According to the generally accepted story, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid died in a hail of gunfire after robbing a bank in Bolivia, South America; they were buried there.
The fact is, though, that there are numerous accounts of those who knew Butch that he survived Boliva, returned home, and finished his life as a businessman, though no one knows under what name he lived. I have numerous sources, but the two best sources are his former lover, Josie Bassett, and his sister, Lula Parker Betenson. Josie’s account can be read here (one has to go a bit down to read the part about Butch)…and Lula published a book, “Butch Cassidy, My Brother,” which can be bought on Amazon or borrowed from a library.
It is an established fact that Butch tried to get amnesty for his crimes; he never hurt anyone, but was a train and bank robber, and had amassed quite a bit of money…the amnesty attempt fell through, and this is one of the main reasons that Butch and Sundance decided to take a long siesta in South America to get away from the Pinkerton detectives….here is an account from Lula Betenson’s book, of Butch Cassidy’s return home, which I thought would be interesting; note that his real name was Robert Leroy Parker, which is why he is referred to as Bob, or Leroy. Here is chapter 15, from Lula’s book, describing Butch’s return:
After Mother’s death in 1905, Father lived in the brick house in town with his six unmarried children. Since I was the eldest daughter living at home, it was my responsibility to try to keep things together. I am the only one of the girls who stayed in Circleville, and I remained very close to Dad and my brothers.
On New Year’s Eve, 1907, I married Joseph Betenson, and we lived in Circleville, where five children were born to us: Pauline, Scott, Mark, John, and Barbara.
Most of the time my brothers were out on the range with the livestock, spending the summers on the mountain and the winters at home, feeding cattle and horses at the ranch south of Circleville. My brothers worked elsewhere as time permitted, but they helped Dad at the ranch also. They had always raised good horses, cattle, and sheep, but were only moderate stockmen.
One day, Jim Gass, a Circleville neighbor, came home from a trip to California and told me he had seen Bob getting on a train in Los Angeles. He and Bob waved to each other, but the train pulled out before they could speak to each other.
Jim had been a close friend of Bob’s when they were boys. He told me of an incident when he and Bob were in the hills together, and a deer jumped out and refused to run away. They rode back and discovered a fawn lying on the ground, pinned down by a log that had rolled onto its leg. Jim said, “We’d better shoot it to get it out of its misery.”
But Bob said, “No, we’ll fix that leg.” They dismounted, and Bob took a buckskin string, splinted the leg, tied the string, and turned the fawn loose. A master with knots, Bob did this so skillfully that, as the leg healed, the movements of the deer would wear it off. Jim had always said, “Bob couldn’t kill a dog, let alone a man.”
Jim also told me that Bob was a true conservationist. He said that in the fall of the year Bob always filled his pockets with seeds of wildflowers, and as he rode along on his horse, he scattered the seeds in barren places along the road or trail.
As we pursued our very ordinary lives, occasionally a rumor reached us that Butch Cassidy was still alive and had been seen in various localities. Dad seemed so sure that he was still living. We wondered how much he really knew. But if Butch ever communicated with Dad, we didn’t know it.
Dad, eighty-one, was sitting on the step by the kitchen door of the brick house, enjoying the shade and the late afternoon calm. His hair was white, and he wore a thick white mustache. He was a fine-looking man, straight and alert, and, as always, dressed immaculately. The flashy car drove into the yard, and Mark stepped out. Dad was surprised. That morning Mark had left on horseback, headed for the ranch. Rather slowly the driver slipped out on the left side of the car and straightened up. At first Dad wondered who it was.
Bob’s face for once was solemn; perhaps he wondered how he would be accepted. The screen door to the kitchen was open behind Dad’s back. Bob took off his hat and twirled it through the door. It landed squarely on the post of the rocking chair inside. Then he grinned that unmistakable grin. Dad knew him. No one could ever describe that meeting after all the years of uncertainty and separation—forty-one years. That reunion proved the strength of Dad’s heart; he survived it.
