Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Deputy "RD" Westwood

Pictured here, my wife’s Nancy’s great grandfather, Deputy Sheriff Richard Dallin Westwood. “RD” as he was known in Moab, Utah, had been elected as the first sheriff of Grand County. Back then the county had no jail, so Sheriff Westwood would bring the prisoners to his home. The desperados were incarcerated in one room of the two room cabin, separated from him and his wife by a thin curtain in the doorway between the rooms. Mrs. Westwood provided the meals to the prisoners.

RD stepped down as sheriff but was often pressed back into service over the years when the county needed him. It was then on the fateful day of September 5th, 1929, RD was serving as a deputy under then Sheriff J. B. Skewes when he was killed – gunned down in a jail break by two escaped bank robbers.

This area of Utah was made famous after the release of the movie “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”, starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford. Butch and Sundance were real outlaws and passed through Grand County after their heists to take refuge in a secluded fortress like area of red rock backcountry called Robbers Roost. The Butch Cassidy gang was more of a nuisance to the citizens of Grand County; rustling the occasional cow for food or stealing a fresh horse should they encounter one. For the most part, then Sheriff Westwood had little contact with the famous outlaws.

Still the Utah backcountry was a haven for men on the lam. Such was the case in 1929 when bank robbers R. H. Elliott and Dilbert Pfoutz wandered into the mercantile store on the main street of Moab. The two men handed the clerk a bag of coin asking if he could change it into bills for them. A second clerk, suspicious of the men, called the sheriff; Skewes and deputy Westwood arrived on the scene.

Lawmen Skewes and Westwood had been alerted by Mesa County Colorado Sheriff that a bank had been robbed in Grand Junction. Westwood checked out the men’s Chevrolet parked in the street; it was full of camping gear and it had Colorado plates.

Back in the mercantile Sheriff Skewes asked the men if they were carrying any guns. No, the two men replied. But their suspicions aroused, Skewes had Westwood take the two back to the new jail and hold the men until deputies could arrive from Grand Junction. RD, now age 66, was put in charge of watching the prisoners while Sheriff Skewes went home to eat dinner. Within a half hour, the sheriff received a frantic call from the jail.

Skewes arrived at the jail and broke through the throng of people huddled around the door. There on the floor in a pool of blood lay deputy Richard Dallin Westwood, two bullet holes in his shoulder, one in his left side and one in his arm.

The desperados had hidden a stolen gun in their pants. Once they were alone in the jail with RD, as he opened the cell to give the men their dinner, they murdered him with the hidden gun, bolted for the door and ran for the Colorado River hoping to find a boat in which to make their escape.

As dark was falling a posse was assembled to ride out at dawn to look for the killers. The two had split up, heading in different direction. But cold, wet and hungry, and fearing they would be shot by the angry posse, the men surrendered after being found some miles down river.

Fearing another escape attempt, the men were lodged in the more secure Carbon County jail in Price, Utah. The men eventually were tried and convicted of murder and given long prison sentences. One of the men died in prison, the other was eventually released on parole.

Deputy Richard Dallin Westwood is memorialized by the Utah Law Enforcement Memorial, in the “Fallen” section. Nancy’s father was 5 years old when his grandfather was shot and killed in the jailbreak. He says he can still remember the funeral.

This article was written with the help of remembrances of Nancy's father, Melvin Westwood about his grandfather and from a photocopy from an old "Startling Detective" magazine article, date of publication unknown.

16 comments:

DJan said...

That is a great remembrance. I wonder if I had anybody in law enforcement on either side of my family. Not likely, but maybe on the other side of the law. Good story...

Paul said...

R.I.P..

Rain said...

Interesting story and what a face on Deputy Westwood. That is the face we always imagine of the hero and once in awhile it really is the face.

Sightings said...

Great story. Obviously, you married into a good family!

alwaysinthebackrow said...

What a fun family history your wife has. Did she know about this earlier? It is great that you are getting all of this while your father-in-law is still with you.

Robert the Skeptic said...

DJan Now MY family... well that story is coming.

Rain He does have that wild west look, doesn't he.

Sightings There are some amazing stories in my wife's family. This is just one of them.

BackRow Oh yes, Nancy has known about her great grandfather since she was a little girl. Her parents are really good about recording the family history. She has some interesting stories.

Paul said...

My step father was a Deputy Sheriff in Ft. Bend County Texas...A fine man ...I respect cops...They have a difficult job...

Cognitive Dissenter said...

Moab and the surrounding area is some tough but beautiful country. I can only imagine what it was like nearly a century ago. What a legacy Westwood leaves. His senseless death must have turned that little town upside down with grief and anger.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Paul They do... though my wife was a Child Protective Services worker. On two occasions cops told her they couldn't do her job.

Dissenter Indeed, rough country Moab... an island of Baptists in a sea of Mormons.

Dawn @Lighten Up! said...

Fantastic storytelling! And kudos to you for telling the tales of your wife's family. Really enjoyed this.

Nance said...

Sounds like the kernel of a film on the "real" wild west, Robert! R.D. looked like a big fella, which probably made him ideal for his job. What a long, long way keeping the peace has come...a curtain hung in the door? Wow.

KleinsteMotte said...

That is some fine article. To date we are still struggling with good verses evil. and bank robberies.

Marylinn Kelly said...

The juxtaposing of history - fascination and tragedy - family remembrances and public events. To have such a story, in all its detail, is a legacy for future generations. Holding on to the stories matters; life is, in great part, about texture. There were 'lawmen' on both sides of my family. One a hero of WWI, law student, honorable; the other straight out of L.A. CONFIDENTIAL. Thanks for sharing this.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Dawn She has lots of interesting stories from her family history. Those are in the works.

Nance Can you imagine such security as a curtain in today's criminal element? Even outlaws had some ethics back then.

Kleinstemotte Today most bank robberies are tied to drug addicts trying to get quick money for a quick fix.

Marylinn There are some shady denizens in my family history as well, I hope to tell those stories in the future.

Midlife Jobhunter said...

Interesting story. Can't imagine having to share my home with the prisoners. The wild, wild west stayed wild for quite some time.

Kathy said...

Thank you, Bob, for the great article.