Facts, information and articles about Butch Cassidy, legendary outlaw from the Wild West
Butch Cassidy Facts
April 13, 1866
November 6, 1909 (approximated)
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Butch Cassidy summary: He was baptized Robert Leroy Parker and was born in Beaver, Utah. He was the oldest of thirteen children in a family of Mormons. Both his parents were immigrants from England. They met and married in the United States.
For a while, Robert worked as a butcher in Wyoming. There he acquired the nickname “Butch” which seemed to stay with him. He wanted to carve out a better life for himself, so he left home as a teenager. Working on farms and ranches, he met rancher Mike Cassidy who did not have a stellar reputation. Butch took a liking to Cassidy and in time, added Cassidy’s last name to his nickname and, thus, he became Butch Cassidy.
Between 1880 and 1887, Butch Cassidy had his first run-ins with the law. The first offense was minor. He broke into a closed store, took a pair of jeans and left an IOU for the owner to find, fully intending to pay for the jeans. The owner did not appreciate the way Butch handled this situation and pressed charges against him. The case ended in acquittal.
After that, the robberies took a serious turn and Butch Cassidy, along with three other men robbed the San Miguel Valley Bank in Telluride, Colorado. He had romantic interests with Ann Bassett and became involved with Ann’s older sister Josie as well. He formed a gang, the “Wild Bunch” and robbed another bank.
With his friend and partner in crime, Henry Alonzo Longabaugh, the Sundance Kid, he traveled to Argentina. From there, they fled to Chile.
While the exact circumstances of Cassidy’s death are not known, it is believed he died on November 6, 1908 from a gunshot.
Articles Featuring Butch Cassidy From History Net Magazines
The Last Days of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
At the end the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Paul Newman and Robert Redford reload their six-shooters and exchange a final round of wisecracks, then dash valiantly into a plaza rimmed with Bolivian soldiers. The movie, a box-office smash in 1969 and a late-night television chestnut today, closes with the wounded outlaws facing almost certain doom. The frame freezes before the antiheroes fall, however, leaving open the barest possibility of their survival.
The movie is based on a true story, which began shortly after the Civil War. The outlaw known as Butch Cassidy, born Robert LeRoy Parker on April 13, 1866, was the eldest of 13 children in a Mormon family in Utah. His admiration for a young cowboy named Mike Cassidy and a stint as a butcher inspired his nom de crime. A stretch in a Wyoming prison for the theft of a $5 horse impelled him toward a life on the run.
The Sundance Kid, born Harry Alonzo Longabaugh in the spring of 1867, was the youngest of five children in a Baptist family in Pennsylvania. After heading west at the age of 15, he ranched with relatives in Colorado, then knocked around the U.S. and Canadian Rockies, working as a drover and broncobuster. He earned his nickname by serving 18 months in jail at Sundance, Wyo., for stealing a horse.
Sundance’s companion in the movie was Etta Place. His companion in real life was an enigma. Although she has been described as a prostitute, a teacher, or both, no one knows her true origin or fate. Even her name is a mystery. The Pinkerton Detective Agency called her Etta on its wanted posters, but she called herself Ethel, which may or may not have been her real name. Traveling as Sundance’s wife, she shared the alias Place (his mother’s maiden name).
Butch and Sundance belonged to a loose-knit gang that included the likes of Elzy Lay, Matt Warner, Harvey ‘Kid Curry’ Logan, Ben ‘Tall Texan’ Kilpatrick and Will Carver. Dubbed the Train Robbers’ Syndicate, the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang and the Wild Bunch, the band held up trains and banks and stole mine payrolls in the Rocky Mountain West, making off with a total of $200,000 (the equivalent of $2.5 million today) between 1889 and the early 1900s.
With $1,000 rewards on their heads and the Pinkertons on their tails, Butch and Sundance fled to South America with Ethel in 1901. The movie takes them directly from New York City to Bolivia, but their initial destination was actually Argentina. After steaming into Buenos Aires on the British ship Herminius in March and taking the train to Patagonia in June, they settled in the Chubut Territory, a frontier zone in southern Argentina sparsely populated by immigrants, pioneers and Indians. Although most of the immigrants were Welsh or Chilean, several North Americans had journeyed to the same corner of the world, looking for open ranges. The bandits’ nearest neighbor, for example, was John Commodore Perry, who had been the first sheriff of Crockett County, Texas. Butch and Sundance also traded and socialized with another Texan, Jarred Jones, who lived a two days’ ride north, near Bariloche.
Calling themselves James ‘Santiago’ Ryan and Mr. and Mrs. Harry ‘Enrique’ Place, the Wild Bunch exiles peacefully homesteaded a ranch in the Cholila Valley, raising sheep, cattle and horses. All three got on well with their neighbors, and if anyone came to know about Butch and Sundance’s shady past, it never interfered with those good relations. So highly were they regarded that when Territorial Governor Julio Lezana visited the valley in early 1904, he spent the night in their home, a well-kept four-room log cabin on the east bank of the Blanco River. During the welcoming festivities, Sundance played sambas on his guitar and Lezana danced with Ethel.
Meanwhile, in March 1903, the Pinkertons had sent agent Frank Dimaio to Buenos Aires, after receiving a tip that Butch and Sundance were living in Argentina. Dimaio traced their whereabouts, then cabled his superiors, saying the rainy season prevented him from going to Cholila. Before leaving Buenos Aires, he supplied the police with translated versions of the bandits’ wanted posters.
