Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid

Elza Lay and Sundance

Butch went free on January 19, 1896, and began gathering a gang of outlaws that would be dubbed "The Wild Bunch." Butch was the leader of the gang, but as his former partner Matt Warner was in prison inUtah for murder, Elza Lay replaced Warner as his second-in-command. Elza was a native of Boston who had journeyed west and started a respectable life in Denver as the driver of a horse car. Elza began his criminal career after a noble act: when a man was harassing one of his female passengers, Elza threw the man from the horse car and, believing he had killed the man, Elza fled Denver and eventually ended up among the outlaws.

The Wild Bunch
The Wild Bunch

According to Richard Patterson, Butch was true to his word and the first robbery he formulated after leaving prison was outside Wyoming. In August of 1896, Butch, Elza and an accomplice traveled to Montpelier, Idaho, and waited until just before a bank's closing time before they entered and approached a cashier. The bank was nearly deserted, so two of the men entered the bank with bandanas over the lower half of their faces. One kept watch at the door, while the other demanded all of the paper money the bank had. An employee said there was no paper money in the bank, which upset the bandit, who then hit the cashier with his gun and called him a liar. The robber keeping watch at the door shouted at his partner not to hit the man again, and so the thief inside concentrated instead on scooping up more than $7,000 in cash, gold, and silver. By the time a posse was gathered, the trio was long gone. Some have theorized that the money from the Montpelier robbery was originally to be used to get Matt Warner out of jail, but Warner sent word to Butch not to bother, and he would serve his prison term until January of 1900.

Harry Longbaugh, the Sundance Kid
Harry Longbaugh,
the Sundance Kid

After Montpelier, Butch added to his gang a Pennsylvania native named Harry Longabaugh who, at the age of 15, had traveled with his cousins out west to escape the monotony of his childhood life. Like Butch, Longabaugh worked as a ranch hand during his teenage years and, like Butch, he became attracted to the easy money to be gained by dealing with stolen livestock. As a young man he was caught stealing a horse and was sentenced to two years imprisonment at the jail in Sundance, Wyoming. He would be known afterwards as the Sundance Kid, and the nickname was well in place by the time he joined up with Butch and the Wild Bunch.

The Wild Bunch continued to grow under Butch's leadership and became one of the most successful gangs in the Wild West. In spite of masterminding many robberies and heading up a gang of thieves, history has painted an amiable portrait of Butch Cassidy, illustrated with many incidents of kindness and benevolence.

For example, one blustery night Butch accosted a lone man on a horse, believing him to be a sheriff or some other law official. Terrified, the man said he was not a lawman, but a priest. Butch hastily apologized and inquired where the priest was going. Discovering that the cleric had strayed several miles off course, Butch acted as guide and accompanied him to his destination and offered the priest a roll of bills as a donation to his church. The clergyman, knowing how the money had been obtained, politely declined.

On another occasion, one of the Wild Bunch, frustrated with riding a horse well past its prime, demanded the healthy horse of a young boy riding by. When Butch heard about that, he made the thief return the horse to the boy and ejected the bandit from the gang, stating that his gang didn't tolerate those who committed crimes against children.

Whether a "gentleman bandit" or not, Butch was a bandit, nonetheless — and the close of the 19th century saw him pull off a series of successful robberies that would increase the growing determination of lawmen to bring him to justice.

 

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