“I grew up hearing the stories, but there’s so much conflicting information and so much mystery, myth and folklore surrounding the events of his life. It kind of became a quest to dig down to the truth and eventually evolved over time into this book.”
— Bill Betenson, author of “Butch Cassidy: My Uncle”
On July 27, 1897, Robert Leroy Parker, 31, more famously known as Butch Cassidy, traveled to the town of Baggs, Wyo.
Four months earlier, in April 1897, Cassidy and his closest friend, Elzy Lay, robbed a small group of Pleasant Valley Coal Co. employees of $7,000 in gold near Castle Gate, Utah.
With the loot in hand, Cassidy and Lay rode into Baggs to meet the other members of the Wild Bunch for a celebratory gambling and drinking binge.
On one occasion, at Jack Ryan’s Bulldog Saloon in Baggs, the bandits shot up the place. But before retiring for the evening, Cassidy paid Ryan $1 for each of the 25 bullet holes he and his gang fired into the bar, according to reports.
It was congenial dealings like the Bulldog Saloon incident that earned Cassidy a reputation among many Northwest Colorado and Wyoming residents as the “good” outlaw.
Although countless books have been written about Cassidy, and stories surrounding his life inspired the 1969 fictional film “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” many tales have gone largely untold — until now.
On Oct. 6, author Bill Betenson will appear from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Museum of Northwest Colorado for a discussion about Cassidy and to sign copies of his recently published book “Butch Cassidy: My Uncle.”
Betenson, 47, is the great-grandson of Lula Parker, Cassidy’s younger sister.
Betenson has dedicated most of his life to researching his infamous uncle, and in the last 22 years he ramped up his efforts to uncover details of the man known throughout the world as Butch Cassidy.
“I grew up hearing the stories, but there’s so much conflicting information and so much mystery, myth and folklore surrounding the events of his life,” Betenson said. “It kind of became a quest to dig down to the truth and eventually evolved over time into this book.”
Considering the era in which Cassidy lived, tales about his adventures were primarily spread by word of mouth and, as a consequence, many stories became embellished over time.
But Betenson forced himself to stray from “eyewitness” accounts passed down through the generations and went in search of records from primary sources to piece together the accounts of his great-granduncle’s life.
As a result, many stories in Betenson’s book are being told for the first time.
“A lot of people don’t even know Butch had a younger brother named Dan (Parker) who kind of followed in his footsteps,” Betenson said. “(Dan) played a minor role as a horse handler in the (San Miguel Valley) Bank robbery in Telluride (in 1889) before striking out on his own.”
Never before published accounts of Parker’s life also are featured in Betenson’s book, including an account of a stagecoach robbery that took place a few miles north of Craig.
Parker eventually was caught, convicted and sentenced to life in a Detroit federal prison for the stagecoach robbery. He was pardoned eight years later by President William McKinley.
“I’m looking forward to visiting with folks in Craig,” Betenson said. “Everyone has good family stories and I always enjoy sharing those with people.”
Betenson’s Oct. 6 visit to the Museum of Northwest Colorado is free to the public. Copies of the book will be available for purchase.
For more information, call the museum at 824-6360.
Joe Moylan can be reached at 875-1794 or firstname.lastname@example.org.