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Butch Cassidy: The Gentleman Bandit


He is one of the most popular and enduring
icons of the American West; the gentleman bandit who charmed his way through life, always
keeping one step ahead of the law. With his fabled Wild Bunch, he terrorized
the banks and railways companies during the closing decade of the Nineteenth century,
then headed south of the border, only to meet his match at the hands of Bolivian troops. In this week’s Biographics, we delve into
the life and death of Butch Cassidy. Early Life
Robert Leroy Parker was born in Beaver, Utah on April 13, 1866. He was named after his grandfather who had
led a group of Mormon handcart refugees thousands of miles across country to the utopia that
was Utah. Traveling along the Mormon trail, they pulled
all of their belongings in handcarts. With their faith in Brigham Young and the
Lord, they headed into the snowdrifts of the Continental Divide. Robert Parker, senior was a strong man but
the harsh winter was too much for him and he was found dead one morning, frozen in his
blanket. The party forged on and, after many trials,
made it to Utah. Parker’s widow and twelve-year-old son,
Max, settled at American Fork, some 30 miles south of Salt Lake City. In 1865 they moved to Beaver where Max married
Ann Campbell. The couple would go on to have thirteen children. Robert, known as Bob, was the oldest. Max Parker became a successful businessman. When Bob was a young child, his father purchased
a ranch twelve miles south of Circleville and moved the family there. He employed a number of cowboys, including
a petty criminal by the name of Mike Cassidy. Cassidy took a shine to young Bob, who appeared
to idolize the swaggering outlaw. He taught the boy how to shoot a gun, ride
a horse, rope and brand and rustle cattle. Bob was a good study and by the time he was
sixteen, he had developed a reputation as a fine shot and a competent horseman. He developed into a solid strapping teenager
with a pleasant, jovial personality. There is not a lot known about Butch’s later
teen years. It appears that he took work as a rancher
in various locations until 1884. At some time, he gained work as a butcher
in Rock Springs, Wyoming. It was at this time that he took the nickname
‘Butch’. The surname Cassidy was an homage to his childhood
hero, Mike Cassidy. Cassidy’s first run-in with the law occurred
around 1880. He wanted to buy some food and clothes but
found the shop to be closed. Undeterred, he broke in and took a pair of
jeans and a pie. However, he also left an IOU note indicating
that he would return to settle his account later. The shopkeeper, though, was not impressed
and he had Burch arrested. The case ended up before the courts where
a jury acquitted him. The First Bank Heist
In 1889, a twenty-three-year-old Butch Cassidy turned up in Telluride, Colorado. Located in the San Juan Mountains, Telluride
was a wild mining town full of gold hungry prospectors. The place was filled with saloons, gambling
houses and brothels. Sitting right smack in the middle of the town
was the San Miguel Valley Bank. Cassidy teamed up with a fellow drifter by
the name of Matt Warner and the two were joint investors in a race horse named Betty. The money for the investment came through
cattle rustling. Then they decided to set their sights higher,
determining to rob the local bank. It is believed that they robbed a stage in
Denver prior to the bank heist. They then made a show of spending money liberally
around Telluride in order to show that they were not desperate men. On the morning of June 24th, 1889, Cassidy,
Warner and two accomplices, one who is believed to have been Harry Longabaugh, better known
as the Sundance Kid, hitched their horses outside of the livery store in Telluride and
then headed for a saloon not far from the San Miguel Valley Bank. Just prior to noon, they noticed one of the
tellers exit the bank, leaving just one man on duty. Two of the outlaws kept guard outside while
the other two entered the bank. Amazingly, none of the robbers bothered to
wear a mask or otherwise conceal his identity. History does not reveal the role that each
individual played. We do know that one of the men who went into
the bank approached the lone teller and told him that he wanted to cash a check. When the man began to inspect the check, his
head was grabbed and shoved into the desk. At this the two outside came in and all four
began ransacking the bank in search of money. They got away with more than $20,000. On their way out of town, Cassidy and Warner
were recognized by two men. Still they managed to get away, hiding out
in a remote area of southeastern Utah known as Robber’s Roost. This would become a favorite place of escape
for Cassidy and his gang, who built cabins there and kept their stolen cattle, hoses
and weaponry in the area. Cassidy used some of the profits from the
bank job to buy a ranch near Dubois, Wyoming. In 1894, he began a relationship with a teenage
