A Thanksgiving Dinner With Butch Cassidy

I have a copy of Ann Bassett’s autobiography on this blog, but if one really wants to get to know Ann Bassett, her sister and the residents of Brown’s park, one needs to read Grace McClure’s excellent and readable book about Ann and her sister, Jose, “The Bassett Women,” which you can get on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle…here is an excerpt about a most unusual Thanksgiving dinner given by the Outlaws, including “the Wild Bunch,” lead by Butch Cassidy, for the citizens of Brown’s Park:

“In that little group of socially acceptable lawbreakers were, for instance, the Bender Gang. These men “worked” in the summer and spent their winters in Brown’s Park. Ann Bassett wrote in detail about a Thanksgiving dinner the outlaws gave for the families in the Park around 1895, recreating it for Esther Campbell so that Esther might use it for a community program. Ann is quoted here, with the faulty spelling and casual punctuation she used in letters to her personal friends:

. . . Brown’s Hole was a rest retreat for the men we called the “Bender gang.” Billie Bender and Les Megs were men of education and refinement. They had several younger men who came with them regularly. It became known in our country that Bender and Megs were agents for smugglers working from the Mexi­can border to Canada. Several years after they no longer came to Brown’s Hole, Bender died in Wyoming and Megs became a real estate broker in Los Angeles. None of them ever gave the people of Brown’s Hole any trouble. They were quiet peaceful citizens while there. Their profession or business was rather a mystery to the settlers but it was not our business to question that since they were well be­haved and kept their boys in line.

Butch and Lay were on friendly terms with Bender and Megs and their boys, so they gave the Thanksgiving party for the Brown’s Hole families together and did not spare expenses in putting over a grand spread of the best delicacies Rock Springs could supply.

Tom Davenport raised the turkeys and the “gang” bought them. The dishes, linens, and silver waS furnished by the women of the Hole.

The Menue

Blue point cocktails, roast turkeys with chestnut dressing, giblet gravey, cran­berrys, mashed potatoes, candid sweet potatoes, creamed peas, celery, olives, pickled walnuts, sweet pickles, fresh tomatoes on crisp lettuce, hot rolls and sweet butter, coffee, whipped cream, Roquefort cheese, pumpkin pie, plum pudding, brandy sauce, mints, salted nuts.

How the people dressed

Men wore dark suits (vests were always worn) white shirts stiff starched collars, patent low cuts. No man would be seen minus a coat and a bow tie at the party—if it killed them and it almost did I am sure. If a mustach existed that must be waxed and curled.

The women wore tight fitted long dress with leg-o-mutton sleeves and boned collars—hair done on top of the head either in a french twist or a bun and bangs curled into a friz. Girls in their teens wore dresses about 3 inches below the knees—spring heeled slippers and their hair in curls or braids tucked up with a big bow of ribbons at nap of neck.

Esther Davenport had the pretty dress for the party. A yellow silk mull over yellow taffeta she looked very pretty. Now I will tell you what Ann wore at the party—silk mull powder blue accordion pleated from top to, bottom, camesole and petticoat of taffeta, peter pan collar, buttoned in the back puff sleeves to the elbows, belted by a wide sash with a big bow in back. The mull pleated well and how it swished over the taffeta undies. A narrow black velvet ribbon around the neck a gold locket fastened in the front. . . .

Now for the stockings—hold your hat on and smile—lace made of silk and lisle thread black to match shoes. They were precious and worn only for parties. We had to be careful with them they cost 3.00 per pair and lasted a long time.

I wore my hair in three curler fastened at nap of neck held in place by large barrett beau catcher curl on forehead. Spring heeled shoes like the babydoll shoes shown in catalogues now.

The older women wore black taffetta with tucking at the neck and sleeves. High button shoes often with hite tops and high curved French heels (always too tight as were their corsets.) J sies dress for the party was a sage green wool [bunting]. Many-gored skirt, ti t to the knees then flared to the floor to sweep up the dirt.

Josie was married , I was not and girls were not permitted to wear long dresses, put up their hair or wear high heels.

The party lasted about six hours. That evening we danced at the Davenport home, I say evening, I mean until sun up the next day. . . Program at the dinner was put on by the guests. The hosts waited table, Megs-Bender, Butch, Lay and Harry Roudenbaugh. [Author’s note: Does she mean Harry Longabaugh, the Sundance Kid?] The other boys helped in the kitchen. All but the cook wore butcher aprons over their white shirts and suit trousers. Megs, Bender and Lay received their guests then slipped on aprons to help serve the crowd of  35 or more, lots of work for the dinner was served in courses.

This was a joke, that is it was to some of us young rough necks, just itching for an excuse to kick each other under the table and highly grin. Butch was pouring coffee, poor Butch he could perform such minor jobs as robbing banks and hold­ing up pay trains with out the flicker of an eye lash but serving coffee at a grand party that was something else. The blood curdeling job almost floored him, he became panicky and showed that his nerve was completely shot to bits. He became frustrated and embarrassed over the blunder he had made when some of the other hoasts better informed told him it was not good form to pour coffee from a big black coffee pot and reach from left to right across a guests plate, to grab a cup right under their noses. The boys went into a hudle in the kitchen and instructed Butch in the more formal art of filling coffee cups at the table. This just shows how etiquette can put fear into a brave mans heart.

By the way, Josie played a “Zither” and rather well. . . . She was accompa­nied by Sam Bassett on the fiddle and Joe Davenport with a guitar. . . . I gave a short reading on the meaning of Thanksgiving after being coached by Mr. Jarvie for a couple of weeks. . . .

If a posse had come for any of these men, nobody would have hindered them in the performance of their sworn duty. However, since all these law­breakers went into the towns openly and transacted their business with impu­nity while the sheriffs apparently looked the other way, it was unlikely that those same sheriffs would come all the way to Brown’s Park to make their arrests. And certainly none of the Brown’s Park people considered it their business to handcuff the culprits and take them in, especially since they were such agreeable neighbors.

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