Butch Cassidy, the last of the great western train-robbers, is born on this day in Beaver, Utah Territory.
Born Robert Leroy Parker, he was the son of Mormon parents who had answered Brigham Young’s call for young couples to help build communities of Latter Day Saints on the Utah frontier. Cassidy was the first of 13 children born to Max and Annie Parker.
When Cassidy was 13 years old, the family moved to a ranch near the small Mormon community of Circleville. He became an admirer of a local ruffian named Mike Cassidy, who taught him how to shoot and gave him a gun and saddle. With Cassidy’s encouragement, the young man apparently began rustling, eventually forcing him to leave home during his mid-teens under a cloud of suspicion.
For several years, he drifted around the West using the name Roy Parker. Finally, on June 24, 1889, he committed his first serious crime, robbing a bank in Telluride, Colorado, for more than $20,000. As a fugitive, he took to calling himself George Cassidy, a nod to his first partner in crime back in Utah. Wishing to lay low, for a time he worked in a Rock Springs, Wyoming, butcher shop, earning the nickname that would complete one of the most famous criminal aliases in history, “Butch” Cassidy.
In 1894, Butch Cassidy was arrested for horse theft in Wyoming. After serving two years in the Wyoming Territorial Prison at Laramie, Cassidy was pardoned. He immediately returned to a life of crime, this time gathering around him a local band of carousing outlaws that became known as the Wild Bunch. Cassidy’s most famous partner was Harry Longabaugh, better known as the “Sundance Kid.” Other members included the quick-to-kill Harvey Logan (“Kid Curry”), Ben Kilpatrick (“Tall Texan”), Harry Tracy, Deaf Charley Hanks, and Tom Ketchum (“BlackJack”).
By 1897, Cassidy was solidly in control of a sophisticated criminal operation that was active in states and territories from South Dakota to New Mexico. The Wild Bunch specialized in holding up railroad express cars, and the gang was sometimes called the Train Robbers’ Syndicate. Between robberies, Cassidy rendezvoused with various lovers around the West and took his gang on unruly vacations to Denver, San Antonio, and Fort Worth.
By the turn of the century, however, the wild days of the West were rapidly fading. Once deserted lands were being tamed and settled, and western states and territories were creating an increasingly effective law-enforcement network. Tired of his robberies, railroad executives hired detectives to catch Cassidy and began placing mounted guards in railcars to pursue the Wild Bunch. In 1901, Cassidy fled the U.S. for Argentina accompanied by his lover, Etta Place, and the Sundance Kid.
The trio homesteaded a ranch at Cholila, though Place returned to the United States after several years. In 1904, Cassidy and Sundance learned that detectives had tracked them to South America. They abandoned the Cholila ranch and resumed a life of robbery in Argentina, Chile, and Bolivia. Though there is no evidence definitely to confirm it, Bolivian troops reportedly killed the partners in the village of San Vicente in 1908. The families of both men insist, however, that the men survived and returned to live into old age in the United States.