From his early days as a cattle thief to his later career as a bank and train robber, Butch Cassidy was a desperado with a difference.
Unlike many of his grizzled, happy-with-gun counterparts, Cassidy (born Robert LeRoy Parker) has cultivated an image of Robin Hood of the last days, stealing from the rich and, at least occasionally, giving to the poor.
“Indeed, ordinary people weren’t even hurt financially by Butch and his boys, who drew a clear line between banks and railroads and the people who frequented them,” writes Charles Leerhsen in his 2020 biography. , Butch Cassidy: The True Story of an American Outlaw. Many of Cassidy’s contemporaries, Leerhsen adds, considered him “the best villain they’ve ever met.”
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Hit the jackpot on your first try
While there is evidence that Cassidy, still known as Bob Parker, may have been involved in a Denver bank robbery in the spring of 1889, her famous first robbery took place in the booming mining town of Telluride, Colorado that summer. He and several Confederates cornered the San Miguel Valley bank, getting away with at least $ 20,000 in cash. In today’s dollars, that would be close to $ 600,000.
Cassidy used some of the loot to buy a ranch in Northwestern Wyoming and appears to have gone straight for some time. But in 1894 he was convicted of horse theft and sentenced to two years in a Wyoming prison. His name was now George Cassidy.
In 1896, shortly after his release from prison, Cassidy and two other men cornered the bank in Montpelier, Idaho, picking up silver and gold and silver coins that could be worth up to $ 16,500 ( over $ 500,000 today). The following year, Cassidy and her team hired two employees from a coal company in Castle Gate, Utah, relieving them of the company’s payroll of $ 9,860 (over $ 300,000 today). . The payroll had just arrived by train, and soon he was going to steal the trains himself.
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The Wild Bunch is born and Sundance signs
Cassidy was now the leader of a small group of outlaws that came to be known as Wild Bunch. Among them was Harry Longabaugh, aka the Sundance Kid.
In 1899, gang members restrained a Union Pacific Railroad train near Wilcox, Wyoming, blasting up one or two safes (counts differ) and helping themselves with contents, a estimated value over $ 50,000. While it’s not clear that Cassidy was at the scene – or simply orchestrated the crime – he is believed to have shared the loot. The following year, the gang struck another train, near Tipton, Wyoming, opening a safe again. This time, according to Richard Patterson Butch Cassidy: a biography (1998), the transport may have approached $ 55,000, and Cassidy was most likely on hand to collect it personally. If those dollar figures are correct, the two robberies grossed the gang over $ 3 million in today’s dollars.
But with the turn of the new century, Cassidy seems to have resolved to give up her criminal career and, to escape the law, leave the United States. He and Longabaugh opted for South America, and Longabaugh invited his girlfriend, Etta Place, to join them. In the meantime, however, the Wild Bunch managed one final train theft, this one in July 1901, near Wagner, MT. Whether Cassidy was with her former gang is a matter of debate; if that were the case, he would have shared an estimated catch of $ 40,000 (nearly $ 1.25 million today).
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By 1902 Cassidy, Longabaugh, and Place had moved to Argentina, where they purchased a cattle farm. Within a few years, however, the two were involved in a series of bank, train and stagecoach robberies. While they had managed to escape North American authorities, they were now wanted on a whole new continent. In early November 1908, following a payroll theft, they were cornered by Bolivian troops in the town of San Vicente.
Although the popular 1969 film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid showed them charging the Bolivians in a final surge of suicidal glory, the reality was darker. From the way the bodies were found, it appeared Cassidy shot Longabaugh in the head, then turned the gun on him.
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But was his death just a hoax?
Historians generally accept this version of events. Despite this, many witnesses have claimed to have seen Cassidy years, sometimes decades, after her supposed death. Among those witnesses was his own sister, Lula Parker Betenson, who maintained until her death in 1980 that he visited her in 1925 and that he died, under an assumed name, in 1937. A newspaper article widely published in 1938 made a similar claim, based on an interview with a Wyoming rancher who said Cassidy had died the previous year in Spokane, Wash., where he called himself Bill Phillips. To complicate matters, Phillips seems to have encouraged speculation that he was in fact Cassidy.
READ MORE: The mysterious deaths of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Many of these stories involved Cassidy returning to retrieve the loot he had hidden during his years as an outlaw. In 1968, a traveling cigarette salesman presented evidence which he said showed Cassidy had died in 1953 “after decades of fruitless hunting in the mountains of Wyoming to find a buried gold safe, him and a friend. bandit would have stolen from a stagecoach in 1897. ”
Biographer Patterson tells of a local legend that Cassidy buried money in an iron pot near Lander, Wyoming, marking nearby trees with mules. Unfortunately, the trees then caught fire and burned down. Bill Phillips, the Cassidy lookalike who some believe was the real thing, seems to have taken this story seriously. He visited an Indian reservation in Lander in 1934 but seems to have left empty-handed. He might have had better luck in Colorado or Utah, where Cassidy would have hid other caches.
For decades, these rumors have inspired treasure hunters to seek out Cassidy’s loot, but so far no one has succeeded. Unless of course they found the money, packed it up, and made a clean getaway – a feat Cassidy surely would have appreciated.
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