Minutes later my brother Mark appeared at my kitchen door and said, “Lula, we’ve got company. Dad wants you to come down and fix supper.”
That wasn’t the first time I had been asked to leave my family and prepare supper for Dad and the boys. Pauline was old enough to take care of our children, but John, the baby at that time, sat up a howl to go along.
Jose went with me to Dad’s. In clean dishtowels I wrapped two loaves of warm bread and a fresh bullberry pie that I had just taken from the oven, and we walked over to Dad’s. We walked in the front gate and around to the kitchen door. I glanced at the unfamiliar car and wondered who it was this time. As we stepped into the kitchen, put down the food, and went on into the living room, the conversation stopped. The stranger stood up as I stepped into the room, and I studied his face in the awkward silence. He wasn’t a stranger, not really, and yet he was. Why did he look so familiar?
Dad smiled. “I’ll bet you don’t know who this is.” I was puzzled. By his features, he had to be family. “Lula, this is LeRoy!” Dad announced.
My jaw dropped. Even though I was sure he was alive, and somewhere in the country, I had never anticipated this meeting. Bob grinned. My knees felt like rubber, and my insides turned upside down. Any resentment I had harbored toward my outlaw brother melted the Prodigal son had returned!
We didn’t have a fatted calf handy to kill for our feats, but I have never forgotten that meal. I fried lamb chops and fixed mashed potatoes topped with chunks of fresh homemade butter and vegetables right out of the garde and, of course, I had brought the homemade bread. Bob exclaimed, “Lula, your bread is as good as ma’s.” His compliments further disarmed me. At last I served dessert. “Bullberry pie! Of all things!” he exclaimed. “Bullberries always have made me homesick. They remind me of Ma.” I’ve always thought that was a coincidence that I should have made bullberry pie on that memorable day.
As our first excitement subsided, Dad said: At first I thought it was Eb and Mark coming up the walk, but when he grinned, I knew in a minute it was Leroy.”
Bob had never ceased to be a close member of the family, no matter what he had done nor how far away he ws. Perhaps, because he was the Prodigal, we were more conscious of him than the others who stayed at home.
That first night, we visited until the wee morning hours. He was surprised at all our nicknames, and often wondered whom we were talking about. Intensely interested in talking about mother, he expressed his deep sorrow for having caused her so much heartache. He knew he had broken her heart. Realization of the sorrow and humiliation he had caused the family had kept him from coming home long before. But he had gone straight for the past sixteen years. Surely that much repentance made him worthy to return. Many times through his outlaw years and after 1909 when he was reported killed in South America, he longed to come home, but his pride wouldn’t let him. He was too ashamed.
Dad patted his hand and said, “At last your mother’s prayers have been answered. We just couldn’t understand why you didn’t come.”
Bob said he had never forgotten how Mother looked that morning he left in 1884. “I can just see her standing and holding old Dash,” he said. Then he repeated the story in great detail, much as I related it in the early part of this book. His account tallied perfectly with Mother’s: the blue blanket with food rolled in it, the dog, the poplar trees. How pleased he had been to see them still growing when he arrived at the ranch. He referred to his helping Mother when they brought them from Beaver to plant them.
Repeatedly he steered the conversation back to Mother. He couldn’t hear enough of her. He asked about every member of the family—what they were doing, what their children were like. Bob assured us that he and Sun-dance really intended to go straight when they went to South America, but he said, with a trace of bitterness in his voice, “When a man gets down, they won’t let him up. He never quits paying his price.” He didn’t seem to want to talk about his past or his escapades and did so only as we asked questions.
During the night Bob told us about the friends he had made in South America, about his travels down there and elsewhere. He had a little money, and he wasn’t afraid to work. He did a lot of traveling in Europe, especially in Spain, also spending some time in Italy, which he greatly enjoyed. He said the Italians were very warm, friendly people, and he loved them.