On February 14, 1905, two English-speaking bandits held up the Banco de Tarapacá y Argentino in Río Gallegos, 700 miles south of Cholila, near the Strait of Magellan. Escaping with a sum that would be worth at least $100,000 today, the pair vanished north across the bleak Patagonian steppes. Although Butch and Sundance were never positively identified as the culprits (whose descriptions didn’t fit them as well as the modus operandi did), they were the prime suspects.
Responding to a directive from the Buenos Aires police chief, Governor Lezana issued an order for Butch and Sundance’s arrest. Before the order could be executed, however, Sheriff Edward Humphreys, a Welsh Argentine who was friendly with Butch and enamored of Ethel, tipped them off. In early May, the trio hustled north to Bariloche and took the steamer Cóndor across Lake Nahuel Huapi to Chile.
Almost nothing is known about what the bandits did in Chile, but they apparently spent time in Antofagasta, the center of the nitrate trade on the northern coastal desert. The Pinkertons learned from a postal informant that Frank D. Aller, the U.S. vice consul in Antofagasta, had bailed Sundance (alias Frank Boyd) out of a scrape with the Chilean government in 1905.
Late that year, the outlaws returned to Argentina on business. On December 19, Butch, Sundance, Ethel and an unidentified confederate heisted 12,000 pesos (worth about $137,500 today) from the Banco de la Nación in Villa Mercedes, a livestock center 400 miles west of Buenos Aires. With several posses chasing them, they slogged west over rain-drenched pampas and the Andes to safety in Chile.
A few months later, Sundance briefly visited Cholila to sell some sheep and mares he and Butch had left with their friend Daniel Gibbon, a Welsh rancher. By then, Ethel was in San Francisco, having returned to the United States for good, and Butch was in Antofagasta, en route to Bolivia.
In 1906, Butch (alias James ‘Santiago’ Maxwell) found work at the Concordia Tin Mine, 16,000 feet up in the Santa Vela Cruz range of the central Bolivian Andes. Sometime after selling the livestock in Cholila, Sundance (alias H.A. ‘Enrique’ Brown) hired on with contractor Roy Letson, who was driving mules from northern Argentina to a railroad-construction camp near La Paz. Sundance worked awhile breaking mules at the camp, then joined Butch at Concordia, where their duties included guarding payrolls.
Assistant manager Percy Seibert, who had first met Butch and Sundance during a Christmas party at the Grand Hotel Guibert in La Paz, knew that his employees were outlaws, but he ‘never had the slightest trouble getting along with’ either of them. He found Sundance somewhat taciturn, but grew quite fond of Butch. After Seibert became the manager at Concordia, they were his regular guests for Sunday dinner. To avoid unpleasant surprises, Butch always took the seat with a view of the valley and the trail to Seibert’s house.
Having been forced to give up his quiet life in Argentina, Butch still wanted to settle down as a respectable rancher. In late 1907, he and Sundance made an excursion to Santa Cruz, a frontier town in Bolivia’s neotropical eastern savannah, and Butch wrote to friends at Concordia, saying that he had found ‘just the place [he had] been looking for 20 years.’ Now 41, he was burdened with regret. ‘Oh god,’ he lamented, ‘if I could call back 20 years…I would be happy.’ He marveled at the affordability of good land with plenty of water and grazing, and made a prediction: ‘If I don’t fall down I will be living here before long.’
The bandits quit their jobs in 1908, after an inebriated Sundance bragged publicly about their criminal exploits. Although there is no proof of their having been anything other than model employees during their tenure at Concordia, Seibert credited them with several holdups in Bolivia. He said, for example, that they had robbed a railroad-construction payroll at Eucaliptus, south of La Paz, in 1908. The payroll was actually robbed twice that year. According to newspaper accounts, the perpetrators of the first holdup, which occurred in April, were ‘three Yankees who had been employed as contract-workers.’ The newspapers provided no details about the second robbery, which took place in August, after Butch and Sundance had left Concordia.
Later that month, they turned up in Tupiza, a mining center in southern Bolivia. Intent on robbing a local bank, perhaps to finance their retirement in Santa Cruz, the outlaws needed a place to lie low while making their plans. They found a perfect hideout at the camp of British engineer A.G. Francis, who was supervising the transportation of a gold dredge on the San Juan del Oro River. Introducing themselves as George Low and Frank Smith, Butch and Sundance appeared at Francis’ camp at Verdugo, 15 miles south of Tupiza, and asked to rest their mules for a spell. Their legendary charm soon won Francis over, and they wound up bunking with him for several weeks.
While Sundance stayed with Francis, Butch made frequent forays into Tupiza, casing the bank and formulating his plans. Unfortunately, a detachment of visiting soldiers from the Abaroa Regiment, the Bolivian army’s celebrated cavalry unit, was ensconced at a hotel on the same square as the bank–too close for Butch’s comfort. Frustrated, and tired of waiting for the soldiers to leave town, the bandits turned their attention to the Aramayo, Francke y Compañía, which had mines in the area. Although the operational headquarters were at Quechisla, three days’ journey to the northwest, the Aramayo family lived in Tupiza, and the money for the payrolls came through the Tupiza office. In conversations with an unidentified Aramayo employee, the outlaws learned that manager Carlos Peró would soon be taking an unguarded 80,000 peso payroll (worth half a million of today’s dollars) to Quechisla.
In late October, Francis moved his headquarters to Tomahuaico, three miles south of Verdugo, on the west bank of the San Juan del Oro. Shortly thereafter, Butch and Sundance decamped to Tupiza, where they staked out the office behind the Aramayo family’s Italianate mansion, Chajrahuasi.
