Butch Cassidy Slept Here
Robert LeRoy Parker wasn't a bad kid. He was born into a hardworking Mormon family, in the little Southwestern Utah town of Beaver, on April 13, 1866. The oldest of 13 children, Robert was said to be a great help to his mother, and worked on the small ranch his parents bought near Circleville, about 50 miles north of Bryce Canyon.
It was in Circleville where the problems began. Teenager Robert fell in with some rather unsavory characters, including one Mike Cassidy, the ne'er-do-well role model who reportedly gave the youth his first gun, and presumably from whom young Robert took the alias "Cassidy." The boy made his way to Telluride, Colorado, worked for one of the mines there for a while, and then wandered up to Wyoming. A little more wandering took him back to Telluride -- and, strangely enough, the Telluride bank was robbed. Butch Cassidy had officially begun his life of crime.
In the following years, Butch -- who gained the nickname after a short stint working in a butcher shop -- became an expert at rustling cattle, robbing banks, and, his ultimate glory, robbing trains. Butch wanted to call his gang the Train Robbers Syndicate, but they raised such hell in celebration of their economic successes that saloonkeepers in Vernal and other Utah towns began calling them "that wild bunch," and the name stuck. The Wild Bunch would travel through Utah, hiding out in the desolate badlands that were to become Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, and Canyonlands national parks. Capitol Reef's Cassidy Arch was named after Butch; this area was supposedly one of his favorite hiding places.
If you've seen the 1969 movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, with Paul Newman as Butch and Robert Redford as his partner-in-crime Sundance, you can't forget the spectacular scene in which Butch and his cohorts blow the door off a railroad car. Then they use way too much dynamite to open the safe, sending bills flying into the air. Apparently, the story is basically true, having taken place on June 2, 1899, near Wilcox, Wyoming. According to reports of the day, they got away with $30,000.
The Union Pacific Railroad took exception to Butch's antics. When the posse started getting a bit too close, Butch, Sundance, and Sundance's lady friend, Etta Place (Katharine Ross in the film), took off for South America, where it's said they continued a life of crime for a half dozen or so years.
According to some historians (as well as the movie), Butch and Sundance were shot dead in a gun battle with army troops in Bolivia in 1908. But others say it's not so; the other theory is that Butch returned to the United States, visited friends and family in Utah and Wyoming, and eventually settled in Spokane, Washington, where he lived a peaceful and respectable life under the name William T. Phillips, until he died of cancer in 1937.
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