He related that he and Sundance did not come back to the United States together after they were supposed to have been killed. As Longabaugh and he were getting ready to leave South America, Bob’s leg became badly swollen. He described it as a white swelling. He thought it might have been caused by a scorpion bite. So Sundance went to take care of last-minute business. Bob said, “We were to meet at a certain place, but my leg was so bad I couldn’t keep the appointment. An Indian woman took me into her home and doctored me as if I were her own son. She put poultices on the leg until the swelling finally went down. It reminded me of how Ma always took care of wanderers as well as her own children.”
Then we told him about the Indian boy whose leg Mother had sagepacked for days, and when we had asked her why she had bothered with him, her reply had been, “If it was LeRoy, I’d want someone to take care of him.”
“Yes,” Bob agreed thoughtfully, “I remember how she always said, ‘Bread cast upon the water will return to you.’ ” Then he continued. “I spent several weeks at that home, and I never knew what happened to Sundance. When I was strong enough to go on my way, this woman’s young son Padro wanted to go with me. I called the little scamp Paddy. We finally persuaded his mother to let him accompany me, with the understanding that I would send him home in a few weeks. I thought if the law was after me, they wouldn’t think of apprehending a man with a kid—it would be a perfect blind. And besides, Paddy was good company. We saw parts of South America that I hadn’t seen before. Then I outfitted him fit to kill with new clothes, gave him some money, and sent him home. He had a great time with me. Then he had to go back to a quiet home life.”
“By gum, you always were taken with the kids. Guess you never got over it,” Dad observed.
“Never did,” Bob grinned. “But I’ll bet Paddy never forgot that trip. And I hope he never forgets what I told him.”
“What was that?” Dad asked.
“Told him never to get off the old straight and narrow. Every kid I’ve ever known I’ve tried to point in the right direction. My life has been wasted; I don’t want to see other kids go wrong. I’d hate to think any boy got off on the wrong track because he thought our life was exciting and thrilling. I’ve paid the price over and over. Nobody will ever know.”
“You could have been a success at anything you wanted, LeRoy,” Dad said.
“But there’s no such a thing as a successful outlaw. If only I’d come home with you that day you found me in the open cell in Montrose. But no, I was so cockeyed smart—wanted more money before I came h ome. Well, I’ve very little to show for my fifty-nine years. “Easy come, easy go.’ I sure didn’t hoard my money. I’d like to think I’ve helped a few people along the way, but I’d better keep my mouth shut. You always told us we shouldn’t toot our own horne or blow on ourselves, Dad.
Dad cleared his throat and said, “What did you do after you sent Paddy home?”
“Well, I’d missed my rendezvous with Sundance and had no idea how to get in touch with him. I had nowhere to go, so I drifted on up into Mexico—worked wherever and whenever I wanted to. I wondered what had happened to Sundance—and Etta Place, too. I guess the heat turned off with the hooting when Sundance and I were supposed to have been killed.”
“What about that?” Dad asked. “read a lot in the newspapers and didn’t ever know what to believe.”
“I read more about it when I came back to the States than I ever knew in South America,” Bob said. “Heard it for years.”
“It wasn’t you, then?” Dad prodded.
“I’m here to prove it wasn’t.” He grinned that unforgettable grin. “And I’m no gohost—no angel either,” he winked.
“Just what did happen?” Dad asked
“I don’t really know myself. I heard they got Percy Seibert from Concordia Tin Mines to identify a couple of bodies as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid all right. I wondered why Mr. Seibert did that. Then it dawned on me that he would know it was the only way we could go straight. I’d been close to Seibert—we’d talked a log, and he knew how sick of the the life I was. He knew I’d be hounded as long as I lived. Well, I’m sure he saw this as a way for me to bury my past along with somebody else’s body, so I could start over. I’d saved his and Mr. Glass’s lives on a couple of occasions, and I guess he figured this was how he could pay me back. Funny thing—Ma always used to say, ‘A friend in need is a friend indeed.’ “
“I guess you could say some of your mother’s bread cast on the water came back to you,” Dad said.