Early on the morning of November 3, Carlos Peró picked up a packet of money wrapped in homespun cloth and set off from Chajrahuasi with his young son Mariano, a peon and several mules, trailed discreetly by Butch and Sundance. Peró and his companions spent the night at the Aramayo hacienda in Salo, then resumed their journey at dawn. The outlaws were now ahead of them, watching through binoculars as the group made its way up Huaca Huañusca (Dead Cow Hill), the peon and the boy on mules and Peró on foot in the rear.
At 9:30 a.m., Peró’s party rounded a curve on the far side of the cactus-studded hill and found the trail blocked by Butch and Sundance, wielding brand-new small-caliber Mauser carbines with thick barrels. Dressed in dark-red corduroy suits, with bandannas masking their faces and their hat brims turned down so that only their eyes were visible, the bandits had Colt revolvers in their holsters and Browning pocket pistols tucked into their cartridge belts, which bulged with rifle ammunition.
Sundance kept his distance and said nothing. Butch politely ordered Mariano Peró and the peon to dismount and asked Carlos Peró to hand over the payroll. Unable to offer any resistance, Peró replied that they could take whatever they wanted. Butch began to search their saddlebags but could not find the money, so he told Peró to open their luggage. Speaking in English, Butch explained that he was not interested in the money or personal articles of Peró or his companions but only in the 80,000 pesos they were carrying for the Aramayo company. When Peró replied that they had only 15,000 pesos (worth $90,000 today), the larger payroll having been scheduled for the following week, Butch was stunned into silence. Perhaps as compensation, he took not only the packet of money but also a fine dark-brown mule that belonged to the company.
After the bandits departed, Peró’s party continued north toward the village of Guadalupe. At noon, they encountered a muleteer named Andrés Gutiérrez. Peró scribbled a note in pencil and gave it to Gutiérrez to deliver to the Aramayo hacienda in Salo. Another messenger took the note from Salo to Chajrahuasi, and the alarm went out via telegraph to local authorities in surrounding communities, as well as to Argentine and Chilean officials in all the nearby border towns. Military patrols and armed miners (whose pay had been stolen) were soon combing the ravines, watching the roads, guarding the train stations, and looking for strangers in villages throughout southern Bolivia.
Peró spent the night in the mining camp at Cotani, a day’s journey shy of Quechisla. In a letter detailing the morning’s events to his superiors, he surmised that the brigands had ‘undoubtedly planned their retreat carefully; otherwise, they would not have left us with our animals, or they would have killed us in order to avoid leaving witnesses or to gain time.’
In the meantime, Butch and Sundance had made their way south, through rough, uninhabited terrain. They skirted Tupiza under cover of darkness and arrived at Tomahuaico after midnight. Butch was sick and went to bed at once, but Sundance stayed up late, telling Francis about the holdup.
The bandit also spoke of having ‘made several attempts to settle down to a law-abiding life, but [said that] these attempts had always been frustrated by emissaries of the police and detective agencies getting on his track, and thus forcing him to return to the road.’ Nonetheless, he averred, ‘he had never hurt or killed a man except in self-defense, and had never stolen from the poor, but only from rich corporations well able to support his ‘requisitions.” Although Francis disapproved of his visitors’ misdeeds, he had found them ‘very pleasant and amusing companions’ and did not intend to betray them to the authorities.
The next morning, a friend hastened to Tomahuaico to warn the bandits that a military patrol from Tupiza was headed in their direction. Butch and Sundance packed their belongings and saddled their mules. To Francis’ horror, they insisted that he accompany them. Expecting them to flee south to Argentina, he was surprised when they said they were going to ‘Uyuni and the north.’ (Their destination may have been Oruro, a city with several thousand foreign residents, among whom the outlaws would have been inconspicuous. Oruro was also Sundance’s last known mailing address.)
Fearing that he would be caught in the cross-fire if the soldiers overtook them, Francis nervously led the bandits south and west along the San Juan del Oro, then north through a narrow, twisting ravine to the village of Estarca. Francis arranged for them to spend the night in a room at the home of Narcisa de Burgos. Early the next morning, Butch and Sundance thanked Francis for his help and let him go, with instructions to tell any soldiers he encountered that he had seen the bandits making for the Argentine border.
They paused for directions in Cucho, 10 miles north of Estarca, then followed the long, rugged trail to San Vicente, a mining village in a barren, dun-colored bowl 14,500 feet up in the Cordillera Occidental. At sundown on November 6, 1908, they rode into town on a black mule and the dark-brown Aramayo mule, stopping at the home of Bonifacio Casasola. Cleto Bellot, the corregidor (chief administrative officer), approached and asked what they wanted. An inn, they responded. Bellot said that there wasn’t one but that Casasola could put them up in a spare room and sell them fodder for their mules.
After tending to their animals, Butch and Sundance joined Bellot in their room, which opened off Casasola’s walled patio. They asked Bellot about the road to Santa Catalina, an Argentine town just south of the border, and the road to Uyuni, about 75 miles north of San Vicente. They then asked where they could get some sardines and beer, which Bellot sent Casasola to buy with money provided by Sundance.
When Bellot took his leave, he went straight to the home of Manuel Barran, where a four-man posse from Uyuni was staying. The posse, made up of Captain Justo P. Concha and two soldiers from the Abaroa Regiment and Inspector Timoteo Rios from the Uyuni police department, had galloped in that afternoon and had told Bellot to be on the lookout for two Yankees with an Aramayo mule. Captain Concha was asleep when Bellot reported the arrival of the suspects, but Inspector Rios and the two soldiers loaded their rifles at once.
