Monday, October 22, 2012

OLD WEST: Butch Cassidy's Wild Bunch

Just to be ornery, I was going to call this article Robert Leroy Parker's Wild Bunch. But yes, I figured no one would know who the heck I was talking about.

Robert Leroy Parker and another fella by the name of Harry Alonzo Longabaugh were criminals in the late 1880s up into the very early 1900s.

Robert Leroy Parker is more famously known today for his alias of Butch Cassidy. Harry Alonzo Longabaugh is more famously known today for his alias as the Sundance Kid.

They both became very famous by way of a movie that was made about a portion of their lives together. The movie was made in 1969, and it was called "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid."

The movie was based on a great deal of myth and folklore with some facts here and there. The film made bad guys look like great guys as it told a whimsical yet violent tale of outlaw murderers Robert Leroy Parker played by actor Paul Newman and his partner Harry Alonzo Longabaugh played by actor Robert Redford.

The movie is lighthearted, jovial, and actually comedic. Believe it or not, the film actually tried to pass itself off as being a "true" story. The problem with the movie is that it is based on a script based upon very few facts and a whole lot of legend. The film's story made the lives of Robert Leroy Parker and Harry Alonzo Longabaugh larger-than-life tales.

In 1969, Time magazine said the film's two male stars are "afflicted with cinematic schizophrenia. One moment they are sinewy, battered remnants of a discarded tradition. The next they are low comedians whose chaffing relationship—and dialogue—could have been lifted from a Batman and Robin episode."

Since I'm old enough to remember watching the very corny Batman television series on TV back in the 1960s, I can really visualize Burt Ward as Robin saying, "Holy heart failure, Batman, is that movie that bad?"

Well, in my opinion, yes it is. And moreso, if you like Westerns that are at least a little truthful. It is a bad movie because it's just bullshit!

Butch Cassidy's Wild Bunch was nothing like the 1969 movie.

Robert Leroy Parker was born in April of 1866 in Beaver, Utah. He was the oldest of thirteen children. At age 13, Parker was put to work as a seasonal laborer on the Ryan ranch at Hay Springs.

His first run in with the law came when he rode into town to buy a pair of jeans. Finding the store closed, he let himself in, and promptly took the jeans. Though he left a note pledging to return to pay, the storekeeper wasn't impressed and called the law. Parker was acquitted at a jury trial.

Before long Parker was working on another farm, this time belonging to a Jim Marshall. He came into contact with a drifter named Mike Cassidy who came to work on the ranch. Cassidy was engaged in stealing cattle and horses and it wasn't long before young Parker had thrown in with Cassidy.

Cassidy had a profound effect on the lad, who would borrow his name.

Soon Parker's rustling activities had come to the attention of the authorities and he had to flee the county.

Parker continued to work on ranches until 1884, when he moved to Telluride, Colorado, ostensibly to seek work but perhaps to deliver stolen horses to buyers.

In 1884, he joined a gang whose members included a former member of the notorious James gang, one Bill McCarty. He participated in train hold ups and bank robberies for some time before drifting out on his own.

It was around this time that he took on the name Butch Cassidy. In those days, he worked as cowhand in Wyoming and in Montana before returning to Telluride Colorado in 1887.

Upon his return to Telluride, Parker met Matt Warner. Warner was about the same age as Parker, and the two developed a friendship and shared a similar fondness for the saloons and easy money.

Warner owned a mare named Betty that was a racing champion, so Warner and Butch began racing her and sharing the profits. Through horse racing Parker also met the brothers Tom and Bill McCarty, who many researchers believe introduced Parker aka Butch Cassidy into the line of business that would become what he become known for - train and bank robbery.

Some out there disagree on the date and nature of Parker's first major robbery. Some researchers point to November 3, 1887, when a train was stopped near Grand Junction, Colorado, and held up by a gang of bandits.

The thieves had piled stones across the tracks, forcing the engineer to stop at the blockade. Three outlaws jumped onto the train, but the man guarding the safe told the bandits that only the stationmasters along the route could open the safe and that nobody on the train had the combination.

