Butch Cassidy in Wyoming
Robert LeRoy Parker, later known as Butch Cassidy, was the eldest of 13 children of Maxi and Anne Gillies Parker. He was born April 13, 1866, in Beaver, Utah. His family’s struggle with finances and his father’s loss of property to a neighbor in the good graces of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints may have impacted the young Roy’s attitude toward citizens in places of authority.
After his family moved south to a new homestead in Circleville in 1879 the young man met Mike Cassidy, a local ranch hand who taught him to ride, rope and shoot—and how to rustle livestock. The young man was so impressed with his mentor that in later years he took his last name.
The outlaw Butch Cassidy
While the circumstances surrounding Roy’s leaving home are murky, his youngest sister, Lula, writes in her memoir that he took the blame for a local rustling incident to clear the charges against two married men. When he was 18, he drifted up to Colorado and then Wyoming Territory where he continued his life as a rustler, using hideouts in Brown’s Park, a remote area where the borders of Wyoming, Colorado and Utah intersect, and perhaps in the Hole-in-the-Wall country of the southern Bighorn Mountains in northern Wyoming Territory.
Although strong evidence points to his participation in a bank robbery in Telluride, Colo., on June 14, 1889, with the McCarty brothers, the newspapers at the time did not mention his name. During this period he primarily worked as a ranch hand for various outfits in Brown’s Park, the remote Bighorn Basin in northern Wyoming Territory and around Dubois on the upper Wind River.
Roy Parker’s purchase of a stolen horse for five dollars from a rustler named Billy Nutcher led to his eventual conviction in Judge Jesse Knight’s court in Lander, Wyo. in 1894 and incarceration at the Wyoming State Penitentiary—the former territorial prison—in Laramie, Wyo. By this time Roy had taken the name of George Cassidy, with a nickname “Butch,” according to court and prison records. He was sentenced to two years. The prosecuting attorney on the case was Will Simpson, the grandfather of U.S. Senator Alan Simpson and longtime University of Wyoming Vice President Pete Simpson.
Not much is known about Cassidy’s time in jail, but according to some accounts, he conducted himself as a model prisoner. Although he was a little known rustler, Judge Knight and others were impressed by his intelligence and charisma, and saw him as a potential threat.
Yet Knight and Gov. William A. Richards organized an early release and pardon for Cassidy. Partly this may have been due to an error Knight made during the trial. Knight was quite frank in a letter to the governor, saying that he was "distressed" that he had failed to tell the jury that it is a crime to buy livestock in Wyoming only if a person does so knowingly and it¹s not clear if Cassidy knew the horse in question was stolen.
Knight also hoped that that a pardon might inspire the prisoner, once released, to avoid further bad behavior in his old stomping grounds of central Wyoming, perhaps even inspiring Cassidy to help “in the apprehension of those that are preying upon the people,” as he wrote the governor.
Governor Richards thought it was "worth trying." He asked the judge to send him a petition "signed by a few responsible men, who know the existing conditions of the case. In this way Cassidy can be placed under obligations to the men who desire to have a good influence over him." It would also provide the governor with some political cover for this pardon.
Cassidy was released early in 1896, after 18 months in prison. "The only question in this matter, in my judgment," the governor had written to Knight, "is whether he will do what he is expected to do if released."
Cassidy did not. Within a few months he formed a gang, known as the Cassidy Gang or the Wild Bunch, and eventually became one of the most successful robbers of his era. He made allies of some ranchers supposedly by paying off their mortgages and spreading money liberally to the poor. People told these stories often, and a kind of Robin Hood folklore arose around the bandit.
The Wild Bunch used hideouts from Arizona’s Mogollon Rim and Utah’s Robbers Roost to South Dakota’s Black Hills. In Wyoming and its adjacent borderlands, the gang used many refuges, including Brown’s Park, Hoback Canyon, Hole in the Wall, Powder Wash, the Red Desert, Star Valley, Wind River Canyon and the Wind River Mountains. Indeed, the outlaws adopted namesakes of the lands that they used and were known also as the Bitter Creek Gang near Rock Springs, the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang, the Powder Wash Gang and the Red Desert Gang.
