My Favorite Outlaw

historic_cassidy2.jpg  What can you say about a guy who was played by Paul Newman in one of the best Westerns ever filmed?   The real Butch Cassidy wasn’t as cute as Paul (who is?), but he had his own charms.  What’s more, to this writer, Butch is practically a hometown boy!           

Butch was born Robert Leroy Parker in 1866, in Beaver, Utah, the first of thirteen children.   In 1879  the family moved over the mountain to Circleville, Utah.  I never knew Butch (no, I’m not that old), but I grew up an hour from Circleville.  My sister married a Circleville boy, and I went to school with descendants of Butch’s  younger siblings.  Lots of Parkers down that way.             

Young Roy, as he was called, cut loose early and worked odd jobs.  He earned the name Butch from the time he worked as a butcher.  Cassidy was the name of a shady rancher who befriended him as a youth.   By 1884,  Butch was rustling cattle outside Parowan, Utah.  From there he drifted to Telluride, Colorado where he pulled his first major crime, the robbery of the San Miguel Valley Bank.  He and three cowboys got away with $20,000.  They escaped along the Outlaw Trail, a meandering path that ran from Mexico to Montana.           

After Telluride, Butch’s reputation grew.  He liked to think of himself as a kind of Robin Hood, fighting for settlers’ rights against the railroads and cattle barons.  Of course, he was really just a criminal..  But what he did, he did with flair.  He gathered a band of outlaw cowboys (including Harry Longbaugh, known as the Sundance Kid) and established a hideout at the Hole-In-The-Wall, in central Wyoming.  The gang became known as the Wild Bunch.           

 By 1896 the Wild Bunch was robbing trains and banks all over the West.  Butch was a clever strategist.  His gang would strike fast and flee over a network of hidden trails.  They became bold and confident, even sprucing up to pose for the famous photograph that helped lawmen identify them.  But their glory days couldn’t last forever.  By 1900, they were on the run.  In 1902 the Wild Bunch disbanded.  Butch, Sundance, and Sundance’s girlfriend Etta Place (who was no schoolmarm) fled to Europe, then to Argentina where they bought a ranch.  In 1908 the famous shootout, with Butch and Sundance supposedly gunned down by Bolivian troops, took place.             

Now, here’s where the story gets interesting.  According to Butch’s last surviving sister, Lula Parker Betenson, her brother showed up to visit the family sixteen years later.  Current research suggests that Butch faked his death, sailed to Europe and got a facelift and returned to the U.S. where he married and went into business.  He died of cancer in 1937.  Evidence to support this includes a detailed manuscript about Cassidy’s life, which he appears to have written himself.            

Nobody can call Butch a good man.  But you have to admit he was entertaining.  Do you have a favorite bad guy, historic or fictional?  Do you find outlaw heroes appealing?


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20 thoughts on “My Favorite Outlaw”

  1. I always enjoyed the stories told of Butch & Sundance. The movies made them funny characters. They where human so I am sure that was a side to them. Although some bad guys where just mean to the bone.

    I think they have become appealing because of movies and books romanticizing them. There have been several I am sure that started out doing bad things for what they thought was good reasons. I have to go running late for work.

    I be back later today to catch up. Have a great day.

  2. Thanks, Sherry (and you’re up early). Part of Butch’s appeal is that he wasn’t known to have shot anyone. Unlike, say, Jesse James, he wasn’t a killer.
    Incidentally, the episode in the movie where he encountered the same scared mail clerk in three different train robberies is true.

  3. Elizabeth, I never knew there was so much truth in that movie. I mean the times and places.

    And that he might have lived into the 1930s.

    In the Wyatt Earp movie (I’m thinking of the one with Kurt Russell) they talked about Wyatt living into about?? the 1930s and knowing famous people. 1930s seems like modern-ish times. I know plenty of people (my mother!) who were alive then, it binds history to today.

    Ties us to what no longer seems such a long distance past. It really captures my imagination for some reason. Probably why I like writing historicals.

  4. I’m with you, Mary. One of the themes of the movie that touched me was that the old West was fading even then and these guys were pretty much relics. The wonderful scene where Butch and Etta are riding around on a bicycle to “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” says that more eloquently than words.

  5. Hi Elizabeth, you certainly posted some interesting information. I always wondered if the shootout in Bolivia held any truth to it. They were an enterprising bunch as you said. I loved that Paul Newman/Robert Redford movie about them. I’m sure they were nothing but glorified hoodlums but maybe they had some good in them too. At least Etta Place must’ve thought so.

