Hand color tinted photo of Butch Cassidy, aka Robert LeRoy Parker, Mugshot from the Wyoming Territorial Prison in Laramie, Wyoming 1894
Butch Cassidy (April 13, 1866 – ca. November 7, 1908), born Robert LeRoy Parker, was a notorious American train robber, bank robber, and leader of the Hole in the Wall Gang.
Parker was born in Circleville, Utah, to Maximillian Parker and Ann Campbell Gillies, English and Scottish Mormon immigrants, respectively, who came to the Utah Territory in the late 1850s. His parents had been residents of Victoria Road, Preston, Lancashire. He was the first of 13 children born to the Parkers. He grew up on his parents’ ranch near Circleville, Utah, 215 miles (346 km) south of Salt Lake City, Utah. Parker left home during his early teens, and while working at a dairy farm, he fell in with Mike Cassidy, a horse thief and cattle rustler. He subsequently worked at several ranches in addition to a brief stint as a butcher in Rock Springs, Wyoming, when he acquired the nickname “Butch”, to which he soon appended the surname Cassidy in honor of his old friend and mentor.
Life as a criminal
1880-1887 — first incidents, becoming a robber
Parker’s first offense was minor. About 1880, he journeyed to a clothier’s shop in another town only to find the shop closed. He entered the shop and took a pair of jeans and some pie, leaving an IOU promising to pay on his next visit. However, the clothier pressed charges. Parker was acquitted at a jury trial.
He continued to work on ranches until 1884, when he moved to Telluride, Colorado, ostensibly to seek work but perhaps to deliver stolen horses to buyers. He led a cowboy’s life in Wyoming and in Montana, before returning to Telluride in 1887. There he met Matthew Warner, the owner of a race horse. The men raced the horse at various events, dividing the winnings between them.
1889-1895 — Early robberies, going to prison
The same trio, together with an unknown fourth man, were responsible for the robbery on June 24, 1889, of the San Miguel Valley Bank in Telluride in which they stole approximately $21,000, after which they fled to the Robbers Roost, a remote hideout in southeastern Utah.
In 1890, Parker purchased a ranch near Dubois, Wyoming. This location is across the state from the notorious hole-in-the-Wall, a natural geological formation which afforded outlaws much welcomed protection and cover, and so the suspicion has always existed that Parker’s ranching, at which he was never economically successful, was in fact a façade which operated to conceal more clandestine activities, perhaps in conjunction with Hole-in-the-Wall outlaws.
In early 1894, Parker became involved romantically with Old West outlaw and rancher Ann Bassett. Bassett’s father, rancher Herb Bassett, did business with Parker, supplying him with fresh horses and beef. That same year, Parker was arrested at Lander, Wyoming, for stealing horses and possibly for running a protection racket among the local ranchers there. Imprisoned in the state prison in Laramie, Wyoming, he served 18 months of a two-year sentence and was released in January 1896, having promised Governor William Alford Richards that he would not again offend in that state in return for a partial remission of his sentence. Upon his release, he became involved briefly with Ann Bassett’s older sister, Josie, then returned to his involvement with Ann.
1896-1897 — Leaving prison and forming the Wild Bunch
Upon his release he associated himself with a circle of criminals, most notably his closest friend Elzy Lay, Harvey “Kid Curry” Logan, Ben Kilpatrick, Harry Tracy, Will “News” Carver, Laura Bullion, and George Curry, who, together with others, formed a gang known as the Wild Bunch, and with this his criminal activity increased considerably. Despite the Wild Bunch often being portrayed as mostly non-violent, in reality the gang was responsible for numerous killings during their robbery activities.
On August 13, 1896, Parker, Lay, Harvey Logan and Bob Meeks robbed the bank at Montpelier, Idaho, escaping with approximately $7,000. Shortly thereafter he recruited Harry Longabaugh, alias “The Sundance Kid”, a native of Pennsylvania, into the Wild Bunch.
In early 1897, Parker was joined at “Robbers Roost” by his off and on girlfriend Ann Bassett, Elzy Lay, and Lay’s girlfriend Maude Davis. The four hid out there until early April, when Lay and Parker sent the women home so that they could plan their next robbery. On April 21, 1897, in the mining town of Castle Gate, Utah, Parker and Lay ambushed a small group of men carrying the payroll of the Pleasant Valley Coal Company from the railroad station to their office, stealing a sack containing $7,000 in gold, with which they again fled to the Robber’s Roost.
On June 2, 1899, the gang robbed a Union Pacific overland flyer near Wilcox, Wyoming, a robbery that became famous and which resulted in a massive man hunt. Many notable lawmen of the day took part in the hunt for the robbers, but they were not found.
During one shootout with lawmen following that robbery, both Kid Curry and George Curry shot and killed Sheriff Joe Hazen. Noted killer for hire and contract employee of the Pinkerton Agency, Tom Horn, obtained information from explosives expert Bill Speck that revealed that they had shot Hazen, which Horn passed on to Pinkerton detective Charlie Siringo. The gang escaped into the Hole-In-The-Wall. Siringo was assigned the task of capturing the outlaw gang. He became friends with Elfie Landusky, who was by then going by the last name Curry alleging that Lonny Curry, Kid Curry’s brother, had gotten her pregnant. Through her, Siringo intended to locate the gang.
