The Early Years
In 1884, at the age of 18, Robert Leroy Parker left his family's ranch. "He had craved a freedom he could never experience at our little ranch in Circle Valley," his sister Lula Parker Betenson later wrote in her book Butch Cassidy, My Brother. The next they heard of him, he was a bank and train robber, known as the outlaw Butch Cassidy.
Butch Cassidy was described as handsome and well liked by those around him. He was also a bit of a jokester. Stories of his antics abound, when once, after robbing a bank in Nevada, he sent the bank manager an autographed photo, with a word of thanks. Or so the legend goes.
Throughout his career, his favorite gun may have been a pearl-handled revolver --a Colt .45 Peacemaker, scroll engraved and a steer's head carved on one side of the stock.
In 1890 Cassidy purchased a ranch near Dubois, Wyoming. He also became romantically involved with 15-year-old Ann Bassett, whose father, local rancher Herb Bassett, supplied Cassidy with beef. Throughout the following years, Ann and her sister Josie each also became involved with members of the Wild Bunch. It is noted that Cassidy's ranch didn't financially prosper, and may have been used for outlaw activities.
In July 1894 Butch was sentenced for horse theft and spent 18 months of a two-year sentence in the Wyoming State Penitentiary. He was pardoned January 1896 after promising the Governor that he would not again offend in that state. Shortly afterward, Cassidy became the leader of one of the Wild West's most notorious gangs and would be forever immortalized by many movies exploring his life.
Butch Cassidy was the leader of the Wild Bunch who consisted of Harry Longabaugh, alias the Sundance Kid, Harry Tracy, ( *note: Tracy was a member of Butch Cassidy's Hole-in-the-Wall gang) Elzy Lay, Harvey Logan, alias Kid Curry, George Curry, Bill Carver, Ben Kilpatrick, Laura Bullion, and sometimes "Deaf Charlie" Hanks and, from the early 1890's to the early 1900's, he remained one of the most elusive bank and train robbers around, chased by lawmen, Pinkertons including Charlie Siringo, bounty hunters, and railroaders.
Butch's career with his pal Sundance are well known. The name Sundance was given after the Pennsylvania native had served a jail term in Sundance, Wyoming, for stealing a horse. It is likely Butch and Sundance may have first met in Colorado.
By the mid-1890's the pulse beating action of the Wild West was thriving with a string of daring robberies. On August 13, 1896, Butch Cassidy, Elzy Lay and Bob Meeks robbed the bank at Montpelier, Idaho, coming away with $7,000. Making their way to Castle Gate, Utah, in April 1897
the bandits robbed a coal mine pay roll of $8,000.
Members of the Wild Bunch and some saloon patrons - Rawlins, Wyoming around 1896
Left to right: (front row) unknown, Cleophas Dowd, the Sundance Kid, Butch Cassidy (in derby), Bert Charter (12 year -old kid who held the Bunch's horses during bank hold-ups), Tom McCarty, "Blue John" Griffin, Elzy Lay, "Flat Nose" George Curry, Ben "The Tall Texan" Kilpatrick. (second row) Jack Ryan, Lonnie Logan (in derby), John Logan, Harvey "Kid Curry" Logan, Matt Warner. (top row) unknown, John Henry, Tom Vernon, unknown.
Wyoming State Penitentiary's description of Butch Cassidy
5 ft 9 in.
27-years old, dark flaxen hair, blue eyes, small and deep set.
Two cut scars on the back of his head, a small red scar under the
left eye, a red mark on the left side of his back and a small brown
mole on the calf of his leg. A bullet scar was on upper part and
right side of his forehead.
Butch Cassidy - mug shot
Butch Cassidy was quite a prankster with raw nerve. Such as the time he helped an old couple save their small ranch on Bitter Creek. They kept horses for the Wild Bunch, and grub. As the story goes, one day Cassidy was sitting around the old couple's kitchen table. "What you actin' so glum about?" Cassidy asked. The woman told him they were going to lose their place. They owed $3,000 they couldn't pay, and the Rawlins banker was coming to foreclose.
Cassidy leaned back in his chair and grinned. "Well, boys, guess we better lay over here a while." He and the boys gave the couple $3,000. "Pay him off (the banker) and be sure to get a receipt."
Next day the banker rolled up in his horse-drawn buggy. When he left, Cassidy and the Sundance Kid trailed him, held him up and rode back to the ranch. The old couple had a receipt for paying off the mortgage and the Wild Bunch had its money back.