They must have believed the guard because the outlaws collected what money they could off the pasengers - amounting to about $140 - and rode off into the darkness. Many now believe that three of the outlaws were Tom McCarty, Matt Warner, and Parker aka Butch Cassidy - making his debut as a train robber.

If Parker wasn't involved in that Grand Junction robbery, then Parker definitely made his introduction to robbery two years later.

Robert Leroy Parker, as Butch Cassidy, had his first run-in with the law on on June 24, 1889, in the robbery of the the San Miguel Valley Bank in Telluride, Colorado.

On the morning of June 24, 1889, Cassidy and Warner and Tom McCarty, accompanied by one other man, were seen carousing among the saloons of Telluride and watching people going in and out of the San Miguel Valley Bank.

Later in the day, one of the four entered the bank and gave a teller a check he wanted cashed. The teller leaned over to examine the check and was suddenly grabbed by the man and slammed down onto his desk. The outlaw threatened the startled teller with instant death if he did not do everything the robber said.

The bandit then called in the other three, and the group quickly gathered up approximately $21,000 before getting on their horses and escaping to Robbers Roost, which was a remote hideout in southeastern Utah secluded and favored by desperadoes for its difficulty to reach and its numerous look-out vistas.

During this time, Cassidy also worked as a ranch hand in Utah and Wyoming. According to some, he supposedly saved enough to buy a horse ranch in Wyoming in 1890. That sounds more a fairy tale than the truth.

A more honest assessment is that he used his share of the loot from the Telluride bank job to purchase a ranch near Dubois, Wyoming. This location is across the state from the notorious Hole-in-the-Wall, a natural geological formation which afforded outlaws much welcomed protection and cover.

So yes, it is possible that Cassidy's ranching, which was never economically successful, was in fact a front for their criminal clandestine activities.

It's said that in 1893, he was arrested for stealing horses but he was never charged. That I find hard to believe.

The following spring, the group was joined by Tom McCarty's brother Bill, and his 17 year old son Fred, when they robbed the Wallowa National Bank at Enterprise, Oregon, on October 8, 1891.

For some reason, Cassidy wasn't along for that ride. Nor was he along when on September 3,1893, McCarty and his gang robbed a bank at Delta, Colorado.

In Delta, both Bill and his son Fred were killed by citizens of the town. Tom McCarty escaped and was never heard from again. All this was enough to put a bad taste in the mouths of the gang.

In early 1894, Cassidy became involved romantically with Ann Bassett who was also known as Queen Ann Bassett.

She was born in 1878 to Herb Bassett and Elizabeth Chamberlain Bassett near Browns Park Colorado, but grew up in Utah, the second of two daughters. Her older sister Josie was born in 1874.

Herb Bassett was twenty years senior to his wife Elizabeth Chamberlain Bassett, and the couple moved to Browns Park some time around the earlier part of 1888. Herb Bassett had a profitable cattle ranch which straddled Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado.

Bassett's father, rancher Herb Bassett, did business with Parker, supplying him with fresh horses and beef.

He actually did business with a lot of notable outlaws of the era such as Butch Cassidy, Harvey"Kid Curry"Logan, and Black Jack Ketchum, selling them horses and beef for supplies.

The park, as Browns Park is known, had been a haven for outlaws long before Parker and his bunch started running stolen livestock through there. For decades stolen horseflesh was trailed through the park to thriving mining communities in Eastern Colorado.

Both Ann and Josie Bassett were attractive young women, well taught by their father in the arts of horse riding, roping, and shooting. Both were educated early on in prominent boarding schools, were intelligent and articulate in their speech, but chose to return to the life of ranching.

Many accounts state the sisters always preferred "cowboying" to being a lady. For the times, that was fairly uncommon.

