Butch - Sundance, and the Wild Bunch

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, two of the best know outlaws of the American West. Best known, but not that well known until the movie, the 1969 movie starring Paul Newman and Butch and Robert Redford as the Sundance Kid.  This film made Butch and Sundance the well-known, lovable, outlaws that so many people know of today. Seemed like throughout the decade of the 70s everyone had seen the movie, and maybe they had. The film, still widely played on classic and western stations, was made on a budget of six million dollars and a recent estimate accounts for it taking in more than $150,000,000, not bad.

Before the movie, Butch and Sundance are left out or barely mentioned in Wyoming textbooks, after the movie they play a more prominent role, often with both text and photos.  Indeed T. A. Larson, who wrote the definitive, History of Wyoming, spent time on Cattle Kate, Tom Horn and the Johnson County War, does not mention the Wild Bunch or any of the members of the gang. 
Seated - Sundance left and Butch right 

One of the memorable and oft-quoted lines from the movie was spoken by Butch, “Who are those guys? That is a good question these two well-known and little-known bank and train robbers.

They were Robert LeRoy Parker (Butch Cassidy) and Harry Alonzo Longabaugh (the Sundance Kid).

Parker was raised a rancher and farmer in Utah and his first cross with the law involved stealing a pair of pants and a pie (not sure if it was a fruit or cream pie). He went on to fame robbing banks and trains and directing the famous wild bunch gang out of Robbers Roost and Hole in the Wall.

Longabaugh was from Pennsylvania and got his famous nickname after spending jail time in Sundance Wyoming.  He came west at the age of 15 and spent his time in the Sundance jail for pilfering a horse (a most serious crime) saddle and a gun. Longabaugh is often referred to as a gunfighter, but this is more than likely not true. He was good with a gun, but it was Kid Curry, also another member of the gang that was the real gunslinger. Possibly with both being referred to as Kid, they are interchanged in history.

Butch and Sundance and the rest of the Wild Bunch were the best known and most successful train robbers in American Old West history. Butch Cassidy is often given the credit for inventing train robberies, but this is not true. The Reno Gang was about 20 years ahead of the Wild Bunch hitting their first train in 1866. But it was Butch, Sundance, Kid Curry and the rest of the gang that perfected it and made it famous.

In my 40+ years teaching there was always a good deal of talk about textbooks, too liberal, too conservative, not factual enough, too many facts – boring.  Whether we like it or not good fiction and good movies can make or change history.


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