Narrator: In the early morning hours of June 2nd, 1899, two men crept along a desolate stretch of train track outside Wilcox, Wyoming.
Michael Rutter, Writer: The Flyer is coming down the tracks. They’re about ready to cross a wood trestle bridge, and we see a couple guys with a lantern shaking it back and forth to stop the train.
Ken Verdoia, Journalist: Usually, it meant a washed out track or damaged track ahead, and the train should stop.
Thom Ross, Artist: Any engineer in his right mind goes, "We’ve got to lock up the breaks.
Michael Rutter, Writer: The train stops before the trestle. The people on the train are nervous. We don’t stop trains in the middle of the desert, but it just happened.
Thom Hatch, Writer: The engineer thought that the bridge might have been washed out. Little did he know that these were robbers up on the tracks.
Ken Verdoia, Journalist: They pull apart passenger cars, separate them from the engine and the car, which carries the safe.
Narrator: Unable to force their way in, the bandits packed the door with explosives instead.
Thom Hatch, Writer: They had used too much dynamite. Blew the car sky high. It just demolished the car. It was just a bunch of twisted metal.
Ken Verdoia, Journalist: The cash and the coins are thrown all over the windswept plain. Money, currency, coin everywhere.
Narrator: In an instant, the holdup crew had made off with $50,000 in cash, banknotes, and gold in the most spectacular robbery the West had ever seen.
Gerald Kolpan, Writer: In today’s money, that’s something over a million dollars. That’s in one heist.
Narrator: In an era that saw cold blooded killers like Jesse James and the younger brothers terrorize the West, this job had all the markings of different kind of gang -- a notorious group of men known as the Wild Bunch.
Ken Verdoia, Journalist: They would visit havoc upon banks, railroads, mining companies, but they are really cut from a different cloth because they don’t leave blood, mayhem, and bodies in their wake.
Narrator: Their leader, Butch Cassidy, was a charismatic thief who had elevated bank and train robbery into an art form.
Michael Rutter, Writer: The Wilcox robbery is classic Butch Cassidy. It’s what made Butch a rock star. He became a national celebrity.
Narrator: But the freewheeling world of Butch Cassidy and his sidekick, a moody easterner with a fast gun known as the Sundance Kid, was based on a frontier order that was rapidly fading into myth.
Ken Verdoia, Journalist: The West is being crisscrossed by rail lines, mines are everywhere, cities are exploding, and this era of open opportunity is drawing to a close at the end of the 19th century. The story of Butch and Sundance plays out as that curtain is coming down.
Paul A. Hutton, Historian: The game is changing. The railroads don’t care how much it costs. They don’t care what trouble they have to go to. They’re going to end the robbing. Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid are the last of the wild riders of the West, and when they’re gone the Wild West is gone.
Narrator: Though he would one day be known as the most fearsome bad man of the West, Butch Cassidy was born Robert Leroy Parker in 1866 to a family of devout Mormons.
His father Maximilian, who was among the earliest Mormon settlers, could barely eke out a living from the parched earth of their homestead in southern Utah. He was often forced to take work far from home for months at a time. With his father gone, Robert’s mother Anne, a tough and deeply religious woman, looked to her eldest son to help raise their growing family.
Thom Hatch, Writer: Bob Parker was the oldest of 13 kids, and so he became the surrogate father, and he would take care of the kids. Bob was like a big kid himself, and he was throughout his whole life. He was a very gregarious man who made friends wherever he went because of his personality. His mother home-schooled the kids, mostly on the Bible. She would hold services there. He absolutely adored his mother.
Michael Rutter, Writer: His mother was very devout. The family was strict. There was a confirmed right and wrong. There were fundamental Christian values in the family.
Narrator: At the age of 13, Robert took a job on a nearby ranch to help earn money to support his family. It was there that he met a man who would forever alter the direction of his life -- a small time cattle rustler named Mike Cassidy who taught him the finer points of how to survive as a cowboy.
Ken Verdoia, Journalist: Mike Cassidy. He’s a well-known horseman, and he’s great with a revolver -- an excellent shot and marksman -- and Cassidy takes a liking to little Bobby Parker; teaches him how to really ride a horse, teaches him how to handle a revolver, how to become a good marksman, and more importantly, Mike Cassidy shows him how to cut corners. There’s big cattle operations, and they’ll never miss it if one or two or 10 of the herd gets cut away and goes to another place. And Robert Parker watched Mike Cassidy acquire cattle and horses in that fashion.
