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Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

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Two of the most engaging characters to roam the Rocky Mountains, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, remain legends not only of the Old West, but of a romantic outlaw existence in which breaking the law became an expression of personal freedom. Thanks in large part to the 1969 movie (starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford), these two former thieves and cattle rustlers continue to cast a long shadow across the Rockies.

Butch Cassidy was born George LeRoy Parker in Beaver, Utah, on 6 April, 1866. Taught the art of cattle-rustling by ranch-hand Mike Cassidy, he borrowed his mentor’s last name, and picked up the handle “Butch” while working as a butcher in Rock Springs, Wyoming. Having pulled his first bank job in Telluride, Colorado, in 1889, he threw in his lot with a like-minded group of outlaws known as the Wild Bunch. Among them was one Harry Longabaugh – the Sundance Kid – who picked up his nickname following a jail stint in Sundance, Wyoming. Eclectic in their criminal pursuits, the Wild Bunch’s resumé would include horse-rustling as well as the robbing of trains, banks and mine payrolls; between them, they gave away a fortune in gold to friends and even strangers in need.

The gang took to laying low through the winter months in Brown’s Hole, a broad river valley in remote northwest Colorado, and were also known to visit the southern Wyoming towns of Baggs, Rock Springs and Green River. Their saloon excesses were tolerated, however, because at the end of a spree they would meticulously account for every broken chair and bullet hole, making generous restitution in gold. The gang, however, was eventually undone by their own vanity and love of a good time: during a visit to Fort Worth, Texas, five of the men posed for a photo in smart suits and derby hats, looking so dapper that the photographer proudly placed the photo in his shop window, where it was seen the following day by a detective from the famous Pinkerton agency.

Wearying of life on the run, Butch and Sundance sailed for South America in 1902, and were soon trying their hand at gold-mining, while robbing the occasional bank or train. The Hollywood version was true enough to this point, but Butch Cassidy did not die in a hail of bullets at the hands of Bolivian soldiers in 1909 as depicted in the film – although it seems that Harry Longabaugh did. The last say belongs to Josie Morris, an old girlfriend from Butch’s Brown’s Hole days, who insisted that he came to see her on his return from South America, and claimed furthermore that he died an old man in Johnny, Nevada, sometime in the 1940s.

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