Did Butch Cassidy really die in Wild West shootout?
New documents say iconic film scene never happened
Published 16/08/2011 | 05:00
THE notorious Old West outlaw Butch Cassidy may have survived to old age and lived out his years peacefully under an assumed name, according to a new theory.
Most scholars believe that the train and bank robber died in a shootout in Bolivia in 1908.
His death was depicted by Hollywood in the classic 1969 Western 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid' starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford.
But according to the latest argument, Cassidy escaped and returned to America, moving to Spokane in Washington state where he worked as a machinist called William T Phillips and died in 1937.
The improbable theory stems from a 200-page manuscript written by Phillips and titled 'Bandit Invincible: The Story of Butch Cassidy'. In it the writer claimed to have been a childhood friend of the outlaw and recounts some of his exploits, stating that he had never met "a more courageous and kinder-hearted man".
The manuscript appeared to be a biography but, according to Brent Ashworth, a rare book collector from Utah, and Larry Pointer, an author, it may have been a disguised autobiography and Phillips may have in fact been Cassidy. They said the text contained details only Cassidy could have known. Those include an account of the outlaw's meeting with a judge in prison in February 1895.
Phillips records that Cassidy refused to shake hands with the judge and said: "I must tell you now that I will even my account with you, if it is the last act I ever do." Wyoming's state archives contain an 1895 letter written by the judge which appears to confirm the incident.
It relates how Cassidy seemed to hold "ill-will" and did not accept the "friendly advances" of the judge in prison. Mr Pointer said: "Who else would have remembered it in that kind of detail?"
Historians more or less agree that Cassidy was born Robert LeRoy Parker in 1866 in Beaver, Utah, the oldest of 13 children in a Mormon family. He robbed his first bank in 1889 in Telluride, Colorado, and fell in with cattle rustlers who hid out at The Hole in the Wall, a refuge in northern Wyoming's Johnson County.
Cassidy later served a year- and-a-half in Wyoming Territorial Prison in Laramie for possessing three stolen horses. But for most of the next 20 years, his Wild Bunch Gang held up banks and trains across the West and in South America.
Mr Pointer said the earliest documentation of Phillips was his marriage to Gertrude Livesay in Adrian, Michigan, in 1908, three months after Cassidy's last known letter from Bolivia. In 1911, the couple moved to Spokane. Years later friends of Phillips claimed that he did claim to be Cassidy.
However, Dan Buck, a Cassidy historian, called the theory "total horse pucky" and said the manuscript "doesn't bear a great deal of relationship to Butch Cassidy's real life, or Butch Cassidy's life as we know it". (© Daily Telegraph, London)