Butch Cassidy and The Long Riders - Page 2
Pocock doesn’t say what he expected to find when he rode into Butch Cassidy’s Robber’s Roost. But the traveller did record how the temptation to aggrandize the outlaws was already well established by the American media. According to a New York newspaper of the time, Cassidy’s Robber’s Roost was a stronghold consisting of a fortified cave equipped with machine guns, guarded by sentries and only approached by one trail. This stronghold fantasy also supposedly had a grand piano, electric lights and telephones.
What Pocock found was a far cry from the exaggerated claims made by New York hacks. The Long Rider discovered instead a simple log house, some corrals, a spring of water and a pasture for the outlaw’s horses. The surrounding cliffs served as a fence to keep stolen cattle in and the law out.
Though New York papers claimed the Robbers Roost was a cave defended by machine guns, Roger Pocock found a simple cabin occupied by hardy outlaws.
Click on image to enlarge.
“Imagination is the soul of journalism,” Pocock noted. Consequently, when he reported the exaggerations to Cassidy and his gang, he observed their bemused reaction. “I have talked to the outlaws and seen their hard mouths twist into an ugly grin over these inventions.”
Even if Pocock didn’t find a grand piano in a cave, what he confirmed was the existence of an equestrian travel system which has never been properly understood or documented.
One of the most important principles of living in pre-20th century America was that if you ran into trouble, you could always pull up, change your name, and head west towards safety and anonymity. The frontier thus served as a hazy safety valve for settled people who embraced civilized procedures. But as the 19th century drew to a close, the once lawless expanse which had provided shelter to America’s bad men had shrunk to a shadow of its former blood-soaked dimensions. The lawless Oklahoma Territory had been conquered by Judge Parker, the “Hanging Judge.” Texas cow towns that once boasted of their saloons were now overrun with churches. Montana was full of miners. The Dakotas were swarming with farmers. Where could a man go after a killing or a robbery? The only part of the untamed west left to flee to was a narrow corridor of desert and mountains running from Canada to Mexico.
Plus, society had changed as well. Early lawbreakers could count on finding refuge with friendly locals. But as the law grew stronger, finding help became more difficult. It was one thing to give a man a meal and put him up for a night in your remote cabin, something different to hide him for weeks.
The answer, Butch Cassidy could have realized, lay hidden in his political and religious past.
As a school child growing up in rural Utah, Cassidy would have been exposed to stories about the original underground railroad. Beginning in 1810 black slaves in the American south took advantage of an informal network of secret routes and safe houses that aided the fugitives to escape as far north as Canada. Due to the risk of discovery, information about routes and safe havens was passed along by word of mouth. As an additional safety measure, many people associated with the underground railroad only knew their part of the operation and not the entire route. In addition, the trail north was often purposely indirect in order to throw off pursuers.
What wasn’t common knowledge outside of Utah was that this concept had been revived nearly a hundred years later when members of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in which Cassidy was raised, constructed a new underground railroad running south into Mexico. This occurred when Mormons began to come under pressure from the U.S. government to cease the practice of plural marriage. In response to anti-polygamy legislation, beginning in 1885 polygamous Mormon families began moving south along a new underground railroad, this one leading to the Sierra Madre mountains in northern Mexico. As fear of legal punishment increased, these polygamous lawbreakers moved in secret along this clandestine “Mormon Corridor” to the Mexican states of Chihuahua and Sonora.
Thus, when Roger Pocock encountered Butch Cassidy he came in contact with a man who had apparently incorporated the concepts of these two previous underground railroads so as to create a unique equestrian escape system. The result was a shadowy route that functioned on the same principles as those which had allowed both runaway slaves fleeing north, and Mormons escaping south, to evade their pursuers.
|According to the popular
film, in which Paul Newman (left) and Robert Redford portrayed Butch and
Sundance, the outlaws were fun-loving scamps whose sense of adventure
extended to taking other people’s money. Yet in reality, the cool-headed
Butch Cassidy was an expert horseman and noted tactician. It was these
qualities which The Guild believes allowed him to create the most unique
trail in American history, an equestrian “underground railroad” used by
Click on image to enlarge.
