Butch Cassidy: Fiction and Facts - Page 2
Some time in March 1902, Butch, Sundance and Etta Place were in Buenos Aires. Sundance deposited twelve thousand dollars at the Bank of London and la Plata. In a very short time thereafter, Butch and Sundance, using the names Ryan and Place, filed a petition dated April 2 1902 asking for the right to own land described as four square leagues of Government land in the Province of Chubut, District 16 de Octubre, Rincon de Cholila, and stated that they were settled on the land, improving it and had occupied it with 1300 sheep, 300 cattle and 28 horses.
|"Wanted" poster - $4,000 reward for Butch
Cassidy, "dead or alive."
Click on image to enlarge.
Cassidy and his friends arrived in Buenos Aires as immigrants who spoke little or no Spanish and were among strangers. But they were able to complete in less than thirty days all the usually protracted official transactions (immigration, customs, funds transfer etc.) necessary for them to occupy, legally and with civil status, very desirable land with all their livestock. That seems very unusual and suggests to me that before their arrival in B.A. those arrangements had been prepared by someone associated with a Land Company, probably Lands of the South Company in Leleque, near Esquel, in the Province of Chubut. The transition from fugitive status to "Estanciero" probably cost them a substantial part of their twelve thousand dollars.
Other parties wanted that land too, or the use of it.
Among them was "Dr." George Newberry who described himself as U.S. Vice Consul to Pinkerton's agent, Mr. Damaio, and Cassidy's nearest neighbor when Damaio was in Buenos Aires to pursue the fugitives. (Pinkerton had offered a reward for information). In March 1903, Newberry's information was the first news Pinkertons had received that definitely located Cassidy in Argentina.
Note: How did Newberry know the identity of those people?
Dr. Newberry was an expatriate American who, about twelve years before the arrival of Cassidy, had acquired a large tract of beautiful land on Lake Nahuel Huapi opposite the village of San Carlos de Bariloche.
Note. It was the policy of the Argentine Government of that time to facilitate the settlement of "frontier lands" by a "Homesteading Contract" (my term) with eligible settlers. Land was allocated for settlement in units of four square leagues per person or company.
The term of contract was for five years. During that term, the occupant paid rent for the land, had to improve the property and had to prove his eligibility as a desirable citizen. After all these requirements were satisfied, and the five years were completed, the petitioner could buy the land for some negotiated price after paying all the service fees for surveys, registration and so on. (Like modern "closing costs", these fees could amount to a substantial sum.) These conditions were the most likely terms of the contract for settlement of the land with Butch Cassidy (Mr. Ryan) and Sundance (Mr. Place).
The property they acquired at Rincon de Cholila on this "Homestead Contract" was already improved with a "four room house", a "warehouse" (shearing shed and barn for storage of bales of wool), a water supply and some brush corrals when Butch and friends took possession. So the property had been "claimed" and improved and repossessed at least once prior to Cassidy's contract and had reverted to possession of the Land Company agent for the Government. Four square leagues is the equivalent of about 36 square miles or 23000 acres, in this case comprised of land watered by clear lakes, running streams and many springs, wooded in virgin forests of beech and cypress and verdant with grass, a stockman's paradise.
In 1902, when Butch arrived, Dr. Newberry, their neighbor, claimed the cattle and sheep using Cassidy's land as pastures belonged to him. Newberry considered that land to be "open range" ("campo fiscales") available to whoever was there first with livestock. But Cassidy and Sundance denied Newberry's claims and/or had his animals moved off their land, on that occasion confronting Dr. Newberry's foreman-manager-partner, a man named Jarred Jones and his sidekick named John Crockett. Those two also were expatriate Americans and had local reputations as gunmen. Their reputations were of no help to them in this instance and were probably diminished somewhat when all their claims were denied and/or their (Newberry’s and Jones's) animals were removed. This transaction established Newberry's and Jones' hostile attitude towards Cassidy and his partners. It probably also led to Jones' identification of the new neighbors as Cassidy and Sundance.
