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And for two of them, that meant Buffalo as well as NYC.

Not all Wild West history occurred in the West. Consider the Pinkerton Detective Agency’s lament about Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: While Pinkertons were “looking for them in the mountains and wilderness of the west, they were acting like tourists in New York.” Robert LeRoy Parker, alias Butch Cassidy, and Harry Alonzo Longabaugh, alias the Sundance Kid, were indeed visiting New York City in February 1901. What’s more, the month before, Sundance and companion Ethel Place visited Buffalo, N.Y., and in 1902 the famous outlaw couple would return to both New York City and Buffalo.

Born outside Philadelphia in spring 1867, Sundance was probably most comfortable in a saddle on a ranch horse, but he also enjoyed big city life. Before becoming a Western outlaw, he scrounged for work in Philadelphia, Boston and New York. Likewise, Butch, who was born in Beaver, Utah, in spring 1866, enjoyed spending time off the ranch on occasion. Cities made for good cover between robberies…for a while.

By the end of 1900, Sundance and Butch had decided to “retire” to Argentina, where they hoped to lead law-abiding lives away from the reach of U.S. lawmen. After leaving Fort Worth, Texas, site of their last hurrah with the Wild Bunch (see October 2002 Wild West), Sundance reunited with his paramour Place. (Little is known about Ethel, though Pinkerton records indicate she was born about 1878 and was living in Texas at the time she met Sundance.) Sundance and Butch had agreed to meet in New York City in February 1901 for their trip to South America.

Before joining his Wild Bunch friend in the big city, Sundance traveled with Ethel to Buffalo, on the eastern shore of Lake Erie in western New York state. They would have arrived through the New York Central train station on Exchange Street in the heart of town.

In the early 1900s, Buffalo (the “Queen City”) was a metropolis. Access to shipping lanes via Lake Erie and the Erie Canal enabled people to travel west to St. Louis or east to the Atlantic Ocean and Europe. Theater, architecture and finance thrived in Buffalo, which lay just southwest of Niagara Falls, a mecca for vacationers and honeymooners.

Sundance and Ethel checked into Dr. Pierce’s Invalids Hotel, at 653 Main St. According to a Pinkerton memo dated April 2, 1902, Sundance was seeking treatment for a “pistol shot wound he said he got in the West.”

The Invalids Hotel opened in 1884 after the original “Pierce’s Palace” burned down in 1881. Four buildings at the rear of the property housed the parent World’s Dispensary Medical Association. The association president was Dr. Ray Vaughn Pierce; his son, Dr. Valentine Mott Pierce, was secretary and general manager. Their reported specialty was holistic treatment of all chronic diseases—“particularly those of a delicate, obscure, complicated or obstinate character.” The Drs. Pierce also developed medical instruments, including a steam atomizer used to treat chronic nasal catarrh. This treatment may have enticed Sundance, who was known to have suffered from the sinus condition.

The invention of electricity had also prompted the use of electrical impulses to treat disease, emotional and mental illnesses and “nervous affections.” The hospital claimed that “the stimulating currents of high frequency restore the circulation.” Electricity was also used to treat general debility and even insomnia.

The bulk of the Pierces’ business, however, appears to have been mail order medical advice/diagnosis and the distribution of Dr. Pierce’s Pleasant Pellets, Dr. Pierce’s Favorite Prescription and Dr. Pierce’s Golden Medical Discovery. The elder Dr. Pierce also wrote The People’s Common Sense Medical Adviser, largely a selection of testimonials from past patients. Pierce ultimately distributed more than 3 million copies worldwide to a patient list of notables, including President Calvin Coolidge. The Pierces also advertised extensively through newspapers, barn-side billboards and store signs. Given the nature of their treatments and their alcohol-laced medications, the doctors faced repeated accusations of quackery. In June 1907, a court ordered The Ladies’ Home Journal to pay Dr. R.V. Pierce $17,581 to settle a lawsuit regarding derogatory comments it made about his medicines and treatments.

