Cattle rustling, bank heists, train robberies…temptations were irresistible for some of the more unsavory characters who roamed the Wild West at the turn of the 19th century. Blazing the Outlaw Trail from Montana to Mexico, outlaws such as Butch Cassidy and his Wild Bunch gang often hid out in Utah’s intricate maze of canyons. This lawless bunch was often aided by locals who provided food, supplies, and horses—along with plenty of misinformation to local law enforcement.
Born Robert LeRoy Parker in 1866, Butch Cassidy had a strong Mormon upbringing, but over time gained a disrespect for the law that led him down the criminal path. Butch Cassidy’s first bank heist in 1889 netted a whopping twenty grand. Hiding out in Robber’s Roost, he evaded the law but it wasn’t long before his first stint in jail.
The Wild Bunch grew in numbers after Butch Cassidy’s release from jail in 1896, with the addition of Elzy Lay, Kid Curry, and The Sundance Kid. Butch Cassidy and Elzy Lay had met as teens working a ranch in Wyoming. In 1899, they committed one of their most notorious crimes, robbing a Union Pacific train carrying the Pleasant Valley Coal Company’s payroll. Butch made it to Robber’s Roost, but Elzy was injured and eventually caught and sent to prison.
Tall and handsome, Elzy had charisma. He used his charms to his advantage, first with the ladies, and then later to become a respected businessman. Butch, however, was the brains behind multiple banks and train robberies, planning the crime and then sending his Wild Bunch gang members in to do the dirty work. A “gentlemen’s bandit” in his own mind, Butch Cassidy never killed anyone — or at least no one could ever prove that he did.
Outlaw Kid Curry was a different story, wanted on warrants for 15 murders (and under suspicion for twice that number). William Pinkerton, head of the Pinkerton Detective Agency, called Kid Curry the most rancorous outlaw in America, saying “He is the only criminal I know of who does not have one single good point.”
Harry “The Sundance Kid” Longabaugh hooked up with Kid Curry after a stint in jail. They robbed a bank together, then joined the Wild Bunch. Longabaugh met Etta Place in 1878 at the infamous Fannie Porter’s Brothel, where Annie Rogers (alias Della Moore) also worked. Romantically linked to both Harvey Logan and Kid Curry, Annie eventually spent time in jail for passing banknotes stolen in the great Northern robbery by Kid Curry and Ben “The Tall Texan” Kilpatrick. She was acquitted in 1902 and accounts vary whether she spent the rest of her life working at Fannie Porter’s brothel or living quietly as a law-abiding citizen.
“The Tall Texan” Kilpatrick was the Wild Bunch’s most prolific train robber. He served 15 years in prison for robbery but immediately returned to a life of crime upon his release in 1911. Girlfriend Laura Bullion, a.k.a. Della Rose, often participated alongside Kilpatrick, also serving five years in prison for train robbery. Upon her release, she lived out her life as a seamstress. Kilpatrick, on the other hand, was killed during an attempted train robbery less than a year after his release from prison.
Born and raised in Utah, Willard “The Mormon Kid” Christianson, alias Matt Warner, committed several trains and bank robberies alongside Butch Cassidy and Elzy Lay. A gunfight earned him five years in a Utah state prison but upon his early release for good behavior, he turned his life around, becoming a justice of the peace and later a deputy sheriff. He lived in Price, Utah until his death of natural causes at age 74.
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By 1902, the Wild Bunch had disbanded for good. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (along with Etta Place) left the country, presumably for South America, and it’s unclear whether they died there or returned to the U.S. Famed outlaw hideout Robber’s Roost was never penetrated during their heyday, and the original Wild Bunch corral still stands today.