I believe that Dr. Newberry provided at least a temporary place to stay for some transient Americans who came to his place when moving through the Patagonia. Some of them later could have impersonated Cassidy and Sundance based on information they received there. They certainly could have relayed and propagated gossip about Butch and his "Wild Bunch."
Butch was doing what he knew how to do. He managed a productive livestock operation with good grass, good water and plenty of room on his own place. Sundance and Etta joined in. Sundance took care of the horses and their training. He sold a few "tamed" horses to the Cavalry Regiment at Esquel. Etta took care of records, supplies and social contacts. Butch sold hides, wool and some cattle. There was practically no local market for beef.
Butch was planning to sell some cattle in a new market in Chile, which would be only four trail days away by a rumored new route over the mountains. (That never happened because he never obtained that route access to Chile and, in fact, the Government never opened that route to Chile for the next forty years.) Butch, Sundance and Etta rode their range together exploring the limits of their land observing for minerals, timber, water and grass. They saw flamingoes, black necked swans, many splendidly colored ducks, enormous flocks of geese (avutarda), raptors of all kinds, mountain lions that preyed on their sheep, foxes, deer, boar and many other small animals and birds but few insects. They may have seen a tiny deer ("pichu"?) that weighs less than six pounds. Streams in the Patagonia nourished large numbers of trout - brook, rainbow and brown. Sundance discovered Argentine wine and gin that soon became his pastime.
The ranch at Rincon de Cholila had come with some number of peons and their families who had lived there for years without objection and performed many of the tasks, both necessary and superfluous, that kept the place running. They built their own shelters, cut the fuel wood, and did some share-crop gardening. When they needed supplies, such as flour and meat, the majordomo (who also came with the place) would dispense rations according to family needs. Although Cassidy wasn't very fond of sheep, 1300 animals were part of the Land Agent's Package they had bought and the peons did all the work taking care of the flocks, lambing, shepherding, shearing and man-handling those enormous bales of wool. (Some bales of wool weigh more than 300 pounds). Mutton was also the peons' common, if not the preferred, meat ration. It seemed then that the sheep cost the ranch nothing and they benefited the peons, helping them to take care of themselves.
|This photograph was taken in
Argentina and shows the Sundance Kid and Etta Place outside the cabin they
shared with Butch Cassidy.
Click on picture to enlarge it.
So Etta didn't have to do housework and the men didn't have to do chores. They lived comfortable lives there; those of generous "Patrons". They might have had a working balance in their local account with the Land Company store at Leleque which bought all their hides and wool and where they bought some of their supplies
The new "estancieros" lived on their ranch peacefully, lawfully, as respectable citizens for two years. They were content.
Apparently, they improved - built a very nice new house, log cabin style, from dressed logs and furnished it with good beds, tables, chairs and decorations that were much admired by their neighbors. And they entertained as socially responsible people. For some time, all their neighbors who had social or business contacts with the new residents said that they were good neighbors.
But, no one who was socially established in this small, remote, community and who associated with the well-established Newberrys welcomed Cassidy and his friends. Instead, they made life uncomfortable for them. This effort included; reporting their location and their movements to the Pinkerton agents in B.A; bearing from the Pinkertons back to the local community advertisements of all the crimes Cassidy and his friends were accused of and all their bad habits. For all of these things they were piously condemned by the socially established "Decent People's Society".
The "Estancieros" had no reason to throw away all that satisfied them in their peaceful existence - until it was clear to them in 1905 that they would be dispossessed. The end of their "Homestead" contract term approached in two more years with demands for "proof" of their good citizenship and more money to complete the transaction. Pinkerton notices informed the locals of who they were and where they were. Law Enforcement was aroused (by promise of rewards?). All parts of The Great Swindle were in play: they were going to lose their civil status, their ranch and possessions in spite of the assurances of the Land Company.
