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Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: What Really Happened to Them?

Rosemary Giles
Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox/ Archive Photos/ Getty Images/ Cropped and Colorized
Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox/ Archive Photos/ Getty Images/ Cropped and Colorized

Butch Cassidy (Robert LeRoy Parker), the Sundance Kid (Harry Longabaugh), and the rest of the “Wild Bunch” were some of the most notorious outlaws in the Old West and the most successful train-robbing gang in history. Although they went out with a bang, historians disagree over what exactly happened to the infamous duo. Some believe that they died in Bolivia, while others say the evidence simply doesn’t back that theory.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Cassidy and members of the Wild Bunch came to work together sometime after Cassidy was released from prison in 1896. Following a successful robbery later that year, Cassidy recruited Longabaugh. The group established many connections throughout the Old West, particularly with ranchers who would help the men with food, horses, supplies, and lodging. The Wild Bunch initially operated out of the Hole-in-the-Wall near Kaycee, Wyoming, along with many criminal groups.

The Wild Bunch pose together for a photograph, they all wear suits.
A portrait of the “Wild Bunch,” standing (left to right) are Bill Carver, Kid Curry, seated (left to right) are the Sundance Kid, Ben Kilpatrick, and Butch Cassidy. (Photo Credit: Bettmann/ Getty Images)

They began making a name for themselves by pulling off train robberies, starting with a holdup of a Union Pacific train near Wilcox, Wyoming. They carried out similar actions against other trains, averaging $35,000 per robbery. These actions, however, made them wanted men with law enforcement and private detective agencies.

Beginning of the end

Eventually, each of the crew went on their own way in an attempt to keep away from the law, except for Cassidy and Longabaugh. They, along with Longabaugh’s girlfriend Etta Place, traveled to New York and then to Buenos Aires, Argentina, at the beginning of 1901. For the next five years the trio traveled around South America until Place decided she no longer wanted to live life on the run. Longabaugh took her back to San Francisco before traveling to Bolivia to meet up with Cassidy.

Harry Longabaugh, the Sundance Kid, and Etta Place in a black suit and black dress.
The Sundance Kid (Harry Longabaugh) and Etta Place in a studio portrait, January 1901. (Photo Credit: DeYoung Photography Studio/ Library of Congress/ Wikimedia Commons/ Public Domain)

It was there that the two were allegedly killed. They were suspected of robbing a courier carrying the payroll for a local silver mine on November 3, 1908. They raised the suspicion of their boarding house owner. Three days later, soldiers, the mayor, and the police chief descended on the house to arrest them. Cassidy and Longabaugh opened fire and were engulfed in the fight for hours.

The widely accepted story

At two in the morning, a yell and two gunshots were heard from inside the house. Upon inspection, Longabaugh was found with a bullet wound on the forehead and Cassidy with one on the temple. Both men had also sustained numerous other bullet wounds. It’s believed that Cassidy shot his friend to out of mercy before taking his own life. The pair were buried at a cemetery in San Vincente after being identified as the men who’d robbed the mine courier days before.

Young Butch Cassidy standing beside a horse.
Butch Cassidy, an American train robber, bank robber, and leader of the Wild Bunch gang, c. 19th century. (Photo Credit: Universal History Archive/ Universal Images Group/ Getty Images)

It was long accepted that the robbers buried there were Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid until a researcher attempted to find their graves in 1991. They wanted to match the DNA at the graves with samples provided by people related to the infamous robbers. But they found nothing that matched. This led many to think that the outlaws had actually survived and the men buried in Bolivia weren’t Cassidy and Longabaugh.

An alternative theory

To further back this theory, there are many people who claim they saw Cassidy in the United States well after the shootout: his sister Lula, former lover Josie Bassett, and strangers who saw him driving around Baggs, Wyoming. He allegedly died in 1937. According to a distant family member, “Lula, was very clear. She said that where he was buried, and under what name, was a family secret; that he was chased all his life and now he had a chance to finally rest in peace – and that’s the way it must be.”

Butch Cassidy posing for a mugshot.
Butch Cassidy’s mugshot from the Wyoming Territorial Prison in Laramie, 1894. (Photo Credit: Unknown Author/ Wikimedia Commons/ Public Domain)

Longabaugh the Sundance Kid was said to have returned to Duchesne, Utah where he lived under the name William Henry Long, dying in 1936. Comparing these remains to his relatives’ DNA again showed no match. Although many claims have been made over the years, there is no concrete evidence to prove that the pair came back to the United States or that they were the robbers killed in Bolivia.

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It appears that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid succeeded in their quest to never be found.

Rosemary Giles

Rosemary Giles is a history content writer with Hive Media. She received both her bachelor of arts degree in history, and her master of arts degree in history from Western University. Her research focused on military, environmental, and Canadian history with a specific focus on the Second World War. As a student, she worked in a variety of research positions, including as an archivist. She also worked as a teaching assistant in the History Department.

Since completing her degrees, she has decided to take a step back from academia to focus her career on writing and sharing history in a more accessible way. With a passion for historical learning and historical education, her writing interests include social history, and war history, especially researching obscure facts about the Second World War. In her spare time, Rosemary enjoys spending time with her partner, her cats, and her horse, or sitting down to read a good book.