“Hadn’t thought of it like that, but I suppose you’re right,” he rubbed his chin thoughtfully.
“Well, by gum, LeRoy, I hope you’ve learned a lesson.” Dad almost bored a hole through him with his sharp eyes.
“I did. Haven’t stolen a pin since then and have never done a thing to get the law onto me. I want to stay dead as far as they’re concerned. Funny thing though, how many stories I hear about how I escaped.”
“We’ve heard a few ourselves,” Dad agreed.
“For example,” Bob continued, “one day I was sitting in a hotel lobby in San Francisco, and I overheard these two fellows talking about my demise in South America. Apparently they had read something about it in the newspaper. One fellow went on to tell how ‘it really happened.’ He knew all the inside dope, he bragged.
“He related that I slipped into the courtyard during that gun battle and pulled a dead soldier inside. Then I removed his uniform, dressed the soldier in my clothes, and donned the uniform. In all the excitement I slipped back outside and got away because no soldier would shoot one of his own men. I was badly wounded. I dragged myself down to the river and got on a raft that was floating by and, half dead, floated down the river—I believe he said it was the Amazon. He might as well make it big while he was telling such a tall tale; the Amazon is only about a thousand miles from Bolivia.
“Well, the raft caught at the side of the river and was found by an Indian woman who was surprised to find one of the soldiers from the gun battle. Don’t ask me how she would know of such a thing when communications are so bad down there and most of ’em can’t read or write anyhow. Well, this Indian woman, or native woman, called her husband, and they dragged the wounded ‘soldier’ into their hut and she nursed me back to health and I came back to the United States.
“When people get too inquisitive and ask too many questions, or I feel especially devilish, I’ve repeated that story a few times myself,” he winked.
“By gum, LeRoy, that’s a real story–a real tall tale–but if you tell it, people will think it’s true. You shouldn’t do it,” Dad objected.
We Parkers always enjoyed a good story, and we laughed about it at the time, never realizing how many times it would be repeated as a true story, straight from “the horse’s mouth.” Then Dad became very serious. “LeRoy, did you ever kill anyone?”
“No, thank God. But some of my boys had itchy trigger fingers. I tried to control ’em. I feel real bad about some posse men who got shot.” He cleared his throat, then changed the subject. “I spent a good bit of time in Mexico. I’m always looking out for the underdog, you know, and the revolution brought on lots of problems, especially with the people in the Mormon colonies in Juarez and Sonora.
“Well, one day I was sitting in a bar in Mexico City, minding my own business, like any law-abiding citizen. I didn’t think a soul was looking for me. I was studying the counter absently, with my head down. The bartender put my drink down in front of me. Suddenly I felt a hand grip my shoulder. I didn’t dare look up. The hair on the back of my neck stood on end, and that creepy feeling traveled up my scalp. I thought–here it is, after all this time! I realized I had long since ceased to keep up my guard. I gulped real hard and glanced up to see who had apprehended me after all those years. Had Pinkertons finally trapped me? Who should it be but Etta Place standing there! I was so relieved I almost collapsed on the bar stool. She was the same old Etta–a beautiful woman, and she was a helluva good cook. She said she and Sundance had a place in the city, and I went with her. We had a great time visiting together for several days. Then one afternoon we went to a bullfight. I always hated bullfights—couldn’t stomach them. After a little while of watching, I picked up my bag and told them three’s a crowd. I gave ’em the high sign and left. Our paths have gone in separate directions ever since.”
< We asked Bob if he really pulled as many jobs as were attributed to him. He laughed, “Horses were too slow to be in Alaska one day and New Mexico the next. I couldn’t be in two places at once. The same was true in South America. You know, the cattle-rustling we were blamed for in this country is a joke. I’d like to tell people who the real rustlers were. It sure wasn’t the little man but the big shot, with a long rope and a hot iron. I worked for some good, honest men. I think I’m safe in saying I could always go back and get a job.”