They might have supplied some of the needed money from their accounts in the Land Company's bank. Or they might have had another source of funds. But they were probably unable to satisfy the Argentine officials' demands for proof of their "good citizenship" in view of the many serious charges against them in the U.S. which were actively pursued in Argentina by the Pinkerton Detective Agency, and the objection of their influential neighbors (the "decent" people of the community led by Dr. Newberry). Without government assent to their citizenship status, they would forfeit the "Homestead Contract". And they may have resented demands for more money for the Land Company that had administered their claim deceitfully after they had received the Company's assurances of their civil status. They had paid to the Company a great deal of money during the years of The Contract for rent and services for the prosecution of their claim.
As the end of their "Homestead" ranch approached and they were about to lose their status, their property and their way of life, they had to liquidate their assets. But their financial situation was aggravated by the widespread knowledge of their distressed condition. Related by the Land Company and propagated by Dr. Newberry and his associates, banks, buyers, traders and business' knew that Cassidy's ranch had to "dump" their real property assets at distressed property prices (to the benefit of the Land Company and the Land Company's associated bank?).
The outcome of this situation can be appreciated. After more than three years of living peacefully, assured of their civil status and honoring the terms of their contract, Butch, Sundance and Etta suddenly reverted to robbing a bank at Rio Gallegos (six hundred and fifty miles to the south over cold, barren, and wind-flayed Patagonia) in February 1905.
The soon-to-be-fugitives may have decided to get some of their money back and some traveling money too, from the Land Company's bank, the Bank of London and Tarapaca, located at Rio Gallegos, (near the Straits of Magellan) in the Province of Santa Cruz. They rode to that destination in less than two weeks, robbed the bank of twenty thousand dollars ($100,000 in today’s money) according to the banker's report, and, followed by pursuers, they escaped in a hard rainstorm. Etta did not enter the bank but probably tended fresh horses at their relay point. No persons were injured by gunfire during this event, but some pursuing horses were shot.
Four weeks after the bank robbery at Rio Gallegos (and a six hundred mile return ride done in two weeks on their return) Cassidy, Sundance and Etta finally rode out of Rincon de Cholila. They had finished all they had to do in Argentina. Their beautiful ranch was abandoned to the Land Company. They could never go back, (they gave their flocks of sheep to the peons).
They were never charged officially with any crime in Argentina before or after they robbed the bank in Rio Gallegos in February 1905 and left the country in April 1905.
During the years they had lived near the Regiment in Esquel the officials there had received fliers from the Banks and notices from the Pinkerton Agency informing them of the crimes committed in the U.S. charged to Cassidy et. al. advising the authorities that the fugitives intended to commit more and worse crimes in Argentina. In that period, when the Army protected Argentina's frontier, it was the only official authority present and capable of law enforcement in that sparsely populated region. So it also exercised police powers, but reluctantly, when it was absolutely necessary. When the Pinkertons asked Argentine authorities to apprehend the fugitives for the reward money or to authorize and assist their team of Pinkertons' operatives to apprehend them, the Argentines declined, stating that the fugitives had committed no offense in Argentina.
So, if Cassidy and friends had been accused officially by Argentine authorities of any crime while they were in Argentina, the charge would have been forwarded to the local Army Regiment at Esquel about sixty five miles south of Rincon de Cholila (one full day's ride for Butch and friends). It would have been the duty of Army authorities to apprehend them. But Cassidy, Sundance and Etta were well known to officers in the Regiment and regularly conducted business with the Army (selling horses) and bought supplies there. They were frequent overnight visitors in Esquel and sometimes guests of local residents. (Their contacts with the Army Post were probably one way of keeping up with some news - and gossip - of the country and the World Outside. As their situation developed, these contacts became an important source of intelligence about their fugitive status and their "Homestead" situation.
A story, probably apocryphal, characterizing Sundance's relations with the troopers at the Regiment was told to us in Rio Pico: When the fugitive trio were preparing to abandon their ranch and leave Argentina, Sundance conducted some last minute business at the Esquel Regiment proposing the sale of some good horses. While there, he received word that a Pinkerton's posse was arriving soon at the Regiment by railroad with blooded horses to chase down some fugitives. Supposedly, Sundance joined the troopers who met the train, helped them to off-load the tired horses, water them, feed them and bed them down. Then, when every one was satisfied and had left the scene, Sundance retrieved the "superhorses", substituted some horses from his own troop and, mixing the "superhorses" with the unsold remainder of his troop, he gently walked all the animals off the post and back to the ranch. The story is that those "superhorses" were the animals that Cassidy. Sundance and Etta rode out of Argentina. (I said it was probably apocryphal.)
