Outlaw mountain men, extremists roam the Rockies

Fri Mar 16, 2012 1:14pm EDT
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By Laura Zuckerman

SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) - One is a loner who has eluded capture on Utah's rugged Cedar Mountain for five years. Another is hiding out in the mountain forests of western Montana, wanted for attempted murder.

They are extreme versions of the self-reliant, independent-thinking frontiersmen who have long roamed the American West.

From wanted criminals to the more eccentric "Phantom Pooper" or "Dugout Dick," a wide range of outlaws and drifters live off the land in the rugged Rocky Mountains, folk heroes to the militia movement and a source of chagrin for law enforcement.

Among the more storied is Troy James Knapp, 44, a loner wanted for burglaries of resort cabins near Zion National Park in Utah. In his five years in the wild, he has lived off land so rugged the average visitor stocks his four-wheel drive with emergency supplies.

Legend about Knapp's uncanny outdoor skills and hardiness has grown along with the thefts he is accused of committing - frequently of firearms - and the threats he has made against a local sheriff in the forested high country of southern Utah called Cedar Mountain.

The snowshoe-clad survivalist has out-maneuvered authorities in manhunts, one as recently as last month when a reported sighting of a rifle-toting figure sent police in camouflage and bullet-proof vests pouring into the woods on foot and by air.

Knapp is one of a number of fugitives thought to be holed up in the vast back country of the Rocky Mountains, a region where self-sufficiency is almost a religion and separatist and militia movements have found fertile ground.

The forbidding mountainscape has given rise to characters such as 19th century trapper and explorer Kit Carson, and has acted as a magnet for modern-day mountain men and outlaws such as Claude Dallas.   Continued...

Wild horses run down a ridge n the Conger Mountains near Border in Utah, September 8, 2010. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart