THE UNFOLDING JOURNEY is a new blog written in association with Legacy Genealogy.

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Sunday, June 23, 2013


The first robbery of a moving train occurred just after the Civil War. On October 6, 1866, the Reno Gang stopped and held up an Ohio & Mississippi passenger train near Seymour, Indiana. Breaking into an express company car and pointing their guns at the guard, they emptied the safe. A wave of train robberies quickly followed. Two more happened within a week. During the 1870’s, train robberies became common, and by the 1890’s had reached their peak. The Reno Gang, The Jessie James Gang, and the Dalton Gang were all known by the public. But the most successful train robbers in American history, in terms of money stolen and crimes committed without capture, was “Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch.”  


Robert LeRoy Parker was born in Beaver, Utah, in 1866. The oldest of 13 children born to English immigrants. In his early teens, he left home. He fell in with a local cattle rustler, Mike Cassidy, who became his mentor and taught the boy how to use a gun. Later, Robert worked for a while as a butcher in Wyoming, where he assumed the nickname “Butch.” He adopted Cassidy as a surname becoming Butch Cassidy.  

From the age of fourteen to twenty one, Butch committed some minor burglaries and a few horse thefts. But in 1889, he and two others robbed a bank in Telluride, Colorado, and stole $21,000, successfully avoiding capture. He bought a ranch in Wyoming and may have wanted to settle down - but a life of crime was just too exciting to become a farmer. Four years later he was arrested for stealing horses and sentenced to prison for two years. After his release, he organized a group of like-minded individuals, men and women, to engage in criminal activities. He called them “The Wild Bunch.”


Harry Alonzo Longabaugh was born in Mont Claire, Pennsylvania, one year after Butch. He is on the right in this photograph. At age 15, he longed to travel west and did so in a covered wagon with his cousin George. He too found crime romantic. In his first known crime, Harry stole a gun, a horse, and a saddle from a ranch in Sundance, Wyoming. Unlike Butch Cassidy, Harry was immediately captured and spent 18 months in jail. With time on his hands, Harry decided to change his name to “The Sundance Kid.” He worked here and there on cattle ranches until 1892 when he robbed a train. Five years later, he added bank robbery to his resume. At that time he became associated with the Butch’s “Wild Bunch.” The Kid was fast with a gun but was never known to have ever killed anyone; at least until his shootout with Bolivian soldiers years later - but that’s another story.


The gang had the reputation as being non-violent during their train and bank robberies, preferring instead to negotiate with their victims or, if necessary, using intimidation. Nevertheless, lawmen and railroad security agents (such as the Pinkerton’s) were hot on their trail. “Wanted Dead or Alive” posters were hung across the west. Rewards exceeded $30,000 just for information about their location. So between jobs, the gang needed a hideout. Butch, Sundance, and the rest of the gang frequently used the famous natural rock canyon formation in Wyoming known as the “Hole-in-the-Wall.” There they could avoid capture for long periods of time.

During 1899 and 1900, the Wild bunch was at the top of their profession. Their favorite target was the Union Pacific which always seemed to be carrying large payrolls. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were taken. After each robbery, they would split up and head in different directions; only to reunite at the Hole-in-the-Wall. In September of 1900, the gang regrouped in Ft. Worth, Texas, to take photos of themselves. One of those picture is shown here. The Sundance Kid is seated on the left and Butch Cassidy is seated on the right.


Butch and Sundance, fearing that the law was closing in around them and looking for fresh targets, decided to leave the U.S. and investigate opportunities in South America. They departed from New York City by ship, along with Etta Place (Sundance’s girlfriend), on February 20, 1901, arriving in Buenos Aires, Argentina, shortly after. After playing it cool for a while, the boys held up a bank in southern Argentina netting $100,000 U.S. The following year, Etta Place had had enough of this life and sailed to San Francisco accompanied by Sundance. But he returned to meet Butch in Bolivia where the two robbed a courier from a silver mine in 1908.

Although Butch and Sundance were unknown, a suspicious local notified a Bolivian cavalry unit of the location of these two Americans in a village. The house the Americans were in was surrounded and a gunfight ensued. During a lull, two shots were heard coming from the house, and upon investigation, the soldiers found both men dead. Their bodies had been so riddled with bullets that one had shot the other to end his suffering, then turned the gun on himself. The bodies were put into an unmarked grave - which has never been located again. 


Were the dead men Butch and Sundance? Many people say no. Relatives and friends claim that the boys returned home and told them that it was two strangers that were killed in Bolivia.

Butch’s sister Lulu continued to correspond with him for years. She said that Butch was a kind man who “just sort of got caught up in all the excitement, and then couldn’t find a way out. He never became a hardened gunslinger, but was noted for leaving big tips and paying mortgages for the poor.” Lulu also recounted a poignant Parker family reunion in 1925, attended by Butch himself. After that day, he left Utah for the last time never to return. She said that he moved to the Pacific Northwest in 1937, assuming the name William Phillips.

His own doctor told a newspaper reporter that she treated Butch for years after his return. And in 1960, Josie Bassett, a woman who was part of the Wild Bunch and once romantically linked with Butch, said that Butch lived until 1945.

Sundance also returned to Utah and took the name William Henry Long. He married a local widow and raised a large family of six step children. He was remembered by his daughter as a kind and loving man. On November 27, 1936, Henry/Sundance took his own life at his home outside of Duchesne, Utah.

We may never know all the facts, but there is considerable belief that both Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid survived their journeys in South America and returned to find peaceful lives at home - far from the spotlight.

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