Wednesday, October 26, 2011


By Caroline Clemmons
Several weeks ago, fellow Sweetheart Ashley Kath-Bilsky invited me to a luncheon to hear Dr. Richard Selcer speak on the history of Fort Worth's Hell’s Half Acre. What a great program for any western history lover! We hated for him to finish speaking, but he had to sell a few books and get away in time to teach his next class. (Yes, of course I bought several books.) Our plan was that we would split the information and I would do Butch and Sundance today while she did Hell’s Half Acre on the 30th.

Seated: Harry Longabaugh (Sundance Kid),
Ben Kilpatrick (Tall Texan), and
Robert Leroy Parker (Butch Cassidy)
Back: Will Carver (News Carver) and
Harry Logan (Kid Curry--
the most feared Wild Bunch member)
You’ve all seen the above grouping, but do you know the story behind the photo? Legend has it that someone saw it in the photographer’s window and alerted authorities, who then had copies made and sent them across the west. After extensive research, Rick Selcer disputes this. His research proved the photographer’s studio was on the second floor. Said photographer did the mug shots for the Fort Worth police. When an officer brought a handcuffed prisoner up to the studio for a mug shot, the officer saw the photo on a shelf. He recognized the Wild Bunch and asked the photographer for a copy. That’s how it came to be distributed to other law enforcement professionals. Together with the other members of The Wild Bunch gang, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid performed the longest string of successful train and bank robberies in American history!

Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid each boasted they never killed a man, and the gang was best known for their lack of violence during the course of their robberies. However, Kid Curry, George Curry, Will Carver and other members of the gang killed numerous people during law enforcement's pursuit. Kid Curry killed nine lawmen and two civilians during shootouts. Elzy Lay killed two lawmen following a robbery, was wounded, arrested, and sentenced to life imprisonment. George Curry killed at least two lawmen, before being killed by Utah lawmen.

"Wanted Dead or Alive" posters were posted throughout the country, some with as much as a $30,000 reward for information leading to their capture or death. The gang began hiding out at Hole-in-the-Wall, located near Kaycee, Wyoming. From there they could strike and retreat, with little fear of capture, since it was situated on high ground with a view in all directions of the surrounding territory.

 Harry Alonzo Longabaugh was born in Mont Clare, Pennsylvania, in 1867, the son of Pennsylvania natives Josiah and Annie G. (nee Place) Longabaugh. He was the youngest of five children and his older siblings were Ellwood, Samanna, Emma and Harvey. At age 15, Longabaugh traveled westward on a covered wagon with his cousin George. In 1887, Longabaugh stole a gun, horse and saddle from a ranch in Sundance, Wyoming. While attempting to flee he was captured by authorities, convicted, and sentenced to 18 months in jail. During his jail time he adopted the nickname of the Sundance Kid. After his release, he went back to working as a ranch hand. I’ll save more about him and his common law wife, Etta Place, for another time. Butch deserves the spotlight today.

 Butch Cassidy, a so-called gentleman bandit, rivals Jesse James and Billy the Kid as the most celebrated outlaw of the American West. His specialty was robbing banks and trains.

Robert Leroy Parker, who later became known as Butch Cassidy, was born on April 13, 1866 to Ann (nee Gillies) and Maximillian Parker. The Parker and Gillies families were British Mormons who came to America and took up residence in Utah, where Ann and Maximillan met. At the age of 13, Butch began working at a ranch some miles from the Parker homestead. In his late teens, Butch found employment closer to the Parker home at a neighboring dairy farm. He met another hired hand, Mike Cassidy, who taught Butch cattle rustling and how to use guns. Butch was an excellent student and later adopted his mentor's surname when he chose his alias.

In June of 1884, 18-year-old Butch left his family home and traveled to Telluride, Colorado. He got into trouble with the law, but he successfully fought the charges. He wandered around Wyoming and Montana as a ranch hand before returning to Telluride in 1887. On the morning of June 24, 1889, Butch, Matt Warner, Tom McCarty, and another man, were seen in and around Telluride saloons watching people going in and out of the San Miguel Valley Bank. Later in the day, one of the four entered the bank and gave a teller a check he wanted cashed. The group quickly gathered up approximately $20,500 before escaping to Robbers’ Roost.

