Allan Pinkerton founds the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, America's first private detective outfit for hire. By the end of the 19th century, the Pinkertons will have over 2,000 full-time agents and 30,000 paid informants and part-time regulars.

April 9, 1865

General Robert E. Lee surrenders to General Ulysses S. Grant in Virginia, ending the American Civil War.

April 14, 1865

President Abraham Lincoln is shot by John Wilkes Booth in Ford's Theater, in Washington D.C. Lincoln dies the next morning.


Robert Leroy Parker is born to a devout Mormon family in southern Utah. His father Maximilian was among the earliest Mormon settlers and is often forced to take work far from his family's homestead. Robert's mother, Anne, looks to her eldest son to help raise the growing family.


Harry Longabaugh is born 30 miles north of Philadelphia in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. He grows up across the river in the mill town of Mont Clare reading pulp novels about the American West featuring Jesse James and Buffalo Bill.

May 5, 1869

Central Pacific Railroad meets Union Pacific Railroads at Promontory Summit, Utah, completing the Transcontinental Railroad. Trains will become an attractive target for bandits in the years to follow.

June 25, 1976

A combined force of Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes at the Battle of Little Bighorn overwhelmingly defeats General George Custer and the 7th Calvary.

Late 1870s - Early 1880s

As a boy, Robert Parker takes a job on a nearby Utah ranch where he meets a small time cattle rustler name Mike Cassidy, who becomes something of a mentor to Robert. Eventually Robert will appropriate the name Cassidy in the creation of his moniker: Butch Cassidy.

Early 1880

Notorious outlaw Billy the Kid poses for his only existing photo.

July 14, 1881

Billy the Kid is killed by Sheriff Pat Garrett after making a daring escape from jail.

October 26, 1881

Wyatt Earp, his brothers Morgan and Virgil, and Doc Holiday battle local outlaws nicknamed the Cowboys in the famous "gunfight at the OK Corral" in Tombstone, Arizona Territory.


At age 14, Harry Longabaugh lands a job on his cousin's ranch in Cortez, Colorado. He will work for other ranches in Wyoming and Montana in the coming years.

April 3, 1882

While Jesse James dusts a picture on the wall of his living room, Robert Ford shoots him in the back of the head. Ford and his brother Charley are convicted of murder, but promptly pardoned by the governor.


William Frederick "Buffalo Bill" Cody founds "Buffalo Bill's Wild West." The circus-like extravaganza will grow to feature a recreation of a Wild Bunch train robbery. It becomes very popular and lasts through the early 1900s.

Summer 1884

An adventure-seeking Robert Parker rides in to the booming mining town of Telluride, Colorado. However, by the time Parker arrives, many of the major claims had been staked. Instead, Parker takes grueling jobs hauling gold and silver ore by mule down from the mountains.

Winter 1887

A devastating blizzard wipes out much of the livestock in Wyoming and Montana. Harry Longabaugh loses his job and turns to petty crime.


Longabaugh lands in jail for stealing a horse outside of Sundance, Wyoming. A year later Longabaugh emerges from his prison stint with a new nickname: the Sundance Kid.

June 24, 1889

Butch Cassidy and his cohorts rob the San Miguel Valley Bank and make off with $20,000.


There are now 164,000 miles of railroad in the United States.

November 29, 1892

The Sundance Kid and his accomplices rob Great Northern's No. 23, an overnight passenger train, and walk away with just a reported $25. Days later, a wanted poster bearing the detailed description of Sundance offers a $500 reward for his capture.

July 1894

Butch Cassidy is found guilty of horse theft and sentenced to two years in prison.

January 1896

Cassidy is released from prison in Wyoming and returns to a life of crime.

Around this time, Sundance hits the Outlaw Trail -- a vast stretch of wild land running from Montana to New Mexico where it was easy to stay out of reach of the law. Gangs of criminals made the Outlaw Trail their base, teaming up when there was a good opportunity for a robbery. Over the next few years, Sundance will link up with several men known to be part of Butch Cassidy's gang, and he likely meets Cassidy at some point during this period.

August 1896

Cassidy and gang members Bob Meeks and Elzy Lay knock off a bank in Montpelier, Idaho.

April 1897

Cassidy and his crew hold up the payroll of the Pleasant Valley Coal Company in Castle Gate, Utah.

June 1897

Sundance and five other men rob the Butte County Bank in Belle Fourche, South Dakota.

June 2, 1899

Butch and his crew use dynamite to blow up a safe inside a train car in Wilcox, Wyoming. The bandits make off with $50,000 in cash, banknotes, and gold. Within 24 hours of the Wilcox robbery, Pinkerton detectives are in the field trying to find the Wild Bunch.


With the Pinkertons hot on their heels, Butch, Sundance, and the core of the Wild Bunch rendezvous in Fort Worth, Texas. Decked out like the business moguls they have been robbing, Will "News" Carver, Harvey Logan (Kid Curry), Ben Kilpatrick (the Tall Texan), the Sundance Kid, and Butch Cassidy pose for a rare photograph.

There are now 193,000 miles of railroad in the United States.

March 1900

Nine months after the Wilcox robbery, Pinkerton detective Frank Murray receives word that stolen banknotes are popping up around Alma, New Mexico.

February 1901

While waiting to board a steamer bound for Argentina, Butch, Sundance and Sundance's mysterious girlfriend Etta Place disappear into the metropolis of New York City.

February 20, 1901

Butch, Sundance, and Etta Place sail out of New York harbor bound for Argentina. They settle at a homestead in the remote region of Patagonia where they build a four-room ranch house and purchase livestock.


Edwin Porter's film, The Great Train Robbery captivates New York audiences. It is one of the first motion pictures to tell a complete story -- a western.

Winer 1903

Pinkerton informants in Pennsylvania intercept a letter Sundance sends to his family. Butch and Sundance's cover is blown.

Early November 1908

Butch and Sundance rob two payroll guards from the Aramayo silver mine and disappear into the Bolivian backcountry. Within a few days Butch and Sundance find themselves trapped and surrounded in a house in San Vicente. A violent gun battle takes place. Butch and Sundance are found dead inside the house, each with a bullet hole his head. They are laid to rest in unmarked Bolivian graves. In a fitting epitaph, the Washington Post declares that the notorious gang known as the Wild Bunch has "disappeared with the march of civilization."

October 1969

Paul Newman and Robert Redford star in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The film goes on to win four Academy Awards and is considered a classic.

My American Experience

My American Experience photos

Share Your Story

From Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to Billy the Kid, Wyatt Earp, George Custer and Geronimo, the real-life people who helped tame the west would shape the western heroes celebrated in film and television for decades.