By the time Ann Bassett was 15, yes 15 years old, she had become involved romantically with Cassidy who was 12 years older than she was. Her sister Josie was involved with Elzy Lay for a while, before taking up with Ben Kilpatrick and Will "News" Carver who were also members of the Wild Bunch gang.

Contrary to popular belief, Harry Alonzo Longabaugh (aka the Sundance Kid) was not Butch Cassidy's best friend. That position was held by William Ellsworth "Elzy" Lay. He was Cassidy's best friend and assisted him in leading the Wild Bunch gang.

Elzy Lay was born in Mount Pleasant, Ohio. Shortly after his birth, his family moved to northeastern Colorado. At the age of 18, Lay left home looking for adventure with his childhood friend William McGinnis. McGinnis soon returned home, claiming he was homesick. Later, Lay would use the name "McGinnis" as an alias when working as a ranch hand.

He worked briefly on the ranch of cattleman Matt Warner, and it was Warner who gave Lay his first tip for a robbery. From Warner, Lay learned that a shopkeeper nearby had a large sum of cash. Warner, his nephew Lew McCarty, and Lay robbed the man and split the money.

In the fall of 1889, Lay met outlaw Butch Cassidy while in Utah. The two became close friends, and Lay began dating Josie Bassett, the daughter of a rancher that often sold beef and horses to the outlaws, while Cassidy began dating her sister, 15 year old future female outlaw Ann Bassett.

Using the money he stole, Lay opened up a gambling house in Vernal, Utah. For a time, it was profitable, until it was shut down by Uintah County Sheriff John T. Pope.

Following his business being closed, Lay moved back to Matt Warner's ranch, where he renewed his relationship with Josie Bassett.

In 1894, the same year that Cassidy took up with Ann Bassett, Cassidy was arrested at Lander, Wyoming, for stealing horses. It's also suspected that he was running a protection racket among the local ranchers by then.

Robert Leroy Parker, alias Butch Cassidy, 
1894 mugshot from Wyoming Territorial Prison
Imprisoned in the state prison in Laramie, Wyoming, Cassidy served 18 months of a two-year sentence and was released in January 1896.

Lay remained at Warner's until Cassidy was released from an eighteen month prison sentence he had been serving. During that time, Lay became involved with another girl, Maude Davis, whose brother Albert Davis was a small time outlaw. Outlaw Ben Kilpatrick began dating Cassidy's girlfriend Ann Bassett during that time.

In return for the partial remission of his sentence, Cassidy had promised Wyoming Governor Richards that he would never again break the law in that state.

After Cassidy's prison release, he and Lay got their own cabin on the Green River. Cassidy became involved briefly with Ann Bassett's older sister Josie, but when Ann Bassett ended her relationship with Kilpatrick - she returned to her involvement with Cassidy.

And yes, upon his release he associated himself with a circle of criminals, most notably his closest friend Elzy Lay, Harvey "Kid Curry" Logan, Ben Kilpatrick, Harry Tracy, Will "News" Carver, Laura Bullion, and George Curry, who, together with a few others formed a gang known as the Wild Bunch.

In August, 1896, Matt Warner killed two prospectors named Dick Staunton and Dave Milton, during a shootout near Vernal. Warner had been employed by E.B. Coleman to intimidate Staunton and Milton away from a mining claim.

The intimidation turned into a gun battle. Warner, Coleman, and hired gunman Bill Wall were arrested, and eventually transported to Ogden, Utah, where they were held in jail. In a plea for help to Butch Cassidy, Warner said he needed a lawyer.

Cassidy and Lay then robbed a bank in Montpelier, Idaho, using the funds to secure an attorney for Warner. Warner and Wall were convicted of manslaughter, and received a five year sentence, while Coleman was found not guilty.

Cassidy and Lay began hiding out at what was called "Robbers Roost", in Utah. Girlfriends Maude Davis and Ann Bassett joined them there, Lay having ended his relationship with Ann's sister, Josie, who by that time was involved in a relationship with Lay's outlaw friend Will "News" Carver.