Over the years, Butch Cassidy and his gang were able to dodge the Pinkertons and others tracking them by their 'Outlaw Trail' an area in the mid-west that was nearly impossible for those not familiar with the area and caves.
The Wild Bunch pulled holdups of all types throughout Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho and Arizona. Most of their holdups were in Hole in the Wall, Brown's Hole and Robber's Roost, now Bryce Canyon National Park. Only five women associated with the gang were ever allowed in.
The Wild Bunch Hideouts
"On horseback, the Wild Bunch were easily able to make their way through the Outlaw Trail, but for anyone not familiar with these areas, it would be hardern' tyin' down a bobcat with a piece of string. The Wild Bunch knew the area like the back of their hand. Hole in the Wall is located between Thermopolis and Buffalo, Wyoming, about forty miles from each, on the southern end of the Big Horn Mountains. Brown's Hole is in the northeast corner of Utah, where it joins the northwest corner of Colorado, just below the Wyoming line. Bryce Canyon is in southeast Utah close to Arizona. These hideouts were about 250 miles apart by horseback. From them the Wild Bunch could cover everything from Canada to Mexico, but they mainly operated the Rocky Mountain States. Many other hideouts were also used. The Wild Bunch always paid their way, earning their keep with work or cash when they stayed with small ranchers that they could travel quite freely in the area stretching from Glasgow, Montana, southwest to Phoenix, Arizona."
When things got a little hot, the gang would split up. All the members were experts and could easily take on work as cowboys at some small ranch they chose way off the dusty track.
Butch Cassidy - Where he worked as a cowboy on a ranch near Hanksville, Utah.
In 1898, Harry Tracy and Dave Lant joined Butch Cassidy's gang of rustlers and train robbers in Brown's Hole, a lonely valley with steep mountainous walls on the Green River, lying partly in Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming.
In March of 1898, Butch Cassidy, Harvey Logan and the other Wild Bunch riders rode to Colorado line when after reading a letter written by J.S. Hoy condemning the lawlessness of Brown's Hole and Hole in the Wall, which had brought about the death of his brother.
"One or two men on the trail of a criminal will succeed where 100 men will be sure to fail. They must be hunted down like wild animals, once on their trail stay on it, camp on it until the scoundrels are run down, and there are men who will do it, men just as brave, as cunning and as determined as the outlaws themselves..." (First printed in: The Denver Post, March 11, 1898)
When Butch Cassidy and his gang arrived, they looted one of Hoy's cattle camp and what they didn't steal they burned. Butch Cassidy asked Harry Tracy to flee America and go with him to South America. But, Tracy did not go.
Not long after this, Butch Cassidy and his gang (excluding Harry Tracy) were on the dodge, while Pinkerton's still trailed them. And it wasn't until a now famous group photograph of the Wild Bunch was taken in Fort Worth, Texas and the photographer later placed the photo on display in the window. Some time later, a Pinkerton detective walking by recognized the men in the photograph. A $5,000 reward was offered for their capture. This accomplished the breakup of the west's most famous and notorious gangs.
The famous Wild Bunch photograph, Fort Worth, Texas, 1900
Left to right. Top: William Carver, Harvey Logan, alias Kid Curry
Bottom: Harry Longbaugh, alias Sundance Kid, Ben Kilpatrick, alias the Tall Texan, Butch Cassidy
On June 2, 1899, the most daring Wild Bunch
train robbery to date took place. Cassidy,
along with Sundance, Harvey "Kid Curry" and
Lonnie Logan, Ben Kilpatrick, "Flat Nose"
George Curry and Will Carver. Between Wilcox
and Medicine Bow, Wyoming. Just after
2:00 a.m., a Union Pacific train express car
was dynamited. The safes were blown open
and $30,000 was looted by members of the
Wild Bunch gang.
The Union Pacific express car dynamited on June 2, 1899
As the Outlaw era came to an end, Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid and Etta Place (former prostitute and common-law wife of Sundance) headed to South America via cruise ship in February 1901.
It didn't take long before Cassidy and Sundance were robbing banks throughout Argentina, Bolivia and Peru. Though there has been much speculation about Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid dying November 6, 1908 during a shootout with troops in San Vicente, Bolivia, there is also another side to the story.
Some historians ( * myself included here ) believe the outlaws both escaped South America alive, taking advantage of the news of their deaths and lived to a ripe-old age in the Northwest in the United States. Butch Cassidy may have relocated to Spokane, Washington, took the name William T. Phillips, became a businessman and died in 1937. In a letter written by Butch Cassidy's family to the Pinkerton Detective Agency circa 1940, it is stated that both outlaws lived many, many years after being in South America, and were buried in unmarked graves where only their families know the true location. In her book Butch Cassidy, My Brother, Lula Parker Betenson says Butch visited his Utah family in 1925.