Accompanied by Bellot, they went to Casasola’s home and entered the patio. As they approached the bandits’ room in the dark, Butch appeared in the doorway and fired his Colt, wounding the leading soldier, Victor Torres, in the neck. Torres responded with a rifle shot and retreated to a nearby house, where he died within moments. The other soldier and Rios also fired at Butch, then scurried out with Bellot.
After a quick trip to Barran’s house for more ammunition, the soldier and Rios positioned themselves at the entrance to the patio and began firing at the bandits. Captain Concha then appeared and asked Bellot to round up some men to watch the roof and the back of the adobe house, so that the bandits couldn’t make a hole and escape. As Bellot rushed to comply, he heard ‘three screams of desperation’ issue from the bandits’ room. By the time the San Vicenteños were posted, the firing had ceased and all was quiet.
The guards remained at their stations throughout the bitterly cold, windy night. Finally, at dawn on November 7, Captain Concha ordered Bonifacio Casasola to enter the room. When he reported that both Yankees were dead, the captain and the surviving soldier went inside. They found Butch stretched out on the floor, one bullet wound in his temple and another in his arm, and Sundance sitting on a bench behind the door, hugging a large ceramic jar, shot once in the forehead and several times in the arm. According to one report, the bullet removed from Sundance’s forehead had come from Butch’s Colt. From the positions of the bodies and the locations of the fatal wounds, the witnesses apparently concluded that Butch had put his partner out of his misery, then turned the gun on himself.
The outlaws were buried in the local cemetery that afternoon. The Aramayo payroll was found intact in their saddlebags. Once their possessions had been inventoried and placed in a leather trunk, Captain Concha absconded to Uyuni with the lot, leaving the Aramayo company to battle for months in court to recover its money and its mule.
Two weeks after the shootout, the bandits’ bodies were disinterred, and Peró identified them as the pair who had held him up. Tupiza officials conducted an inquest of the robbery and shootout, interviewing Peró, Bellot and several other area residents, but were unable to ascertain the dead outlaws’ names.
In July 1909, Frank D. Aller, Sundance’s benefactor in Antofagasta, wrote the American Legation in La Paz for ‘confirmation and a certificate of death’ for two Americans–one known as Frank Boyd or H.A. Brown and the other as Maxwell–who were reportedly ‘killed at San Vicente near Tupiza by natives and police and buried as ‘desconocidos’ [unknowns].’ Aller said that he needed a death certificate to settle Boyd’s estate in Chile. The legation forwarded the request to the Bolivian foreign ministry, stating that the Americans had ‘held up several of the Bolivian Railway Company’s pay trains, as also the stage coaches of several mines, and…were killed in a fight with soldiers that were detached to capture them as outlaws.’
In late 1910, after considerable procrastination, the Bolivian government finally responded with a summary of the Tupiza inquest report and ‘death certificates for the two men, whose names [were] unknown.’
In May 1913, a Missouri carpenter named Francis M. Lowe was arrested in La Paz on suspicion of being George Parker (Butch’s real name, according to the Pinkertons’ wanted posters). With the aid of the American Legation, Lowe established that his was a case of mistaken identity. In filing a report on the matter, an official at the legation advised U.S. Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan that ‘certain Englishmen and others here assert that a man known as George Parker [whom the La Paz police were seeking] had been killed in one of the provinces two or three years ago while resisting’ arrest.
Shortly before Lowe was detained, William A. Pinkerton had heard about the San Vicente shootout, but had dismissed ‘the whole story as a fake.’ The agency never officially called off the search for Butch and Sundance. Indeed, in 1921, Mr. Pinkerton told an agent that ‘the last we heard of [the Sundance Kid]…he was in jail in Peru for an attempted bank robbery. Butch Cassidy had been with him but got away and is supposed to have returned to the Argentine.’ Needless to say, the Pinkertons never caught up with the pair.
This article was written by Anne Meadows and Daniel Buck and originally appeared in the February 1997 issue of Wild West. For more great articles, order your subscription of Wild West magazine today!
Butch Cassidy’s Surrender Offer
Before fleeing to Argentina with the Sundance Kid and Etta Place to start a new life early in the 20th century, did Butch Cassidy offer to give himself up to the authorities and seek amnesty? The evidence that he did is persuasive. Did he also nearly make a deal with the Union Pacific Railroad to give up robbing its trains if he was offered a job as one of the railroad’s express guards? That tale is a little shaky.
There are two similar but slightly different versions of the surrender offer. One can be found in Charles Kelly’s popular The Outlaw Trail: A History of Butch Cassidy and His Wild Bunch, first published in 1938 and updated by Kelly in 1959. As Kelly tells the story, one day in the fall of 1899, a’stocky well-dressed man’ entered the office of Orlando W. Powers, a prominent Salt Lake City attorney. The man asked Powers if what he was about to tell him would be held in strict confidence. When the attorney assured him that it would, the man said, ‘My name is George LeRoy Parker, better known as Butch Cassidy,’ and added that he wanted to ‘quit this outlaw business and go straight.’ After reciting the recent fate of several members of his gang, Cassidy said: ‘Sooner or later it’ll be my turn. I figured it was a good time to quit before I got in any deeper.’
It’s no surprise that Butch was ready to call it quits. He was not your typical outlaw. In fact, he was not unlike the character portrayed by Paul Newman in the 1969 movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. (For once Hollywood might have gotten something right.) Butch could be amusing and disconcerting, and at times self-deprecating–traits that would seem out of place for a turn-of-the-century criminal.
