butch cassidy

The American cowboy hat. Anyone who knows anything about the Old West knows about the Stetson cowboy hat, and every great cowboy wore them, right? Wrong. The truth is that in the Old West, most men wore a Derby hat. If you’ve seen the movie, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, then you have seen a more realistic picture of the Old West.

The myth of the cowboy hat did come about from the hat that was created by John Stetson, and while it was a classic, it didn’t actually come into play until the very end of the 19th century, not the early part like most people think. The Stetson cowboy hat was first introduced in 1865, but it just didn’t take off like John Stetson had hoped. The cowboy hat was based somewhat on a Spanish design, and thr rumor was that a random cowboy saw Stetson’s at and paid him $5.00 for it. After that, it was said to be all the rage.

The truth is vastly different. I don’t know if a cowboy bought that first cowboy hat for $5.00 or not, but while we think that the Derby hat or the top hat were only worn by the bankers, businessmen, or the very rich, that belief is wrong. The early cowboys liked the derby hat best, and those who did not like the Derby usually wore a top hat or a hat associated with their professions, like a conductors cap. The Derby was also known as the Bowler hat, with many notorious cowboy criminals such as Butch Cassidy and Will Carver wearing them. Even those who weren’t criminals liked the Derby hat on the frontier, because they stayed on in windy conditions and protected the cowboys from the sand. I think anyone who has ever had a hat or cap blow off in the wind can relate to that.

While most cowboys today, and even those who just like “all things country” prefer the cowboy hat these days, and the manufacture of cowboy hats is big business these days, they certainly didn’t start out that way. It’s hard for me to picture cowboys in a Derby hat, but history would prove that the Derby hat was, in fact, what they wore.

Over the years, many have speculated about the validity of the death of famous people, among them, Elvis Presley. For some unknown reason, people just cant believe, for whatever reason, that someone famous is dead. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were legendary outlaws who robbed trains, payroll couriers, and banks. When the law got too close to them, they took off for Bolivia. It wasn’t a plan that fared well…or was it? Robert Leroy Parker was born April 13, 1866, in Beaver, Utah. As a bandit, he used the alias Butch Cassidy. Harry Alonzo Longabaugh born in Mont Clare, Pennsylvania in 1867, was better known as Butch Cassidy’s sidekick and partner in crime, the Sundance Kid. The two of them had an illustrious criminal career, but as with all criminal careers, at some point mistakes are made, or they meet their match in a lawman who bests them, with a gun or their abilities as a detective. A part of the Wild Bunch, the careers of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were shrouded in mystery, but that mystery pales by comparison to their deaths. After making their escape to Argentina, and then to Bolivia, Cassidy, the Kid, and girlfriend, Etta Place thought that the small town of San Vicente would be an easy target for their crimes.

As courier for the Aramayo, Francke and Cia mining company, Carlos Pero was riding his mule up a rugged trail high in the Andes Mountains on the morning of November 4, 1908. He was completely unaware that his every move was being watched. Pero later said that after cresting a hill, he was “surprised by two Yankees, whose faces were covered with bandanas and whose rifles were cocked and ready to fire.” The pair of masked bandits robbed the courier of the company’s payroll and then disappeared into the desolation of southern Bolivia, but that was not to be the end of it. Three days later, four Bolivian officers cornered a pair of Americans suspected of being the bandits in a rented house, in the dusty village of San Vicente. The Pinkerton Detective Agency, which had long been trailing Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and had warned banks across South America to be on the lookout for them, because they had fled there from the United States in 1901. It was reported that the two Americans holed up in San Vicente were them. As a Bolivian soldier approached the hideout, the Americans shot him dead. A brief exchange of gunfire ensued. When it was over, San Vicente mayor Cleto Bellot reported hearing “three screams of desperation” followed by two gunshots from inside the house. When the Bolivian authorities cautiously entered the hideout the following morning, they found the bodies of the two foreigners.