I asked Butch who was his best friend. He said, “There were a lot of good friends, but Elzy Lay was the best, always dependable and level-headed. Sundance and I got along fine, but he liked his liquor too much and was too quick on the trigger.”
He told us how nice Elzy’s wife, Maude Davis, was and spoke well of the people in Brown’s Park, especially the Bassetts. Josie was his favorite—and the Davises. He told about the Simpson family in Wyoming and Mrs. Simpson in particular. “She reminded me of Ma,” he reflected.
His face grew sober as he admitted, “I had every chance to live a good life. Instead I wasted it. We saw some pretty rough times—a lot of fun, too. But you’ll never know how I longed to be home at times.”
Dad spoke up, “If it hadn’t been for that dirty bunch before you left home, you would have been all right. Whatever possessed you to take the blame for the cattle deal?”
“Well, they said they’d pay me well, and I needed the money for my trip. I don’t blame ’em altogether. I was old enough to know better. I’ve only myself to blame.”
“Did you ever get anything out of it?”
“Not a dime. All I got was a bad name. I often wondered what drove me to do what I’ve done in the past. I didn’t get any of it at home. We had fun, even if we did have to work hard. When I think of the trouble I’ve caused you, it really hurts. I don’t know how I could’ve done this to Ma. God knows I loved her. Guess I’m the only black sheep in the family.”
This got us all. There was a long silence. Then he broke the spell by saying, “You know, Dad, I never remember ever being licked in my life—and I know I sure needed it, too.”
I spoke up, “I guess we can all say that. But when Dad spoke, we listened.”
Butch continued. “You did. I didn’t. So many times I wanted to go straight. I thought going to South America might work, but I couldn’t escape my past as long as I lived. Now that I’m supposed to be dead, I really enjoy myself. I’m trying to forget the past. I’ll be forever grateful to Seibert for what he did in identifying me.
“I’d been thinking for a long time of coming home and seeing you all and a lot of my old friends. I’ve visited a lot of cemeteries and have seen a lot of names I thought I’d see. Most of my old cronies have met early, violent deaths. It’s no good. Even though I’ve been lucky enough to survive, let me tell you it’s true: crime’s no good. I tried to justify my crimes by my bitterness against the big-moneyed thieves, but I was only fooling myself. You have to live with your conscience, and it catches up with you. Even a battered one does.”
But no matter what we talked about, he always came back to Mother. He couldn’t hear enough of her.
We had heard through the grapevine many stories of Bob’s Robin Hood acts of generosity to people who needed a helping hand. I couldn’t resist asking him about a couple of those incidents. His face reddened. He nodded as we mentioned them. I had frequently heard about the widow and the mortgage, and he told it with a twinkle in his eye.
“This is a good one—and true. One day I went into a store where I often picked up supplies. It was run by a little widow lady. That day she looked real glum, and I asked her what was the matter. She replied, ‘The man who holds the mortgage on this store is coming to collect, and I haven’t got the money. He’ll take my store.
” ‘How much do you owe?’ I asked her. ” ‘A thousand dollars.’ And the tears came to her eyes. ‘I just can’t make ends meet with my husband dead and gone.’
” ‘Now you quit your worrying. Just give me a little time and maybe I can help,’ I told her.
” ‘But a thousand dollars. That’s a fortune.’
“I left the store. When I came back later I gave her ten one hundred dollar bills. Her eyes bugged out. I guess she’d never seen that much before all at once. I warned her, ‘Now don’t you tell that old skinflint where you got your money. But you make sure you have a signed receipt for it and it’s marked paid in full.’ Of course, the old lady was really in tears now, but for a different reason. ‘Come on now,’ I said, ‘dry your eyes so that old coot won’t suspect anything when he comes.’