On the other hand, according to a gentleman named Charles Kelly, after an article appeared in a Spokane newspaper in 1938 under the headline, "Death Ends Career of Famous Wyoming Robin Hood," Mr. Kelly states he located the home address of the Widow Phillips and wrote and asked her whether or not her husband was Butch Cassidy.
Mrs. William T Phillips' reply letter in its entirety
October 4, 1938
My Dear Mr. Kelly:
Again I have to beg your indulgence for my long delay in answering your last letter; and again my reason is the same; so very busy earning a livelihood, have little time for anything else.
However it came to my mind last eve that at least I could do as you suggested and give you a brief outline of Mr. Phillips' life, tho am afraid there will be little of interest in it to you because I am unable to give you an account of the part of it in which you, naturally, are most interested, viz. the few years in which he knew and rode the range with Cassidy.
William T. Phillips was born and raised in an eastern state until he reached the age of 14 years; at which time (owing to dome novel influence) he ran away and headed for the Black Hills where he was greatly disillusioned in regard to many things as he was bound to be; after a few months of seeing his small hoard dwindle away and failing to find work because of his youth and inability to convince anyone he could hold down a man's job he became homesick and started out to make his way back home.
It was in the fall of the year and he finally succeed in finding work on a ranch during harvest (and tho I have often heard him tell about it) I'm not sure just where that was, but in the corn belt, for he often laughed about the speed he acquired in husking corn. He enjoyed the people with which he found himself and stayed until the following spring when, having survived his homesickness, decided to stay awhile longer in the west, and again headed for the Black Hills. It was after that, of course, that he fell in with Cassidy; but not having it all in detail I cannot give you much detail as to how it all came about, except that it was at the time of the Johnson County War, and I've heard him express himself as being entirely in sympathy with the little fellows instead of the cattle association. He thought he knew Cassidy very, very well and considered he was much more sinned against than sinning. As to just how long he was associated with him I am unable to say, for my memory is none too good as to dates, as I have his account of Cassidy, in which he makes no mention of himself.
Later he did mural decorating in New York City for two or three years; at one time had a machine shop in Des Moines, Iowa, for about seven or eight years. After he and I were married, we lived in Arizona for a year; came to Spokane and have been here ever since until his death last year .
That, in brief, is the story of my husband. I write you that we each knew Cassidy; so we did. I knew his family. But I can tell you little, I think, that you do not already know. However both Mr. Phillips and myself came originally from the east, not the middle west....
Mrs. William T. Phillips [ 1 ]
Charles Kelly also states that William Phillips was associated with Butch Cassidy long enough to hear many of his exploits. He also states that when Matt Warner, Cassidy's one-time partner, heard of Cassidy's death in Bolivia, he "passed the hat among his old friends and sent a man to South America to ascertain the facts." According to Warner, when the messenger returned, he stated Cassidy had indeed been killed, and "produced a photograph to prove it." Some old-timers during the day claimed they had seen and approved it.
Presently, nearly one hundred years later after Cassidy was supposedly to have been killed in Bolivia, the photograph has not resurfaced.
Did Butch Cassidy survive Bolivia?
In his book In Search of Butch Cassidy, author Larry Pointer says Cassidy didn't die in a 1908 shootout with a Bolivian cavalry troop. The author interviewed many friends and relatives of Cassidy who claimed
that Cassidy survived Bolivia, returned to the United States and lived a normal life under the alias William
T. Phillips. Mr. Pointer located an unpublished manuscript by Phillips and used the autobiography to loop together huge amounts of evidence to prove Cassidy did indeed survive the shoot-out.
There is no official record of Butch Cassidy's death in Bolivia, and that exhaustive research in the archives of the Pinkerton National Detective agency "failed to produce a single verification of the legendary shoot-out."
There is also the story of Sundance that could very well have
been a cover: Sundance was killed in a brawl in Casper,
Wyoming and is buried there.
No one knows for sure what became of Etta Place after leaving
South America with Sundance and living in San Francisco. Some
say she had her appendix removed in Denver, Sundance left her there,
went back to New York and then back to South America. Some
contend she moved back to Fort Worth, Texas, assumed the name
Eunice Gray, opened a brothel and later died in a hotel fire in 1962.
and the same.
Or so the story goes...
The Sundance Kid and Etta Place
New York City, February 1901
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