Museum in Powell, will discuss Durand at the Powell Branch Library. The presentation will …
You can gain a little insight into local 1930s outlaw Earl Durand Thursday evening.
Rob Koelling, professor of English and chairperson of Humanities Division at Northwest College in Powell, and Rowene Weems, director/curator of Homesteader Museum in Powell, will discuss Durand at the Powell Branch Library. The presentation will start at 7 p.m.
In 1939, Durand, 26, shot and killed four men and later died trying to stick up a Powell bank.
It started when the Powell resident was arrested for poaching elk. Durand later escaped from the Park County Jail in Cody, then killed Powell Town Marshal Chuck Lewis and Deputy Sheriff D.M. Baker. A few days later, Durand killed Arthur Argento of Meeteetse and Orville Linaberry of Cody.
Then, after Durand held up the First National Bank in Powell, bank teller Johnny Gawthrop was killed accidentally by a mob surrounding the bank while trying to shoot Durand. The outlaw, wounded in the melee, finally took his own life.
Nearly 75 years after his death, pro and con camps persist on Durand, with some seeing him as a Robin Hood-like character and others considering him nothing more than a cold-blooded killer and a scofflaw.
“It hasn’t changed,” Weems said. “The town is still divided.”
Durand was said to wear a beard and long hair and was described by some as a bit of a misfit. Durand may have been caught up in the romantic perception of the outlaw lifestyle.
Before his jailbreak and the murders, Durand watched a Jesse James film at the Teton Theater in Powell three times. He also devoured western pulp novels, Koelling said.
For poaching elk, he was fined $100 and sentenced to six months in jail. While he was locked up, Undersheriff Noah Riley may have teased Durand, telling him he would be behind bars for 20 years for a felony charge of killing a domestic cow, Koelling said.
Durand broke out of jail and hijacked Riley’s car, forcing the undersheriff to drive. From there, the manhunt and subsequent killings ensued.
Many still believe Durand was pushed and prodded to take the actions he did, Koelling said.
Times were tough in Powell and across the country during the Great Depression. Durand was praised for providing poached meat to his neighbors.
“People genuinely thought he was a nice guy,” Koelling said.
But how would people feel if they were one of his victims’ family members, Weems asked.
“I think it depends on how you knew him,” Koelling said.
If they would have just left him alone, things would not have turned so violent, some Durand supporters said, both then and now. But, how much unlawful behavior will society permit?
“He didn’t have to kill,” Koelling said.
With Adolf Hitler and his minions ramping up to enslave Europe, and bank robbers such as John Dillinger exploding like gunpowder in newspapers, Durand took a shot at the spotlight. Newspapers sensationalized Durand’s spree, and bucolic Powell became a focal point for reporters, even if those big city newspaper scribblers needed a lesson in geography.
The Denver Post dubbed Durand the “Tarzan of the Tetons,” while the Powell Tribune reported far more accurately, Koelling said.
When Durand was on the lam and visited the Herf Graham farm, he was quoted as saying: “Don’t suppose I’ll see you again, so goodbye and good luck.”
During the botched bank holdup, Durand was wounded and turned his gun on himself. It ended his life, but his legend was just starting to grow.
The Homesteader’s role is to preserve the physical history of Durand with objectivity. “We are not trying to glorify or enhance the story in any way,” Weems said.
Durand did help people, she said, and their sympathy for his plight may have been fostered by their belief of government micromanagement, not unlike some people’s opinions today.
“A lot of people seemed to genuinely like him,” Koelling said.
Friends of the Powell Branch Library will host the free event and furnish refreshments.