In 1894, Butch and a friend were arrested for stealing horses and possibly for running a protection racket on local ranchers in Lander, Wyoming. Butch was found guilty of horse stealing and sentenced to two years. He entered prison on July 15, 1894, at the age of 28.

After serving 18 months of his term, Butch requested an early release from the Wyoming governor. The governor agreed to release him if he would go straight. Butch said that rustling and robbery were too much a part of him, but promised that if he were released, he would not commit illegal activities in the state of Wyoming. The governor agreed and the early release was granted on January 19, 1896. How's that for justice at work?

Butch began gathering a gang of outlaws that would become The Wild Bunch.
Matt Varner

His former partner Matt Warner was in prison in Utah for murder, so Elzy Lay replaced Warner as Butch's second-in-command. Elzy was a native of Boston who had journeyed west and started a respectable life in Denver as a horse car driver. When a man was harassing one of his female passengers, Elzy threw the man from the horse car. He believed he had killed the man and Elzy fled Denver. Eventually he ended up among the outlaws.

Butch's criminal activities were interwoven with long stretches of legitimate work. Beginning in 1890, Butch purchased some land near Dubois and Blue Creek, Wyoming and set himself up as a rancher. Butch never prospered as a rancher and he soon returned to a life of crime. For a brief stint in Rock Springs, Wyoming, he worked as a butcher, which probably accounts for his nickname.

Butch was true to his word to the Wyoming governor. In August of 1896, Butch, Elzy and an another man traveled to Montpelier, Idaho, and waited until just before a bank’s closing time before they entered and approached a cashier. The bank was nearly deserted, so two of the men entered the bank with bandanas over the lower half of their faces. One kept watch at the door, while the other demanded all of the paper money the bank had. The robbery netted more than $7,000 in cash, gold, and silver. After the Montpelier robbery, Butch added Harry Longabaugh to his gang.

On July 11, 1899, near Folsom, New Mexico, a train was held up and, because one of the principal thieves was Elzy, Butch may have masterminded the robbery. Lawmen chased the gang and caught up with them a few days later. In the shootout that followed, Elzy killed a sheriff and was captured and sentenced to life imprisonment. Butch had lost his right-hand man again to a jail term. Harry Longabaugh stepped in as Butch’s new second in command.

Losing Elzy Lay so soon after Matt Warner’s imprisonment probably contributed to Butch’s decision to seek clemency and end his outlaw life. He consulted Utah Governor Heber Wells and Pacific Railroad to see if an agreement could be reached whereby the Union Pacific would not prosecute Butch for any of the train robberies. A rendezvous was arranged between Butch and Union Pacific officials, and Butch showed. The train officials were delayed by a storm and arrived one day late. Butch had already gone and left a note saying, "Tell the U.P. to go to hell."

Butch allegedly decided to pull a couple of jobs to collect enough money to live on comfortably for the rest of his life and get out of the robbery business. Butch, Sundance, and one other man traveled to Winnemucca, Nevada, on September 19, 1900, and relieved the First National Bank of $32,640. Around noon, three unmasked and armed men entered the bank and ordered a cashier to open the safe. This successful heist was followed up in July 1901 with a $65,000 train robbery near Wagner, Montana.

Following the Wagner heist, Butch, Sundance, and Sundance’s common-law wife Etta Place went east. The trio departed New York on a ship bound for Buenos Aires, Argentina on February 20, 1902.
In South America, the three bought a ranch and lived in peace for several years. No one knows the reason, but they went back into robbery and were joined by Etta. A Buenos Aires newspaper described this new addition to Butch’s gang as "an interesting woman...who wears male clothing with total correctness...a fine rider...handles...all classes of firearms."

