Saturday, January 21, 2017

Did Butch Cassidy Survive?

We've seen the Paul Newman-Robert Redford movie, Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, where they supposedly die in a shoot out with the Bolivian army in 1908.  At the end of the movie, they rush out of the building with guns blazing and are surrounded by soldiers unleashing a barrage of bullets.  The scene freezes with them still on their feet and the closing credits roll across the screen.  We never actually see them die, but it's implied in the same way that the real life story of Butch Cassidy alludes to him having died in South America.

But, to paraphrase Mark Twain, perhaps the story of his death was greatly exaggerated.

For decades rumors have persisted that Butch survived the shoot out, returned to the United States, and lived in quiet anonymity for nearly thirty years under an assumed name in Washington state.

And swirling at the center of the controversy is a 200 page manuscript titled Bandit Invincible: The Story of Butch Cassidy written in 1934 by William T. Phillips, a machinist who died in Spokane, Washington, in 1937.  A Utah book collector and a Montana author believe that the manuscript is not a biography of the famous outlaw, but actually an autobiography and that Phillips was really Butch Cassidy.  They insist the manuscript contains details that only the real Butch Cassidy could have known.

As with all speculative versions of history, there are always detractors to the theory, historians who claim the manuscript is not an accurate portrayal of Cassidy's life…or at least his life that is known.

Everyone pretty much agrees that Butch Cassidy was born Robert LeRoy Parker in 1866 in Beaver, Utah.  He was the oldest of 13 children in a Mormon family and robbed his first bank in 1889 in Telluride, Colorado.  He served a year and a half in the Wyoming Territorial Prison in Laramie followed by most of the next 20 years spent robbing banks and trains with his Wild Bunch gang.

A Cassidy historian disagrees with the speculative conclusions about the nature of the Bandit Invincible manuscript.  He suggests that the reason Phillips knew so many details about Butch that others wouldn't have known was because the two men actually knew each other rather than Phillips having actually been the real Butch Cassidy.

In 1991 a grave was dug up in San Vicente, Bolivia, reputed to contain the remains of Butch and Sundance.  DNA testing revealed that the bones did not belong to the two outlaws.  However, the Cassidy historian still insists his research confirms that Butch and Sundance died in that 1908 shoot out in Bolivia.

There are stories about the Sundance Kid living long after his time in South America, but they are outnumbered by the many alleged Butch Cassidy sightings.  A brother and sister of Butch's insisted that he stopped in for a visit at the family ranch in Utah in 1925.  Phillips' adopted son believed that his stepfather was the real Butch Cassidy.  Since Phillips was cremated following his death in 1937, there's little possibility of being able to obtain any type of a DNA match.

So the mystery continues…

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