On July 11, 1899, Lay and others were involved in a train robbery near Folsom, New Mexico, which Parker may have planned and may have been directly involved in, which led to a shootout with local law enforcers in which Lay, arguably Parker’s best friend and closest confidante, killed Sheriff Edward Farr and posseman Henry Love, leading to his imprisonment for life in the New Mexico State Penitentiary.
The Wild Bunch would usually split up following a robbery, heading in different directions, and later reunite at a set location, such as the Hole-in-the-Wall hideout, “Robbers Roost”, or Madame Fannie Porter’s brothel, in San Antonio, Texas. The Hole-in-the-Wall hideout has been assembled at Old Trail Town in Cody, Wyoming. It was built in 1883 by Alexander Ghent.
Failed attempt at amnesty
Perhaps as a consequence of the loss of Lay, Parker appears to have approached Governor Heber Wells of Utah, which had joined the Union in 1896, to negotiate an amnesty, but Wells appears to have recoiled from this, advising Parker to instead approach the Union Pacific Railroad to persuade them to drop their criminal complaints against him. Possibly because of bad weather, however, this meeting never took place. The Union Pacific Railroad, under chairman E. H. Harriman, did subsequently attempt to meet with Parker, through Parker’s old ally Matthew Warner, who had been released from prison. On August 29, 1900, however, Parker, Longabaugh and others robbed a Union Pacific train near Tipton, Wyoming, violating Parker’s earlier promise to the governor of Wyoming not to offend again in that state, and effectively ending the prospects for amnesty.
Meanwhile, on February 28, 1900, lawmen attempted to arrest Kid Curry’s brother, Lonny Curry, at his aunt’s home. Lonny was killed in the shootout that followed, and his cousin Bob Lee was arrested for rustling and sent to prison in Wyoming. On March 28, Kid Curry and Bill Carver were pursued by a posse out of St. Johns, Arizona, after being identified as passing notes possibly from the Wilcox, Wyoming, robbery. The posse caught up with them and engaged them in a shootout, during which Deputy Andrew Gibbons and Deputy Frank LeSueur were killed. Carver and Curry escaped. On April 17, George Curry was killed in a shootout with Grand County, Utah, Sheriff John Tyler and Deputy Sam Jenkins. On May 26, Kid Curry rode into Moab, Utah, and killed both Tyler and Jenkins in a brazen shootout, in retaliation for their killing of George Curry, and for the death of his brother Lonny.
Parker, Longabaugh, and Bill Carver traveled to Winnemucca, Nevada, where on September 19, 1900, they robbed the First National Bank of $32,640. In December, Parker posed in Fort Worth, Texas for the now-famous Fort Worth Five Photograph, which depicts Parker, Longabaugh, Harvey Logan (alias Kid Curry), Ben Kilpatrick and William Carver. The Pinkerton Detective Agency obtained a copy of the photograph and began to use it for its latest wanted posters.
Kid Curry rejoined the gang, and together with Parker and Longabaugh they robbed another Union Pacific train near Wagner, Montana. This time, they took over $60,000 in cash. Again the gang split up, and gang member Will Carver was killed by one pursuing posse led by Sheriff Elijah Briant. On December 12, 1901, gang member Ben Kilpatrick was captured in Knoxville, Tennessee, along with Laura Bullion. On December 13, during a shootout with lawmen, Kid Curry killed Knoxville policemen Willian Dinwiddle and Robert Saylor, and escaped. Curry, despite being pursued by Pinkerton agents and other law enforcement officials, returned to Montana, where he shot and killed rancher James Winters, responsible for the killing of his brother Johnny years before.
1901 — media exposure, travel to South America
Parker and Longabaugh then fled east to New York City, and on February 20, 1901, together with Ethel “Etta” Place, Longabaugh’s female companion, they departed to Buenos Aires, Argentina, aboard the British steamer Herminius, Parker posing as James Ryan, Place’s fictional brother. There he settled with Longabaugh and Place in a four-room log cabin on a 15,000-acre (61 km²) ranch that they purchased on the east bank of the Rio Blanco near Cholila, Chubut province in west-central Argentina, near the Andes.
1905 and his last years — his biggest robbery, evading the law
On February 14, 1905, two English-speaking bandits, who may have been Parker and Longabaugh, held up the Banco de Tarapacá y Argentino in Río Gallegos, 700 miles (1,130 km) south of Cholila, near the Strait of Magellan. Escaping with a sum that would be worth at least US $100,000 today, the pair vanished north across the bleak Patagonian steppes.
On May 1, the trio sold the Cholila ranch because the law was beginning to catch up with them. The Pinkerton Agency had known their location for some time, but the rainy season had prevented their assigned agent, Frank Dimaio, from traveling there and making an arrest. Governor Julio Lezana had then issued an arrest warrant, but before it could be executed Sheriff Edward Humphreys, a Welsh Argentine who was friendly with Parker and enamored of Etta Place, tipped them off.
