By Tom Dare
FASCINATING IMAGES FROM over a century ago showing the notorious ‘Wild Bunch’ that helped Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid pull off a string off heists across the USA have resurfaced this week, on the anniversary of the infamous outlaws’ death.
The pictures, two of which have been restored to colour as part of new book ‘Retrographic: History in Colour’, show Cassidy and the ‘Sundance Kid’, real name Harry Longabaugh, posing for a picture with other members of the gang. These include the ‘Tall Texan’, real name Ben Kilpatrick, ‘News’, real name Will Carver, and ‘Kid Curry’, real name Harvey Logan.
Other pictures show Cassidy, whose real name was Robert Leroy Parker, posing for a mug shot in 1894 following an arrest for theft. They also show Laura Bullion and Etta Place, the latter of whom was romantically involved with the Sundance Kid.
The Wild Bunch were probably the most notorious group of outlaws to ever come out of the American ‘Wild West’, and they had a string of heists and robberies to their name.
Their main target was often trains, stealing upwards of $60,000 in two raids on Union Pacific trains in the summer of 1899. Gang member Sam Ketchum was killed in a gunfight following one of these robberies, while Elzy Lay, reportedly Cassidy’s best friend and the man responsible for the deaths of two law enforcement officials in previous gunfights, was wounded and captured following the second robbery.
Despite this, though, Cassidy and the remaining members of the Wild Bunch persevered. On August 29 Cassidy, the Sundance Kid, Kid Curry and one other gang member held up another Union Pacific train, and followed this up with the theft of $32,640 from the First National Bank of Winnemucca, Nevada on September 19. It was in December of the same year that members of the gang posed for the now infamous photo of the ‘Forth Worth Five’.
On July 3, 1901, Kid Curry and a group of men robbed a Great Northern train near Wagner, Montana, taking over $60,000 in cash. The gang split up shortly after, with News Carver killed in a shootout. On December 12, 1901, Ben Kilpatrick was captured in Knoxville, Tennessee along with Laura Bullion.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid evaded detection for several years after the end of the Wild Bunch, fleeing to South America with Etta Place, but they soon returned to robbing. They were reportedly recognised by law enforcement officials in Bolivia, though, who subsequently surrounded the farmhouse they were staying in.
“The pair most likely shot themselves after being wounded and pinned down in a farmhouse by local police and soldiers,” says Michael Carroll, author of Retrographic.
“Other accounts and rumours allege that they were not involved in this incident and in fact survived in South America, and even returned to America.
“Whatever Cassidy’s eventual fate, with the advent of urbanisation and industrialisation of the West, this last great outlaw came to symbolise the end of the American frontier and the cowboy way of life.”