    Some outlaws do catch my fancy and I wonder what it would be like to be on the wrong side of the law. I think some outlaws just became lawless out of necessity and had good reason in some instances. Bad boys hold a lot of appeal. I love to write about bad boys who have a reason to be the way they are and not just because they want to be. Revenge for some horrible wrong can be justified.

    I loved your book, “The Stranger” and how the hero’s brother wanted to make up to the heroine the murder his brother committed. Great story that was heavy with conflict. In a way, that hero was a sort of outlaw.

    Great post! Have a wonderful day. 🙂

  6. I saw the remake to 3:10 to Yuma and Russell Crowe’s character was one bad villian, but he wasn’t all bad. And that’s what I liked about him. He didn’t have just one dimension. In some moments, we saw honor in him and that’s what made him appealing. But honestly, I do hate the Hollywood version of movies these days, when the bad guys get away with it. I think it’s time to show our youth that crime doesn’t pay, the good guys (cowboys, police, military) are really good. It’s sad when I can predict the “twist” in the movie and it’s always one of the good guys who turns out to be the villain.

  7. Thanks, Linda. So glad you enjoyed THE STRANGER. About the shootout–it does seem to have taken place but there’s some doubt about how it really ended. A few years ago I saw a PBS special, where archaeologists had found two mysterious graves outside a Bolivian church. The bones were the bones of two men. But when they compared the DNA with members of Butch’s family, neither of them matched. Not sure what happened to Sundance. Maybe I can find out.

  8. I agree with you Charlene. The Russell Crowe character was definitely bad, and I like it that they showed that. The scene where he shot his own man, who was loyal but a brutal monster, was riveting. You have to wonder what would have been going through his mind.

  9. Elizabeth, this was so-o interesting. I probably should’ve–but I never knew the legend that Butch might have faked his own death. Wow.

    Doug and I saw Vantage Point over the weekend. Another instance Charlene mentioned–where the good guy turns into a villain. That’s all I’ll say–don’t want to ruin it for anyone–but it sure does make you wonder who you can trust in those movies!

    Outlaws have gotten much more sophisticated these days!

  10. I watched that PBS special on Butch and Sundance and was fascinated by it. It seems that there are always tales floating around about outlaws that faked their deaths (Billy the kid, Jesse James, John Dillinger)-but this one seemed more creditable than the others. I guess because his sister swore he wasn’t dead and, in my mind anyway, she would know.

    I have to agree with Charlene about Russell Crowe’s character from 3:10 to Yuma-he is definitely an outlaw character that absolutely fascinates me. He keeps you wondering, is he all bad? and that makes him interesting.

  11. Both Russell Crowe and Glenn Ford played great outlaws with heart in both Yumas. And I confess I loved the interplay of the outlaw siblings in The Long Riders. But Butch and Sundance, yowsa. Each one stole my heart in a different way.

    And I loved the “teacher lady” scene where Etta slowly undresses. Yet she wasn’t a schoolmarm? Just a girl outlaw?

    Thanks for a great read!

  12. The Newman-Redford film, portraying Butch and Sundance has always been one of my favorite movies!
    And now to know that Butch and I may have been
    alive at the same time. I was born in 1936 and if
    he really died in 1937 – very interesting! I can’t wait to tell Honey, he loves that film also.

    Pat Cochran

  13. Sorry had to leave for a couple of hours and just came back to your great comments. Butch’s sister was alive when the movie was made and interviewed after its release. She was 85 at the time. I’d be inclined to believe her–why would she lie?
    As for Etta, she was most likely a prostitute. If photos don’t lie, she was very pretty. Catherine Ross was a good choice (did you know Catherine was married to Sam Elliot? Some people have all the luck!)
    I love it that you may have been alive the same time as Butch, Pat. Sundance’s fate was unknown, but rumor has it he may have survived into the 30’s also.

  14. Yes re: Sam and Katherine being married. Their house/ranch is in my fireman hubby’s area and he says they are both the nicest, most unaffected people ever.

  15. Wouldn’t you know? I saw her in a TV interview the other night. She’s still beautiful, and looks like she’s managed it without plastic surgery. And Sam’s high on my list of dream men. That voice…

  16. Sorry I’m late! Oh my gosh—Butch Cassidy is MY favorite outlaw too 🙂 Having a series set in Wyoming during the cattle wars, I’ve read oodles on this intriguing man’s life. Do believe he pulled off some 100 robberies without ever shooting a man. The “gentleman” outlaw, stealing from the legalized crooks and giving back to the people being victimized.

    Great post, Elizabeth! I agree with the legend of Butch faking his death 😉

  17. Great post. I’ve always loved the Butch Cassidy legend as well. I do have a hankering for the outlaw with a heart of gold, particularly one transformed by the proper heroine.

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