girl by the name of Anne Bassett, who was the daughter of a wealthy cattle rancher. For four years after the San Miguel Valley
Bank robbery, Butch managed to live the life of a law-abiding citizen. However, shortly after becoming involved with
Anne, he was arrested for horse stealing. His trial took place in Lander, Wyoming and
resulted in his conviction and sentence to two years imprisonment in the Wyoming State
Penitentiary in Laramie. Cassidy proved to be a model prisoner. He applied to the Wyoming Governor for an
early release. This was agreed to on the condition that he
would stay out of trouble in future. Butch agreed, but had no intention of following
through on the promise. Immediately upon his release on January 19th,
1896, he rejoined his gang at an area of their Robber’s Roost hideaway known as the Hole
in the Wall. Hardened Criminal
It was following Butch’s release from the Wyoming State Penitentiary that he and his
Wild Bunch gang began their crime spree in earnest. The gang was enlarged to more than thirty
members, with a core of such notables as the Sundance Kid, Kid Curry and Elza Lay. On the mid-afternoon of August 13th, 1896,
three men rode into Montpellier, Idaho. They dismounted in front of the bank and then
two of them pulled their bandanas over their faces. Two men on the sidewalk were observing them. The bandits quickly pulled out their revolvers
and the two wearing bandanas herded the men into the bank. Inside were a number of customers and three
bank employees. Everyone except for one of the cashiers was
ordered to line up against the wall. One of the robbers, who is believed to have
been Cassidy, kept his gun trained on the terrified customers, while another filled
bags with cash, gold and silver. Before leaving with their $7,000 booty, Cassidy
ordered the people to wait for ten minutes before raising the alarm. The robber who had remained outside, Bob Meeks,
was the only one who did not cover his face. He was recognized by a town resident and ended
up being the only one of the three who was captured and convicted of the crime. Cassidy was well known in Utah and, as a result,
had a general rule of not committing crimes in that State. However, in April, 1897 he made an exception
to that rule. His target was the payroll of the Pleasant
Valley Coal Company in Caste Gate. This was the largest coal mine in Carbon County,
Utah. Furthermore, it was ideally located between
the gang’s favorite hideouts of Robber’s Roost and Brown’s Hole. The company knew that their payroll was an
enticing prize for bandits and so they tried to prevent heists by keeping irregular paydays. The payroll came in on a that train was heavily
guarded. Butch decided that going up against the train
was too risky and so he determined to take the money directly from the paymaster. In order to do so, however, the gang would
need to know when the payroll was going to arrive. On April, 17th, Cassidy rode into the town
of Castle Gate and went to one of the saloons, where he enquired if there was any work going
for a ranch hand. He was told that there might be if he was
patient enough. With his excuse for hanging around now established,
he made his way to the train depot. He watched the goings on as the train came
and went and then returned to the saloon. For the next week, he repeated this process,
observing every train that came into town. On April 22nd, Cassidy’s patience was rewarded. A whistle from the mine announced that it
was payday. When the train arrived, Butch watched from
a distance as the paymaster, F.I. Carpenter and a couple of aids carried moneybags from
the train to his office. The bags were heavy, containing more than
$7,000 in gold and over $100 in silver and it was slow going for the three men. Then, just as they readied to climb the stairs
to the paymaster’s office, Carpenter was approached from behind and a revolver was
poked into his ribs. Butch informed him that he was about to relieve
him and his pals of their load, adding that he’d hate to have to shoot any of them. Carpenter was stunned that such a brazen attack
would be attempted in broad daylight. There were plenty of miners around, but very
few of them spoke English or would have been aware what was going on. Gang member Elza Lay emerged from the shadows
and helped Butch take possession of the money bags. Carpenter and his helpers left them to it,
seeking protection in the nearby hardware store. The paymaster then began yelling out that
he had been robbed. Cassidy and Lay attempted to mount their horses
while stowing the money in their saddlebags. However, Butch’s horse got spooked and took
off leaving him standing in the middle of the street with a bag of gold in his hand. Lay managed to track the horse down and bring
it back and the two made their escape with over $7000 in gold. They left the bag of silver lying in the street. Paymaster Carpenter now sprang into action. He ran for the telegraph office and instructed
