Outlaw “News” Carver may have died for another man’s crime

April 2, 1901

On this day, the outlaw, William “News” Carver, was killed by lawman E.S. Briant and his deputies. While most Wild West bad guys got gunned down in a saloon brawl, a jail break or a bawdy house, Carver was ambushed at Jack Owen’s Bakery in Sonora, Texas.

Said to be a superior marksman, Carver’s criminal career was mostly unremarkable, becoming famous for riding with more famous outlaws. He apparently enjoyed the notoriety, earning himself the nickname “News” because he liked seeing his name in the papers.

It was tail end of the outlaw era. Born in Coryell County, Texas, in 1866, he was an affable cow hand in Tom Green County before breaking bad and marrying into a quasi-crime family. His wife, Viana (also spelled Vianna) Byler was an aunt to Laura Bullion, an associate of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Widowed less than six months after the wedding, Carver didn’t spend a lot of time in mourning. He quickly became romantically involved with Josie Bassett, another outlaw consort along with her sister, Ann. By 1896, he was riding with the Black Jack Ketchum’s gang suspected in a string of robberies in New Mexico. It was through Ketchum (left) he met Ben “The Tall Texan” Kilpatrick, a member of the notorious Wild Bunch.

After a botched train robbery in New Mexico, he fled to Robbers Roost in southeastern Utah, a favorite hideout of Cassidy and company. It was 1900 and they were pulling off some profitable train robberies, grabbing more than $30,000 in a holdup near Tipton, Wyoming and $65,000 from Great Northern near Wagner, Montana.

Carver’s rap sheet may have been shorter than his dance card, however. Following the Josie Bassett relationship, he struck up a romance with his late wife’s niece, Laura Bullion (right).

After fleeing to Texas following the Great Northern holdup, he met Lillie Davis, a working girl in Fannie Porter’s San Antonio brothel. Bullion, not happy being cast aside, took up with Carver’s friend, Ben Kilpatrick. But the affair with Lillie Davis didn’t last. Within a year Carver and Bullion were reunited.

It’s unclear how Carver got caught up in the incident that led to his untimely death at just 33.  Suspected in the killing of Oliver Thornton, Thornton, a part-time teacher, lived not far from Kilpatrick’s family. Depending on which version you believe, Thornton reportedly recognized Carver and Kilpatrick and attempted a citizen’s arrest for the $1,000 reward or alternatively, attempted to shake down the pair for a share of the train loot. What’s known for sure – Thornton wound up dead.

Taking into account that the lawmen knew where to find Carver and Kilpatarick, it would appear Thorton, had in fact, turned them in. Carver died at the scene reportedly uttering with his last gasp, “Die game, boys.”

Kilpatrick, (right) however, lived to talk, providing his dead friend with the classic “some other dude did it” defense. And he may have been telling the truth. It was later believed that Harvey “Kid Curry” Logan, was the real killer.

Carver’s defenders cite as evidence that Kilpatrick had returned to the family home in Sonora, accompanied by two men introduced around town as Bob McDonald and Charles Walker. The McDonald character’s appearance was apparently unremarkable. But Walker was described as having a thick brown mustache, making a case to some that Walker was actually Kid Curry (right), putting him in the vicinity of the crime.

“News” Carver made it into the papers one last time in the obituaries but his tombstone is said to be blank except for the date of his death.  An old friend and Sonora native, George Hamilton, was reportedly reluctant to have the hometown folks know he’d been best friends with an outlaw.

In addition to the lingering “who killed Oliver Thornton” question, historians are left to ponder whether “News” Carver’s serial romances helped bring down the Wild Bunch.  It was rumored that the jilted Lillie Davis claimed she and Carver were married and, in a vengeful moment, gave detectives damning evidence against Butch, Sundance and the boys. It was, in any case with or without ladies man Will Carver, the beginning of the end of the outlaw era.

The Old Ice House Ranch Museum at 206 South Water Avenue in Sonora, Texas, occupies a 1923 vintage ice house, former home to West Texas Utilities. In addition to a Will Carver exhibit, it features memorabilia, artifacts and information on early West Texas ranching, lawmen and outlaws, pioneers and Old Sonora.

The museum is open Wednesday through Friday,1 to 4, and Saturday, 10 to 4. Adult admission is $4 and children 12 and under are free. For more information go to www.old-ice-house-ranch-museum.com or call 325-387-3754.
© Text Only – 2018 – Headin’ West LLC – All photos – public domain or fair use.