“”Then I went a little way out of town where I knew he’d be coming along, and I hid in the bushes by the road. Sure enough, in a while his buggy came rattling along. He had the snappiest horses with all the trappings, and he was slicked up fit to kill—black suit and white starched shirt. He was a stuffed shirt all right. I could tell he didn’t need that ole lady’s store any more than I did. And it made my blood boil to think how he was just waiting to turn her out. He had a self-satisfied smirk on his face. That’s what always makes me so damned mad. The rich are too rich and the poor are too poor.
“Well, it wasn’t too long before I heard that buggy rattling back down the road. I peeked through the bushes from my hiding place. I wanted to wipe that greedy look off his face the worst way. His buggy slowed down as it got near to my ambush. Now that was mighty convenient. I was surprised when I heard him say ‘Whoa!’ to his team, and they stopped almost in front of my hiding place.
There wasn’t another soul anywhere in sight. He peered around suspiciously, and then he pulled out his billfold and counted to make sure it was all there: ‘Nine hundred–one thousand,’ he counted out loud.
“I took my cue and stepped out of the bushes, gun in hand. ‘I’ll take those,’ I said. He was so surprised he handed ’em over without an argument, and I slipped out of sight. This was so successful that I paid off more than one mortgage in the same way. In fact, I wasn’t the only outlaw who salved his conscience in that way.”
I asked Bob about the time he played Santa Claus to a family.
“What story is that?” he asked.
I told him it was when he was almost frozen to death. Often I’d heard that story and wondered if it were true. Here was my chance to verify it. I’m not sure, but I think he said the people’s name was Hancock.
He told us this story. “That was the closest I ever got to leaving this earth. I got caught in one of those terrible December blizzards. My clothes were frozen stiff, and I was lost–I mean lost! I’d bought a horse from a fellow the previous May, and he’d told me the horse had homing instincts. So I let the horse have his head. Without my knowing it, the horse headed home for the corral where he’d been raised. I was too cold to worry about anything. It was close to Christmas, and I grew drowsy and dreamy. Suddenly I could hear beautiful music–singing. It was like hearing Ma play the organ and all the kids singing Christmas carols. I was home again and everything was rosy. I wasn’t cold any more. I hadn’t been that happy since–I couldn’t remember when.
“Then I was in agony. The pain in my extremities was excruciating, and it felt like nails were being pounded into my chest when I tried to breathe. First I was burning up, then my teeth were chattering, and I couldn’t stop it. Through my fog, I made out a man and woman and a little boy and girl standing around me, rubbing me with snow out of a tub nearby. I groaned in pain. Why didn’t they let me go home to stay? I hurt in every inch of my body. Because of the pain in my chest, the man decided I had pneumonia, and he sat up all night putting hot aspen branches over my chest and under my arms. I’d never heard of a cure like that, but it sure worked. They had to cut one of my boots off my frozen foot.
“When I asked him how I’d wound up there, he told me. He’d heard his dogs barking during that terrible storm. When he went outside, he found me almost frozen to death, slumped over a horse at the gate of his corral.
“He got me into the house, and I started to thaw out. When he went back to the corral, he discovered the horse I was riding was really a horse that had been stolen from him the spring before, but he didn’t tell me until the next morning.
” ‘I’ll have you know I bought that horse fair and square. I’ll settle the score with that skunk as soon as I can get around,’ I told him.
“In a few days I was up and around. I hunted up that skunk who had sold me a stolen horse; he didn’t live far away. I demanded a horse in exchange for the stolen one. And then I told him I also wanted a buckboard and a team to use for a few days.
“I’d learned the Hancocks were real poor nesters. They’d been cheated by land speculators and were living in a two-room shack. But they’d shared with me the little they had. I knew there wouldn’t be much Christmas at their house that year, so I went into town in the buckboard and bought warm clothes for the family. I bought a sweater for the lady to wear around the house because it was so cold and drafty. APM I got plenty of food. Then I picked up all the other makings of a Christmas and headed back to the Hancocks’. Those little kids had been so cute. They’d climbed all over me and about worn out my ears with their Christmas chatter. It had been like being home when the house was full of our little ones.
