Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch: last of the old- time gangs
In 1886, the same year Jesse James led his gangs first raid against a Missouri bank, a child who was to be the last of the western gang leaders was born in Beaver, Utah. His name was Robert LeRoy Parker, later changed to Butch Cassidy in token of his admiration for a friend, Mike Cassidy, who had taught him the fine arts of rustling and horse theft. Like the James boys, he came from a family with a devout religious tradition, but grew up observing few strictures of his faith
As a youth, Butch joined a gang whose members included Bill McCarty, rumoured to have been a James gang veteran. After participating in train and bank holdups, the neophyte drifted off on his own. In 1893 he was arrested for stealing a horses and spent a year and a half in the Rawlins, Wyoming, penitentiary-without chastening effect. Released at the age of 30, Cassidy promptly formed his own gang.
After Cassidy’s gang had robbed a bank, lifted a mining camp payroll and pulled off a series of rustling successes, local newspapers honoured their prowess by calling them the Wild Bunch In one sense, the label was misleading, for Cassidy himself made it a lifelong point to avoid needless violence. When pursued by possess, he shot at the horses, never at the riders. He said apparently truthfully, “I have never killed a man.” He ran his gang democratically, asking members advice on projects. Even the wanted posters described him as “cheery and affable.”
But in their flair they displayed in action, the Wild Bunch lived up to their name-particular after they turned their attention to trains. At 2.30am on June 2nd, 1899, near Wilcox, Wyoming, they used a warning lantern to halt the Union Pacific‘s Overland Limited. The gang detached the express car and set a stick of dynamite underneath-enough to open it like an egg crate but not enough to maim the stubborn guard inside. More dynamite blew the safe apart, sending currency wafting through the night air. The outlaws scooped up $30,000 and rode off. The Wild Bunch followed up its first thunderous train job with three more. Although Pinkerton men were on the gangs trail, the Union pacific considered a business-like approach to the problem-offering to buy out Cassidy with a pardon and a position as an express guard “at a good salary.”
After the deal fell through, and Cassidy robbed another train, the railroad organised its own gang of gunfighters, outfitted them with high powered rifles and sent them out in a high-speed train to bring in the Wild Bunch. Cassidy, realising that such determined pursuers would eventually catch up with him, decided to transfer his operations to South America. He journeyed to New York sometime in the late 1901, accompanied by a trusted confederate, Harry “Sundance Kid” Longbaugh of Sundance, Wyoming, and by Longbaughs lady love, Etta Place. After taking in the city sights, they sailed to Buenos Aires and new opportunities. During the next decade, Cassidy, the Sundance Kid and Etta robbed banks and trains all across South America.
Pinkerton men continued to keep track of them; one dossier entry noted: “As soon as Cassidy entered an Indian village he would be playing with the children. When hard pressed by local authorities, he would always find a hideout among the native population.” The ultimate fate of the trio remains a mystery. Stories circulated that they were killed in a battle with troops in Bolivia or Uruguay, but more reliable reports indicated that they returned to the U.S. and lived to a ripe old age. Whatever the outcome, Longbaugh had foreseen the future accurately when he said, during the glory days of the Wild Bunch: I’ll never be taken alive.”