Who could forget Robert Redford and Paul Newman's incredible shoot out at the finale of the 1969 Old West film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid? It's one of the best scenes in cinematic history. But Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid were actually real people before Hollywood brought their story to the big screen. Their gang executed some of the most successful robberies of banks and trains in United States history in the late 1800s.
Born Robert LeRoy Parker, Butch Cassidy is best known for being the leader of "The Wild Bunch" in the Wild West. He ran away from his parents' home in Salt Lake City, Utah, when he was a teenager. His nickname was inspired by a dairy ranch he worked on, owned by Mike Cassidy, combined with his time spent as an apprentice to a butcher.
He started out small, just stealing horses and clothes, but robbed his first bank in Telluride, Colorado in 1889. Alongside three others, the group stole today's equivalent of $598,000. Cassidy was able to purchase a ranch in Wyoming and continued robbing banks, even serving a two-year sentence in prison. Eventually, he formed his historic gang and recruited Harry Alonzo Longabaugh, (better known as The Sundance Kid), William Ellsworth "Elzy" Lay, Harvey "Kid Curry" Logan, Ben Kilpatrick, Harry Tracy, Will "News" Carver, Laura Bullion and George "Flat Nose" Curry.
The Sundance Kid
Harry Longabaugh was born in Pennsylvania but traveled west to Wyoming as a teenager. He was arrested for robbing a ranch in Sundance, Wyoming, which earned him his nickname and an 18-month sentence. After his release, he worked on a ranch in Canada before becoming involved in train and bank robberies. But he really got his name out there when he became one of the Wild Bunch gang members. He was romantically involved with a woman named Etta Place who joined Longabaugh and Cassidy when they fled the country from the Pinkerton Agency.
Little is known about Ethel Place but it's believed that she is originally from Texas. It is rumored that she was one of a handful of women allowed in the Wild Bunch's Utah hideout at Robbers Roost. When the Pinkerton Detective Agency was closing in on Longbaugh and Cassidy, she joined them on their trip to South America. They traveled to Argentina followed by Bolivia, the location of the shootout that killed the two outlaws.
Following the death of Longabaugh, Place disappeared. Allegedly, a woman matching her description requested Longabaugh's death certificate in Chile. One theory is that her real name was Ethel Bishop, a schoolteacher. Some say she worked in a brothel or moved to New York City. Another theory claims that her name was Ann Bassett, a prominent cattle rancher during the turn of the century with her sister, Josie Bassett. While we don't know specifics, we know that she had classic good looks, brown hair, and hung around with the members of The Wild Bunch.
The story of the historic outlaw gang was brought to the screen with Paul Newman and Robert Redford starring as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid respectively. Katharine Ross joined the cast as Etta Place. It was the top-grossing film of the year and has gone down in history as one of the best movies of all time. Screenwriter William Goldman researched the story for eight years before writing his script. It's safe to say he nailed it.