Butch was hardly cut out to be a fugitive. He enjoyed the friendship of law-abiding citizens. Even while wanted by the law, he spent much of his time peacefully in communities where he not only seemed to get along well with his neighbors but also tended to develop close relationships–Wyoming’s Dubois, Lander and Star Valley; the Brown’s Park area of Colorado; and in later years, Cholila, Argentina.
Prior to walking into Orlando Powers’ office that day in 1899, Butch and the attorney had never met. But they had previously done business. In 1896 Butch’s friend Matt Warner and two others, Dave Wall and E.B. Coleman, had been arrested for the murder of two men in a dispute over a mining claim near Vernal, Utah. Warner and Wall were without funds, and Butch made arrangements through his Wyoming lawyer, Douglas Preston, to hire Powers and his partner, D.N. Straupp, to defend them. To obtain the money for the lawyers’ fee, Butch robbed a bank in Montpelier, Idaho. (Powers later denied this, claiming he was paid by relatives of E.B. Coleman.)
At the meeting in Powers’ office, the lawyer patiently listened to Butch Cassidy insist that he was not as bad as people painted him, that he had never killed a man in his life, and that he never robbed individuals, only banks and railroads. When Butch was through, Powers asked, ‘What do you want me to do?’
‘Just this,’ Butch answered. ‘You’re the best lawyer in Utah. You know who’s who and what’s what. You’ve got a lot of influence. I thought maybe you could fix things with the governor to give me a pardon or something so I wouldn’t be bothered if I settle down and promise to go straight. I’ll give you my word on it. Is there any way it could be fixed?’
According to Kelly, the lawyer’s reply was not encouraging. He told Butch that he would like to help him, but there were obstacles. For one thing, he said, the governor of Utah, Heber M. Wells, could only issue a pardon for crimes committed in Utah, and so far Cassidy had not been convicted of any crimes there. He was suspected of the 1897 robbery of the Pleasant Valley Coal Company payroll at Castle Gate, Utah, and if he pled guilty to that crime, or was tried and convicted for it, a pardon by the governor would be effective in Utah, but it would offer no protection against warrants for crimes Butch might have committed in other states. ‘No, Cassidy,’ Powers said, ‘I’m afraid you’ve gone too far to turn back now, at least to settle in any of the Western states. The best advice I can offer you is to leave the country and make a new start someplace where you are not known.’
Butch thanked him for the advice and said: ‘You know the law, and I guess you’re right; but I’m sorry it can’t be fixed some way. You’ll never know what it means to be forever on the dodge.’
There is another version of Butch Cassidy’s meeting with Powers–in A.F.C. Greene’s ‘Butch’ Cassidy in Fremont County, a monograph that appeared around 1940 and was reproduced by Jim Dullenty in The Butch Cassidy Collection (Hamilton, Mont., Rocky Mountain Press, 1986). As in Kelly’s version, the scene is the attorney’s office in Salt Lake City. Greene was more descriptive. He says Powers’ stenographer ushered a man into the office who was’somewhere in his forties, although some of the lines on his big face might have come from hard living in the open, or from whisky; his hair, which had been flaxen, was shot with grey; a rough looking customer, dressed in overalls and a blue denim jumper.’
According to Greene, this conversation took place:
Cassidy: Is what I say to you to go as a client consulting his lawyer from now on?
Powers: You mean, a privileged communication?
Cassidy: That’s it.
Powers: All right then.
Cassidy: I’m Butch Cassidy.
Powers: Well, what can I do for you?
Cassidy: I’ll tell you. There’s a heap of charges out against me and considerable money offered for me in rewards. I’m getting sick of hiding out; always on the run and never able to stay long in one place. Now, when it comes to facts, I’ve kept close track of things and I know there ain’t a man left in the country who can go on the stand and identify me for any crime. All of them have either died or gone away. I’ve been thinking. Why can’t I go and just give myself up and stand trial on one of those old charges?
Powers: No use. You’ve robbed too many big corporations in your time. I do not doubt what you say, but if you were ever to go on trial you can depend on it, some one of those companies would bring someone to the stand who’d swear against you. No, you’ll have to keep on the run, I’m afraid.
In substance, the two versions vary little, and had either author paraphrased the conversation, the slight differences would have likely gone unnoticed. However, both Kelly and Greene chose to report the conversation verbatim. Even then, the most notable difference concerns how Butch Cassidy was dressed. Kelly says ‘well-dressed,’ which suggests city clothes, while Greene says ‘overalls and a blue denim jumper,’ as if Cassidy had recently come off the trail. Granted, this is a minor inconsistency, but it does raise one’s curiosity.
Something else in Kelly’s version is bothersome. He says Butch introduced himself to Powers as ‘George’ LeRoy Parker. Cassidy’s real name was Robert LeRoy Parker, a fact later verified by his family and by church records. It’s true that during his outlaw career Butch did use the name George Cassidy, and throughout his book Charles Kelly mistakenly refers to him as George. However, if Butch chose to bare his soul to Powers and seek his help, would he not have used his real name? Again, this minor discrepancy would mean little if it were not that Kelly was purporting to provide a verbatim account of the meeting.
Partly because of this slip, I chose Greene’s version over Kelly’s for my book on Cassidy, reducing Kelly’s account to an endnote reference. Another reason I favored Greene is that he had been a contemporary of Cassidy’s and might have even known him personally. What’s more, it’s rumored that Greene was related by marriage to the John Simpson family, who were Butch’s neighbors and close friends when he had his ranch near Dubois, Wyo.