Narrator: For Robert, Mike Cassidy was a man free from the poverty and religious confines that dominated his life. Cassidy filled his head with visions of a wider world -- a world where adventure and greater paydays were within reach. And by the time he was 18, Robert was itching to strike out on his own.
Ken Verdoia, Journalist: If you’re Robert Leroy Parker, you look at your dad, who played by the rules and lost, worked himself to the bone, and had nothing to show for it. You look at Mike Cassidy, a man who cuts corners, takes a little here, takes a little there, lives by his wits, and is always getting ahead. And so, he rides in the direction, if you will, of Mike Cassidy. He rides away. Will he ever be back? He promises he will, but will he ever be back?
Narrator: In the summer of 1884, 18-year-old Robert parker rode into the mining town of Telluride, Colorado. For a young man seeking adventure, he had come to the right place. In the early 1880s Telluride was booming. Gold fever was drawing men from across the west, rugged frontiersmen who packed Telluride’s famed saloons, gambling halls, and houses of ill repute.
Paul A. Hutton, Historian: Robert Parker goes to a world that couldn’t be more different. This is the wild boomtown world of the mining camp. So a lot of gambling, a lot of drinking, a lot of prostitution, a lot of young men heavily armed and fueled by alcohol.
Thom Hatch, Writer: He went in there with a Mormon mind, and within a week or two, I’m sure he’d been in every saloon there, and he learned how to drink with the best of them, and he gambled with the best of them, and he didn’t feel comfortable in Mormon country, but he felt comfortable in Telluride.
Narrator: Young Robert Parker soon grew dismayed with life as a miner. By the time he rode into Telluride, many of the major claims had already been staked. Parker was resigned to taking grueling jobs hauling gold and silver ore by mule down from the mountains.
Paul A. Hutton, Historian: To find yourself, you know, almost like ants, moving through this mountainside and just moving dirt and moving stone for someone else and for someone else’s wealth, I think probably grated on someone like Parker.
Ken Verdoia, Journalist: Going in the mines each and every day, Robert Parker looks at that as a sucker’s bet. You’re coming out bone weary. You could die down there, and what have you earned at the end of the day? But on the corner is the San Miguel Bank.
Narrator: With the riches being hauled out of the hills ringing Telluride, Parker was sure the local bank was well stocked with tender. For Parker and his two new friends -- a lapsed Mormon named Matt Warner and his ornery brother-in-law Tom McCarty -- the bank was an auspicious target.
But even in the isolated towns of the west, bank robberies were rarely successful. Most were ill planned, played out at the spur of the moment after too many hours at the saloon. No sooner had the robbers cleaned out a safe then the townspeople amassed to gun them down. Parker was undeterred by the foreboding odds.
Paul A. Hutton, Historian: From the very beginning, he had a methodology. He wasn’t just one of these wild riders, like the movies make so famous. He was very methodical, he was very careful, and he was very intelligent.
Ken Verdoia, Journalist: Parker knew it’s not just about where the money is, but knowing when it will be at its peak. When will the cash arrive? Who handles the cash? How many people are in the building at the time when the cash is at its peak? And more importantly than that, how will I make my escape?
Narrator: Just after noon on June 24th, 1889, Parker and his cohorts saddled up alongside the San Miguel Valley Bank. They waited until the cashier left, leaving only a single teller inside. Warner and Parker casually entered the bank and demanded the cash.
Michael Rutter, Writer: They walk out, and they ride like hell. No one even knows that the bank has been robbed.
Narrator: By the time a posse was assembled, it was too late. Parker’s masterstroke, and what would become his signature technique, was to set up a series of horse relays along the exit route where the outlaws could trade their played out mounts for fresh ones. He figured no posse, no matter how determined, could keep pace with bandits in constant supply of steady horsepower.
Ken Verdoia, Journalist: He’s been working days and weeks in advance. He’s been storing fresh horses, building alliances with people along the way. This is extraordinary planning, and this is the genius of Robert Parker. He had planned the escape even better than he had planned the holdup.
Thom Ross, Artist: This is the first of his great escapades where they wind up with big money. I mean you walk away from a bank with $20,000, you’re looking at what a cowboy might take him five or 10 years to make if he saved every penny.
