The Last Outlaws: The Lives and Legends of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, by Thom Hatch, New American Library (a division of Penguin Group), New York, 2013, $26.95
Tradition holds that Butch Cassidy was the leader of the Wild Bunch outlaw gang and that the Sundance Kid was his right-hand man. Author Thom Hatch goes along with that sometimes-debated notion in his 350-page dual biography of these legendary Western characters. He calls Cassidy “the mastermind” and says that members of the loosely organized gang “would come and go depending on whether or not Butch needed their help with a robbery, or if their own criminal endeavors beckoned them elsewhere.” Hatch, the author of Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn: An Encyclopedia and an award-winning book about Cheyenne Chief Black Kettle, adds, “If Butch was the brains of the gang, the man who ascended to stand at Butch’s side with six-guns in his hands was Harry Longabaugh [Sundance].” The author does concede that Harvey “Kid Curry” Logan was “perhaps the most dangerous character involved with the Wild Bunch.”
Richard Patterson wrote the solid Butch Cassidy: A Biography (1998) and Donna B. Ernst the well-researched The Sundance Kid: The Life of Harry Alonzo Longabaugh (2009). But it’s understandable that someone would go for a two-in-one biography, since Butch and Sundance, though they weren’t blood brothers, are linked in our heads as much as Frank and Jesse James. Not that Butch lacked other good friends, but he and Sundance (with Ethel Place) did escape together to Argentina and, after additional robberies in South America, died side by side in Bolivia. That last point is still debated. According to Hatch, “Every indication from a logical perspective” points to their violent deaths, though the author does allow for alternative “endings” in his last chapter.