For decades, Daniel Buck and Anne Meadows, husband and wife researchers scoured South American archives and police reports trying to track down the true story of what happened to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, a saga that Meadows detailed in her book “Digging up Butch and Sundance.” While the paper trail pointed to their deaths in Bolivia, conclusive evidence as to the identities of the bandits killed in San Vicente in November 1908 rested under the ground of the village’s cemetery. The researchers enlisted the help of Clyde Snow, the renowned forensic anthropologist who had conclusively identified the remains of Nazi war criminal Josef Mengele. They received permission from Bolivian authorities to exhume the robbers’ bodies. Guided to their purported grave by an elderly villager whose father had reportedly witnessed the shootout, they opened the graves in 1991. Inside they found a skeleton of one man, and a piece of a skull from another. After a detailed forensic analysis and a comparison of DNA to the relatives of Cassidy and Longabaugh, Snow found there was no match. The skeleton was instead likely to have been that of a German miner named Gustav Zimmer who had worked in the area. It’s possible that the bodies of the iconic outlaws remain buried elsewhere in the San Vicente cemetery or even elsewhere in the country, but with no conclusive proof as to the whereabouts of the bodies of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, their ultimate fate remains a mystery.

With no conclusive evidence to confirm the deaths of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the rumors flew, that the pair had once again eluded the long arm of the law, and sightings of the duo in South America, Mexico and the United States continued for decades to come. Family members fueled the stories by insisting that the men had never been killed and instead returned to the United States to live into old age. Cassidy’s sister, Lula Parker Betenson, wrote in her 1975 book “Butch Cassidy, My Brother” that the outlaw had returned to the family ranch in Circleville, Utah, in 1925 to visit his ailing father and attend a family wedding. According to Betenson, Cassidy told the family that a friend of his had planted the story that one of the men killed in Bolivia was him so that he would no longer be pursued. She claimed that Cassidy lived in the state of Washington under an alias until his death in 1937. Betenson said her brother was buried in an unmarked grave in a location that was kept a family secret.

reno-gangThere are people these days who think we should get rid of the police officers, but they are obviously not thinking about the Old West. In the early days of the Old West, there were no law men. People had to take care of themselves. And contrary to what you might think, many people didn’t just carry a gun everywhere then either. That basically left them defenseless in many situations. On this day October 6, 1866, the Reno Gang carried out the first robbery of a moving train in United States history. Prior to that day, trains had been robbed while they were at the stations or in the freight yards, but that was proving to be a little dangerous, as the lawmen that were in the west were mostly in the towns. The Reno Gang changed the way criminals thought about things.

I’m not sure if their plan would have been considered innovative exactly, but as crime goes, I suppose it was. reno-brothersTheir idea was that if they robbed the train in some remote area of the track, the crew of the train, and the people on it would be at their mercy, and they could take what they chose to. That first moving train robbery was on an Ohio and Mississippi train in Jackson County, Indiana, and netted the gang a profit of $10,000. It was a piece of cake, because there was no one to save the people on board. While I don’t believe anyone died, they were all very scared.

The news of this new type of robbery traveled fast, and before long, trains became a moving target. There were gangs, like Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch who found train robbery so easy and profitable, that for a time, it became their specialty. The large stashes of cash and precious minerals on the trains and the sparsely populated landscape, gave the gangs just what they needed for success. Nevertheless, like all crime, eventually first-train-robberyprecautions were taken to prevent continued loss. By the late 1800s, robbing trains became increasingly dangerous. Railroad owners started protecting their trains’ valuables with large safes, armed guards, and fortified boxcars.

The Reno Gang was finally captured in 1868 after a series of robberies. That December saw another type of problem that develops when there is a lack of lawmen…vigilante justice. A mob of the citizens of the town, stormed the jail and hanged the brothers, Frank, Simeon, and William Reno and fellow gang member, Charlie Anderson. Their brother John Reno had been caught earlier and was serving time in a different prison.

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