Receiving a death warrant by lead

by Jim Fish

Ozona—Folks in Sonora lay claim to the fact that their little town and sheriff’s office is responsible for having ended the nefarious career of the notorious outlaw, William (Will) Richard “News” Carver, member of the infamous “Hole in the Wall Gang.”

Born near Gatesville in Coryell County, Texas, on Sept. 12, 1868, Carver broke and trained horses on ranches south of San Angelo and west of Sonora as a young man, until the early-1890s. It was during this time he married seventeen-year-old Viana Byler on Feb. 9, 1892. The marriage was cut short after about six months, however, when she lost her baby and died from difficulties birthing the child. 

It is not clear why he turned outlaw but about this time he left the area, having joined forces with Viana’s fifteen-year-old niece, Laura Bullion (aka: The Thorny Rose) and began running with the Blackjack Ketchum gang led by Thomas Edward Ketchum. However, after a botched train robbery, Carver and Laura fled to Robber’s Roost in Utah where they both joined the "Hole-in-the-Wall Gang" with Butch Cassidy, Kid Curry, and the Sundance Kid to mention a few. Will earned the nickname “News” because he always liked to read the local newspapers after any of their robberies and other acts of crime. He received great satisfaction from seeing his and the others’ names in print.

On April 2, 1901, Will was back in Sonora buying supplies, accompanied by another member of the gang, Ben Kilpatrick. Both men were running from the law, suspects in a case where Oliver Thornton had been killed in a dispute over a hog at Paint Rock in Concho County. 

Unfortunately for the two outlaws, because of a brand-new invention called the telephone, the Sutton County Sheriff’s Office was alerted to the news of the incident. Carver was known by the sheriff’s office personnel and was subsequently spotted while buying supplies at Jack Owens' Bakery on the morning of the second.

Unfortunately, Ben made a sudden, fumbling motion after being challenged by Sheriff Elijah “Lige” Bryant and his deputies. Carver was mortally wounded in the ensuing gun battle. It is interesting to note that neither Will’s nor Ben’s revolver ever cleared their holsters. Carver later died on the Sutton County courthouse floor and Ben not only survived unharmed but was later cleared of any wrongdoing and lived to rob another day.

Of no help to Carver, he was cleared of any wrongdoing in the incident. Some say, he may not have killed that guy in Paint Rock, but he damn sure did enough in his lifetime to receive a death warrant by lead.

Carver's last words were, "die game." Curiously, he had repeated the phrase a few times earlier in an almost whispered tone during his final three hours of life that spring day in Sonora. Loosely defined, the phrase expresses his and the Wild Bunch’s commitment to remaining loyal to gang and maintaining a warrior’s spirit, even up to the moment of defeat. This could also explain why he would not give up the whereabouts of his fellow gangsters, the Tall Texan, Kid Curry, and the Sundance Kid to county officials. Harvey “Kid Curry” Logan was the person killed Oliver Thornton in the dispute at Paint Rock.