By this time, Maude and Elzy had married and Maude was pregnant with Lay's child. After the birth of their daughter, Marvel, Maude insisted he leave the outlaw life and settle down.

He refused, and instead he and Cassidy traveled to New Mexico. By this time, they  were calling their gang the "Wild Bunch". There, they worked for a short time on the "WS Ranch", before heading north back to Wyoming.

In 1897, Harry Alonzo Longabaugh, also known as the Sundance Kid, was in on a bank robbery along with five other men - all part of the Wild Bunch. That was his first known involvement with the gang.

Born in Mont Clare, Pennsylvania, in 1867, Harry Alonzo Longabaugh was also known as the Sundance Kid because in 1887, Longabaugh stole a gun, horse and saddle from a ranch in Sundance, Wyoming.  

While attempting to flee, he was captured by authorities and was convicted and sentenced to 18 months in jail by Judge William L. Maginnis. It was during this jail time, he adopted the nickname of the Sundance Kid. 

After his release, he went back to working as a ranch hand, and in 1891, as a 25-year-old, he worked at the Bar U Ranch in what is today Alberta, Canada, which was one of the largest commercial ranches of the time.

Longabaugh was suspected in 1892 of being involved in a train robbery, but that can't be confirmed.
Although Longabaugh was reportedly fast with a gun and was often referred to as a "gunfighter," fact is he is not known to have killed anyone prior to a later shootout in Bolivia -  where he and Parker (Cassidy) were alleged to have been killed.

He became better known than another outlaw member of the gang dubbed "Kid." That was Kid Curry, whose real name was Harvey Logan, who killed numerous men while with the gang.

The "Sundance Kid" was possibly mistaken for "Kid Curry", since many articles referred to "the Kid".

Longabaugh did participate in a shootout with lawmen who trailed a gang led by George Curry to the Hole-in-the-Wall hideout in Wyoming, and was thought to have wounded two lawmen in that shootout. With that exception, though, his verified involvement in shootouts is unknown.

Longabaugh and Logan used a log cabin at what is now Old Trail Town in Cody, Wyoming, as a hide-out before they robbed a bank in Red Lodge, Montana. Parker, Longabaugh and other gang members are known to have met at another cabin brought to Old Trail Town from the Hole-in-the-Wall country in north-central Wyoming. That cabin was built in 1883 by Alexander Ghent.

Etta Place is a mystery of sorts.

We know she was Longabaugh's "girlfriend" and supposed "wife", but in fact that's really bout it.

According to a Pinkerton Detective Agency memorandum dated July 29, 1902, she was " be from Texas", and in another Pinkerton document dated 1906, she is described as being "27 to 28 years old", which places her birth around 1878.

This is confirmed by a hospital staff record from Denver, where she received treatment in May 1902, which reports her age as "23 or 24," although both records may transpire to be from the same original source, the hospital staff.

But what's amazing about Etta Place is that even her real name is a mystery.

Place happens to be the maiden surname of Longabaugh's mother, Annie Place, and she is recorded in various sources as Mrs. Harry Longabaugh or Mrs. Harry A. Place. The one instance where she is known to have signed her name, she recorded it as "Mrs. Ethel Place".

The Pinkertons called her "Ethel", "Ethal", "Eva" and "Rita" before finally settling on "Etta" for their wanted posters. Her name may have become "Etta" after she moved to South America, where Spanish speakers could not pronounce "Ethel".

We do know that in 1901, the mysterious Etta Place accompanied Longabaugh aka the Sundance Kid, whom she may or may not have married to New York City where at Tiffany's jewelers they purchased a lapel watch and stickpin. 

It was also where, at a studio in Union Square on Broadway, she posed with him for the now famous DeYoung portrait - one of only two known images of her.

Harry Alonzo Longbaugh, alias the Sundance Kid, and Etta Place in 1901
 And yes, she was very pretty!