The trio fled north to San Carlos de Bariloche where they embarked on the steamer Condor across Nahuel Huapi Lake and into Chile. However by the end of that year they were again back in Argentina; on December 19, Parker, Longabaugh, Place and an unknown male took part in the robbery of the Banco de la Nacion in Villa Mercedes, 400 miles (650 km) west of Buenos Aires, taking 12,000 pesos. Pursued by armed lawmen, they crossed the Pampas and the Andes and again reached the safety of Chile.
On June 30, 1906, Etta Place decided that she had had enough of life on the run and was escorted back to San Francisco by Longabaugh. Parker, under the alias James “Santiago” Maxwell, obtained work at the Concordia Tin Mine in the Santa Vera Cruz range of the central Bolivian Andes, where he was joined by Longabaugh upon his return. Ironically, their main duties included guarding the company payroll. Still wanting to settle down as a respectable rancher, Parker, late in 1907, made an excursion with Longabaugh to Santa Cruz, a frontier town in Bolivia’s eastern savannah.
The facts surrounding Parker’s death are uncertain. On November 3, 1908, near San Vicente in southern Bolivia, a courier for the Aramayo Franke and Cia Silver Mine was conveying his company’s payroll, worth about 15,000 Bolivian pesos, by mule when he was attacked and robbed by two masked American bandits who were believed to be Parker and Longabaugh. The bandits then proceeded to the small mining town of San Vicente where they lodged in a small boarding house owned by a local resident miner named Bonifacio Casasola. When Casasola became suspicious of his two foreign lodgers, as well as a mule they had in their possession which was from the Aramayo Mine, identifiable from the mine company logo on the mule’s left flank, Casasola left his house and notified a nearby telegraph officer who notified a small Bolivian Army cavalry unit stationed nearby, which was the Abaroa Regiment. The unit dispatched three soldiers, under the command of Captain Justa Concha, to San Vicente where they notified the local authorities. On the evening of November 6, the lodging house was surrounded by a small group consisting of the police chief, the local mayor and some of his officials, along with the three soldiers, to arrest the Aramayo robbers.
When the three soldiers approached the house where the two bandits were residing, the bandits opened fire, killing one of the soldiers and wounding another. A gunfight then ensued. At around 2 a.m., during a lull in the firing, the police and soldiers heard a man screaming from inside the house. Soon, a single shot was heard from inside the house, whereupon the screaming stopped. Minutes later, another shot was heard.
The standoff continued as locals kept the place surrounded until the next morning when, cautiously entering, they found two dead bodies, both with numerous bullet wounds to the arms and legs. One of the men had a bullet wound in the forehead and the other had a bullet hole in the temple. The local police report speculated that, judging from the positions of the bodies, that one bandit had probably shot his fatally wounded partner-in-crime to put him out of his misery, just before killing himself with his final bullet.
In the following investigation by the Tupiza police, the bandits were identified as the men who robbed the Aramayo payroll transport, but the Bolivian authorties didn’t know their real names, nor could they positively identify them. The bodies were buried at the small San Vicente cemetery, where they were buried close to the grave of a German miner named Gustav Zimmer. Although attempts have been made to find their unmarked graves, notably by the American forensic anthropologist Clyde Snow and his researchers in 1991, no remains with DNA matching the living relatives of Parker and Longabaugh have yet been discovered.
Claims of post-1908 survival
However, there were claims, such as by Parker’s sister Lula Parker Betenson, that he returned alive to the United States and lived in anonymity for years. In her biography “Butch Cassidy, My Brother”, Betenson cites several instances of people familiar with Parker who encountered him long after 1908, and she relates a detailed impromptu “family reunion” of Butch, their brother Mark, their father Maxi, and Lula, in 1925.
In 1974 or 1975, Red Fenwick, a diligent, reliable senior citizen columnist at The Denver Post, told writer Ivan Goldman, then a reporter at the Post, that he was acquainted with Parker’s physician, a woman. Fenwick said she was a person of absolute integrity. She told Fenwick that she had continued to treat Parker for many years after he supposedly was killed in Bolivia.
There is anecdotal and circumstantial evidence that Longabaugh also returned to the United States and died in 1937.
In his Annals of the Former World, John McPhee repeats a story told to geologist David Love (1913–2002) in the 1930s by Love’s family doctor, Francis Smith, M.D., when Love was a doctoral student. Smith stated that he had just seen Parker, that Parker told Smith that his face had been altered by a surgeon in Paris, and that he showed Smith a repaired bullet wound that Smith recognized as work he had previously done on Parker.
Western historian Charles Kelly closed the chapter “Is Butch Cassidy Dead?” in his 1938 book, Outlaw Trail, by observing that if Parker “is still alive, as these rumors claim, it seems exceedingly strange that he has not returned to Circleville, Utah, to visit his old father, Maximillian Parker, who died on July 28, 1938, at the age of 94 years.” Kelly is thought to have interviewed Parker’s father, but no known transcript of such an interview exists.
While Kelly said that all correspondence from both Parker and Longabaugh ceased after the San Vicente incident, some correspondence has been published that is dated 1930, 1937 and 1938 and said to have been written by Parker.