Did Butch and Sundance Escape From the Bolivian Army?

Almost everyone is familiar with the story of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid as

Robert LeRoy Parker aka Butch Cassidy 1893

portrayed in the movie by Paul Newman and Robert Redford. In the ending of that movie, the outlaws are cornered by the Bolivian Army and appear to go out in a ‘blaze of glory’. That is the generally accepted real life ending of the story as well.

Since then, rumours have circulated that one, or both, of them survived and lived to a ripe old age.

In 1969, when 20th Century Fox released its box office smash ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,’ reporters came to Cassidy’s childhood home, looking for his family. They found Mrs. Lula Parker Betenson, 86, Butch’s youngest sister. Among other things, she told reporters that Cassidy had not died in South America in 1909, as was widely believed, but had come back to visit some 16 years later, in 1925. Lula said that Butch instead died in Spokane, Wash., in 1937, and spent his last years as a trapper and prospector.

His started his run-ins with the law at an early age.

Born Robert LeRoy Parker in Beaver, Utah on April 13, 1866, Cassidy was the first of 13 children. His Mormon parents had come to Utah from England in 1856. His parents moved over the mountains to Circleville in 1879 and young Roy, as he was known about the house, worked in ranches across western Utah, including at Hay Springs, near Milford. On one of these early jobs Roy had his first run-in with the law – he let himself into a closed shop, took a pair of jeans, and left a note promising to return later to pay his debt. But things did not go well in Circleville for the Parker family – Roy’s dad, Maximillian, lost land to another homesteader in a property rights dispute – and Roy ended up looking to a shady local rancher, Mike Cassidy, in admiration. By 1884, Roy was rustling cattle from Parowan (just over the Markagunt Plateau) and his life on the lam had begun. He soon took on the name Butch Cassidy, perhaps in honor of his childhood hero.

Roy Parker has been called a sort of Robin Hood of the Western frontier, a man who bristled at the notion that large cattle outfits were squeezing the smaller rancher out of business. In the years following 1884, Roy drifted west to Telluride, Colo., stopping along the way in the back of beyond territory known as the Robber’s Roost, which is in the rough foothills of the Henry Mountains. He also worked in Green River.

Mead Gruver of the  Associated Press has a new twist on the story as published here in Salon Magazine.

A rare books collector says he has obtained a manuscript with new evidence that Butch Cassidy wasn’t killed in a 1908 shootout in Bolivia but returned to the U.S. and lived peaceably in Washington state for almost three decades.

The manuscript, “Bandit Invincible: The Story of Butch Cassidy,” dates to 1934. At 200 pages, it’s twice as long as a previously known but unpublished novella of the same title by William T. Phillips, a machinist who died in Spokane in 1937.

Utah book collector Brent Ashworth and Montana author Larry Pointer say the text contains the best evidence yet — with details only Cassidy could have known — that “Bandit Invincible” was not biography but autobiography, and that Phillips himself was the legendary outlaw….

The author of “Bandit Invincible” claims to have known Cassidy since boyhood and never met “a more courageous and kinder hearted man.”

He acknowledges changing people and place names. But some descriptions fit details of Cassidy’s life too neatly to have come from anyone else, said Ashworth, owner of B. Ashworth’s Rare Books and Collectibles in Provo.

They include a judge’s meeting with Cassidy in prison in February 1895. The judge offered to “let bygones be bygones” and to seek a Cassidy pardon from the governor. Cassidy refused to shake the judge’s hand.

The text describes more similarities, as well as differences, between Phillips’ story and what is known of Cassidy.

The earliest documentation of Phillips is his marriage to Gertrude Livesay in Adrian, Mich., in 1908, three months after Cassidy’s last known letter from Bolivia, according to Pointer. Buck insists they married several months before a documented Bolivian shootout that probably was the one in which Butch and Sundance were killed.

In 1911, the couple moved to Spokane, where their closest friends said years later that Phillips let them in on a secret: He was the famous outlaw.

In the 1930s, Phillips sold his interest in the foundering Phillips Manufacturing Company. He visited central Wyoming, where more than a few people in the Lander area, including one of Cassidy’s old girlfriends, said it was Cassidy who spent the summer of 1934 camping out in the Wind River Range, telling tales about the Wild Bunch and digging holes in search of buried loot.

Harry Longabough and Etta Place

Harry Longabaugh, or the Sundance Kid, is also believed by some to have returned from South America. Jerry Nickle believes his grandfather was the notorious robber.

My great-grandfather was the Sundance Kid.  He did not die in Bolivia in 1908 but returned to his family in Utah and died in 1936.  I have compiled the information and have written his true story.

In the end, Phillips was cremated and Longabaugh is long dead so the myths continue.

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