Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid

Riches or Retirement

During mid-April of 1897, a stranger began a daily habit of coming into the Utah city of Castle Gate, going into a saloon and inquiring about any opportunities for ranch work, and then going down to see the train come in from Salt Lake City. Nobody paid much attention, as the stranger appeared to be merely one of countless men looking for local employment. On April 21st, the stranger's routine changed in an eventful way.

Elza Lay, NM penetentiary
Elza Lay, NM penetentiary

The train again came in from Salt Lake City, this time carrying the money for the payroll of the local Pleasant Valley Coal Company. Men carrying the money were making their way through town towards the Pleasant Valley office when the "stranger," Butch Cassidy, and his accomplice Elza robbed them of the nearly $9,000 they were carrying and then fled to Robbers' Roost, first cutting telegraph wires to prevent the news of the robbery from spreading to lawmen along their escape route.

On July 11, 1899, near Folsom, New Mexico, a train was robbed and, because one of the principal thieves was Elza, Butch most likely masterminded the heist — although he may not have directly participated in it. Lawmen chased the gang and caught up with them a few days later. In the shootout that followed, Elza killed a sheriff and was captured for which he was sentenced to life imprisonment. Once again, like Matt Warner before Elza, Butch had lost his right-hand man to a jail term.

Elza's fate may have contributed to Butch's decision to seek clemency and put to rest his outlaw life. He consulted Utah Governor Heber Wells Pacific Railroad, the target of so many of Butch's robberies, to see if an agreement could be reached whereby the Union Pacific would not prosecute Butch for any of the train robberies.

A rendezvous was arranged between Butch and Union Pacific officials, and Butch showed up as agreed. The Union Pacific officials, unfortunately, were delayed by a storm and arrived one day late to find Butch already gone and a hastily written note from the master outlaw saying, "tell the U.P. to go to hell."

Matt Warner
Matt Warner

The Union Pacific Railroad and Governor Wells panicked and, still wanting to bring an end to Butch's string of robberies, asked Matt Warner, who had recently been released from jail and had apparently "gone straight," to go and talk to Butch and explain the situation and the cause for the Union Pacific official's delay. Warner agreed and went out to find Butch, but on his journey he received a telegram telling him not to continue, as Butch had just robbed a train near Tipton, Wyoming, on August 29, 1900.

A masked bandit boarded this Union Pacific train, waving a pistol around. The thief told the engineer to stop when he saw a campfire by the side of the tracks. Once stopped, the outlaws dynamited their way into certain cars and then into the safes. One robber assured the train's crew that none of the gang wanted to kill anyone, and had even made a pact to murder one of their own if he killed someone without reason.

Butch's main accomplice in the Tipton theft was the man who became the third of his chief partners, Harry Longabaugh, the Sundance Kid.


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