As minor as these discrepancies were, I couldn’t let them alone, so recently I dug a little deeper into the matter, hoping to find the source (or sources) of the two accounts. Thanks to a tip from Wild Bunch writers Dan Buck and Anne Meadows, it did not take long to learn where Greene’s version came from. He took it word for word from Frederick R. Bechdolt’s 1924 book Tales of the Old Timers, a source that I had failed to track down when I was writing my biography of Cassidy.
I was aware of the Bechdolt book at the time, but it had been out of print for years, and after a brief search for a copy I gave up looking. Frankly, I was put off by the title, thinking it was just one of those many potboilers on the Old West cranked out in the 1920s. After all, Bechdolt was primarily a novelist and short-story writer whose stories occasionally had been adapted by Hollywood for early two-reel Westerns.
I had underestimated Bechdolt. It seems he also turned out some decent frontier history.
So, if Bechdolt’s book was the first published account of the story of Butch’s offer to surrender, what was his source? Bechdolt’s Tales of the Old Timers was mostly about southwestern frontier characters. He devoted only one chapter to Butch Cassidy. Like Charles Kelly and A.F.C. Greene, he did not include footnotes or endnotes, but he did provide a single page of ‘Acknowledgments.’ Among the names mentioned there with a connection to Cassidy were W.A. Richards (Wyoming governor during part of Butch’s outlaw career), Will Simpson (prosecutor at Butch’s trial in 1894) and James Simpson (Will Simpson’s son). Governor Richards and Will Simpson were at least possible sources for Bechdolt’s account of the Cassidy-Powers meeting. However, neither man was on the scene at the time of the meeting nor even indirectly involved in the incident.
But what about Bechdolt himself? Although born in Pennsylvania, Frederick Ritchie Bechdolt (1874-1950) grew up in the West and attended the University of North Dakota and later the University of Washington. Following graduation from the latter in 1896, he was hired as a reporter by the Seattle Star. He soon moved on, and for the next 10 years he wrote for major newspapers in Oakland, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Salt Lake City. Reporters find ways to dig out information. Being on the scene in Salt Lake City, possibly during the same year the Cassidy-Powers meeting took place or at least shortly thereafter, it is possible Bechdolt could have obtained the story, maybe even a stenographer’s record of the meeting. (Despite an obligation to keep information confidential, attorneys will tell you off the record that law offices can become leaky places when famous clients are involved. It was probably no different in those days.)
Thus Bechdolt’s proximity to Powers could explain his version of the meeting, as well as give his account some credibility, but what about Kelly’s version? It is possible that he also might have had contact with persons who had known Powers. Although Kelly was not around at the time of the Cassidy-Powers meeting, he did spend many years in Salt Lake City. In 1919, following discharge from the Army, he married and settled down there. However, at that time his primary interest was music (he played the violin and cornet), not writing. It would be another 10 years before he published his first book and nearly two decades before publication of The Outlaw Trail.
Of course, it is possible that Kelly simply rewrote the Bechdolt version. Kelly’s acknowledgments in the second edition of The Outlaw Trail reveal that he also had access to Bechdolt’s book when he wrote the first edition. In fact, in 1939, a year after the first edition was published, Kelly admitted in a letter to Cassidy’s prosecutor, Will Simpson, that Bechdolt was one of his ‘principal authorities’ for The Outlaw Trail. But if he simply used Bechdolt’s version, why did he change it? Kelly was not averse to repeating verbatim earlier writers’ work, including Bechdolt’s (which he admitted in his letter to Simpson). However, he might have already lifted sizable portions of Bechdolt’s material on other aspects of Cassidy’s career and perhaps decided that he should give the conversation between Cassidy and Powers his own interpretation.
In any case, Cassidy was no doubt discouraged when he left Powers’ office that day in 1899, but he was not ready to give up. He knew of someone else in Salt Lake City who might help him, someone who might be more receptive to his pursuit of a pardon and, more important, someone who had even better access to Utah Governor Heber Wells than attorney Orlando Powers. That man was Parley P. Christensen.
In his book, Charles Kelly describes Parley Christensen as a former sheriff of Juab County, Utah, a man who knew Butch Cassidy in his early years. However, when I checked with Juab County officials, they could find no record of a Parley P. Christensen having ever been sheriff of that county. Local records did list a town marshal by that name for the city of Nephi, the Juab County seat, but he was not appointed until 1914.
Further digging revealed that the Parley P. Christensen from whom Cassidy sought help might have once been a sheriff, but by 1899 he, like Orlando Powers, had become a prominent Salt Lake City attorney. A graduate of the University of Deseret (later the University of Utah) and Cornell University School of Law, Christensen was a rising star in Republican politics and a familiar sight in the halls of the Utah Capitol. He and Governor Wells, also a Republican, were well acquainted, having both served as delegates to the Utah State Constitutional Convention in 1895. Christensen, in fact, had served as secretary of the convention and was later elected to the state Legislature. (During that same fall, Christensen was elected Salt Lake County attorney and seemed destined for the governor’s office, but several years later he had a falling out with the Republican Party and eventually joined the Progressive movement. In 1920 he ran for president of the United States on the Farmer-Labor ticket.)
