Sunday, February 2, 2020

The Controversy Surrounding the Deaths of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

By Allan B. Colombo

Tales of the Old West in Western Magazine Digest (WMD) are more than just works of fiction contrived by the our authors. In most cases, they're based on historical fact. The problem is, sometimes the facts are not always so clear to those who interpret and write the official story of human history.

There are many possible reasons for this, but the most common is “conflicting accounts” among news writers and historians of the day. No better example is there than that of the alleged deaths of Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid in Bolivia on November 7th, 1908.

In part 1 of “The Life and Death of Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid,” published in WMD on November 10th, 2019, we looked at the criminal antics of Cassidy and the Kid beginning in the early days when Robert Leroy Parker (Butch) began rustling horses and robbing banks.

In part 2, published on November 17th, 2019, we discussed the criminal organization he assembled that later came to be known as the Wild Bunch, which was named after another group headed up by Bill Doolin and William Marion “Bill” Dalton.

We also learned about some of the bank and train robberies as well as the unfortunate events that led to the general demise of Cassidy's criminal organization. In time, the two ended up in Argentina and then later Bolivia where they allegedly died in a gun battle with the Bolivian Army. Before proceeding, it's probably a good idea to read part 1 and part 2.

Butch Cassidy and the Outlaw Trail - documentary - (part 1)


Why Butch and Sundance Left the United States

The short answer, in four short words: “Things were getting hot!”

If you recall, it was after Parker's Wild Bunch robbed a passenger train near Wilcox, Wyoming—when the Curry brothers killed Sheriff Joe Hazen—that the Pinkerton Detective Agency was contracted by the Union Pacific Railroad to bring the gang in, dead or alive. This led Parker to approach Utah Governor Huber concerning negotiations for amnesty.
Unfortunately, before a deal between the railroad, Huber, and Parker was reached, the Wild Bunch made the mistake of robbing another Union Pacific train. After this, the full-court press was on, and from there things began to go south, so to speak.

Eventually, Cassidy, along with the Kid and Etta Place, Sundance's wife, headed for Argentina. After conducting several high-profile robberies in South America, they headed to San Vicente after robbing a train that contained the payroll of the Aramayo Franke y Cia Silver Mine which was located in the Bolivian Andes, or so the official account goes.

It was here that someone recognized the pack animal belonging to the silver mine. In addition, the name signed on the local boardinghouse guest register was “Cassidy.” The Bolivian authorities were contacted straight away, and, by the next day, a fierce gun battle ended with the deaths of the two strangers, assumed to be Cassidy and the Kid.

Although the story made for a great movie in 1969, where Paul Newman and Robert Redford starred in Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, there could be a problem with how this $6 million film ended as well as the accepted historic account. We can't blame historians for getting it wrong--if it's wrong. Instead, perhaps, we should look to an overzealous detective agency, anxious to collect their reward, as well as Cassidy and the Kid who were anxious to bury their criminal past once and for all. If the official account is wrong, then this is where “the rest of the story” begins.

Butch Cassidy and the Outlaw Trail - documentary - (part 2)


Were Their Deaths Faked or Authentic?

In the final moments of the 1969 blockbuster movie, Newman and Redford took an offensive position in an attempt to escape, but the odds were against them. In reality, the two men that died at the hands of the Bolivian Army were later found dead inside their rented room allegedly under somewhat odd circumstances—at least according to those who were there.
“One of the men had a bullet wound in the forehead and the other had a bullet wound in the temple. The police report surmised from their positions of the bodies that one bandit had shot his mortally wounded partner to put him out of his misery, before killing himself with his final bullet soon after” (Wikipedia, http://bit.ly/3b5oTE3).

After the deaths of the two men in San Vicente, the local police conducted an investigation after which it was concluded that both men were responsible for the payroll train robbery that had taken place a few days before. But so far as the men being Cassidy and the Kid, it was not proven at the time and there are many historians who claim that there's several key pieces of evidence that points to another ending for the two gentleman crooks.

For instance, the Bolivian government also conducted an investigation of their own. Like the police department, they were able to connect the two deceased gringos to the train robbery, but they were unable to positively verify that the deceased were Cassidy and the Kid. To this very day, the San Vicente locals insist that the two famous hombres are buried in the town's small graveyard.

Butch Cassidy My Uncle by Bill Betenson Part 1


Reports to the Contrary Began to Surface

It's been suggested that these two famous criminals effectively faked their own deaths. According to the official account, the two men who checked into the San Vicente boarding house under the name “Cassidy.”