“Well, when I reached that shack again, I was so busy unloading all that loot and was so excited myself with the fun of being Santa Claus, that I hadn’t noticed three horsemen ride up. Suddenly I looked up and saw a sheriff’s badge on the coat of one of the riders. My heart sank, but I went right on unloading, figuring this was the end of the road for me. Well, at least I was having a good time, and I was doing something worthwhile for a change. I couldn’t help thinking how much better it would have been if the Hancocks had let me freeze to death rather than go to prison again. But then they’d never have had a Christmas if I had died.
“The Hancocks stood there as puzzled as anything; then Mrs. Hancock hurried and hid the kids’ presents.
“When I finished unloading, I straightened up and said, ‘Well, I guess this is it. Suppose I should thank you, Hancock, for saving my life, but I don’t rightly know what for. Maybe it was to spread a little Christmas cheer—the real Christmas cheer.’
“The sheriff scratched his head and said knowingly, ‘I’ve got a warrant here for George LeRoy Parker; Seen him around?’
” ‘Sure,’ I grinned. ‘He was camping not far from here just a few days ago.’
“‘If you see him around, tell ‘im I’m lookin’ fer ‘im.’ The sheriff tipped his hat, smiled and winked, and rode off. ‘Merry Christmas. Come on, boys, we’d better be on our way.’ And that’s as close as I ever got to being thrown in jail again.”
All night long we talked. He told of leaping into the river when they were being trailed, but I doubt it was as dramatic as in the movie. He told of his efforts to go straight and how frustrated he was when the railroad was going to employ him, but the meeting at the Pass was never consummated.
Bob told us that after leaving Mexico, he went to Alaska, where he trapped and prospected. He lived with the Eskimos for a short time and told how they were being cheated and fleeced by dishonest speculators. He hated to see innocent people duped. But Alaska was too cold for him, and he stayed there only a year or two. He liked the Northwest, and that was home to him.
“Why don’t you come home where you belong, LeRoy?” Dad asked. “There’s nothing against you on the books in Utah.” (Jose, my husband, had gone to Salt Lake City sometime before this and had checked it out.)
Bob shook his head. “No, I don’t belong here any more, Dad. I’ve got other things to see about. And I want to travel around and see my old friends. Just keep this under your hat—my visit here, I mean.”
Dad nodded thoughtfully. “If that’s what you want, that’s the way it will be.” He turned to the rest of us and said, “This is our secret. You are never to mention it to anyone. If you want a secret kept, never tell it.” And we never did. Even other members of our own family didn’t know it for years. I think Butch was going under the name of Bob Parks at the time.
No one wondered about the strange car at the brick house in Circleville; company was not unusual there. I remember that Jim Martin (the Parker boys nicknamed him Linky Jim) had come and stayed one whole winter. Company came and went. Circleville is laid out like most early Mormon towns, with four houses to a block, one on each corner; so there were no close neighbors.
We knew Bob was no angel, and in our conversations he didn’t try to paint himself as one, either. He told us about South America and only a little about their life there and about Etta Place. He stayed with Dad a couple of days; then he and Mark went up to the hills in Dog Valley, southwest of Circleville, to visit with his brothers, who had a cabin up there.
Bob and Mark rode out to the camp on horse back. At first my brothers couldn’t make out who it was. Then as the riders rode closer, and Bob’s face broke into that disarming grin, they knew who it was.
My son, Mark Betenson (eleven years old then), working with my brothers at their camp, was out gathering wood when the “stranger” arrived. When Mark came into the cabin with an armload, Eb said, “This is Lula’s son.” But nobody told Mark who the stranger was. They ate supper, guarding their conversation, then scooted Mark off for home so they could talk freely.
When young Mark came home, he said, “There’s this man at the cabin. I think they said he was from Colorado. Anyway, they called him Bob. There wasn’t room enough for me, so they sent me home.” He was quite put out, to say the least.
