For people gathering in Kingman, Arizona, a connection to an outlaw gang is almost a badge of honor. Descendants of outlaws including George Tap Duncan, Tom “Black Jack” Ketchum and others compared history and family tales at the Diamond Bar Ranch. George Knapp has the story. Originally aired on KLAS TV on May 19, 2017.
If any ghost riders in the sky needed an excuse to converge, the Duncan family reunion at the Diamond Bar Ranch was it.
Far flung relatives from all over the country gathered over three days in May 2017 at the ranch and in nearby Kingman to swap stories, learn history and meet kin they never knew they had. Until he read a newspaper article about the reunion, Lynn Morphew had no idea he was related to family patriarch George Tap Duncan.
“And then I started reading about Tap Duncan, and finding out the history,” Morphew said. “And, uh, a little overwhelmed, I must admit. Pretty exciting.”
Cowboy rancher Tap Duncan built the Diamond Bar spread into the largest ranch in the country — 1.4 million acres at one point. He was a pillar of the community in Kingman, where people tended to overlook his colorful past.
“And you can write this down, guys. Nothing changes more than the past.” So says Western historian Bob Boze Bell, who not only writes about the Duncan clan, he’s related. He says family members are often the last to know about outlaw skeletons.
“Think about it. Did your dad ever sit you down and go, ‘Well, we had these gals and we were doing all this illegal stuff, and then we killed a guy.’ Your dad’s not going to tell you that story,” Bell said.
“You know, there’s an old saying,” he said. “A typical Westerner will punch you in the mouth if you call his dad a crook. But he’ll preen a little bit by telling you that his grandpa was an outlaw.”
The Duncan clan came from San Saba, Texas, once the edge of the frontier. Their neighbors and eventual kin were the Ketchums, as in Tom “Black Jack” Ketchum, the infamous outlaw who history books tell us met his fate at the end of a rope, which by the way is the same fate that befell Tap Duncan’s brother, Dick.
“Now, the Duncans are related by marriage to the Jesse James family. They are related several times over to the Ketchum family and the Ketchum family they were a big part of the Hole in the Wall Gang.”
Hole in the Wall Gang as in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, one branch of the family married into the Parkers. That’s Butch Cassidy his real name. At times, family members gave sanctuary to outlaws on the run.
“Grandma Duncan, she’d put a flour sack of supplies together for them outlaws,” one speaker said.
Descendants today see the novelty — even fun — of having outlaws in the family. “Yeah. Alleged outlaws,” says Joe and Tom Ray, who is related to Tap Duncan.
Are there are elements of the family that still don’t want to acknowledge it?
“Yes.” Bob Lane’s grandmother told him a little about his great uncle Jack, a wild buckaroo who coincidentally was in South America at the same time as Butch and Sundance. “The only thing she would ever say or ever told anybody was that he died in South America, where he fell from a train. And he was in South America chasing diamonds she said, I mean, this was a story.