Robert Leroy Parker A.K.A The Legendary Butch Cassidy
Robert Leroy Parker was born April 13th 1866, in Beaver, Utah, the first of 13 children born to British immigrants Maximillian Parker and Ann Campbell Gillies. Maximilian Parker was 12 when his family arrived in Salt Lake in 1856 as Mormon pioneers; Ann Gillies arrived with her family in 1859, she was aged 14. The two were married in July 1865.
Robert grew up on their ranch near Circleville, Utah, 346 km south of Salt Lake City. He left home during his early teens. While working at a dairy farm, he formed a close relationship with his mentor, a cowboy and cattle rustler who called himself Mike Cassidy. Parker subsequently worked at several ranches, as well as a brief stint as a butcher in Rock Springs, Wyoming, when he acquired the nickname ‘Butch’, to which he soon appended the surname Cassidy in honour of his old friend.
Butch Cassidy's first offence was minor. Around 1880, he went to a clothier's shop in another town but found the shop closed. He entered the shop and took a pair of jeans and some pie, leaving an IOU promising to pay on his next visit. The clothier pressed charges but he was acquitted at a jury trial. He led a cowboy's life in Wyoming and Montana before returning to Telluride in 1887.
His first taste of a major robbery came in June 1889, when he and three other cowboys made off with more than $20,000 from the San Miguel Valley Bank in Telluride, Colorado, after which they fled to the Robbers Roost, a remote hideout in South Eastern Utah.
After purchasing a ranch of his own in Dubois, Wyoming in 1890, Cassidy continued to rustle cattle and horses. Then in early 1894, Cassidy was arrested at Lander, Wyoming, for stealing horses and running a protection racket among the local ranchers. He was imprisoned in the Wyoming State Prison in Laramie, Wyoming,andserved18monthsofatwo-yearsentence. Hewas pardoned and released in January 1896 by the Governor William Alford Richards.
Cassidy resumed his life as a criminal with several other well-known outlaws, including Harry Longabaugh (a.k.a. the ‘Sundance Kid’), William Ellsworth Lay (Elzy Lay), Ben Kilpatrick (the Tall Texan) and Harvey Logan (Kid Curry) a group known as ‘the Wild Bunch’. Cassidy embarked on what is considered the longest stretch of successful train and bank robberies in American history.
In August 1896 the gang robbed a bank in Montpelier, Idaho, and made off with more than $7,000. The group hit banks and trains in South Dakota, New Mexico, Nevada and Wyoming. Between their robberies the men hid out at the Hole-in-the-Wall Pass, located in Johnson County, Wyoming, where a number of outlaw gangs had their hideouts. With each new robbery the Bunch became better known, and better liked by an American public who were eager to read about their exploits. Their robberies also became bigger, one of the largest was a $70,000 haul from a train just outside Folsom, New Mexico.
Unable to stop the Bunch, the Union Pacific Railroad went so far as to propose to Cassidy a pardon in exchange for the promise of ending his robberies and coming to work for the company as an express guard. Cassidy turned the offer down. In the end the Union Pacific turned to law enforcement to put a permanent end to the Wild Bunch. To hunt Cassidy and the group down, the company hired the famed Pinkerton National Detective Agency, which pushed Cassidy and the Sundance Kid into South America.
The pair continued to rob trains and banks in South America. On November 3rd 1908, near San Vicente in southern Bolivia, a courier for the Aramayo Franke and Cia Silver Mine was conveying his company's payroll, worth about 15,000 Bolivian pesos, by mule when he was attacked and robbed by two masked American bandits one believed to be Cassidy. The bandits then proceeded to the small mining town of San Vicente where they lodged in a small boarding house owned by a local resident miner named Bonifacio Casasola. When Casasola became suspicious of his two foreign lodgers, he notified a nearby telegraph officer who notified a small Bolivian Army cavalry unit stationed nearby.
When three soldiers approached the house the bandits opened fire, killing one of the soldiers and wounding another. A gunfight then ensued, and around 2 a.m., during a lull in the firing, the police and soldiers heard a man screaming from inside the house. Soon, a single shot was heard from inside the house, whereupon the screaming stopped. Minutes later, another shot was heard.
The stand off continued until the next morning when, cautiously entering, they found two dead bodies, both with numerous bullet wounds to the arms and legs. One of the men had a bullet wound in the forehead and the other had a bullet hole in the temple. The local police report speculated that, judging from the positions of the bodies, one bandit had probably shot his fatally wounded partner to put him out of his misery, just before killing himself with his final bullet.
In the following investigation by the Tupiza police, the bandits were identified as the men who robbed the Aramayo payroll transport, but the Bolivian authorities didn't know their real names, nor could they positively identify them. The bodies were buried at the small San Vicente cemetery. Although attempts have been made to find their unmarked graves, notably by the American forensic anthropologist Clyde Snow and his researchers in 1991, no remains with DNA matching the living relatives of Cassidy and Longabaugh have yet been discovered.
While the debate lingers over when and where Cassidy truly died, there's little argument that he's considered one of the most revered outlaws to come out of the American West. His life and relationship with Sundance was immortalised in the 1969 Oscar-winning movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, starring Paul Newman (Cassidy) and Robert Redford (Sundance).