Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid

A Fresh Start

As he had previously, and would continue to do for the rest of his life, Butch intertwined his criminal activities with long stretches of legitimate work on farms and ranches. Beginning in 1890, Butch purchased some land near Dubois and Blue Creek, Wyoming, and set himself up as a rancher. Butch never prospered as a rancher, however, either because the work was too strenuous or because his ranching was merely a cover for his underground activities with outlaws at a nearby hideout called Hole-in-the-Wall. For whatever reason, he soon returned to a life of crime — but not before working for a brief stint in Rock Springs, Wyoming, as a butcher, giving him his famous nickname — although others believe he may have gained the moniker from acting as a cook/butcher for an outlaw gang.

By 1894 he had clearly returned to his nefarious ways, as he and a crony were arrested for stealing horses and also possibly for running a protection racket on some local ranchers in Lander, Wyoming. The officers approached a cabin in Lander and, after subduing the first man outside, they stormed the cabin and surprised Butch, who grabbed his gun and fired at the lawmen, but missed and was quickly taken into custody. Although he had used his guns when cornered, and undoubtedly was an expert marksman, it has never been proven that Butch ever killed anyone — which makes him unique among many of the outlaws of the Wild West.

Butch was found guilty of horse stealing and sentenced to two years imprisonment, despite an ingenious plan by some of his friends to forge a receipt allegedly signed by a rancher "selling" Butch the stolen horses. The prosecuting lawyers must have been tipped off to the scam, however, and they arranged to have the rancher in question brought in to testify about the authenticity of his "signature" on the receipt. This proved unnecessary, as the phony receipt was never brought into evidence and Butch entered prison on July 15, 1894, at the age of 28.

After serving 18 months of his term, Butch requested an early release from the Wyoming governor. The governor agreed that Butch had served enough time and agreed to release him if he would "go straight." Butch said that he couldn't promise that, because rustling and robbery were too deeply engrained in him. He did offer the governor a compromise: if he were released, he would never engage in illegal activities within the state of Wyoming. The governor, knowing the damage Butch could cause within his state, agreed and the early release was granted.

 

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