January 17, 1874
Hot Springs, Arkansas
|Died||May 1, 1964
Jensen, Uintah County, Utah
|Residence||Jensen, Uintah County, Utah|
|Other names||Josie Bassett Morris|
Josie Bassett (January 17, 1874 – 1964) was a female rancher. She and her sister "Queen" Ann Bassett are known for their love affairs and associations with well-known outlaws, particularly Butch Cassidy's Wild Bunch.
Josie Bassett was born the first of two girls, to Herb Bassett and Elizabeth Chamberlain Bassett, in Arkansas on January 17, 1874. When she was still a young girl, her parents moved to a ranch spanning the tri-state borders of Utah, Wyoming and Colorado. She and her sister were taught to rope, ride, and shoot at a young age. Both girls were sent to prominent boarding schools in their youth, but both chose to return to the ranching life by their teen years.
Herb Bassett was well known to many of the famous outlaws of the day, as he did business with them often, supplying them with beef and fresh horses. Among those who visited the Bassett ranch were "Black Jack" Ketchum, Butch Cassidy, Elzy Lay, Kid Curry, Will "News" Carver and Ben Kilpatrick. With these notable outlaws coming often to the ranch, both Ann and Josie were first exposed to outlaws.
Association with outlaws
Josie and Ann were extremely good looking young women, and both had a wild side. By 1893, Ann Bassett was involved romantically with Butch Cassidy, and Josie was involved with Elzy Lay, Cassidy's closest friend. When Cassidy was sent away to prison for eighteen months, starting in 1894, Ann became involved in a relationship with Ben Kilpatrick. By the time Cassidy was released, Will "News" Carver had become involved with Josie, who ended their relationship when Carver became involved with female outlaw Laura Bullion. Josie in turn became involved with Cassidy for a time, until Cassidy again became involved with Ann.
That was the complicated circle of relationships that developed between the Bassett girls and Cassidy's Wild Bunch gang. Despite the seemingly constant changes in romantic companions by both the Bassett girls and the gang members, there is no indication that any animosity ever resulted from it.
Josie Bassett was reportedly one of only five women who were ever allowed into the outlaw hideout called "Robbers Roost", located in the rough Utah terrain, the others being her sister Ann, the Sundance Kid's girlfriend Etta Place, Elzy Lay's wife Maude Davis, and Will "News" Carver's girl, Laura Bullion.
Those outlaw relationships, as well as the Bassett ranch supplying beef and horses to the gang, assisted the sisters in their time of need. In 1896, several powerful and wealthy cattlemen approached the Bassetts to sell their ranch. When the sisters refused, the cattlemen's association began hiring cowboys to harass the sisters, stampeding their cattle and rustling. The sisters in turn began to rustle cattle from the cattlemen.
Although the cattlemen's association dispatched cowboys to harass the sisters and intimidate them into selling, the cowboys rarely followed through with the acts for fear of retribution from the outlaws with whom the sisters were known to associate. One legend indicates that Kid Curry, easily the most feared of the Wild Bunch gang, approached several of the cowboys known to work for the cattlemen and warned them to leave the Bassetts alone. That story cannot be confirmed, but what is certain is that by 1899, the sisters were receiving very little pressure to sell.
After the outlaw days
As time passed, the Wild Bunch gang eventually faded. By 1904, most of the gang members closest to the Bassett girls had either been killed or captured. Josie's former lover, Wild Bunch gang member Elzy Lay, reportedly visited Ann and Josie at the ranch shortly after his release from prison in 1906, before he moved on California where he lived out the remainder of his life as a respectable businessman. Although he is reported to have been killed in Bolivia, Josie claimed that Butch Cassidy visited her in 1930 and lived in Utah until the late 1940s.
Josie Bassett lived most of her life on her father's property, operating the ranch and choosing a mostly outdoor life, with camping, fishing and hunting being her primary hobbies. She married five times over the course of her lifetime. She divorced four of her husbands, allegedly running one off with a frying pan. A fifth husband died, reportedly of alcoholism, but rumors persist that Josie poisoned him. With one husband, Carl McKnight, Bassett had two sons, Crawford McKnight and Herbert "Chick" McKnight.
During the Great Depression, she supplied food to others in the area, particularly with supplies of beef. She made her own soap, sewed her own clothing, and became known for her prowess at hunting deer, which she often did not only for her own family but to help feed less fortunate neighbors. In one instance, a Game Warden stopped by her cabin announcing that he was there to arrest her for poaching. She confessed that she had just killed a deer and took him to the carcass. The game warden was joking with her and took no action.
During the Prohibition years, Josie made and sold bootlegged whiskey but she was never arrested. Years after Prohibition, she continued to make her own brandy and whiskey until she was finally warned that revenue agents were looking for her still and her son threatened to break it up.
In 1936, rancher and former adversary Jim Robinson accused her of butchering his cattle and selling it in town. Six other ranchers joined in on the accusations. Hides from the carcasses were found on her property. Bassett was arrested. She claimed the evidence was planted. Several neighbors supplied her with bail money until her trial. She was tried twice, each ending in a hung jury. After the second trial, the local prosecutor dropped the charges.
In 1945, she fell victim to a land scheme and lost most of her land. However, she lived frugally in her cabin and supported herself well into her 80s. In later life, she became an eccentric, and talked often with neighbors about the wild days and her associations with outlaws.
In 1963, she fell when a horse knocked her down, breaking her hip. She died a few months later at the age of 90. She was the last remaining associate of the Wild Bunch gang, and the last direct source of information about its members, their personalities, traits and demeanors.