Other members thought to be part of Butch Cassidy's Wild Bunch included:

Ben "The Tall Texan" Kirkpatrick was known as the lady killer of the group, Bill Tod Carver was supposedly a quick draw artist, Camila "Deaf Charlie" Hanks is known to have been partly deaf in one ear, Tom "Peep" O'Day is said to have been a sort of court jester of the gang, Joe Chancellor was supposedly skilled safe cracker but no one knows why since he failed to open safes when he tried, Jim Lowe was a bartender, Jesse Lnsley whose occupation is unknown was supposedly a dapper dresser, William "Bill" Cruzan was a horse thief, Dave Atkins was known to have been on the run from the law when he joined the gang, Walter "Wat the Watcher" Punteney was said to be a jack of all trades, Willard E. Christiansen who was also know as Matt Warner and was also once part of McCarty's gang, Bob Meeks was a cowhand, Laura Bullion, Annie Rogers, and Lillie Davis were prostitutes.

It's said that Butch Cassidy's Wild Bunch was different from Bill Doolin's Wild Bunch down in the Oklahoma Territory was because it mainly stayed in Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah - and of course there is that claim that Butch Cassidy's Wild Bunch was in fact a non-violent band of outlaws.

This Wild Bunch gang claimed to make every attempt to abstain from killing people, and Cassidy boasted of having never killed a man.

Historically, the gang was for a time best known for their lack of violence during the course of their robberies, relying heavily on intimidation and threats. But remember that these men knew that if caught and captured, they would have faced hanging.

The portrayal of the gang as non-violent is not accurate and mostly a result of Hollywood portrayals depicting them as usually "non-violent".

Though maybe not as violent as Bill Doolin's Wild Bunch down in the Oklahoma Territory, the non-violent claims about this gang were false.

In reality, several people were killed by members of the gang, and as a result "Wanted dead or alive" posters were posted throughout the country with as much as a $30,000 reward for information leading to their capture or deaths.

Kid Curry, George Curry, Will Carver and other members of the gang killed numerous people during law enforcement's pursuit of them. Kid Curry was the most ruthless as he alone killed 9 lawmen while with the gang, and another two civilians during shootouts later. He was the gang's most feared member.

Elzy Lay killed another two lawmen following a robbery, for which he was wounded, arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment. "Flat-Nose" George Curry killed at least two lawmen, before being killed himself by a posse from Grand County, Utah.

They thrived during a period of about five years from 1896 through 1901. The gang was a group of usually ten or so outlaws banded together. Wild Bunch outlaws worked out of the Hole in the Wall located in the southern Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming

Brown's Hole located in a desolate valley near the Wyoming, Colorado and Utah border was a second home for the Wild Bunch gang.

In the winter Butch Cassidy's Wild Bunch worked out of "Robbers Roost" located in the desert of southeastern Utah which was a famous outlaw winter resort.

The membership was loose and varied from time to time, although the leadership was controlled by Robert Leroy Parker also known as Butch Cassidy and his sidekick, Harry Longabaugh who was better known as the Sundance Kid.

The gang was also closely associated with female outlaws Ann Bassett and Josie Bassett, whose ranch near Browns Park supplied the gang often with fresh horses and beef.

Both of the Bassett girls would become romantically involved with several members of the gang, and both would occasionally accompany the gang to one of their hideouts, called "Robbers Roost".

Associations with ranchers like these in the area allowed the gang considerable mobility, giving them an easy resupply of fresh horses and supplies, and a place to hole up for a night or two.

The Wild Bunch robbed banks, mine payrolls, and trains - primarily Union Pacific Railroad trains.

In April, 1897, the two women were sent home, while Cassidy and Lay began planning the robbery of a payroll shipment in Castle Gate, Utah.

On April 21, 1897, the payroll arrived, and Cassidy and his gang members simply walked out in broad daylight and took it at gunpoint. In that robbery, they took $7,000. A gang member named Joe Walker is alleged to have disabled the telegraph lines to prevent word of the robbery being put out to nearby law enforcement.

