As portrayed by Newman and Redford, the pair were loveable rascals who went out in a blaze of glory in Bolivia. Is the truth less glamorous?
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid robbed trains, banks and stole horses in the 1890s Wild West. Their characters were immortalised in the 1969 film bearing their name and starring the 60’s film idols Paul Newman as Butch and Robert Redford as the Kid.
Butch, born Robert Leroy Parker on 13 April 1866 in Beaver, Utah, was the son of a Mormon family. He left home at 13 to work as a labourer. Shifting with the work, Butch fell in with Mike Cassidy a cattle and horse hustler. Cassidy’s occupation was more exciting than manual labour and Butch joined in his gang and later assumed his name.
Pursued by the law, Butch moved through Wyoming until he was given 18 months inside for stealing horses. On his release, Butch formed his own gang – the Wild Bunch – which included the Sundance Kid (born Harry Longabaugh). Known for their flair and daring, not their violence, the Wild Bunch held up trains with some success.
But with their success came detectives and bounties. Keen to escape with their lives Butch, the Kid and his fiancée Etta Place travelled to New York and sailed to Argentina in 1901.
In South America, the trio robbed banks and trains. For a while, they retired to run a ranch in Argentina, but the quiet life didn’t last long. In 1908, the Bolivian government say Butch and the Kid were trapped by their soldiers, and that in the ensuing gun battle the Kid was killed and Butch shot himself. Yet other reports claim the outlaws returned to the USA under aliases and lived out their lives peacefully.
Many have claimed to be Butch, the most credible was William Philips a machine shop owner in Washington. He produced a manuscript in the 20’s called “The Invincible Bandit – the story of Butch Cassidy.”
The book was very detailed, the man also resembled Butch facially and owned a pistol with his brand carved into the butt and a ring known to have belonged to Butch. Philips died in a nursing home in 1937.