A Word from the Founder
Butch Cassidy and The Long Riders
A Forgotten Historical Connection
CuChullaine O’Reilly, FRGS
Thanks to Hollywood the names “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” are as familiar as “Batman and Robin.”
But what about “Butch Cassidy and Roger Pocock”?
What if I told you that instead of celebrating robbery and murder, we could instead be talking about exploration and courage? What if you discovered that Cassidy and Pocock were involved in the creation, and riding, of the most incredible equestrian trail, and journey, in North American history?
Would that intrigue you? Would you wonder why pop culture celebrates Cassidy but ignores Pocock?
Hidden inside the little words “Roger Pocock,” is a man whose life was so big that it ran the length of the notorious Outlaw Trail, splashed over into the creation of a citizen’s militia that is still flourishing and left behind one of the most important equestrian legacies of the early 20th century. But, you may be asking yourself, if that’s so then why have I never heard of him?
Blame it on Hollywood, if you like, or take into consideration Pocock’s own modesty. For though he survived more true-life adventures than any celluloid hero, this English Long Rider’s life has lain in the shadows, until the release of a new biography has finally liberated his remarkable life story.
In his book, Outrider of Empire – The Life and Adventures of Roger Pocock, author Geoffrey Pocock has accomplished several things, some of them unintentional but all of them exciting. Though not actually related, the author’s curiosity led him to study the life of his famous namesake. What he found after years of diligent research was that Pocock left England in the late 1880s and joined the newly formed Royal Canadian Northwest Mounted Police, commonly known as the Mounties. There he fought beside and learned frontier lore from the freedom-loving Mounties, those masters of horses and wilderness skills, whose manly virtues influenced Pocock for the rest of his life.
|This exciting new
biography, which is based on more than twenty years of research, reveals how
Roger Pocock made the only documented ride along the entire length of the
infamous Outlaw Trail, journeying 3,600 miles on horseback from Fort
Macleod, Canada to Mexico City, Mexico.
Click on image to enlarge.
Geoff’s primary role as a biographer has thus resulted in the creation of an impressive and accurate account of Roger Pocock’s life. The diligent scholar has documented how Pocock used his military experiences to form the Legion of Frontiersmen, a civilian militia composed of cowboys, hunters, scouts, explorers and English aristocrats dedicated to protecting the vast British Empire. This dashing collection of colourful characters included Harry de Windt, the Long Rider who journeyed from Paris to New York via Siberia. The biographer also explains how Pocock, while serving during the First World War, spent his spare time recording his immense equestrian knowledge into his celebrated academic book, Horses. Pocock’s life story concludes with his participation in one of the first attempts to fly around the planet.
Consequently, this ground-breaking investigation into Roger Pocock’s life reveals not just a man of action but an unparalleled equestrian scholar and a trusted comrade in arms whose unpretentious style of life and leadership left a legacy of respect.
Yet there is one other thing this overdue biography also does. It bestows upon Roger Pocock the equestrian legitimacy long denied him.
Enter Butch Cassidy.
One of most notorious outlaws of the Old West, Cassidy was the gregarious leader of a loose confederation of criminals known as the Wild Bunch. During the late 19th century the group, including Cassidy’s handsome confederate, the Sundance Kid, plundered banks, robbed trains and killed citizens across a vast expanse of the still raw American frontier. And even though Hollywood popularized their exploits in the 1969 film staring Paul Newman and Robert Redford, depicting them more as mischievous school boys than larcenous misfits, nevertheless both men willingly rode and robbed alongside notorious murderers such as Kid Curry and Harry Tracy.
|Though Hollywood turned
Butch Cassidy into a cinematic hero, it was the English Long Rider, Roger
Pocock, who actually rode the entire length of the Outlaw Trail from Canada
Click on image to enlarge.
Thus there was a very real danger involved in approaching this band of brigands. Moreover, they were known to inhabit a series of remote hideouts designed to discourage all but the bravest horsemen from venturing too near.
Yet that’s exactly what Roger Pocock did in 1899, mounted his horse and sought them out. And did I mention he was unarmed?
Like many Long Riders before, and after, him, Pocock was inspired to take to the saddle by the accomplishments of another equestrian traveller. In this case it was the astonishing ride done in 1889 by the Cossack, Lieutenant Dmitri Peshkov, who had ridden his Yakut pony, Seriy, 5,500 miles across Siberia to the Czar’s palace at St. Petersburg. That journey across snow-covered Russia had lasted 193 days and turned the tough Cossack into a national hero.
