What Happened to Butch and Sundance?

Hey, Readers. Today’s Mystery Monday was originally posted in 2019, but since I’m in the middle of the Menagerie tour and busy with my WIP, I didn’t have time to come up with a new post. I thought this was a topic worth repeating.

There have been many stories about old west outlaws who supposedly survived and lived to be old men. I discount the majority of those, but the story of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is one that leaves me to believe it’s possible they didn’t die in South America.

‘Wait a minute. You didn’t see Lefores out there did you?”
“Lefores? 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.

The two outlaws 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 did they survive and return to the United States? Let’s take a look at 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, a cowboy and cattle rustler, who introduced him to the business of stealing livestock.

Robert Leroy Parker, AKA Butch Cassidy (Public domain)

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, Colorado. 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, Sundance met Etta Place. Shortly after that, he became involved with Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch.

The Sundance Kid and Etta Place (Public Domain)

The Wild Bunch pulled off several successful robberies of banks and trains. Pinkerton agents began a search for the notorious outlaws. The gang committed its 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 some 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 his family in Utah in 1925.

Butch’s sister, Lula Parker Betenson 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.

Here’s a bit of trivia about the movie.

  • With nine wins, Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid currently holds the record for the British Academy Awards (BAFTAs). It won best picture, best actor (Robert Redford), best actress (Katharine Ross), best director (George Roy Hill), screenplay, cinematography, film editing, sound, and score. It won every award it could, as its tenth nomination was a dual nomination for Best Actor. However, it lost in the American Academy Awards to Midnight Cowboy for best picture.
  • Lula Parker Betenson, sister of the real Butch Cassidy, often visited the set, and her presence was welcome by the cast and crew. During lulls in shooting, she would tell stories about her famous brother’s escapades and was amazed at how accurately the script and Paul Newman portrayed him.
  • Although he only had one brief scene and no frontal shots, this was the film debut of actor Sam Elliott. He met (and later married) co-star, Katharine Ross.
  • Butch Cassidy’s gang was more commonly known as “The Wild Bunch.” When director Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch was released a few months earlier, the name of the gang was changed to the Hole in the Wall Gang to avoid confusion with Peckinpah’s film.

38 thoughts on “What Happened to Butch and Sundance?

  1. It is a great movie and probably a bit more lighthearted than their real lives. I guess we will never know what really happened to them but it would have been nice to think that Sundance and Etta got together again. Does anyone know what happened to her?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love the lighthearted humor in the film, especially the “I can’t swim” scene. I’d like to think Sundance and Etta did get together again, but no one seems to know anything about what happened to her after South America.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never watched the movie, Joan. Love both those actors, so I have no excuse. I like the speculation they might have lived, and by those family accounts maybe they did.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Such an interesting mystery, Joan. And add in the fact that Butch Cassidy was born on a Friday 13th, and it gets even better. 🙂 Who knows what really happened to them. It makes me think of the Billy The Kid story. Love the movie trivia, and I did not know that was Sam Elliott’s debut. Now, I want to go watch it again. Grat post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is cool! I had no idea he was born on a Friday the 13th. Billy the Kid is another one of those “mysteries.” I might do a future post on him. Sam is one of the card players at the first of the movie, but you won’t see his face. He’s one of my favorite actors.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’d heard the families didn’t believe the deaths were really Butch and Sundance. I know they were criminals, but I was always rooting for them to have survived. (Probably need to give credit to Newman and Redford for that.)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Great post, Joan, I suspect this will haunt me for the rest of the day. I believed the movie and assumed the two died in the shoot-out. We need a follow-up film–with you as the consulting historian! 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What I liked about the movie is that although it did end in a barrage of gunfire, we never saw them go down. Historian? Nope, I’m just an amateur who likes to research things like this. Thanks, Gwen.


  6. What a great post, Joan. I’ve seen the movie multiple times, but never realized there were rumors that Butch and Sundance survived that shootout. It really gives you pause for thought and just adds to their legend.

    Liked by 2 people

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