Cassidy’s Wild Bunch had a network of safe houses, remote ranches, secret water holes, obscure trails and a trusted network of informants who assisted the robber riders on their way. According to Pocock, the disciplined gang published secret messages in code in local papers so as to be able to meet for a robbery at a certain time and place. Prearranged relays of fast horses, either bought or stolen, aided the outlaws in their escape after a robbery.
The result saw the Wild Bunch involved in a string of lucrative robberies ranging from Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Nevada, Utah and New Mexico. Along the way they also killed law enforcement officers in Tennessee, Utah and New Mexico.
What Pocock was riding, therefore, wasn’t so much a trail, in the accepted American sense, as an underground railroad for mounted outlaws.
Across the Desert to Mexico
After bidding Butch goodbye, the English Long Rider ventured south into the even more dangerous deserts of southern Utah and Arizona.
“The sun blistered my hands and furnace blasts of wind lifted the sand in my face….I had an impression of riding through time, through ages, a wild jumble of scrambled centuries……To live in the desert one must pass the little examinations, or be plowed under, and that is why the men are all so quiet, so deadly smooth,” he wrote.
After spending a hundred and forty seven days in the saddle, and having ridden the equivalent of London to Timbuktu, Pocock reached Mexico City. He had travelled 3,600 miles non-stop on horseback along the Outlaw Trail, making sure to visit every major outlaw hideout enroute, including Hole in the Wall, Brown’s Park and Robber’s Roost. Three good horses had taken him nearly the entire distance.
Tragically, like so many other amazing equestrian achievements from that time period, the immensity of Pocock’s equestrian achievement was soon shoved aside by the advent of the new motor age. By the time Hollywood became interested in Butch and Sundance, the remarkable ride of the English Long Rider had faded from memory.
That is why Geoff Pocock’s new biography is so important, for not only does it put the intrepid Long Rider’s life into badly needed perspective, it also illuminates the astonishing equestrian accomplishment of the former Mountie. And despite having survived his meeting with Cassidy and the Wild Bunch, the Historical Long Rider faces an insidious new threat.
Thanks to the interest generated by the 1969 movie, a lucrative cottage industry has sprung up which is devoted to maintaining personality cults centered around Butch and Sundance. They have appeared in books, served as the inspiration for dude ranch rides, featured in numerous forgettable films and have been drafted into selling everything from tee-shirts to coffee mugs. Like Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe, Butch and Sundance are making more money serving as profitable icons than they ever did robbing trains.
The Outlaw Trail, when it is mentioned at all by western writers, is brought onto the stage as a secondary player, worthy of notice but not of serious investigation. One authority reported to The Guild, “There is no actual Outlaw Trail. There was a network of trails running from Mexico to Canada. Depending on where the outlaws were going, and who was after them, determined what trail they used. There may in fact be many trails but no one today even knows.”
Of Pocock, none of the popular writers have studied him at length before Geoff Pocock’s commendable work. Instead for far too long the Outlaw Trail community has focused on the quirks of the outlaws, and not on the historical origins and significance of the Outlaw Trail itself. This is amazing considering the fact that there is no documented case of any of the famed outlaws riding the entire trail in one journey. That means that Roger Pocock is the only documented Long Rider to have ever ridden the length of the Outlaw Trail in one continual journey.
|Though he is the only
person to have survived the dangers encountered while riding the length of
the Outlaw Trail, history has neglected to remember Long Rider Roger Pocock.
Click on image to enlarge.
Yet Pocock’s astonishing ride has been lost, while Cassidy and Sundance’s unexpected influence continues to exert an enormous influence on popular culture. This is due to the mythology based on an erroneous movie, not Roger Pocock’s accurate accounts of riding on the Outlaw Trail.