Michael Rutter, Writer: This is a serious crime. It’s one thing to take a few cows or take a couple horses, but this is big-time robbery. There’s no going back. There is no going back.
Narrator: Parker knew his criminal deed would break the heart of his pious mother and decided it was best to deflect shame from his family by changing his name. He would now honor the influence of his mentor and answer to Butch Cassidy.
On the other side of the country, in the mill town of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, an introverted young boy by the name of Harry Longabaugh could only dream of an adventurous life on the open range.
Raised in the gray and claustrophobic industrial world of the East, it must have seemed inconceivable that he would one day play a role in one the West’s greatest legends.
Thom Hatch, Writer: Sundance was born Harry Longabaugh about 30 miles north of Philadelphia, and he grew up basically on the canals. He would work probably 20 hours a day sometimes, and he would walk 25 miles each day. But Harry had dreams. He paid one whole dollar for a library card, which was quite a bit of money at that time to a poor boy, and he read these pulp novels about Jesse James and Buffalo Bill. This is where dreams of the West came into his head.
Paul A. Hutton, Historian: I think it’s difficult to understand today, the lure of adventure that existed in the late 19th century, especially for a young boy like Harry, growing up in Pennsylvania. The West offered everything that the society of the East seemed to work against. And a lot of young men went west in search of adventure.
Narrator: In 1882, at the age of 14, Longabaugh finally got his opportunity to realize his western dreams after he landed a job on his cousin’s ranch in Cortez, Colorado.
Thom Hatch, Writer: Harry Longabaugh learned to be a cowboy. He also wanted to see what was over the next mountain, just like Butch did, so he took off and went to work for ranches in Wyoming and Montana and actually learned the trade as a wandering cowboy and was well respected. He would have been probably very happy his whole life working as a cowboy.
Narrator: Harry’s cowboying days came to an abrupt halt in the winter of 1887. A devastating blizzard, from the Canadian border all the way down to southern Colorado, blanketed the western plains in up to 100 feet of snow.
Thom Hatch, Writer: It was the most devastating blizzard in the history out here in the West. They found bodies of cattle just stacked up for miles. Ninety percent of the livestock in Wyoming and Montana perished, and along with it, 90 percent of the jobs for cowboys.
Anne Meadows, Writer: He went to the Black Hills of South Dakota and tried to find work there and couldn’t find work. He was just a poor guy who was down on his luck and just needed a break.
Narrator: With few options to earn a living, Harry turned to petty crime, eventually landing himself in jail for horse stealing outside of Sundance, Wyoming. A year later, 21-year-old Longabaugh emerged from his prison stint with a new nickname, the Sundance Kid. But he still had few legitimate job prospects. That’s when he decided to try his hand at what seemed like a sure thing.
Narrator: Since the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, trains had become attractive targets to would-be bandits. Outlaws, like Jesse James and Sam Bass, had made quick work of railroad express cars, usually packed with money and lumbering through remote locations far from local posses.
Thom Hatch, Writer: Most train robberies were successful, everybody knew that. Banks got a little more difficult, but trains were fairly easy to rob because they hadn’t put armed messengers on them. They hadn’t taken any precautions whatsoever with security.
Narrator: To Sundance and his partners -- two other out-of-work cowboys -- an ideal spot for a train robbery was Malta, Montana, an isolated cattle shipping depot along the Great Northern railroad line.
It was bone-chillingly cold in the early morning hours of November 29th, 1892, when, at 3 a.m., right on schedule, the Great Northern’s No. 23 pulled into Malta. Like a scene straight from one of his dime novels, Sundance and his accomplices slipped onto the train.
Thom Hatch, Writer: There were two safes on the train, and one of them they didn’t know the combination of; the other one was opened and they basically found nothing. He didn’t realize, I guess, that the banks were closed on Sunday, and so there were no express boxes passing through.
Narrator: Sundance and the men grabbed what little money they could find. All the while their bandanas slipped from their faces, allowing the train crew to get a good look.
Thom Hatch, Writer: When they planned this robbery, they were probably drunk, to tell you the truth, because they did not plan it well. Butch Cassidy knew how to plan a robbery. These three guys sat there like the Three Stooges.
Thom Ross, Artist: They were decent enough to leave the passengers alone, but you can be hung for this, and three guys are walking away with $8.33 each. It’s almost as if the railroad pulled one on top of them.
