Butch Cassidy, My Uncle: A Family Portrait, by Bill Betenson, High Plains Press, Glendo, Wyo., 2012, $19.95
This isn’t the first “inside” book about Robert LeRoy Parker (aka Butch Cassidy), infamous for his daring robberies with the loose-knit Wild Bunch gang in the northern Rockies and later with longtime compadre Harry Alonzo Longabaugh (aka the Sundance Kid) in South America, where he died in a November 1908 shootout—unless he didn’t. Author Bill Betenson is the great-grandson of Butch’s younger sister Lula Parker Betenson, whose book, Butch Cassidy, My Brother, was published in 1975.
Nobody disputes Cassidy was an outlaw, even if a congenial one and one who didn’t commit as many robberies and other crimes as are associated with his name. But there has long been big disagreement about his death. Lula stated that her famous brother (and Sundance) did not die at San Vicente, Bolivia, and that Butch returned home and visited his family in Circleville, Utah, in 1925 before dying in 1937 somewhere in the Northwest (she refused to reveal his supposed burial site). Bill Betenson says he knew his great-grandmother well and believes her account of her brother’s return in 1925. He mentions that Butch was once falsely reported killed near Price, Utah, in 1898 and asks, “Is it not possible that reports of Butch’s death at San Vicente were also mistaken identity?”
The author presents nearly 20 eyewitness accounts by others who knew Butch and also claimed he returned to the West. Some people believed Cassidy came back using the alias William T. Phillips, but Betenson states Lula was correct in her assessment that Phillips (or William T. Wilcox, as historian Larry Pointer has suggested was his real name) was not Cassidy. We don’t hear much from the other side—those people (and this includes most historians) who believe Cassidy and Sundance lost their lives in South America. Besides the eyewitness accounts he cites, there is little evidence, as the author himself admits, that Cassidy set foot in the United States after 1908, but he insists historians shouldn’t disregard these accounts. Betenson says he has researched the matter with an open mind. Of course, he is Lula Parker Betenson’s great-grandson.
Anyway, the controversy over Cassidy’s death is not the sole focus of this 320-page book. Betenson has learned more than a few things about the outlaw’s life from family, friends, his own research and the research of others, and sharing the story of his “uncle” was clearly a labor of love. “I have always thought,” he writes, “if I had to pick an outlaw to be related to, I would pick Butch.”