the clerk to send an urgent message to the authorities in Price, some ten miles away. However, the clerk told him that the lines
had been cut. Thinking fast, he then made for the train
and told the driver to high tail it to Price. As the train chugged along it went right past
the fleeing robbers. It took several hours before the sheriff at
price could get a posse organized. In addition to having this head start, Butch
was also very familiar with the countryside and was able to easily evade his pursuers. Local ranchers were also happy to provide
he and his gang with fresh horses, having no loyalty to the big mining companies or
the banks. Cassidy and Lay made it back to their base
at Robber’s Roost, where they laid low with the other gang members. The officials in Utah were well aware where
the robbers were but showed no enthusiasm to going after them. As a result, the local papers began to accuse
the lawmen of cowardice. For three months, Butch and his men spent
their time drinking, gambling and horse riding. Then, when the boredom was too much, they
decided to go out and start spending their takings. They ranged around, buying fine clothes, getting
haircuts and spending up large in the saloons and brothels. Belle Fourche
By the end of June, 1897, it was time to get back to the business of robbery. The gang set their sights on the town of Belle
Fourche, north of the Black Hills. On June 28th, Butch sent gang member Tom O’Day
in to scout out the town. The plan was to rob the bank once O’Day
had gotten back. However, O’Day managed to get himself drunk
and didn’t return to camp until it was far too late. An angry Butch had to delay the heist for
24 hours. The next day, Butch selected the Sundance
Kid, along with George Curry, Walt Putney and Tom O’Day to do the job at the Butte
County Bank. The three men followed the usual procedure,
drawing their revolvers and forcing the customers to stand along the wall with their hands in
the air. However, passerby saw this through the window
and raised the alarm. Chaos erupted on the street as people rushed
to get off the street while others went for their guns. The bandits inside quickly realized that they’d
been found out. They rushed out, firing their guns in the
air and attempting their getaway. A couple of townspeople returned the fire
from behind cover. Kid Curry was unable to get to his horse so
tried to mount a mule only to discover that it wouldn’t move. As the other two rode out of town, Tom O’Day
attempted to steal away into a side street but was caught and held overnight in the local
bank vault before being transported to the jail in Deadwood the next day. The robbery had been an unmitigated disaster. It had cost a valued gang member and earned
the gang just $97, leaving another $3000 in the vault. The Great Train Robbery
In the early morning hours of June 2nd, 1899, the Wild Bunch pulled off one of their most
celebrated crimes. Two members of the gang with red lanterns
flagged down the Union Pacific Overland Flyer train just outside of the Wilcox Station,
in Wilcox, Wyoming. The driver thought the two men were warning
him that the driving rain had washed out an approaching bridge. He threw on the brake to bring the train to
a screeching halt. But when he saw that the men had guns drawn,
he realized the truth and began running down the track to warn a coming train to back off. The bandits let him go and jumped onto the
train, where they ordered the engineer to pull the train into a nearby trestle on the
far side of the bridge. Once the train had crossed over, one of the
bandits lit the fuse to a stash of dynamite which had been placed on the bridge. The bridge was damaged enough that the second
train would be unable to follow. The train engineer was then ordered to take
the train forward another two miles, where the rest of the gang were waiting. The robbers then made their way to the Express
Car, only to find that the guard wouldn’t open the door. They then proceeded to blow it off with dynamite. This rattled the guard to the extent that
he couldn’t remember the combination to the safe. The robbers blew that open as well, with the
result that the cash went flying in all directions. Still the gang managed to get away with more
than $50,000 worth of cash, gold and jewelry. The robbery made national headlines and brought
the Wild Bunch to the attention of nation’s premier crime fighters, the Pinkerton Detective
Agency. For the next two years, the Pinkerton’s
doggedly tracked down the gang. Meanwhile a posse was formed to chase down
the train robbers. They caught up with three of the bandits on
June 6th at Castle Creek. A gun battle ensued in which Kid Curry shot
and killed the sheriff leading the posse. The other posse members then withdrew as the
outlaws escaped. Going Straight
Butch Cassidy was not of the rough and tumble mold of most of his contemporary outlaws. He was an extremely sociable man who was a
great conversationalist. When not engaged in criminal activity he impressed
others with his strong work ethic. By 1899, he had a thriving ranch in Dubois,