Daniel Buck, Writer: His accomplices went back to the town they’d been hanging around in before the holdup, and they were recognized and they ratted Sundance out. Now he took off. It was a huge cock-up and they didn’t make much money, but Sundance got away.
Narrator: Just days after the robbery, a wanted poster bearing a detailed description of Sundance offered a $500 reward for his capture. Now a wanted man, Sundance retreated to the safety of the desolate canyons and mountain valleys that ran across the west, a hostile landscape where few lawmen would dare to follow.
Paul A. Hutton, Historian: One of the benefits of being a Western outlaw is space. The American West is vast. It’s cut by canyons, mountain ranges, river trails. A lot of places there’s only one way in, so it’s easy to guard, it’s easy to see who’s coming, and so these become natural fortifications for the outlaw bands to hide in. And if you’re a lawman, and especially if you’re just a civilian posse, you’re not going in there. It’s suicide.
Narrator: The steep canyons and unforgiving terrain that made up a 1,500 mile stretch of wilderness that ran from northern Montana all the way to New Mexico was known as The Outlaw Trail. The hideouts there were notorious -- with names like Robber’s Roost, Hole in the Wall, and Browns Park in Colorado -- a lush valley enclosed by formidable mountains. By 1890, Browns Park was home to a handful of western outlaws including Butch Cassidy.
Thom Hatch, Writer: I believe he had decided that a life of larceny was where he was going to be for the rest of his life, whether it was stealing horses, which he was very good at, or robbing trains or robbing banks. So he needed people around him. At some point, Sundance started hanging out in that area.
They had a lot in common. They both loved horses. They were wranglers. They loved to drink. They loved to gamble, and they could talk larceny all day long.
Paul A. Hutton, Historian: Butch and Sundance seem in many ways to be opposites. As outgoing, and gregarious, happy-go-lucky as Butch is, Sundance is much more taciturn. He’s much quieter, much more potentially dangerous.
Thom Hatch, Writer: Butch saw in Sundance someone he could trust, number one, and number two, someone he could bounce his ideas off of, and they would go nowhere else.
Narrator: Before long, other desperadoes, like Sundance, were flocking to the methodical Cassidy, eager to embrace him as both a teacher and a leader.
Thom Hatch, Writer: People had heard about Butch and his masterminding, probably of Telluride. These guys were more “quick draw.” They were more of the henchmen type. They weren’t very good at planning a bank robbery or planning a train robbery, and so they needed someone.
Narrator: Cassidy, Sundance and the rogue’s gallery of some 20 men that now made up the Wild Bunch set off from The Outlaw Trail, targeting banks and mining companies that were springing up across the West.
In August of 1896, Cassidy, and gang members Bubb Meeks and Elzy Lay knocked off the bank in Montpelier, Idaho. One year later, Sundance and five other men robbed the Butte County Bank in Belle Fourche, South Dakota. And Butch and his crew boldly held up the payroll of the Pleasant Valley Coal Company in Castle Gate, Utah. Most of the holdups had the markings of a Butch Cassidy caper: impeccable execution, breathless escapes and not a single dead body.
Ken Verdoia, Journalist: Butch understood one simple premise. He didn’t have to kill people. Some would go into a robbery and kill just to silence voices. Butch said, "If my getaway is clean enough, I don’t have to silence voices."
Narrator: In between jobs the Wild Bunch retreated to the isolated hideouts of the Outlaw Trail, where they openly enjoyed the spoils of their misdeeds, drinking, gambling and spending time with free-spirited women.
They had allies in the locals -- mostly family ranchers who were being pushed from their land by big time corporate cattle barons. These ranchers were natural sympathizers with bandits who were making a living picking the pockets of moneyed businessmen.
Ken Verdoia, Journalist: Along the Outlaw Trail, you have the people that become the backbone of the Wild Bunch. They’re the ones who provide the horses, they’re the ones that offer a meal when they are on the run. These are the people that, many times, are able to keep their farms or their ranches because of a few $20 gold pieces that are dropped behind by Butch and Sundance as they make their way.
Michael Rutter, Writer: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid had everybody helping them. They are robbing the large mining companies and banks. So I think this endears them to the small rancher and small farmer. And so what happens here is this mythology starts to build up and becomes almost larger than life.