As Butch, Sundance and Etta rode away from Rincon de Cholila, the Cavalry authorities in Esquel were in pursuit of the suspects after the Rio Gallegos bank robbery and they had to put some space between themselves and their friends at the Regiment. They had to evade the search of the next Regiment to the North at San Martin de los Andes. The best way out was to the West, a short route to Chile and to Puerto Montt. When he was planning to drive his cattle to new markets in Chile, Cassidy had written to a Mrs. Davis, at Ashley, Utah in 1902 that:
"the Chilean Government has cut a road almost across (the mountains) so that next summer we will be able to go to Puerto Montt, Chile, in about four days, where it used to take 2 months around the old trail....".
This route from Rincon de Cholila to the border post in Chile would have been a very improbable passage for cattle at that time and for the next thirty five years.
The only practicable route from Cholila was northward past Bariloche and across the Rio Limay, then westward through Dr. Newberry's land along the North shore of the lake and across Rio Correntoso and on along the shore of Lago Espejo and a rugged ascent of 2500 feet in 3 miles through timber and rock in steeply defiladed country to the border. There was no "route," but there probably was a path. As Butch and his friends departed Argentina forever, it was the first time that Cassidy used the path that he had believed held the promise of a lucrative short cut route to the beef markets in Chile. Before this passage he claimed that he had not been able to drive his cattle to those markets because of Dr. Newberry's interposition and because Argentine authorities would not open an official road through Newberry's property.
|Click on either photograph of young Dwayne Callahan, who was part of Clan Callahan who followed in the hoof-prints of Butch and Sundance.|
There was probably a raft or ferry service across the Rio Limay when Cassidy fled but the Army could not have opened Butch's road to Chile without a bridge across the Rio Correntoso. That river in a chasm between two lakes drops 150 feet in 3000 feet and it is a swift-running and very turbulent stream during all seasons of the year. As a trail, that undeveloped path would have been little used and little watched by the Army patrols. So Butch and his party would have been wise to choose that exit.
(Note: Argentine Army maps compiled as late as 1941 did not show a route across the Rio Correntoso or a connecting road to the border station in Chile.)
I believe that Butch, Sundance and Etta fled to Puerto Montt, probably in April 1905. There they disappeared from most reliable records, and from most of the people who knew them.
They may have traveled by ship from Puerto Montt which is not a deep water port but coastal vessels ply their trade from there to Valparaiso and connect there with international transportation. I do not know if the Chilean railroad extended then as it does today from Santiago to the southern terminal at Puerto Montt. Perhaps, relieved of the pressure of pursuit, the dispossessed trio (with one hundred thousand dollars from the bank at Rio Gallegos) rode their horses (super-horses?) at a leisurely pace through country with good water and good grass as far North as Santiago. Beyond there in Chile they would have had to pass through the Atacama desert, a passage to be avoided at all costs.
We do not know their destination, if they had one, or their mode of travel. We know that Etta Place came home. We were told (in a letter from Butch) that Sundance gave her all his money.
Somewhere in my records was a note that a researcher (Horan?) had found Etta Place listed in the Denver Directory as late as 1928. Etta would have known the outcome of Butch Cassidy's and Sundance's adventures after they left Argentina, what they did or did not do, where they conducted business, and most surely if they lived on after they were reported killed at San Vicente in Bolivia. But to my knowledge, no researcher has successfully determined the truth about Etta Place and what she could tell us about Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid and Etta Place. (Pinkertons' files are strangely abbreviated on the subject of Etta Place).