Cassidy found Parley Christensen much more encouraging than Powers about his chances to obtain some form of clemency. Christensen quickly arranged an appointment for him with the governor. According to Kelly, after listening to Cassidy’s offer, Wells told him that if there were no murder warrants out for him, he thought something could be worked out. However, when the governor had his attorney general check the warrants on Cassidy, a murder charge did turn up. During a second meeting, the governor informed Butch that he was sorry, but there was nothing he could do for him.
Cassidy insisted that he had never killed a man in his life, but that wasn’t the issue. The governor’s condition had been that there could be no murder warrants out for him, and one was found. Frankly, Butch should have expected as much. After all, for the previous three years, when a bank or train robbery occurred in Utah or the surrounding states, Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch usually topped the list of suspects. If a bank or express car guard had been killed in one of those robberies, it is not surprising that Cassidy’s name was on a warrant.
According to Kelly, at this point attorney Orlando Powers reentered the picture. He had come up with a novel idea. What if Cassidy agreed not only to give up his life of crime but also to go to work for the Union Pacific Railroad as an express guard? If so, perhaps the railroad would drop all charges against him. As a full-time employee of the railroad, Butch could not get away with much; his whereabouts would usually be known. Moreover, Powers could argue that, when other outlaws learned the famous Butch Cassidy was guarding the Union Pacific’s express cars, they might be hesitant to attack the train.
Author A.F.C. Greene does not mention Powers’ idea. Lula Parker Betenson, Butch’s younger sister, does refer to it in her book, Butch Cassidy, My Brother, but Kelly was probably her source. Frederick Bechdolt briefly discusses a variation of the story. He says Butch asked for a meeting with John Ward, sheriff of Uinta County, Wyo., at a mountain pass on the Denver & Rio Grande line. There, the wanted man informed Ward that he could ‘tell the railroads that they could take their gunmen off the trains,’ that they ‘ain’t going to need ’em’ anymore, because nothing ‘was going to come off, and you’ve got my word for that.’ Bechdolt, however, does not mention that Cassidy would ask for any kind of deal.
What could Butch have gained from such an arrangement? Actually, not a whole lot. The Union Pacific officials could only forgive him for robberies on their line. At the time, the states of Wyoming and Utah wanted him, and Butch was also a suspect in bank or train robberies in Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Montana and New Mexico. The Union Pacific officials could not grant amnesty for any of those offenses.
But what does give some legs to the story that Cassidy might have accepted Powers’ suggestion and offered to work for the railroad company is a letter found in the Utah State Archives’ collection of the correspondence of Governor Wells. The letter, addressed to Wells, was dated May 30, 1900. The writer was W.S. Seavey, then general agent of the Denver office of the Thiel Detective Service. Seavey wrote, ‘I desire to inform you that I have reliable information to the effect that if the authorities will let him alone and the UPRR officials will give him a job as guard, etc., the outlaw Butch Cassidy will lay down his arms, come in, give himself up, go to work and be a good peacable [sic] citizen hereafter.’
What adds to the letter’s credibility is that W.S. Seavey was not an ordinary part-time gumshoe. If Seavey considered his information as ‘reliable,’ it probably was. Seavey might have been a careless speller, but he was an experienced lawman who, before becoming a Thiel general agent, had served eight years as chief of the Omaha Police Department.
Kelly tells us that Powers presented the offer to the Union Pacific, and ‘after some discussion the railroad officials agreed to the plan and authorized Powers to get in touch with Cassidy.’ The author says Powers then wrote to Douglas Preston, Cassidy’s personal lawyer since the early 1890s, requesting that he get the word to Cassidy. He did, and, according to Kelly, Preston arranged to meet Cassidy in 10 days at ‘Lost Soldier Pass’ in southwestern Wyoming and bring along the Union Pacific’s chief detective and’some officials with power to make an agreement.’
The meeting at Lost Soldier Pass never came off. As Kelly told it, Cassidy showed up, but there was no Douglas Preston and no railroad officials. After waiting all day, Butch rode back to his hideout. Preston later claimed that he and his party were delayed by a storm, and when they finally did arrive and found Cassidy gone, Preston, ‘disgusted with his fruitless effort, savagely kicked at a flat stone [that was] lying under the lone cedar where the meeting was to have taken place.’ Underneath the stone he found a piece of paper on which Cassidy had written: ‘Damn you, Preston, you have double-crossed me. I waited all day but you didn’t show up. Tell the U.P. to go to hell. And you can go with them.’
It is not difficult to believe that Cassidy was tired of running and wanted to surrender, and that at the urging of Orlando Powers he would have considered working for the Union Pacific Railroad in exchange for amnesty. Unlike most outlaws of his day, Butch did not appear to have an aversion to honest work. Although he had committed his first bank robbery in 1889, there is no evidence that he was involved in another major crime for more than seven years, not until the bank robbery in 1896 at Montpelier, Idaho, to obtain money to help his friend Matt Warner.
It’s true that more than once during those seven years Cassidy probably helped himself to a rancher’s straying cattle, but among cowboys in Wyoming during the early 1890s, plucking a beef off the range was considered something akin to a part-time job. Butch also probably stole a few horses, which was looked upon more seriously (and for which he went to prison for 18 months).
And of course Cassidy has been credited with several major robberies during the last half of the 1890s; however, when he walked into lawyer Powers’ office that day in the fall of 1899 with the idea of surrendering, he had spent the previous year doing honest work, as assistant foreman and trail boss on the New Mexico Territory ranch of an Englishman, William French. It was hard, boring work ramrodding herds in the parched Southwest, but Butch Cassidy (known to rancher French as Jim Lowe) apparently enjoyed it. When the job of foreman opened up, he told French he wanted to take it, but by then the Pinkertons had come nosing around, and Butch felt it was wiser to leave. Years later, French had only good things to say about the man he knew as Jim Lowe.