Narrator: By 1898 news of Wild Bunch robberies began to make national headlines. Newspapers from San Francisco to New York were calling Butch the “boss bad man of the West.” Reporters painted sensationalized, dime novel-worthy stories of Cassidy and his gang that was said to include 500 men. Soon it seemed that there wasn’t a crime west of the Mississippi that couldn’t be pegged on Butch Cassidy and his roving band of desperadoes.
Ken Verdoia, Journalist: The Wild Bunch became a mythical and dangerous cancer in the American West. They were everywhere. They were doing everything, and their legend grew dramatically before them.
Narrator: Just as Butch and Sundance started to have success in the robbing business, the once wild and free West was being transformed. Powerful railroad executives, mining barons, and cattle kings were determined to usher in their own brand of law and order. By the turn of the century, corporations growing tired of being robbed by Western outlaws had a powerful ally to turn to for help, the Pinkerton National Detective Agency.
Founded 50 years earlier by Scottish immigrant Allan Pinkerton, the agency was America’s first private detective outfit for hire. His logo, a single unblinking eye underlined by the words “we never sleep,” would add a new term to the American lexicon: private eye. Pinkerton pioneered the use of undercover agents and webs of informants, and during the Civil War he was even tapped by Abraham Lincoln to run spy operations for the Union army.
Now Allan Pinkerton’s son William was heading the firm’s Western operation, which was humming with business from the bankers’ association, railroads, and express car companies.
Ken Verdoia, Journalist: The Pinkertons have over 2,000 full-time agents and 30,000 paid informants and part-time regulars. Their standing force is larger than the standing force of the United States Army at its time. And they get called out to bring justice to the American West.
Narrator: In place of local posses and small-town sheriffs, the Pinkertons brought to the West seasoned man-hunters and the most modern detective techniques.
Ken Verdoia, Journalist: They are methodical, and they’re determined. Every scrap of information they get on an outlaw is documented and put in a file. What did he look like? Did he have a moustache? Where did he part his hair? What was he most commonly seen dressed in? And they keep this exhaustive, detailed, centrally located databank, if you will, available. And their agents and officers are constantly on the telegraphs, sending back messages and receiving information on where the bad guys are.
Daniel Buck, Writer: The Pinkertons embodied the modern age. They brought everything together: memoranda, files, regional offices, photography -- everything.
Paul A. Hutton, Historian: The Pinkertons became the private police force for the railroad barons, for the mining barons, for the capitalists who were trying to bring their brand of order to the American West. They had their own private police force.
Narrator: As dawn broke on June 2, 1899, the telegraph machine at the Union Pacific Railroad office in Omaha came to life. “The No. 1 held up... mile west of Wilcox... express car blown open… contents gone.” In the desolate countryside of Wyoming, Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch had struck again. With their signature precision they had robbed the Union Pacific of over $50,000 in cash and bank notes leaving only the hollowed out wreckage of the express car in their wake.
Michael Rutter, Writer: The Wilcox robbery is classic Butch Cassidy. It is considered one of the most flawless robberies that he has ever committed.
Paul A. Hutton, Historian: This was such a dramatic and powerful scene that it got the attention of the press and especially got the attention of the Union Pacific Railroad.
Ken Verdoia, Journalist: The Union Pacific reaches a breaking point. This had become an overt, violent crime, very costly. Another one could be devastating to the reputation of the railroad. E.H. Harriman, who’s chairman of the board, reaches out to the Pinkertons and says, "I need my trains safe."
Michael Rutter, Writer: Within 24 hours, over 100 Pinkerton detectives, sheriffs, deputies and lawmen are in the field trying to find the Wild Bunch. That’s a lot of men, a lot of finances, a lot of resources trying to find these guys.
Narrator: Rather than simply follow hoof prints in the dirt, Pinkerton agents began methodically tracking serial numbers on the banknotes stolen at Wilcox. Soon, the stolen paper began to surface in towns across the region. Unwittingly, the Wild Bunch members were illuminating their own trail.
Daniel Buck, Writer: They’re using national methods to go after the Wild Bunch, publishing serial numbers of currency that had been stolen, and sending it to banks, railroads, hotels, police departments.
Michael Rutter, Writer: They were able to trace bills in the different locations of where this money had been spent, they could begin to see patterns. And because of the dynamite blowing it up, a whole bunch of the bills had cuts on the bottom, and so they knew if they got one of the bills that had a cut in this certain way it was from this robbery.
