Robert Leroy Parker, aka Butch Cassidy, was born in Beaver, Utah to a Mormon family on April 13, 1866. Immediately following his birth, his father, Maximillian Parker, and his mother, Ann Cambell, established a home near the small town of Circleville. Robert had his first brush with the law at age 13 when he absconded with a pair of jeans from the local General Store. To be fair, he left a note promising to return and pay for them. The storekeeper was less than amused. Near age 16, the still impressionable Robert worked
for a cattleman, Mike Cassidy, and learned to shoot, and to rope and rustle cattle. In those early days it was commonplace for disreputable cattle ranchers to increase the size of their herds by stealing cattle from other ranchers. Mike Cassidy gave Robert on-the-job training to steal cattle and gradually Robert became Cassidy’s lead man. Eventually Robert and Cassidy understandably ran into trouble with the law and their neighbours. Their only alternative was to abandon the ranch. Robert assumed the last name Cassidy to reduce embarrassment to his family. Mike Cassidy was also a member of a gang of outlaws called the Hole in the Wall Gang and when Mike was forced into hiding for shooting a rancher, Robert Parker, now Butch Cassidy, assumed leadership of the gang. By age 21, in addition to stealing cattle, the gang began robbing local banks for quick money. Still scarce law enforcement became more interested in their activity.
Left to right, Standing: Bill Carver and Harvey Logan (‘Kid Curry’)
Seated: Harry Longbough (‘Sundance Kid’), Ben Kilpatrick (‘Tall Texan’)
and Robert Leroy Parker (‘Butch Cassidy’)
Through a variety of mistakes and close calls, Butch mastered the outlaw trade and for a long time managed to stay a step ahead of the law. He tried to go straight many times but he just was not very good at it. Inevitably he was arrested in 1893 for stealing a horse in Red Springs, Wyoming. Incredulously Butch received a full pardon for his time in prison by promising Governor William Richards he would not commit further crimes in Wyoming. Within his year and a half in prison he met and established what would be become a long-lasting relationship with Harry Longabaugh aka ‘the Sundance Kid’. After their release from prison the Hole in the Wall Gang was expanded to form The Wild Bunch, a group of specialists in many areas of crime who were knowledgeable, hardened, vicious criminals. They stole livestock, robbed banks, ran extortion rackets and began making notorious train robberies. In addition to the photo of the Wild Bunch there were many other members of the Wild Bunch including one woman outlaw, Laura Bullion, who rode with them for a while.
The Wild Bunch worked the media very effectively and in an aura of mystique and romance, there was often huge public support for many of their transgressions. This was at a time when southerners still considered the northern bankers as traitors for funding the Union during the Civil War. Butch Cassidy was known for his generosity, laughter and love of practical jokes. Many stories portray him as a generous, compassionate man who demonstrably discouraged the mistreatment of children. Butch Cassidy was never accused of killing anyone. Although there is no evidence Butch ever married, he was reportedly seldom without female companionship, even when he was in hiding.
On June 2, 1889 the Wild Bunch robbed the payroll from Union Pacific’s Overland Flyer. The guard, named Woodcock, in the train’s express car refused to open the door so they dynamited the car, with a bit more enthusiasm than necessary, leaving $30,000 floating through the air for several hundred yards. The guard was badly injured but Butch would not allow Woodcock to be killed because of the courage he had shown in standing up to them. Over time, many of the Wild Bunch were hunted down and killed or imprisoned but remaining gang members decided to rob the Union Pacific train at Tipton, Wyoming on August 29, 1900. Incredibly, the train’s guard was once again Woodcock but under threat of another explosion Butch convinced Woodcock to reluctantly open the door. This time the haul was $50,000, their career largest, and it was big money at that time. Union Pacific hired Joe Lefors, the best lawman of the day to track them down but he lost their trail in the rugged country at Hole in the Wall. The railroad companies consolidated resources to quell the frequent train robberies and hired Pinkerton’s Detective Agency to make an all-out assault and bring the Wild Bunch to justice, dead or alive. Charles Siringo who had joined Pinkertons in 1855, spent 4 years of his life pursuing Butch through Colorado, Utah and New Mexico but he never caught him. Substantial rewards were placed on their heads. The pressure for their capture became so focussed, the gang disbanded.
Butch and Sundance, probably well-financed from their latest robberies, needed to get away from the intense assault on their capture. Sundance married his companion, Etta Place, who he had met in Fort Worth, Texas at Fannie Porter’s brothel. After a luxurious stay in New York in 1901, the three of them moved on to Buenos Aires, Argentina under the names James Ryan and Mr. and Mrs. Harry Place. They built a cabin in the Cholila Valley and began ranching, living a peaceful life for the next 3 years. Eventually the need for further funding arose once again and on December 19, 1905 they robbed the bank at Villa Mercedes, Argentina. Several posses pursued and drove them into Chile where it is reported they split up for some time to reduce their notoriety. Etta Place returned to the United States and disappeared into obscurity.
Butch began working at the Concordia Tin Mines in Bolivia. Sundance returned and began working at the mine with Butch but soon they quit and robbed the Aramayo, Franke and Cia payroll near Tupiza, Bolivia. They made their escape on a stolen mule and holed up in San Vincente, Bolivia. Here they were recognized and informed upon. They were surrounded by troops from the Bolivian Army and a massive gun battle ensued that lasted all night. In the morning, the shooting stopped. When the army entered the room where Butch and Sundance had been trapped they found two bodies with gunshots to the head. Positive identification was made by a man who had never met either of them.
Was this the end of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid? Although there is little information about Sundance there are numerous testimonials, still spoken about today, that Butch Cassidy, alias of Robert Leroy Parker returned to Utah and lived under an assumed name until his natural death. What is fiction and what is fact? The person who identified the bodies of Butch and Sundance had ulterior motives to profit from making the identification and later rescinded it. Many long time Utah neighbours spoke of meetings and social gatherings attended by Butch long after South America.
Within a few days, I will be hiking the Butch Cassidy Trail in Red Canyon, Utah. For more than 25 years prior, I have driven past the trailhead muttering, ‘Gotta hike that trail one day’. It is within my grasp and I am excited about the opportunity.