Pointer's book cites part of a letter of Cassidy's written from Santa Cruz, Bolivia "To the Boys at Concordia" on November 12, 1907 extracted from Percy Seibert's scrapbook in possession of Mrs. Robert W. Cline, Williamsport, Maryland, containing the following passages:
"We arrived here about three weeks ago after a very pleasant journey and found just the place I have been looking for twenty years...This place isnt what we expected at all. There isnt any cattle here all the beef that is killed here comes from Mojo a distance of 80 leagues and are worth from 80 to 90Bs. But cattle do very well here and grass is good but water is scarce. There isnt any water in this town when there is a dry spell for a week. The people here in town have to buy water at 1.80 per barrel, but they can get good water at 40 feet but are to lazy to sink wells. Land is cheap here and everything grows good that is planted. But there is damd little planted, everything is very high. It costs us Bs100 per head to feed our mules, 250 each for ourselves. We rented a house, hired a good cook and are living like gentlemen. Land is worth 10cts. per hectare 10 leagues from here and there is some good Estancias for sale, one 12 leagues from here of 4 leagues with plenty of water and good grass and some sugar for 5000Bs and others just as cheap and if I dont fall down I will be livng here before long. It is pretty warm and some fever but the fever is caused by the food they eat. At least I am wiling to chance it.
They are doing some work now building a R.R. from Port Suares here and they claim it will be pushed right through so now is the time to get started for land will go up befor long. -We expect to be back in Concordia in about 1 month.
good luck to all you fellows."
It seems to me, that when Cassidy wrote this letter, November 12, 1907, he still believed that he was destined to be a livestock rancher some day in some place and the purpose of his future robberies, if any, would be to establish himself in that way of life. It seems obvious to me that Cassidy had no money to buy the land he wanted, after all the treasures he was alleged to have stolen and cached, somewhere. I believe he was killed at San Vicente, Bolivia, one year later in November 1908 trying to acquire enough money to buy that place in Sucre.
From Mr. Percy Seibert's records, probably written in early 1909, originate the only credible reports of the demise of Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid. That was the last historical record of their lives.
Other than the Bank of London robbery at Rio Gallegos, when they were being dispossessed, there is no evidence that Argentine authorities believed was credible or that should have been used to charge Cassidy, Sundance or Etta with any crime in Argentina. The Pinkertons' stories about other banks that were robbed and managers killed and storekeepers robbed and killed and banks robbed at other places in Argentina (as at Villa Mercedes) are accounts that are equally consistent with those crimes having been committed by persons impersonating Cassidy and Sundance. Or they were based on events that occurred after Butch and friends had left the country. Or, if they were supposed to have occurred before that, the Argentine authorities knew very well where to find them, knew of their reputations, and certainly had the means to apprehend them if they had credible evidence to charge them. But they never did charge them with any other crime or criminal behavior in Argentina, because the Pinkertons allegations were wrong.
Other than his association with Sundance and Etta, there is no evidence that Cassidy ever formed a "gang" or had any criminal associations, even transient ones, while he was in Argentina.
Since sometime in the 1890s, "Wild West Shows", modeled on "Buffalo Bill" Cody's show, apparently exhibited in faraway places like Argentina. They brought with them Cowboys, Indians, animals and trick shot artists who demonstrated their skills, and legend is that some shows "went broke" in Argentina. This one story accounts for some American cowboy and gun-hand types who wandered over the Pampas and the Patagonia for years afterward looking for work in the livestock industries and, finding no welcome, became outlaws or joined the Argentine Army as a means of livelihood. (This is supposed to be the origin of Newberry's hired gun-hands, Jones and Crockett.) "The Show Went Broke" story is one that could have served as a cover for any American expatriate fleeing law and justice as well as innocent vagrants.
I believe that Cassidy had wandering visitors invited and uninvited at the ranch from time to time, people who were English-speaking (some Americans) who were passing through his part of the country and some may have enjoyed his hospitality for a short stay. Some were probably passed on to Cassidy by Dr. Newberry and his foreman, Jones. But local hospitality was very important to the conduct of civil society in that country just as it was in our frontier life in this country. In no case was a visit with Cassidy known or even alleged to have produced any criminal conspiracy or result.
