Sunday, November 10, 2019

The Life and Death of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, part 1

By Allan B. Colombo

The ever popular western film, “Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid,” received a good deal of interest at the time it was released on October 24, 1969. I recall with clarity seeing Paul Newman and Robert Redford in action on the big screen in my own hometown. I was on a date, so perhaps I didn’t get to see it all. :-)

One thing is for certain, this 1 hour, 50 minute movie on a $6 million dollar budget was highly profitable. It resulted in more than $100 million between rentals and the box office, thus earning it the distinction of being the top-grossing film of 1969.
The film itself won four Academy Awards:
  1. Best Original Score for a Motion Picture
  2. Best Cinematography
  3. Best Original Screenplay
  4. Best Music
The Writers Guild of America also awarded William Goldman for Best Original Screenplay. In the area of western movies, it also marked the beginning of a new breed of western film, as you will learn from Robert Redford during an interview, which you will hear in the videos below.

In a world where movie characters are often mere contrivances, engineered by skillful fiction writers, the question begs, “Were there ever an honest to goodness Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid?” The short is “Yes.”

In part 1 of this two-part article, you will learn about the real life characters depicted in this widely acclaimed movie. You’ll learn about some of the capers that Cassidy and Sundance pulled off, including the criminal enterprise that was so aptly named “The Wild Bunch.” We’ll also discuss the reason why the pair finally felt it necessary to leave the country.

The Early Years

Butch Cassidy was actually Robert Leroy Parker, born April 13, 1866 in Beaver, Utah. He was the oldest of 13 siblings, a commonly big family belonging to Maximillian Parker and Ann Campbell Gillies. A mere decade earlier, his father had migrated from the United Kingdom (UK) when he, himself, was only 12 years of age. His mother migrated to the United States from the UK in 1859, when she was 14. Maximillian and Ann were joined in matrimony in 1865, a year before Robert was born.

Robert Parker and his family lived approximately 215 miles south of Salt Lake City near a small town called Circleville, Utah.

Okay, if Butch’s real name was Robert Parker, how did he acquire the name Butch Cassidy? That’s an excellent question, and here’s the answer, at least as near as anyone can tell:
“In the early 1880s, while working at a Utah ranch, Robert LeRoy Parker met Mike Cassidy, a cowhand and small-time cattle rustler and horse thief. Parker admired the older man, who taught him about training horses and shooting a gun. However, after getting into trouble with the law, Mike Cassidy fled the area, and Parker himself departed Utah in search of new opportunities after turning 18 in 1884,” says Elizabeth Nix, author of 6 Things You May Not Know About Butch Cassidy (
Highlights of Cassidy’s Criminal Career

MyMedic First Aide Kits (image)

The San Miguel Valley Bank in Telluride was the location of his first bank robbery. The booty he escaped with was $21,000. In terms of today’s currency, this would amount to more than $580,000. Not bad for a single robbery. He wasn’t alone in this caper, however. He was accompanied by Matt Warner, a partner of his in the horse racing business, as well as two of the McCarty brothers.

In 1894, Cassidy was arrested in Lander, Wyoming, for stealing horses and running a protection racket with the local ranchers. He was imprisoned in the Wyoming State Prison, located in Laramie. After serving an 18-month sentence, he was pardoned by then Governor William Alford Richards.

After his release from Wyoming State Prison, Cassidy assembled several of his past friends into the criminal enterprise that we’ve all come to know as the “Wild Bunch.” Besides himself, there were seven others:
  1. George “Flat Nose” Curry
  2. Ben Kilopatrick
  3. William Ellsworth “Elzy” Lay
  4. Will “News” Carver
  5. Harvey “Kid Curry” Logan
  6. Laura Bullion
  7. Harry Tracy
For the next bank robbery that Cassidy and his Wild Bunch planned to rob, he brought in a man named Harry Alonzo Longabaugh, also known as “The Sundance Kid.” The bank in question was located in Montpelier, Idaho, and the booty was $7,000. It’s said that as Cassidy and his merry men rode out of town, he was spotted by townspeople, which meant that authorities now knew his identity , so there was no going back to his previous life.

The next robbery was on April 22, 1897, when the Wild Bunch intercepted the payroll of the Pleasant Valley Coal Company, which was based in Castle Gate, Utah, a small mining town.

Enter: The Pinkerton Detective Agency

It was on June 2, 1899, when the Wild Bunch robbed a passenger train near Wilcox, Wyoming, called the Union Pacific Overland Flier, owned by Overland Limited. After the robbery, however, the two Curry brothers encountered and killed Sheriff Joe Hazen during an ensuing shootout.

This particular robbery put the Wild Bunch on the map, enough so that lawmen from across the area joined the hunt, but the Wild Bunch escaped again without being apprehended. However, Cassidy evidently didn’t know about the Curry shootout, not until he was told about it by Tom Horn, a killer-for-hire in the employ of Pinkerton.

To say that Cassidy and his “merry men” picked the wrong train to rob is saying it mildly. This caper was the catalyst that prompted Overland Limited to hire Pinkerton Detective Agency to go after the gang and bring them to justice. Charlie Siringo, a Pinkerton detective, was assigned the job of tracking down and capturing Cassidy and his group. His plan was to locate the outlaws through the significant other of Kid Curry’s brother.

Things are now heating up for Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid, and the natorious Wild Bumch.

What’s Coming in Part 2

The 1969 movie, as well as the Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid story in general, involves the eventual deaths of the duo in San Vicente, Bolivia, which is situated in the southern Bolivian Andes. The official story is that they were killed by the Bolivian authorities after a series of events that came to the attention of Bolivian law enforcement. Because of discrepancies in the official narrative, in addition to other counter allegations, the deaths of Cassidy and Sundance has received even more attention throughout the years since.

In part two, we’ll talk about a few more capers as well as the pair’s escape to Argentina and Bolivia where they were sought by local authorities, in conjunction with the Pinkerton Detective Agency. We’ll also discuss the assertions made by a variety of researchers, including Cassidy’s own sister, Lula Parker Betenson in her 1975 book entitled “Butch Cassidy, My Brother,” that the Bolivian rumors and assertions were fabricated, unsubstantiated, and all out wrong. We’ll also discuss several of the recent discoveries, one of them involving the exhuming of the body and the use of DNA testing.

Be sure to read part 2.

Al Colombo

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