There are two problems with this. First, as smart and cunning as Parker/Cassidy was in real life, it's difficult to believe that he would have signed his assumed name on the guest register. The second problem is, who on earth could possibly convince others to take their place in a gun battle? Perhaps it's more likely that Cassidy and the Kid had two accomplices who used the name “Cassidy,” Still yet, another possibility is that Cassidy was able to get someone to foster the story of their deaths, or perhaps he paid key townspeople to do it.

The fact is, there's a mountain of evidence that suggests that Cassidy for one did not suffer death in Bolivia. For example, “One of these claims was that Longabaugh lived under the name of William Henry Long in the small town of Duchesne, Utah. Long died in 1936, and his remains were exhumed in December 2008 and subjected to DNA testing. Anthropologist John McCullough stated Long's remains did not match the DNA which they had gotten "from a distant relative of the Sundance Kid" (Wikipedia, http://bit.ly/3b5oTE3).

Cassidy's sister, Lula Parker Betenson, who was 18 years younger than her brother, claimed that Butch had come to visit her and their father in and about 1925. If true, this would indicate that at least one of the crime duo made it out of South America alive. She wrote a book, entitled “Butch Cassidy, My Brother,” published in 1975, in which she told the story of how he came to Circleville, Utah to pay her a visit. Unfortunately, Lula died on August 5, 1980, at the ripe, old age of 96.

Another story where Butch Cassidy returned from the dead involved Josie Bassett who claimed that he had paid her a visit after his alleged death. Josie and her sister, Ann Bassett, were outlaws with Cassidy's Wild Bunch. These are just the beginning of the reports that have surfaced years and years later involving the appearance of Butch Cassidy.

In 1991, Clyde Snow and his organization attempted to verify or disprove the allegation that Cassidy and the Kid died in 1908. The bodies in the grave alleged to hold the two criminals were exhumed and Snow conducted a DNA test on one of them. The body that was examined that day, however, was that of a German miner.

Butch Cassidy My Uncle by Bill Betenson Part 2


In Conclusion, in the following sidebar, composed by WMD Christopher Robinson, is the video of an episode of “In Search of,” narrated by Leonard Nemoy. In it, you will find additional claims where individuals saw and talked to Butch Cassidy many years after the Bolivia shootout.

Truth be known, the sad fact is we may never know exactly what happened that fateful day in Bolivia on November 6, 1908.

Leonard Nemoy's In Search Of
Space may be the final frontier but the previous one could be just as intriguing. In 1978, Butch Cassidy’s alleged appearances after the Bolivian shootout was a subject of an episode on the series, In Search Of… hosted by Leonard Nimoy, no stranger to westerns himself.

Interviews and reenactments were utilized to examine the theory that has Cassidy living past his supposed killing and returning to hometown Circleville, Utah as well as Baggs, Wyoming in 1924. There Cassidy is said to have stopped into a general store and hotel while also visiting and staying at his old family home. His death is speculated by at least one interviewee to have actually occurred in 1937, twenty-nine years after history would officially have it.

Though the 30-minute installment of the popular series served to support the less accepted point of view, it also stressed that the accounts are only limited to witnesses’ statements and historical proof on either side is scant, at best. Such was the case with many episodes as it featured a disclaimer in the opening emphasizing that the sources relied on theory and conjecture and reminded viewers that the explanations were “not necessarily the only ones” to the questions regarding its stories and subjects. As Mr. Spock himself might say-“Fascinating!” --Christopher Robinson

In Search Of...Butch Cassidy

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7 comments:

  1. Are there any facts or legends as to what happened to Etta?

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    1. Jaxtrish, everything that I've read during my research indicated that Etta and Sundance both quietly faded away into the sunset without any ado. There are those who say that the story about Su Sundance being seen in the 20's was not so, that Etta was the only one ever seen afer the Bolivia event. If you recall, Etta did not return to Bolivia with Sundance when he rejoined Butch for that last go-round.

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  2. Replies
    1. Cadfael, you are quite welcome. Did you have a chance to watch any of the documentaries provided within the story? How else can we make these stories more interesting?

      Thank you,
      Al Colombo

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  3. We did get the docos here, some of them at any rate. This was one. Another I think was on Billy The Kid. It was a while back and I don't remember them now.

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  4. Very interesting story, though one has to take issue with what historian, Daniel Buck, says about Harvey Logan, one of the gang members. He may have been psychopathic, but most of his killings, including revenge killings, seemed to have happened in the course of gunfights, that barely qualify him for the "psychopathic killer" title.

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  5. The dead Logan's photo doesn't look like him at all. Fake photos are part and parcel of story tellers, be they historians or journalists, to impress or mislead the public. Again, Logan wasn't a killer per se, but more like trigger-happy, as most of his reported killings happened in fair gunfights. He was also credited with fathering "85" children, lol.

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