In February of 1905, a group of men rode into Rio Gallegos, Argentina, and told residents that they were interested in buying land for raising livestock. After spending some time in the town setting up this fa├žade, the men entered the bank on February 13th and robbed it of $100,000. A posse chased after them but only found the abandoned horses and an empty box the bank had used to store its silver. Most scholars agree that Butch and Sundance did the actual robbing while Etta waited outside and held the horses.

In a similar robbery later that year, four men robbed a bank at Villa Mercedes of about 13,000 pesos. This time the outlaws encountered more difficulties than they had previously. One of the bank employees managed to get to a gun and fired at the bandits, but missed them entirely. A man across the street from the bank ran over when he heard the shots, was held captive by the thieves, managed to escape and return to his office, and later fired at the escaping outlaws but also missed hitting any of them.

After the Villa Mercedes robbery, Butch’s trail goes quiet, and it is unclear how the trio occupied their time or exactly where they went. Etta apparently left after the Villa Mercedes robbery.

So much conjecture and myth abounds of what happened on November 4, 1908 in a remote region of Bolivia, that it is impossible to separate fact from legend. But here's the gist: A man and a mule made the difficult journey along a remote trail in Bolivia, carrying a mining company payroll. Two English-speaking bandits held up the payroll and rode off. The two bandits went to a small village called San Vincente and spent their days and nights in a boisterous manner, drawing attention to themselves and behaving in ways that Butch and Sundance never had previously just after a heist. Three nights after the robbery, the two men were surrounded in the small house where they were staying.

See the resemblance?
 Robert Redford and
Paul Newman as
Butch and Sundance
Researcher Anne Meadows, after many years of investigative searching, unearthed the original report on the events of that night as written by the Bolivian authorities and printed it in DIGGING UP BUTCH AND SUNDANCE, her detailed chronicle of her investigation into the final days of the two bandits. The official document states that the village’s mayor, miscellaneous village officials, and two soldiers went to the house where the two bandits were holed up. One of the soldiers approached the house and was shot by someone from within. The soldier retreated to care for his injury, and a few more volleys of gunfire were exchanged, although no sounds came from within the house after midnight. As the sun came up the following morning, the men outside cautiously approached the house again and found both men inside dead. The money from the mining company payroll heist was also there and was later returned to the company. The bodies of the two outlaws were soon buried in a local graveyard. Later, some time after the hasty burials, someone put forth the theory that the pair was Butch and Sundance.

Almost immediately after this identification, doubt about the identities of the dead men spread, and rumors and sightings of Butch and/or Sundance became common. Matt Warner, Mormon Church officials, and his family claimed sightings of Butch after his death. In her biography of her brother, BUTCH CASSIDY: MY BROTHER, Butch’s sister Lula Parker Betenson cites several instances of people familiar with Butch who encountered him long after 1908, and she relates a detailed impromptu family reunion that included Butch, their brother Mark, their father, and Lula in 1925. Doubtful researchers point to the cessation of all correspondence from Butch after the San Vincente episode, although Butch periodically wrote to his family up until 1908.

Rare book collector Brent Ashworth says he has obtained a 200-page manuscript, BANDIT INVINCIBLE: THE STORY OF BUTCH CASSIDY. The manuscript dates to 1934, and is twice as long as a previously known but unpublished novella of the same title by William T. Phillips, a machinist who died in Spokane in 1937. Ashworth and Montana author Larry Pointer say the text contains the best evidence yet with details only Cassidy could have known and that BANDIT INVINCIBLE was not biography but autobiography, and that Phillips himself was the legendary outlaw.

BANDIT INVINCIBLE’s author claims to have known Cassidy since boyhood. He acknowledges changing people and place names. "Some descriptions fit details of Cassidy's life too neatly to have come from anyone else," said Ashworth, owner of B. Ashworth's Rare Books and Collectibles in Provo, Utah. They include a judge's meeting with Cassidy in prison in February 1895. The judge offered to "let bygones be bygones" and to seek a Cassidy pardon from the governor. Cassidy refused to shake the judge's hand. "I must tell you now that I will even my account with you, if it is the last act I ever do," Cassidy is quoted as saying by Philips.