Therefore, it is not difficult to believe that Cassidy probably would have succeeded as an express car guard. However, to think that the railroad would have actually hired him for that position is another matter. This is not to say that the idea was new. Hollywood writer-producer Glen Larson, who used just such an arrangement as a continuing plot for his 1970s Western TV series Alias Smith and Jones, claimed he got the idea from a reference to a similar arrangement he ran across while looking for story ideas in the files of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. And in telling of the incident, Butch’s sister Lula (or her co-author, professional writer Dora Flack), while admitting that the idea of an outlaw becoming a railroad guard sounded pretty far-fetched, insisted that in Butch’s case it was no ‘fairy tale’ and was ‘a plan familiar to lawmen.’
On the other hand, looking at such an arrangement from the railroad’s side, chances are the Union Pacific’s board of directors could not have stomached it. This group of investors had shelled out $110 million to purchase the line in 1893 and would have been more than a little nervous putting a known criminal on speeding trains that frequently carried thousands of dollars in bullion, coin and currency.
Moreover, it is difficult to believe that E.H. Harriman, then president and a major stockholder of the Union Pacific, would have gone for such a deal. Harriman was a problem solver, not a deal maker. For example, the previous year his answer to a flurry of train robberies was to station ‘posse cars’ (gutted baggage cars loaded with experienced railroad police and former lawmen on fast horses) at strategic points along the line, ready to be dispatched at the first word of a holdup. And the plan was apparently working.
Furthermore, according to W.H. Park, then the Union Pacific’s general superintendent, at that particular time he and Harriman did not consider Butch Cassidy the most dangerous member of the Wild Bunch. They felt Harvey Logan deserved that title. Therefore, if presented with a plan for Cassidy to become an express car guard, Harriman and Park might have wondered just how much help Butch would be if a Harvey Logan-led gang of outlaws attacked one of their trains.
In addition, implementing such a plan would have been a major problem. With an outlaw on the railroad’s payroll and possibly in position to learn of shipment dates and security details, it is likely that Union Pacific officials would have accepted the deal only if they could have been assured that Butch would be kept under surveillance night and day. Was that possible? Probably not.
Also, the truth of the story of the aborted meeting between Cassidy and representatives of the railroad has been put further in doubt by recently discovered evidence. The ‘Damn you, Preston’ note Butch allegedly left under a stone at Lost Soldier Pass might have been a forgery. Although Kelly spelled out the contents of the note in his book, it was assumed that the original note no longer existed–until sometime in the 1980s, when it mysteriously began circulating among rare document dealers. This caught the interest of writer Dan Buck, who, after several weeks of dogged detective work, discovered that the note might have been a creation of the notorious forger of Mormon documents, Mark Hofmann. It appears that Hofmann, or someone, might have written the note to conform to the story told by Charles Kelly. Although Buck hasn’t conclusively nailed down Hofmann as the culprit, he puts little faith in the note’s authenticity, as well as in the tale of the attempted rendezvous itself. In writing about the note and the alleged meeting, Buck, in the spring 2002 issue of The Journal of the Western Outlaw-Lawman History Association, raises several questions.
Preston was Cassidy’s old friend and defense lawyer. If he had failed to show up for a meeting, which, after all, was out in the middle of nowhere, would Cassidy have immediately accused him of a double-cross? Preston and his party were supposed to have been delayed by a storm. Would not Cassidy have weathered the same storm? The letter was written in ink. Would Cassidy have been carrying a pen and a bottle of ink in his saddlebags? And the note was not scribbled as it might have been by someone dashing off a message, perhaps using his saddle to write on. Instead, the handwriting was careful and neat, as if written on a desk. Cassidy supposedly hid the note under a rock, which just happened to be the rock that Preston, disgusted over Butch’s departure,’savagely kicked.’
Although Charles Kelly’s account of Cassidy’s aborted arrangement with Union Pacific officials now seems suspect, we should not come down too hard on Kelly. In The Outlaw Trail, Kelly did his best with the information he had, whatever the source. As tenuous as some of his facts might have been, Kelly provided a valuable starting point for subsequent research on Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch. And to his credit, in the first edition of his book Kelly admitted that his information was sometimes conflicting and indefinite, and because of this he invited his readers to write him if they had additional ‘facts,’ so he could correct errors in future editions.
Dan Buck and Anne Meadows, in their introduction to the University of Nebraska Press’ 1996 reprint edition of The Outlaw Trail, aptly describe the challenge Kelly faced in telling Butch Cassidy’s story. They quote former Western Publications editor John Joerschke, who, in addressing a 1994 gathering of outlaw history aficionados, cautioned his audience: ‘If you want to write a true story, write a novel,’ because the truth, the precious metal we seek, must be mined from ‘a mountain of lies, legends and missing clues.’
This article was written by Richard Patterson and originally appeared in the February 2006 issue of Wild West. Richard Patterson devotes his time to legal writing and frontier history. His books Butch Cassidy: A Biography and Train Robbery: The Birth, Flowering and Decline of a Notorious Western Enterprise are recommended for further reading, along with Frederick R. Bechdolt’s Tales of the Old Timers; Lula Parker Betenson’s Butch Cassidy, My Brother; and the introduction by Dan Buck and Anne Meadows to the 1996 reprint of Charles Kelly’s The Outlaw Trail: A History of Butch Cassidy and His Wild Bunch.
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