So, stories about Cassidy's ex-gang members residing in Argentina and continuing to celebrate his depraved ways after Butch and his friends had departed are part of the apocrypha too.
Those stories are based almost entirely on one episode that occurred in the vicinity of Rio Pico in 1909. In that case, a prominent, powerful and wealthy man from Buenos Aires was kidnapped near Rio Pico by three men who were later identified (without any supporting evidence) as ex-members of "The Wild Bunch" and as members of "Butch Cassidy's Gang in Argentina" who stayed behind when Butch moved on to greater crimes. After the victim was abused, the politically powerful man escaped and organized a privately financed police force to apprehend and punish his kidnappers.
That pursuit under his personal command consumed about two years and in that process the private police force became the cadre for Argentina's Border Patrol, the organization that polices today's border in Argentina. When the kidnappers were finally trapped in December 1911, two of them were killed in a bloody shootout and a third was captured at their camp in a valley near Rio Pico. The two who were killed were identified by police as William Wilson and Robert Evans, Americans and "remainders of the band" that was led by Butch Cassidy.
|Lewis Jones (Llwyd Ap Iwan) was a Welsh colonist who settled in the Chubut Valley of Patagonia. The Historical Long Rider made extensive equestrian journeys across the area in the 1890s, before he was murdered by two American bandits named William Wilson and Robert Evans, who were mistakenly identified as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. According to the Jones family legend, Llwyd "ran a general store in Esquel, Patagonia, selling all sorts of sundries. The story goes that Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid tried to rob the store, however Llewellyn (who was renowned as an excellent shot) was armed and refused to give up the takings. That night, Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid set light to the curtains of Llewellyn's home, trying to kill or injure him. Although the fire was put out, he badly burned his hands. The next day they returned to the store, shot him (he was unable to reach for his gun because of his burns) and ran off with the takings. There is a gravestone in Esquel inscribed in English, Spanish and Welsh marking the place where he was killed and saying he was 'shot by bandits'." Now we know it was not Butch and Sundance, but Wilson and Evans.|
Comment: As stated before, there never was a "band led by Butch Cassidy" in Argentina. Wilson and Evans had lived as vagrants for years in the Rio Pico neighborhood far to the south of Cassidy's place and were known there as "American Bandits" even before the kidnapping. Wilson had been a sheep homesteader in Montana and was not well known there when he disappeared from that part of the world. Later he appeared in Argentina, where he was a good sheep shearer, demonstrably a marksman and trick shot with rifle and pistol. He may have been a visitor in Cassidy's ranch and might even have entertained there by competing with the resident pistol experts (Etta Place was supposed to be expert with a rifle). But Cassidy was not a "Master Mind" of a band of any kind.
Of Evans, there is even less known. There is no evidence that he ever met or knew Cassidy.
The third man was identified as an Argentine "badman" named Manuel Davis originally from the Welsh colony at Trevelin. How he came to this company is unknown, but he is supposed to have "tipped off" the posse to the location of the camp.
Independently of any alleged contact with Cassidy and friends, Wilson and Evans could have "banded" with other displaced persons and transient vagrants.
In 1960, fifty years after these events in Rio Pico, Argentine newspapers in the Province of Chubut, in Rawson and in Esquel, celebrated the anniversary of the establishment of the Border Patrol by publishing an historical review of events involving the "American Bandits" in Rio Pico, the long pursuit of them and their bloody end that inaugurated the organization of the Border Police. The newspaper articles were complete with interviews and photographs of a still living pensioned policeman who survived the shootout and fired one of the fatal shots. That was an occasion for repeating the old policeman's claim that the slain criminals had been members of "Butch Cassidy's Wild Bunch" and agents of his conspiracy. These newspaper publications have been cited as original sources of authentic information by modern writers' researches in Argentina.
There are no official records of Cassidy or Sundance ever having been charged with or "wanted" for any crime in Bolivia, Peru or Chile. There is no official or credible unofficial record anywhere that could be strained to cover Charles Kelly's assertion that "Cassidy and Longabaugh, for seven years... terrorized the country on both sides of the Andes and became the most wanted outlaws in South America."
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