In an ironic equestrian twist, it was thanks to Cassidy’s cinematic reputation, and because Pocock had been forgotten, that a notorious equestrian journey was undertaken in 1999 by an inexperienced English tour operator who believed he would be the first person to ride the length of the Outlaw Trail.
“My quest,” he informed the London press, ”would be the first to authentically ride the Outlaw Trail.”
Because he had focused on memorizing what crimes Butch had committed, instead of studying the principles of equestrian travel, the tour operator turned cowboy quickly rode straight into trouble.
Unlike the expert Pocock, this fellow’s saddle horses were ridden despite visible saddle sores. His packhorses were overloaded and pushed beyond their limits on a daily basis. One horse was impaled. Another fell to its death from a cliff. In fact, the expedition started on April 17th and by May 14th, a mere twenty-eight days later, all of the expedition horses except one had to be replaced due to injuries or severe weight loss. He muddled his way through from Texas to the Canadian border, but not before trailering his horse on several occasions in Arizona and Utah, neglecting to ride across the Red Desert and leaving a trail of equestrian damage in his wake. Despite these errors in equestrian judgment, he told the press that he had duplicated “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’s imposing journey.”
After being informed by The Guild of Pocock’s prior claim, the tour operator reluctantly changed his tune, claiming that he was now “the first to have ridden the entire Outlaw Trail from south to north.”
In an effort to further whitewash equestrian travel history, the tour operator next defended his harsh treatment of the horses used on the journey by telling the Denver Post, “People who keep horses for pets would be horrified by this but others who have lived on the land for six generations would say today’s horses are lightweights.”
|By concentrating on the
Wild Bunch, an English tour operator who recently rode along part of the
Outlaw Trail allowed his fixation with historical romance to override the
welfare of his horses.
Click on image to enlarge.
The man who provided these horses later reported that the horses’ withers were so damaged that it took ten months for the animals to heal.
This expedition was discussed at length during the first international meeting of The Long Riders’ Guild. It was agreed that this ill-fated journey was a warning of what happens when horses are degraded to the role of disposable appliances by pedestrians in cowboy clothes who value their egos more than the mute sufferings of their mounts. That first meeting saw the tour operator being banned from belonging to The Guild and The Guild’s Members agreeing on the need to promote Roger Pocock’s authentic equestrian accomplishments instead.
As this tragic example proves, there is an on-going need to recognize Pocock’s equestrian accomplishments and wisdom. That desire has been strengthened by the disturbing news that the tour operator is attempting to raise money so he can search for Butch and Sundance in Argentina. As The Guild reveals in another record breaking story, that is a ride that was successfully completed by the Long Riders of Clan Callahan back in the 1970s.
What all of these events, both past and present, demonstrate is that there is an immediate need for serious academic study related to Roger Pocock, Butch Cassidy and the Outlaw Trail they both rode on. As the tour operator proves, errors in equestrian judgment still exist about the trail.
While Butch and Sundance will remain of interest, it is time they share the spotlight with Roger Pocock. The first step will be to urge western writers to review Geoff Pocock’s vital new biography, as well as Roger Pocock’s books on the Outlaw Trail and horses. The next thing we must all ask ourselves is, where is the photo of Butch Cassidy and Long Rider Roger Pocock? The Guild has reason to believe that Pocock’s photos from Robber’s Roost survived. If so, then the discovery of a previously unknown photo taken of Cassidy by Pocock, might bring the unarmed English Long Rider the historical acclaim he so rightly deserves.
To read Roger Pocock's original ten-part newspaper series, "Riding the Outlaw Trail," published in 1900 and reproduced here for the first time in more a century, click here.
For more information about Roger Pocock's informative and exciting autobiography, please view his outstanding book, Following the Frontier.
To learn about the Long Rider Roger Pocock's extraordinary equestrian wisdom, please view his book, Horses.
Geoffrey Pocock’s biography, Outrider of Empire, is available via the University of Alberta Press, your local bookshop or via Barnes & Noble on-line.
To discover how an American colonel and his four Long Rider sons mounted up and went in search of Butch and Sundance in Argentine, click here.
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