Hey everyone. After a month away for NaNoWriMo, I’m back. (More about that to come.)
For this week’s Mystery Monday, I’m turning to the old west and the story of two famous outlaws.
Wait a minute—you didn’t see Lefors out there, did you?
Lefors? No, why?
Thank God for that. For a moment there, I thought we were in trouble.
It’s one of the more ambiguous (and great) movie endings of all time. The 1969 film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford, is a personal favorite of mine.
The two are holed up in a building somewhere in Bolivia, surrounded by police and military. Wounded but not down, their only hope of getting out is to make a run for it. With guns loaded, they dash outside and are met with a barrage of gunfire. The film freezes. We never see them go down, but are led to believe they died. After all, who could survive a firing squad?
Like most films about notorious outlaws, this one isn’t entirely accurate. What’s the real story of Butch and Sundance? Did they die in Bolivia? Or survive and return to the United States? Let’s take a look into the lives of these men.
Butch Cassidy was born Robert Leroy Parker on April 13, 1866, in Beaver, Utah Territory. As a teenager, he worked on a cattle ranch. There he met Mike Cassidy, cowboy and cattle rustler, who introduced him into the business of stealing livestock.
Robert left home at age eighteen to begin a life of crime, first with cattle rustling and other small offenses. In 1889, he successfully robbed his first bank in Telluride. He changed his name to Cassidy, after his friend Mike. The name Butch wasn’t by choice. He needed to lay low and took a job as a butcher in Rock Springs, Wyoming, hence the name.
Harry Alonzo Longabaugh was born in 1867 in Mont Claire, Pennsylvania. At the age of fifteen, he traveled west. In 1887, he stole a gun, horse, and saddle from a ranch in Sundance, Wyoming. Authorities captured him, and he served eighteen months in jail. He then adopted the nickname, Sundance.
In the mid-1890s, he met Etta Place. Shortly after that, he became involved with Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch.
The Wild Bunch pulled off several successful robberies of banks and trains. Pinkerton agents began a search for the notorious outlaws. The gang committed their last robbery on September 19, 1900, in Winnemucca, Nevada.
Not long after, Sundance and Etta went to Argentina. It’s not known if Butch went with them immediately or followed shortly thereafter.
Butch and Sundance bought property under assumed names. However, it wasn’t long before they were accused of a string of bank robberies. Etta returned to the US, while the men went to Bolivia.
On November 4, 1908 two men, thought to be Butch and Sundance, robbed a payroll near the town of Tupiza in southern Bolivia. Three days later the pair arrived in San Vicente, Bolivia. There are varying accounts of what happened next. Some sources say villagers became suspicious and notified authorities. Bolivian soldiers were called in, and a shootout ensued. Reportedly the soldiers killed the suspects.
Other accounts say one of the outlaws killed his partner before turning the gun on himself. Either way, the pair were buried in unmarked graves in a San Vicente cemetery.
However, there is no conclusive evidence linking Cassidy and Sundance to the robbery and shootout. In the late 20th century, researchers exhumed remains thought to be those of the payroll bandits. After a detailed forensic analysis and a comparison of DNA to the relatives of Cassidy and Longabaugh, experts found there was no match.
Adding to the mystery is the fact Butch’s family doesn’t believe he died in Bolivia. A nephew stated there were at least twenty well-documented sightings of Cassidy after 1908. He supposedly visited in his family in Utah in 1925.
His sister, Lula Parker Bentenson claimed he kept in touch with the family until his (alleged) real death in 1937.
I’m unaware of any sightings of the Sundance Kid after Bolivia. While it’s possible the bodies of the two outlaws are buried elsewhere in the cemetery, without any conclusive proof, the fate of Butch and Sundance remains a mystery.