Daniel Buck, Writer: All of this stuff worked against these antiquated horse-powered cowboys who were trying to steal this money. You know, they’re up against serial numbers, no contest.
Narrator: The first of the Wild Bunch to fall was Lonnie Logan, who had exchanged some of the stolen loot at a bank in Montana. He soon found his hideout surrounded by Pinkerton agents. When he tried to escape out the back door, he was promptly gunned down.
Ken Verdoia, Journalist: So all these forces are coming together against the Wild Bunch. Centralized information, undercover agents, mobile strike forces. The world of Butch and Sundance is shrinking, shrinking, shrinking more rapidly than they can push back against it.
Thom Hatch, Writer: They were being chased by a system, and this system was very sophisticated. And for the Pinkertons to be able to capture Butch and Sundance and advertise it would have been a major, major promotional feat for them. They would have gained client after client.
Narrator: Nine months after the Wilcox robbery, Pinkerton detective Frank Murray received word that the stolen banknotes were popping up around Alma, New Mexico. The money was now leading the Pinkertons right to the mastermind himself, Butch Cassidy. Hiding in plain sight, Butch was working as a cowboy at a local ranch. But before Murray could arrest him Butch was tipped off and fled town, just narrowly escaping capture.
Paul A. Hutton, Historian: It’s like a noose getting tighter and tighter, and Butch is smart enough to understand this. He’s smart enough to see that now all the Pinkertons’ resources are focused on the Wild Bunch and they’re never going to give up. They won’t stop.
Narrator: With the Pinkertons hot on their heels, Butch, Sundance and the core of the Wild Bunch secretly rendezvoused in the roaring cattle town of Fort Worth, Texas. In its red light district, known as Hell’s Half-Acre, thousands of cowboys flocked to saloons and bordellos. It was the perfect place for the gang to disappear and plan their next move.
Decked out like the business moguls they had been robbing, the Wild Bunch decided to pose for a picture. News Carver, Harvey Logan, Ben “the Tall Texan,” the Sundance Kid and Butch Cassidy looked nothing like a band of desperados. Pitched forward in his seat, Sundance seemed tense and eager, while Butch sat back, donning a puckish smile.
Paul A. Hutton, Historian: I think perhaps for Butch, it’s almost a nostalgic photograph. I think he’s done. I think Butch understood that the West had changed. There was no way to fight against the railroad, against the bankers, against the Pinkertons. It was time to move on.
Narrator: For Butch and Sundance, Fort Worth was the end of the trail. No matter how superlative their skills as outlaws, it seemed to be only a matter of time before they were brought down. Bounties for the Wild Bunch were growing by the day, and finding safe sanctuary on the Outlaw Trail was no longer a given.
Ken Verdoia, Journalist: Butch Cassidy is getting fed up of a life on the run. He doesn’t have any sense of home, he has no sense of roots, and he has to live one night to the next, constantly looking out for the Pinkertons coming at him over his shoulder.
Michael Rutter, Writer: The Wilcox robbery really started to get him thinking he had to get out of the business. It was only a matter of time before he was either going to be shot or captured and put in prison.
Narrator: As Butch and Sundance saw it, there was only one option if they wanted to remain free and alive: to flee the country.
Gerald Kolpan, Writer: Butch wants to go to a place that’s more like the Western United States was, say, 20 years before, where you don’t have the Pinkertons to worry about, and where law enforcement isn’t quite as effective.
Daniel Buck, Writer: In those days, Argentina was the land of opportunity. There was a lot of interaction between the American West and Argentina, cattlemen going down there to buy cattle. There were settlers going down there.
Thom Hatch, Writer: The New West was closing in on them, so they wanted to go back to the Old West. I think they saw in Argentina the Old West.
Narrator: Butch welcomed any member of the gang to travel with them. No one took him up on the offer, but if further proof was needed that things had become too hot in the U.S., it wasn’t long in coming. Soon after the flash bulb fired in that Fort Worth photo studio, the Wild Bunch was once again scattering for cover.
Paul A. Hutton, Historian: The photographer put this photograph in his window as advertisement for his skill. Unfortunately, a local lawman goes by, recognizes one of the boys in the photo, and soon that photo is circulated throughout the Pinkerton detective agency and throughout the West. They made fliers with pictures of Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid, all of the Wild Bunch. They plastered those pictures up everywhere, and they had them in the hands of all their operatives, and now indeed you couldn’t escape the eye that never slept because it really had you.
