What Happened to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid?

Butch Cassidy (Robert Leroy Parker) and “the Sundance Kid” (Harry Longabaugh) were two American outlaws, operating primarily in the Western States of Utah and Wyoming during the late 19th century. They were part of a very loose, leaderless conglomeration of horse thieves, bank robbers and cattle rustlers known as “the Wild Bunch,” and became famous when a movie was produced, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford.

Neither man was a violent criminal; in fact, none of the dozen or two men in the Wild Bunch was ever accused of murder. They robbed banks and trains, and stole cattle…and for many the argument has been made that their activities were a reaction against big moneyed interest in the ranches, railroads and banking industry which were driving the small rancher and cowboy out of livelihood.

Be that as it may, both Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid found that they were not making it as outlaws; none of their thefts were large enough to allow them to leave that dangerous life which had no future…and, yet, they couldn’t stop. Their names were known, they couldn’t a job doing what they knew best, herding cattle, because the law, especially in the form of the Pinkerton detective agency, was hot on their trail and their faces were well known…therefore, in 1901, Butch and Sundance left the country, traveling to South America, hoping to find a new life, there.

What happened, then, is the stuff of legend; according to local history, in the town of San Vicente, Bolivia, Butch and Sundance tried to rob a bank, failed, were chased by the local army and were killed. They were buried, there, and one can go, today, visit their graves and see, in the local museum, the events of that fateful day, so well portrayed in the movie, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”

Yet there are doubts as to whether they actually died in San Vicente. DNA analysis failed to demonstrate the two people in that grave were Butch and Sundance…and, especially for Butch Cassidy, there are numerous accounts of his visiting friends and family after he was supposed to have been killed. It is my firm belief that the shootout described was not between Butch, Sundance, and the Mexican army, and the two did return to the United States. The question is, what happened to them? My answer is that I do not know, either…however, I have strong suspicions, and wanted to present the evidence, here.

First, Butch Cassidy. The best evidence that he came back from South America alive comes from his sister, Lula Parker Bentenson. In her book, “Butch Cassidy, My Brother,” she devotes an entire chapter to his return to visit his family, in Circleville, Utah,  in 1925from the Ancient Treasures discussion board, Will Sheephogan, a resident mentions that “Tom Vernon assured me that the last time he saw Butch Cassidy was in 1924; but it was not the last he heard from him. From a metal box he produced several letters, worn from countless folding and unfolding. One of these was postmarked Las Vegas, Nevada; another was postmarked Goldfield, Nevada; another Baltimore, Maryland. There were others which he was careful that I didn’t see”

So, Butch lived…but there is another account of Butch’s life after South America that needs to be mentioned. In 1970, an historian named Larry Pointer found a manuscript, titled “The Bandit Invincible: the Story of Butch Cassidy.” written by a man named William T. Phillips, who claimed to be Butch Cassidy. On its surface it was a fictionalized biography of Cassidy, but Pointer noticed Phillips wrote about obscure and unusual details that it seemed only Cassidy himself would know. Phillips died in 1937. His widow told historian Charles Kelly that her late husband wasn’t Cassidy but “knew Cassidy very, very well.” That was in 1938. Phillips’ adopted son, however, was certain he was Cassidy.

A decade later, the evidence pointed to the fact that Pointer was not Cassidy, and Pointer, very reluctantly, admitted that he had been wrong, that Phillips was not Butch Cassidy, but spent time in jail with Cassidy and learned about his life that way. You can read the full disclosure of evidence, here.

So, Butch lived…but where, under what name, and where is his grave? No one knows, for sure, but my sources give a good idea where he is buried, and I hope to spend time investigating that. I do not think is grave exists, anymore…but I know the location….and the fact that Butch died probably around 1947. I am not revealing the site, as I respect the family’s desire to not publicize it…but if I find the spot, I shall post a photo.

Now, as for Sundance That is another can of worms…he didn’t die in Bolivia, either…here is where I think he spent the rest of his life…and died by his own hand:

“The bones of a man buried in the city cemetery 72 years ago have been exhumed for testing to determine whether he is actually Harry Alonzo Longabaugh, better known to most of the world as the Sundance Kid.

The skeletal remains of William Henry Long were disinterred Friday by a University of Utah anthropologist and the executive director of a Salt Lake City genetics lab as some of Long’s relatives looked on. A documentary film crew recorded the event”

Unfortunately, the DNA analysis did not show this was Longabaugh…on the other hand, Longabaugh’s family thinks he might have been adopted, so his DNA might not match…and those who took the sample think it might have been a contaminated sample, so they are trying again…

On the other hand, the Sundance Kid might not have been Harry Longabaugh at all, but, in fact, Bill Long might have taken Longabaugh’s nickname…and might not have committed suicide, but was killed by Matt Warner, another Wild Bunch outlaw because Warner was publishing a book, was going to reveal Long’s identity as Sundance, and they got into a fight.

And there you go. History is like that. You never know what is the truth…you always have to take an educated guess, and i am going with the original post, and the matching photographs…I think this was Sundance. As to whether Sundance was Harry Alonzo Longabaugh, or William Henry Long, we probably will never know…but our best guess is that he is buried in Duchesne, Utah. Until new facts come up to dispute this, it is the best information available.

On the other hand, there is this story…from Pearl Baker’s book “The Wild Bunch at Robber’s Roost:”

I would also like to pass on another story to you that was told to me. In the 1930s when banks were in trouble, two receivers came to work in the bank at Winnemucca  (Nevad). One of these men and his wife went to New Mexico to the funeral of a relative of his wife.

When they returned he told me that while they were in the cemetery, one of the family introduced them to friends and mentioned they were from Winnemucca, Nevada.

A woman putting flowers on a grave next to theirs came and said she couldn’t help overhearing and this grave was her husband, who had been one of Butch Cassidy’s gang. He had been on the Winnemucca holdup and told her about giving the horse to the kid “Vic” and wondered if he was still alive. She said her husband had come to New Mexico, changed his name and lived there until his death.*

* Since Bill Carver was killed in Texas, and Butch was living at this time in Washington, this must have been the grave of Longabaugh, the Sundance Kid, and the woman might very well have been Etta Place.

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2 Responses to What Happened to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid?

  1. Mike Schwartz says:

    Keep on digging, Steve. Enjoyed the post.

  2. Sullivan says:

    I’ll bet my bottom dollar the answer is out in the hills somewhere…

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