On occasion the Invalids Hotel admitted “transient patients” for treatment. In a self-published brochure, it specifically claimed not to be a hospital: “There are no ‘wards’ in the Invalids Hotel. Every patient becomes a guest, as in a modern hotel, with the privacy of a separate room and the atmosphere of a real home.” In fact, the Pierces lived in a house next door, another homey touch. Sundance and Ethel sought treatment possibly for Sundance’s gunshot wound and/or catarrh, though others speculate Ethel, or both of them, may have had a venereal disease. No Pierce records survive.

Sundance and Ethel probably spent time strolling Main Street and would undoubtedly have been amazed at the motorcar sales and repair shops. They were probably unaware of the family connections between their doctors and the new Pierce-Arrow. The couple might have seen a “moving picture” at the theater two doors down from the “hotel” or walked through the Palace Arcade, a three-story indoor mall with full skylights one building farther.

After leaving Buffalo, Sundance and Ethel joined Butch in New York City. The trio registered at Mrs. Catherine Taylor’s boarding house, at 234 W. 12th St., on February 1, 1901. Passing themselves off as cattle buyers, they signed the guest register as Mr. and Mrs. Harry Place and James Ryan, brother of Mrs. Place.

On February 3, Sundance and Ethel posed for a portrait at the DeYoung Studio, at 826 Broadway, possibly as a wedding memento. Within months the Pinkertons would track down the photo. A letter dated July 28, 1901, indicates the agency then sent copies to Pinkerton offices nationwide, including the Buffalo office, No. 506 the Fidelity Building, at Main and Swan. Presumably for identification purposes at the Invalids Hotel and elsewhere around town, the Buffalo Pinkertons ordered copies of the print through the Bliss Brothers Studio, at 368 Main. Extant copies are embossed with the Bliss Brothers logo, not the DeYoung logo.

While Sundance and Ethel were sitting for their portrait in Manhattan, Butch paid $40.10 for a gold watch at Tiffany’s, on 15th Street at Union Square. The threesome spent their evenings riding in horse-drawn carriages and strolling the outskirts of what is now Greenwich Village. Pinkerton records also show that Sundance took treatment with a Dr. Isaac Weinstein, at 174 Second Ave. Dr. Weinstein was a specialist at St. Mark’s Eye and Ear Hospital, which suggests Sundance may have sought follow-up treatment for his catarrh.

On February 20, 1901, Butch, Sundance and Ethel boarded the R.P. Houston Company freighter Herminius; the British steamer left New York the following morning, bound for Buenos Aires. After a year of work on their new ranch in Cholila, Argentina, on March 3, 1902, Sundance and Ethel returned for a visit to the States on SS Soldier Prince. They arrived in New York City on April 3, 1902, and registered at a Mrs. Thompson’s rooming house, at 325 E. 14th St. While Sundance and Ethel again played tourist, Butch remained in Buenos Aires, finalizing their application for “four square leagues of government land” and registering their cattle brands.

From New York City, Sundance and Ethel made their second trip to Buffalo. Apparently still having health woes, they returned to the Pierces’ Invalids Hotel. An undated Pinkerton memo under the heading “Des. of Longbaugh [sic] & wife as given by hospital officials who treated both in May 1902” includes:



The hospital descriptions and the NYC portrait of Sundance and Ethel soon appeared on wanted posters in the United States and Argentina. By June 1902, the couple had returned to New York City. Sundance paid $15.35 for a watch at Tiffany’s on June 25. According to the Pinkertons, the couple went to Coney Island amusement park and also visited Sundance’s brother Harvey, then working at the beach resort town of Atlantic City, N.J. Finally on July 10, 1902, Mr. and Mrs. Harry Place sailed aboard the steamer Honorius, arriving back in Buenos Aires on August 9. Although Sundance and Ethel journeyed to the United States in 1904 and 1905, no records mention any more tourist trips to Manhattan or medical trips to Buffalo.


Originally published in the August 2010 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here