Wyoming's state archives contain an 1895 letter by the judge who sentenced Cassidy. The letter relates how Cassidy seemed to harbor ill-will and didn't accept the friendly advances of another judge, Jay Torrey, who had visited Cassidy in prison. Cassidy had sued Torrey's ranch two years earlier for taking eight of his cattle, Pointer said.

"What's really remarkable to me is that, who else cares?" Pointer said. "Who else would have remembered it in that kind of detail...about an offer of a handshake and refusing it in a prison in Wyoming in 1895?"

Others believe the book is a work of fiction. "Total horse pucky," said Cassidy historian Dan Buck, husband of researcher Ann Meadows. "[The book] doesn't bear a great deal of relationship to Butch Cassidy's real life, or Butch Cassidy's life as we know it."

What do you think? Did Butch and/or Sundance die in Bolivia?
Material from to HELL'S HALF ACRE by Richard Selcer,,, and the Butch Cassidy website. 



  1. Fabulous post & photos! I will be thinking about it all day today at work : )

    The photo of Redford & Newman--now that is real magic! Beautiful, too ; )

  2. Wonderful post! During our trip this summer we saw the bank in Telluride, as well as several "Butch and Sundance" sites in Utah and Wyoming. Redford and Newman were the perfect choices to play these two.

  3. Wonderful post, Carolyn! I have always loved hearing about Butch and Sundance. And who can ever forget the dynamic hunky duo, Paul Newman and Robert Redford, bringing them to life (and death) on screen.

    I would LOVE to read the book, BANDIT INVINCIBLE. The theory that Butch survived is difficult to ignore when his sister said he came to a family reunion in 1925. I can see confusion from rumors of people seeing someone who looked like him, but a family reunion with your brother?

    Another interesting fact is that a "descendant" of the Sundance Kid claims Harry Longabaugh also survived (with Butch) and returned home, using various aliases until his death in 1936. Jerry Nickel, the man claiming to be Sundance's great-grandson says his family knew him as Bill Long. In fact, in 2008 the remains of Bill Long were exhumed and DNA testing completed by a noted forensic specialist proved that Bill Long was indeed Harry Longabaugh, the Sundance Kid. Fascinating, eh?

    You can read more about this at:

    ~ Ashley

  4. Excelent story Caroline, very, very well done. I agree with Ashley, I want to read that book!


  5. Did they die in Bolivia? Who knows for sure. The people who present "facts" that one and maybe the other did not die may be right...might be wrong. I love these little mysteries. Probably no one will ever know the truth, because even those close, maybe relative, may see things as they wish.
    I'm interested in the old photos of the real characters. I can't say Paul Newman or Robert Redford resemble either, but that doesn't matter, does it? They're great to look at on their own.
    The real Butch looked like his name--sort of big and rough. At least his name fit.
    The real sundance, now the movies almost got that right--he does look like a gentleman dandy.
    Thanks so much for all this information. It's a great piece of the American West, even though part of the story was in Bolivia.
    Good job.

  6. Great post on two colorful characters in history. I imagine the west was a very hard place to survive and many resorted to thieving. This was the first time I'd seen actual pictures of Butch and Sundance. Redford and Newman were very good choices to play their characters.

  7. WHAT A FANTASTIC POST, CAROLINE! I remember when that movie came out and I begged to go see it. Mom finally gave in (she thought it looked awfully violent).LOL Anyhow, this was a wonderfully informative post and one that I will go back and re-read again to absord the details. Thanks so much for putting so much research into this.

  8. You need to research Paris France,circa 1908 to 1910 to see if there really was a face surgeon that supposedly Butch and Sundance went to before returning to the U.S. I don't see anything that anyone even tried to dispute this.

  9. According to some of the old locals here in central Utah, (dead and gone now), Butch was buried in the Circleville, Utah cemetary. Less than a handful of people were at the burial, one of them was Butch's sister.


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