A Pinkerton man once infiltrated the Wild Bunch calling himself Charles Carter. During this time, Cassidy's Wild Bunch turned their attention to trains much to the dismay of the Union Pacific Railroad.

After foiling several railroad robberies by notifying the Union Pacific Railroad to change the train schedule, Carter simply vanished and was never heard or seen again.

Detective Charles Siringo became a constant shadow of the Wild Bunch for about four years hounding them from Wyoming to Utah.

At 1:00 a.m on June 2, 1899, Cassidy, Kid Curry, Logan and Lay robbed a Union Pacific train near Wilcox, Wyoming. They flagged down the Union Pacific Railroad 's Overland Limited.
They wore masks made from white napkins, possibly pilfered from a Harvey House restaurant.

In the holdup, they stole between $30,000 and $60,000. The gang split up afterward, a common ploy to throw off pursuers, and several fled to New Mexico.

That infamous train robbery portrayed in the movie, The Great Train Robbery, occurred on June 2, 1899 near Wilcox, Wyoming.

They detached the express car and dynamited it open. In the process destroying the car and most of the money.

The guard survived the dynamiting the car, but declined requests to open the safe. Finally in desperation the Wild Bunch dynamited the safe and blew money all over the landscape

The tale that the guard told later about watching those outlaws scrambling for as many of those green backs as they could catch before the wind took them away was one told even years later.

Three more train robberies were pulled off by the Wild Bunch.

They committed their most famous robbery on June 2, 1899, by robbing a Union Pacific train near Wilcox, Wyoming.

Following the robbery, they fled to the Hole-in-the-Wall, successfully evading posses that were in pursuit. Kid Curry, who was by this time a member of the gang, killed Converse County Sheriff Josiah Hazen during that pursuit.
On July 11, 1899, gang members robbed a train near Folsom, New Mexico, without Cassidy's presence.

The pursuit by a posse led by Sheriff Ed Farr culminated in two gun battles, during which Sheriff Farr and two deputies were killed. Gang member Sam Ketchum was wounded and died in custody. Elzy Lay, one of Cassidy's closest friends and co-founder of the Wild Bunch gang, was wounded and also captured.

The gang split up in different directions for a time, which was a common action following any of their robberies. Then Cassidy and the other members regrouped in Wyoming.

On August 29, 1900, Cassidy, the Sundance Kid, Kid Curry and another unidentified gang member believed to have been Will Carver, held up another Union Pacific train at Tipton, Wyoming.

Less than a month later, on September 19, 1900, they raided the First National Bank of Winnemucca, Nevada, stealing $32,640. These and other lucrative robberies led to much notoriety and fame.

The last known great escapade of Wild Bunch was near Malta, Montana while robbing the Great Northern Railroad from which they escaped with $40,500

The Union Pacific Railroad organized a high speed train with good professional gunmen packing high powered rifles. These gunmen were outfitted with the finest horses carried in stock cars. These boys meant to get up close and personal with the Wild Bunch and bring them in dead or alive

The high speed Union Pacific Railroad chase train was cruising on hunches and putting out bait. Riding their tracks and close on the heels of Wild Bunch, the high speed Union Pacific Railroad chase train got too close too many times

With the last known holdup at Malta, the Wild Bunch dispersed.

Parker and Longabaugh, evidently wanting to allow things to calm down a bit and looking for fresher robbing grounds, left the United States on February 20, 1901.

Longabaugh sailed with his "wife" Etta Place, and Parker, aboard the British ship Herminius for Buenos Aires in Argentina

One report says that Cassidy along with the Sundance Kid and his girlfriend Etta Place relocated to Patagonia, Argentina, owing their relocation to constantly having to remain on the move because of Pinkerton detectives, lawmen, and bounty hunters all after the huge rewards on their heads.

That same year, 1901, on April 1st, Will Carver was wounded by lawmen and died later in May of complications.

Ben Kilpatrick was captured in Tennessee in December, 1901, along with Laura Bullion. He got a 20-year prison sentence, while she received a five-year sentence.