Many years later Mark was talking with Eb about that day the strange man came to the cabin, and Eb told him who it was. Mark kept the secret faithfully until one day when he and I were chatting, and, he asked me very confidentially if I knew that “Uncle Butch” had come home a long time ago. When he was sure I, too, shared the secret, we discussed it often.>
My other children never knew about this until the last several years. John distinctly remembers how he howled to go with me that night, and I made him stay with Pauline. Barbara must have been eighteen when Jose accidentally mentioned something about Butch Cassidy being her uncle. This was the first she had ever heard of it, and I was miffed at Jose for mentioning it. This proves how little was said to any of us by the townspeople and how closemouthed we all were about our “secret.”
Bob spent about a week with the boys and a day or two more with Dad in town. Then he left and never returned. Occasionally Dad had a letter from him, but his letters were always carefully destroyed to protect Bob. We worried about what trouble it might cause him if they fell into the wrong hands. Who would ever have dreamed that a letter from Butch Cassidy would be valuable! He must have kept up a lively correspondence with his friends; I have learned of many who reported letters coming to their home from Butch Cassilly. Most of the letters were destroyed for the same reason that we destroyed them. Some were saved but have since been stolen or lost, and to date I have never been able to find one.
One day Dad received a letter from one of Bob’s friends, reporting that Bob had died of pneumonia. The letter assured Dad that his son was “laid away very nicely.” It was signed simply “Jeff.”
Robert LeRoy Parker died in the Northwest in the fall of 1937, a year before Dad died. He was not the man who was known as William Phillips, reported to be Butch Cassidy.
Although we have received a couple of reports to the contrary, so far as we know Butch was never married. I am sure that if he had been, he would have told us; and if he’d had any children, you can be sure he would have taken care of them, and we would have known. Where he is buried and under what name is still our secret. Dad said, “All his life he was chased. Now he has a chance to rest in peace, and that’s the way it must be.” Revealing his burial place would furnish clues for the curious to crack that secret. I wouldn’t be a Parker if I broke my word.>
To further emphasize my concern for keeping his burial place a secret, may I relate a significant incident. My son Mark, who runs the old Parker Ranch near Circleville, had a man doing some leveling on a part of the property. Some time previously Mark had buried his old dog Hummerdo, to which his family was greatly attached. All our lives, we’ve buried animals because of sentiment. So, on that particular day, Mark said to the workman, “Just stay away from the corner over there on the hill. There’s a grave there, and I don’t want it disturbed.” Next day, Circleville was buzzing with the rumor that Butch Cassidy was buried at the ranch.
Another well-meaning person who claims to know where the Banditti Americanos were supposed to have been buried after the battle of San Vicente wanted to contact Bolivian authorities and have their bodies exhumed and sent to me at Circleville for burial on the Parker Ranch. I have since heard that the two have been exhumed, and that saddens me. Of course, the exhumation was for identification purposes, and it proved that the two who were buried were not bandits, as had been believed.
Still other incidents disturb me by their implications. Sam Brannon, prominent in early Mormon history and in settling an area in northern California, died as a pauper in Escondido, California. Many months after Brannon’s death, a nephew of his was located who claimed the body from the morgue and had Brannon buried in the Mt. Hope Cemetery in San Diego. The grave was marked by a redwood slab that deteriorated with time and weather. A kindly woman was instrumental in soliciting funds so that a simple permanent marker might be installed. However, in the last several years a few people have been agitating to have his remains moved to northern California where he would be suitably honored.
In the newspaper I have recently read that Johnny Herring’s body was dug up, and I was hurt to see the gruesome pictures. This exhumation has also happened to other outlaws recently.
Who knows what might spring into the minds of either some hero-worshippers or some debunkers in another fifty years? It is entirely possible that some person or persons would want to make a memorial out of my brother’s burial spot if it were known. This would amount to glorifying his misspent life, an honor certainly not according to his wishes nor the wishes of the family.
If I were to reveal his burial place, someone would be sure to disturb it under some pretext, and my brother is entitled to rest in peace.