Wyoming and was growing tired of the outlaw life. In the summer of that year he visited the
office of Attorney Orlando Powers in Ogden, Utah. He explained to the attorney that he had been
portrayed as a vicious criminal when in fact he had never hurt anybody and had only ever
robbed from large corporations. Butch then urged Powers to approach the governor
on his behalf seeking an amnesty deal. The lawyer responded that a deal was extremely
unlikely and the best thing that Butch could do was to go back into hiding. Undeterred, Butch sought out another attorney. This time a meeting was arranged with Utah
Governor Herbert Wells. Wells was impressed by Cassidy and told him
that, as long as there were no outstanding murder warrants out for him, he was sure an
amnesty could be arranged. A second meeting was arranged, which Butch
attended full of confidence. He was surprised to learn, however, that the
Governor’s office had uncovered an outstanding murder warrant in his name. Butch protested that he’d never killed a
man in his life. He didn’t have to, the Governor responded;
the mere charge was enough. It meant that amnesty was out of the question. Back to Crime
With the failure of his attempt to go straight, it seems that Butch carried out a string of
further robberies around the turn of the century. He and the Sundance Kid have been linked to
a train robbery in Tipton, Wyoming in August, 1900 and the Winnemucca, Nevada bank heist
a month later, though there is no concrete evidence that they took part. With no prospects to and end to the fugitive
life in the West, Butch began making plans to head south of the Border. When he proposed the idea to his gang members,
only two were interested – the Sundance Kid and Kid Curry. Before the gang split up for good, its five
core members had a final rendezvous in Texas. After having their fill of liquor, fine dining
and women they sat for a group photograph in new suits. The photo that was taken on that day made
its way to the Pinkerton agency and was used on wanted posters. Butch and Sundance then split up, promising
to meet up again in New York City. This they did, with Sundance being accompanied
by his longtime girlfriend, Etta Place. The trio boarded the ship Hermanus bound for
Buenos Aires on February 20th, 1901. Argentina
Immediately upon arrival, Butch, using the assumed name of Jim Ryan, deposited $12,000
in a local bank as the first step in putting in a land claim. They ended up purchasing 17,000 acres of land
in Cholilo. To their neighbors they appeared to be hard
working gringos, except for one disturbing fact – wherever they went, the wore their
guns. Butch and Sundance had presumed that a move
out of the country would bring an end to their pursuit by the Pinkertons. In this they were mistaken. Robert Pinkerton, the head of the agency sent
a letter to the Buenos Aires police chief with descriptions and photos of the duo. The local police soon identified them as the
two ranchers who always wore guns around Cholilo. They agreed to keep a close surveillance on
the men until the Pinkertons’ arrived to apprehend them. The two outlaws would spend 7 years in Argentina
before the law finally caught up with them. For the first five years they kept their noses
clean, blending in with the locals and becoming popular members of the Cholilo community. Then, for some unknown reason, they returned
to a life of crime in the spring of 1906. They teamed up with another American fugitive
and robbed the bank in Mercedes, getting away with $20,000. However, one of the three robbers shot and
killed a bank teller. Once again Buch and Sundance were on the run. Bolivia -End of the Line
On November 6th, the outlaws made their way to San Vicente, Bolivia. They were put up in the spare room of a local
villager. However, a local official identified them
and notified members of the Bolivian Cavalry. The room were Butch and Sundance were holed
up was surrounded. There are a number of versions as to how the
last moments played out. The most accepted version is that Sundance
sprinted out onto the patio in a desperate attempt to get to the rifles that were by
an outside wall, firing his revolvers as he ran. He was cut down before he made it off the
patio. Butch ran out after him and dragged his mortally
wounded friend back inside, sustaining at least one wound in the process. After pouring masses of lead into the building,
and hearing only silence from within, the Bolivian troops finally made their way inside. They found the bodies of the two outlaws lying
on the floor. Sundance had been shot several times in the
arms and once in the forehead, while Butch had a bullet hole in the temple. The soldiers inferred that Butch had put his
best friend out of his misery before turning the gun on himself. However, there was never an inquest held and
the two men were never formally identified. The most wanted men in America were buried
in unmarked graves.

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