Kid Curry killed two lawmen in Knoxville, Tennessee, escaped capture, then traveled to Montana, where he killed a rancher who had killed his brother Johnny years before. He then returned to Tennessee and was captured, only to escape once again.

Some say that Kid Curry was killed in Colorado in 1904, during a shootout with lawmen. Fact is that the wounded Curry decided to end it at that time and fatally shot himself in the head to avoid capture.

Elzy Lay was released from prison in 1906. After his release he found his way to Baggs, Wyoming, a small ranch town just north of the Colorado border.

He later married and moved to Southern California where worked on the Colorado River Aqueduct system in Riverside and Imperial Valley just north of the border with Mexico. Elzy Lay died in 1934 in Los Angeles.
Ben Kilpatrick was released from prison in 1911, and was killed during a train robbery in Texas in 1912.

As for Laura Bullion, well she was released from prison in 1905 and lived the remainder of her life as a seamstress. She supposedly died in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1961.

Of course the most famous ending was that of Cassidy and the Sundance Kid who died in a shootout with Bolivian soldiers while trying to rob a bank there in 1908. Supposedly, after a short standoff at San Vicente, the Sundance Kid was shot to death while Butch Cassidy - who just like Kid Curry - had committed suicide.

As for speculations that both Parker and Longabaugh survived and eventually returned to the United States, well there are tales that ranks up there with Elvis sightings.

One of these claims was that Longabaugh lived under the name of William Henry Long in the small town of Duchesne, Utah. Long died in 1936 and was buried in the town cemetery.

Believe it or not, his remains were exhumed in December 2008 and testing was performed to determine whether he was Harry Longabaugh. The tests proved that William Long was not Harry Longabaugh aka the Sundance Kid.

And as for Robert Parker, aka Butch Cassidy, well it seems that folks have him appearing in all sorts of places and living for many many years after his death.

I believe these speculations are mostly wishful thinking because of that 1969 movie. I really believe that actors Paul Newman and Robert Redford played such likable outlaws in that film, that it seems that no one really wants to think that those two thieving murderers could simply have died in Bolivia.

Now as for the mysterious Etta Place, well although some reports had her last known sighting being in 1909 in San Francisco -  the pretty gal completely disappeared.

Others believed that she had taken the name Eunice Gray, and she became a brothel madame in Fort Worth, Texas in 1909. Supposedly she was living in Fort Worth until her death in 1962.

So who was Eunice Gray? Well she was semi-wealthy, and for some reason or another many during those days suspected that she was in fact Etta Place. But then again, contrary to common belief, the connections between Place and Gray did not establish themselves to any great extent at the time she arrived in Fort Worth, but rather many years afterwards because of a reporter.

During her entire time in Fort Worth, Gray gave but one interview, in which she supposedly told Delbert Willis of the Fort Worth Press, "I've lived in Fort Worth since 1901. That is except for the time I had to high-tail it out of town. Went to South America for a few years . . . until things settled down".

Willis did concede that Gray never admitted or even claimed to be Etta Place. Willis merely made that connection on his own, given the similarities of their age, the fact that both had classic good looks, and that the period in which Gray said she went to South America coincided, albeit roughly, with when Place was in South America.

For many years there were no known photographs of Eunice Gray in that period to compare with the one known high-quality photograph of Etta Place. Willis believed that the similarities were striking, but in the absence of a photograph of Gray there was no way of verifying or refuting his observation.

Well, more recently, amateur genealogist Donna Donnell found Eunice Gray on a 1911 passenger list from Panama. It was reported in 2007 that following that lead she had tracked down Eunice Gray's niece, who had two photographs of her - one wearing her high-school graduation dress circa 1896 and another taken in the 1920s.

Comparing the photos with one of Place, both agreed that Eunice Gray was definitely not Etta Place.

So all in all, with everyone else attached to Butch Cassidy's Wild Bunch accounted for, it appears that Etta Place may have just been the only one to have ridden off into the sunset without a trace.

Story by Tom Correa  

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