Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid


In June of 1884, 18-year-old Butch left the family home and traveled to Colorado. He told his family that he wanted to seek work in the mines, although some researchers suspect that his actual intent was to deliver stolen horses to outlaws in the area of Telluride, a Colorado town that overflowed with wild living and corruption. Away from his family's watchful eye, Telluride became a haven for Butch. He was a regular at the saloons and went through his salary almost as quickly as he'd earned it.

Telluride panorama (CORBIS)
Telluride panorama (CORBIS)

After living for some time in and around Telluride, Butch got into trouble with the law once again and, as had happened with the "stolen" clothing incident, it appeared that he had not broken any laws. Butch owned a pair of horses, one of which was a young colt that he wanted to break in. One day he took the colt out of Telluride to begin working with it, intending to return it to the stable that evening when he was done. The rancher who had been boarding the animal apparently thought that Butch had taken it permanently without paying the money that was owed for the horse's boarding. The rancher alerted the sheriff, who picked up Butch and jailed him in nearby Montrose City. Butch successfully fought the charges, but he apparently again felt maltreated by the local authorities. He wandered around Wyoming and Montana as a ranch hand before returning to Telluride in 1887, where he met the first of the three men who would become his primary partners in crime.

Upon his return to Telluride, Butch met Matt Warner, another son of a Utah Mormon family. Warner was about the same age as Butch, and the two developed a friendship and shared a similar fondness for the saloons and easy money.

Bill McCarty (POLICE)
Bill McCarty (POLICE)

Warner owned a mare named Betty that was a racing champion, so Warner and Butch began racing her and sharing the profits. Through horse racing Butch also met the brothers Tom and Bill McCarty, who many researchers believe introduced Butch into the line of business that would become his signature: train and bank robbery.

Tom McCarty (POLICE)
Tom McCarty (POLICE)

Scholars disagree on the date and nature of Butch's first major robbery. Some researchers point to November 3, 1887, when a train was stopped near Grand Junction, Colorado, and held up by a gang of bandits. The thieves had piled stones across the tracks, forcing the engineer to stop at the blockade. Three outlaws jumped onto the train, but the man guarding the safe told the bandits that only the stationmasters along the route could open the safe — nobody on the train had the combination. Believing the man, the outlaws collected what money they could (about $140) and rode off into the darkness. Many now believe that three of the outlaws were Tom McCarty, Matt Warner, and Butch Cassidy, making his debut as a train robber.

If the trio wasn't involved in that Grand Junction heist, then Butch definitely made his introduction to robbery two years later. According to Richard Patterson's Butch Cassidy:A Biography, on the morning of June 24, 1889, Butch and Warner and Tom McCarty, accompanied by one other man, were seen carousing among the saloons of Telluride and watching people going in and out of the San Miguel Valley Bank. Later in the day, one of the four entered the bank and gave a teller a check he wanted cashed. The teller leaned over to examine the check and was suddenly grabbed by the man and slammed down onto his desk. The outlaw threatened the startled teller with "instant death" if he did not do everything the robber said. The thief then called in the other three, and the group quickly gathered up approximately $20,500 before leaping onto their horses and escaping to Robbers' Roost, a secluded area favored by desperadoes for its difficulty to reach and its numerous "look-out" vistas.


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