A Dust-Up in Delta

September 7, 1893

It’s a stifling hot Thursday morning in Delta, Colorado. Shops are open for business; most folks are inside, trying to beat the heat, or staying in the shade if they have to be out and about.

At around 10:45 a.m., Bill McCarty and his son Fred are conducting business inside the Farmers and Merchants bank—with guns in hand.

Bill orders cashier Andrew Blachly and his assistant Harry Wolbert to raise their hands. Fred jumps up on the partition, aiming to get behind the counter and grab some cash. But Blachly, surprised, gives out a yelp and puts a hand under the counter. He may or may not be reaching for a gun.

Fred, noticeably uptight, fires twice at point-blank range. The first shot misses; the other hits Blachly in the head, killing him instantly. Fred jumps down, puts a handful of currency in a sack under his shirt and grabs a bag of coins.

The shots have alerted townsfolk, who are trying to get in the bank’s front door. The robbers take Wolbert as a hostage and head out the back door to an alley. Tom McCarty—Bill’s brother, Fred’s uncle—is holding the horses. He’s also got a gun on lawyer W.R. Robertson, who works in the bank building. As he mounts his horse, Fred drops the coin bag.

Given the clamor outside, the McCartys release the hostages and ride hell for leather north in the alley.

Hardware merchant Ray Simpson hears the commotion from across the street and runs outside with his Sharps rifle in hand. As he crosses Main Street, he sees the robbers about a block away, where the alley crosses 3rd Street. They spot him too, and shoot, as he aims at the last man and fires. The bullet blows the top of Bill’s head off; the body stays in the saddle for a few seconds before dropping lifeless in the dust.

Simpson reloads his single-shot rifle as he runs to Bill’s corpse. Bill’s son Fred is just a few feet from freedom, but he has stopped where the alley ends at 2nd Street to check on his father. Simpson takes aim at Fred. His second shot of the day—estimated at more than 100 yards—hits the youngster in the head; Fred is dead before he hits the ground.

Tom is luckier. He’s ahead of Fred, yelling at him to “come on,” when his nephew gets killed. Tom spurs his horse, just as Simpson takes a bead on him. This time, the sharpshooter misses his man but wounds the horse in the hind foot. The outlaw urges the animal on and gets out of town.

It’s the end of the McCarty Gang.

The Road to the Delta Debacle

Tom McCarty and his younger brother Bill had been on the wrong path since the early 1870s. They rustled cattle and graduated to bank holdups. Both spent brief periods behind bars.

In 1893, Tom, 43, and Bill, 41, were on the lam after robbing a bank in Roslyn, Washington, the previous September (with the help of Matt Warner, brother George McCarty and Bill’s 20-year-old son Fred). Traveling through western Colorado, they were low on money. A heist seemed in order.

They settled on robbing a bank in the farming community of Delta. Of the town’s two banks, they chose the Farmers and Merchants Bank, which had just received an infusion of cash from a sister institution in nearby Montrose.

On August 20, Tom, Bill and Fred set up camp 10 miles west of Delta. Leading up to the day of the robbery, they visited town, scouted the bank, looked over various escape routes and gathered local gossip.

On Wednesday, September 6, Tom and Bill rented a room at the Central House Hotel. The next morning, they met up with Fred at Steve Bailey’s Palace Sampling Room Saloon, located on Main Street, across from the bank. Some witnesses later said the men left drunk.

A bit after 10, a nervous Fred said it was time to go. The men got their horses and rode into the alley behind the bank. Tom, still mounted, stayed with the horses. Fred and Bill walked around to the front door and went in….

Aftermath: Odds & Ends

Since Fred McCarty dropped the coin bag, the Farmers and Merchants Bank did not lose money in the holdup.

***

Andrew Blachly, the murdered cashier, left behind a wife and their eight sons, ranging in age from one to 15. Amazingly, widow Blachly somehow put all of them through college.

***

Tom McCarty escaped, thanks to some extra horses he had left outside Delta. For the next six or seven years he hung out with members of the Wild Bunch.

By 1900, he returned back home, to northeastern Oregon, where he worked a variety of jobs, including county road supervisor, justice of the peace and elections official.

In 1917, Tom dropped off the map. His Oregon friends and acquaintances heard nothing more from him.

***

Bill and Fred McCarty’s bodies were laid out and photographed (pictures sold for 25 cents a piece). They were buried, supposedly in one box, in the Delta Cemetery’s Potter’s Field section. A memorial stone was placed at the grave site in 2001.

***

Across the country, newspapers celebrated Ray Simpson, the hero of Delta. But not long after, he started receiving threatening letters—from Tom McCarty. Ray tried to escape his tormentor by relocating to southern California, leaving no forwarding address. But his wife, unnerved by the threats, had a nervous breakdown and spent the rest of her life in an institution. Simpson died in 1940.

***

Recommended: In Pursuit of the McCartys by Jon and Donna  Skovlin, published by Reflections Publishing Company.

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