Narrator: Two months had passed since the Fort Worth photo revealed their identities, and Butch and Sundance had managed to elude capture. By February 1901, they were making plans to board a steamer bound for Argentina. With time to spare before their ship set sail, the two men, posing as Wyoming cattle barons, disappeared into the chaotic metropolis of New York City.
Ken Verdoia, Journalist: The trip to New York is a complete dichotomy. Here they had spent years ripping off mining companies, ripping off the railroad, ripping off banks, and where do they choose to flee? They flee to the belly of the beast. They take anonymity from New York City. It’s perfect Butch Cassidy. How do you disappear? Disappear among them.
Narrator: While no other member of the Wild Bunch had heeded Butch and Sundance’s call to flee the West, the famous outlaw duo were travelling with a third companion: Sundance’s girlfriend, the mysterious Etta Place.
Ken Verdoia, Journalist: Virtually everything about Etta Place is conjecture. Was that her name? Likely not. Was she a schoolteacher? Or was she a prostitute? Nobody really knows. One thing that seems certain is that the Sundance Kid apparently believes that with Etta Place, there’s a reason to live. There’s a reason to think of tomorrow. There’s a reason to flee.
Narrator: Flush with their ill-gotten gains, Butch, Sundance, and Etta lived the high life in a world unlike anything they had ever known. They could marvel at monuments of modernity like the Brooklyn Bridge. Elevated trains rattled overhead, and electric light illuminated the street corners as they made their way to New York’s famed restaurants and playhouses. Sundance and Etta -- posing as husband and wife -- even found time to visit DeYoung’s photo studio, one of the finest in New York.
Gerald Kolpan, Writer: They were a very well-mannered and soft-spoken couple, and DeYoung probably thought that they were cattle royalty from the West. They even go to Tiffany’s, and a pendant watch is purchased for Etta. They must have had themselves a high old time.
Narrator: On February 20th, 1901, the trio sailed out of New York harbor. As the Statue of Liberty faded from view, Butch and Sundance could look back on a decade on the run and see that their own freedom was now within reach.
Paul A. Hutton, Historian: It seemed like they had a chance to start over, to reinvent themselves. The old days are over. Butch and Sundance get out just in time.
Narrator: As Butch and Sundance were making their exit, the last remnants of the Wild West were finally being reined in. After the Wilcox robbery, trains began to employ armed security -- and the Union Pacific created lightning fast cars stocked with armed man-hunters. In just months, the Wild Bunch members who had decided to stay in America began to meet the end their leaders had foreseen.
Thom Hatch, Writer: The Wild Bunch was still in operation, but they didn’t have their mastermind to be able to plan their robberies, and they weren’t going so well. So these people went back to their life of crime. Harvey Logan was in on a robbery in Colorado, and was chased down and ended up committing suicide rather than be taken.
You had the Tall Texan. He could have gone to South America also. Instead, he was beaten to death with a mallet on a train that he was trying to rob. So the Wild Bunch, one by one, ran into the arms of the law and were dealt with, either by death or by prison.
Narrator: Two years after Butch and Sundance disappeared from the scene, New York audiences were being captivated by Edwin Porter’s film The Great Train Robbery. It was one of the first motion pictures to tell a complete story -- a Western -- inspired by the daring exploits of train robbers like Butch and Sundance.
Thom Hatch, Writer: By 1903 the story of the Wild West, the story of Butch and Sundance, has already become fodder for mass entertainment. So famous is the Wild Bunch that Buffalo Bill Cody in his “Wild West Show,” which is playing not only all across America, but to the crowned heads of Europe, features one of their train robberies. I mean, I think to the American public, Butch and Sundance are gone; it’s over. That’s why they’re making movies. It’s a show. It’s a show now.
Narrator: For the bankers and railroad men who had been the locus of the their crime spree, there was nothing romantic about the Wild Bunch. Even though Butch and Sundance hadn’t pulled off a job in years, they had not been forgotten. Pinkerton agents continued to work the case, chasing down leads across the country. The all-seeing eye was not about to let the West’s greatest living outlaws simply vanish. In the winter of 1903, Pinkerton informants in Pennsylvania intercepted a letter Sundance wrote to his family, and just like that their cover was blown.