From his adopted home in Canada, Pocock realized that Peshkov’s journey “was a record on a road with the aid of signposts and as a feat of horsemanship unrivalled.”
But another standard might be met. The Mountie turned Long Rider might attempt to make the most dangerous equestrian journey ever ridden over what he casually called “difficult ground.” In fact Pocock was determined to find and ride the shadowy Outlaw Trail which supposedly ran across three countries.
There were a number of important trails that helped define the creation of the United States. The Trail of Tears was the route the Cherokee Indians were forced to walk when they were compelled to move from Georgia to Oklahoma in the 1830s. The Oregon Trail was the wagon road used by pioneers travelling from Missouri to Oregon in the 1840s. The Chisholm Trail was used during the 1870s to drive cattle overland from the Texas plains to the railhead in Kansas.
And then there was the Outlaw Trail.
|This shadowy equestrian
trail ran from Canada to Mexico and was operated according to principles
used by two previous underground railroads which also assisted people on the
Click on image to enlarge.
While pedestrians, wagons and cattle moved across America via these acceptable and well-established routes, a shadowy equestrian path reached from a series of outlaw inhabited Canadian caves, south through the most inhospitable regions of the American west, and terminated more than 3,000 miles away in the rough and tumble republic of Mexico. There are several things which set this murky thoroughfare apart from its socially acceptable cousins.
One, it was never properly mapped, nor did any one individual ever apparently know all of its myriad parts. It was a rumour. It was a threat. But it was also regularly travelled, and not by well-intentioned members of either American or Canadian society. Which brings us to point two. The Outlaw Trail was employed, enjoyed and inhabited by desperadoes whose primary purpose was to delay detection and avoid arrest. Unlike the pioneers whose Oregon Trail ran from east to west and can still be seen today, the Outlaw Trail was the domain of bad men who took their geographic secrets to the grave. Finally, unlike the other historic arteries coursing through the country, the Outlaw Trail was the only one specifically meant for equestrian travellers. It was so rugged, extreme, dangerous, life-threatening and remote that pedestrians, oxen, wagons, cattle, women, children, any and all of the elements that defined normal 19th century American travel, were discouraged from ever using it.
It was, in a word, a track that desperate men on bold horses undertook when presented with situations requiring extreme measures.
Finding the Wild Bunch
With the Rocky Mountains on his right, Pocock set out on June 28, 1899. He was mounted on a sturdy Canadian range horse and led two tough pack ponies. Pocock wasn’t attempting to break any speed records. In fact, realizing the harsh nature of the country ahead, he just wanted to survive. But his aim was to be the first to ever ride from Canada into the heart of Mexico along the hazardous trail frequented by Butch Cassidy and his cohorts. Half journalist, half equestrian explorer, the ever observant Pocock kept careful notes as he rode, recording in his diary how he was befriended by Blackfoot Indians, welcomed by ranchers and dined with solitary settlers. He was friendly to all, and unarmed, except for his trusty Kodak camera.
|Though he rode more than
3,000 miles across some of the most hostile terrain in North America, Long
Rider Roger Pocock brought his horses into Mexico City in excellent
Click on image to enlarge.
As he ventured further southward, the real challenge of the lone horseman’s journey became more apparent when he began trying to discover how he could locate and penetrate into Cassidy outlaw stronghold. As Pocock discovered, saying you’re going to ride up to Robber’s Roost is one thing, accomplishing it quite another.
“I cross-examined men whom I knew to be robbers, and they lied cheerfully to throw me off the scent,” Pocock recalled in a series of reports he later filed with a London paper. Next he recalled seeking answers from “honest men who spoke in low undertones, for they did so at the risk of their lives.”
Things got worse when he reached the remote village of Montecello, Utah and asked for a guide. Believing him to be a wanted man on the run, the villagers shunned him as an outlaw.
“No man dared to help me, nor dare I hazard men’s lives by telling how I finally got the facts which are now published for the first time,” he later wrote. Then, armed only with his trusty Kodak camera, the intrepid Englishmen rode into the lawless wilderness in search of Butch Cassidy. Pocock was, however, well aware of the danger he was riding into.
“I have been fourteen years on the frontier and know the west from the Bering Strait to Mexico. Working and living with desperadoes, I have in times past been once nearly marooned on a desert island, once nearly lynched as a spy and once nearly shot in a gun-fight. I ought to know outlaws by this time.”
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