Digging Up Butch and Sundance

Digging Up Butch and Sundance

Digging Up Butch and Sundance

Digging Up Butch and Sundance


Lawyer-turned-writer Anne Meadows and her husband, Dan Buck, set out to solve the mystery of what really happened to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. With the tenacity of Pinkerton agents, the couple tracks the outlaws and the enigmatic Etta Place through South America, where they fled in 1901. Meadows and Buck rove Argentinian pampas, Chilean deserts, and Bolivian sierras; pore over faded newspapers and musty documents; exhume skeletons with the aid of forensic anthropologist Clyde Snow; unearth eyewitness accounts of Butch and Sundance's final holdup and the Bolivian shootout; and examine letters by the bandits and interviews by the Argentine police who investigated their activities. Information about William T. Phillips, who claimed to be Butch Cassidy, is also included.While filling in the blanks in the Wild Bunch saga, Meadows explores the nature of truth and discovers how myths are made. She updates the search with a new afterword to this edition.Anne Meadows lives with her husband in Washington D.C.


The villagers shoo their children out of the cemetery in case the sacrifice fails to appease the spirits we are about to set loose in this barren bowl 14,370 feet up in the Bolivian Andes. Standing amid the jumble of tombstones and tin crosses, the mayor of San Vicente mumbles a few words in Spanish, and lesser officials pray in Quechua to the earth goddess Pachamama. Ribboned wreaths of plastic flowers flap and rattle in the icy wind. Forensic anthropologist Clyde Snow lays a long cigar on top of a crumbling concrete grave marker, and the rest of us add offerings—cigarettes, coca leaves, dashes of cane alcohol. a pickax bites into the hard soil. Three crones huddling on nearby tombs pull their shawls snug and prophesy disaster. the ritual completed, the children stream back into the cemetery to watch our international band of gravediggers try to solve one of the last great mysteries of the North American West: What really happened to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid?

Did they die in a shootout with half the Bolivian army, as the characters played by Paul Newman and Robert Redford did at the end of the 1969 hit movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid? Or did they survive and return to the United States, as many researchers have claimed? the film was based on a true story, but how true was it?

Butch and Sundance were real people, although the names we know them by were not the ones they were born with. Butch led an outlaw band—known variously as the Wild Bunch, the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang, and the Train Robbers’ Syndicate—that roamed the Rocky Mountain West in the late 1800s and early 1900s. the celluloid version of Sundance was a composite of the real Sundance and a man named Elzy Lay, who was Butch’s best friend in the early days.

The outlaws perfected a formula of thoroughly casing prospective holdup sites, scouting the best escape routes, and stashing food and fresh horses at strategic places for fast getaways. Butch’s meticulous planning allowed them to hit targets on the very days when substantial amounts of cash were on hand. the robberies planned by other members of the gang were not always successful, but between 1889 and 1901 . . .

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