Wilcox and Tipton robberies
Although many people told tales of Cassidy’s gang robbing banks and stagecoaches in Wyoming, the only two confirmed Wild Bunch crimes in the Cowboy State, aside from Cassidy’s early rustling, were the robberies of Union Pacific trains at Wilcox and Tipton.
According to the Laramie Boomerang, six masked men flagged the Overland Flyer down at 2:15 a.m. on June 2, 1899, near Wilcox in Albany County northwest of present Rock River. After they commandeered the train and pulled it over a bridge, they blew open the baggage car with an oversized dynamite charge, dazing the baggage man. The Rawlins Semi-Weekly Republican reported that after placing an excessive charge on the safe, they “wrecked the car, blowing the roof off and sides out, portions of the car being blown 150 yards.” Taking more than $50,000 in gold, cash, jewelry and banknotes from the safe, the outlaws escaped on horseback.
Cassidy, if he was there, appears to have left the scene separately, and three other bandits fled north through Casper, heading for the Hole-in-the-Wall country. Converse County Sheriff Joe Hazen was mortally wounded in a shootout on Castle Creek north of Casper. Posses of hundreds of men, funded by the Union Pacific, some equipped with bloodhounds shipped in from Beatrice, Neb., pursued the robbers for weeks. The robbers eluded the posses and disappeared into the country near Hole in the Wall.
Arguably Cassidy’s most infamous crime, the Wilcox robbery won national attention and the ire of three governors—probably the newspapers in making this claim were referring to the governors of Wyoming, Colorado and Utah—of President McKinley, the Department of State and the Union Pacific Railroad.
The fact that Cassidy had the temerity to rob a train carrying gold for payment of troops fighting in the Spanish-American War was viewed by McKinley and others as much more than an inconvenience. From that time forward, Cassidy was labeled a national terrorist. Authorities set huge bounties--$18,000, newspapers reported, after the Wilcox robbery—for the capture of the outlaws, dead or alive.
Cassidy’s participation in the Wilcox robbery has never fully been established. The Pinkertons—the famous detective agency of the era—suspected several men, including Flat-nosed George Currie, Harvey and Lonny Logan and Bob Lee. The shooting of Sheriff Hazen and the robbers’ hasty retreat, some of it on foot, appears to point to some poor planning, which was not a trademark of Cassidy. Supposedly, unsigned bank notes, singed bills and bills stained with raspberry juice from a damaged fruit crate were used to track down robbers including Lonny Logan and Bob Lee, within a few years.
Although bounty hunters, lawmen like Joe LeFors and Pinkerton detectives like Charlie Siringo and Tom Horn pursued Cassidy from Wyoming to Texas, he was not deterred. His Wild Bunch continued their activities throughout the West.
On Aug. 29, 1900, Cassidy again struck a Union Pacific train in Wyoming near Tipton, about 50 miles west of Rawlins. Again, using too much dynamite, the bandits blew up the safe in the express car, gathered the money and valuables and rode southward towards Brown’s Park.
According to lawman Joe LeFors and Union Pacific staff, only $50.40 was taken. The Saratoga Sun noted the following month, however, that it was unlikely so small an amount had been stolen, and that railroad officials were most likely using the claim to cover up the inconvenient truth of how vulnerable train shipments were to robbery. Although the true amount stolen is still not known, estimates range from $50,000 to $100,000.
About the Author
Mac Blewer holds a masters degree in cultural and historical geography from the University of Wyoming. His thesis documented Butch Cassidy as an invented tradition of the American West. He is the author of Wyoming's Outlaw Trail, a pictorial history published by Arcadia in 2013.