Daniel Buck, Writer: Butch and Sundance were about as far away from Wyoming as you could get, and yet all it took was one letter being opened, and now they know where they are: Argentina.
Narrator: Butch and Sundance had arrived in Argentina two years earlier, and together with Etta they settled into the quiet domestic life of ranchers on a homestead in the remote region of Patagonia. They built a four-room ranch house out of split cypress trees, and purchased 300 head of cattle, 1,300 sheep, and 28 horses.
Paul A. Hutton, Historian: All the evidence is that they’re reformed. They’re gonna go straight. They made a lot of friends. They seemed to be respectable members of the community down there. There’s even a wonderful photograph taken of them with their dog in front of their ranch house. Everything seemed to be going well for them, and then the Pinkertons found them. The Pinkertons began to distribute flyers with their pictures on it in Argentina, warning all the local law enforcement officials that these were notorious American outlaws.
Thom Hatch, Writer: Word came down to the local constable and he was ordered to arrest them. Butch and Sundance knew that their time was up and they had to take off.
Paul A. Hutton, Historian: The fact that you’re being hounded, that they won’t let you go, sort of pushes them, I think, back to the Outlaw Trail.
Narrator: Etta Place, the woman who had been a steady presence in the lives of Butch and Sundance ever since they decided to flee the country, abruptly disappeared from the scene.
Paul A. Hutton, Historian: Etta simply vanishes. We don’t know when she leaves, but she’s gone from their lives. And when she leaves, their lives begin to spiral out of control.
Narrator: On the run from the Argentine authorities and in need of cash, Butch and Sundance returned to what they knew best. They slipped across the border into Bolivia, where they carefully cased the country’s banks and mines. On November 4th, 1908, they robbed two payroll guards from the Aramayo silver mine and disappeared into the unforgiving Bolivian backcountry.
Paul A. Hutton, Historian: It’s unclear if they even really know a good escape route, and they’re really heading into the unknown. This is a very different world from Wyoming. They don’t have the support of the local population. They don’t know all the trails. They barely speak the language. This is a dangerous game they’re playing.
Narrator: Within hours of the heist the telegraph lines began humming. Even in the wilds of Bolivia technology had caught up with Butch and Sundance. Every town in the area was supplied with descriptions of the gringo bandits. Military patrols fanned out across the region, combing every road, ravine, and ranch. Butch and Sundance made their way north to the desolate mining town of San Vicente. There they took shelter in a house while they planned their next move.
Paul A. Hutton, Historian: The news of the payroll robbery’s already reached the town, and the mayor of the town goes and informs the local military that these two Americans, strange Americans, are staying in town. Well, the captain of the guard sends an official back to question these gringos.
Thom Hatch, Writer: He led three people down to this home. One of the soldiers went onto the patio, drew his weapon. Butch saw his silhouette through the window and pulled out his six-gun, and shot the guy dead. The first person -- the only person -- that Butch ever killed.
Paul A. Hutton, Historian: Meanwhile the word goes out, and other residents of the town, heavily armed, now come to surround the house.
Daniel Buck, Writer: They’re surrounded. They’re not going anywhere. There’s no way they’re getting outta there.
Paul A. Hutton, Historian: A quick violent gun battle follows. The bullets go right through the adobe walls of the building. And then, all is quiet.
It was morning before they dared to go inside. They carefully made their way in, and there were Butch and Sundance dead. Sundance was laying against a wall, a bullet hole in his head. Butch also had a bullet hole in his head and was laying on the floor next to Sundance.
Thom Hatch, Writer: Butch killed Sundance. It was a murder-suicide. He shot Sundance in the forehead and then turned the gun on himself, shot himself in the temple. I think they realized that this was the end, and they were just tired of running.
Narrator: As Butch and Sundance were laid to rest in unmarked Bolivian graves, American newspapers were declaring an end to the Wild West. In a fitting epitaph, the Washington Post declared that the notorious gang known as the Wild Bunch had “disappeared with the march of civilization.” But there many who simply could not believe these famous Western outlaws had met their end.
Paul A. Hutton, Historian: Almost immediately, stories began that they hadn’t been killed in Bolivia. We don’t want the outlaws to die. We certainly don’t want them to die the way Butch and Sundance died. As wild as they were, and bad as they were, they still represented something that Americans embrace, that wild freedom, and when they’re gone the Wild West is gone.
My American Experience
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.