Butch Cassidy’s Life Lessons
One of my favorite places in Cody Yellowstone Country for an authentic Western experience is Old Trail
Town and Museum of the Old West, an enclave of 26 authentic frontier buildings and assorted exhibits
that remind visitors of a time when Cody was a rough-and-tumble frontier town. I wandered through
the street of the “town,” and lingered – as I always do – at the small, unassuming building that once
served as the hideout for the infamous Wild Bunch, sometimes known as the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang.
As anyone who is a fan of film-maker George Roy Hill knows, the gang was run by Butch Cassidy and his
pal Sundance. While certainly legend has enhanced the story of Butch Cassidy’s life and times, many of
the tales recounted in the film starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford were true. Sort of. I did some
digging into the life of the amiable thief (who actually did look a little like Paul Newman), and I found a
little more about his values and life choices.
So for your reading pleasure, I’ve compiled the following list of “life lessons” that the Butch Cassidy of
my imagination might have shared with his grandchildren, if he’d lived long enough to have them.
1. Honor thy father, even if you are a horse thief. Born in 1866, the eldest of a flock of kids from a
poor Mormon family in rural Utah, Robert Leroy Parker left his family as a teen to carve a path
toward a more lucrative life. That path led to Mike Cassidy, a successful obtainer of pre-owned
cattle and horses. Convinced that he had found his calling under the tutelage of the rustler, he
changed his name to Butch Cassidy so he wouldn’t embarrass his family with the notoriety that
would surely follow.
2. Take time to build your skills. While jobs as cattle rustler and train/bank robber might have a few
similarities – risk of a lethal ending, for example – taking that huge career leap without enhancing
one’s professional thievery skills would be like participating in a dude ranch trail ride and then vying
for the bull-riding purse at the Cody Nite Rodeo. Or taking your first guitar lesson and then
challenging Cody cowboy singer Dan Miller to a strum-off during a performance at the Buffalo Bill
Center of the West. Cassidy knew that he should start small, build a reputation for excellence and go
from there. And so he repeatedly practiced his craft – in Idaho, South Dakota, Colorado, Montana
and Wyoming – along with a few pals with equally useful skills. Together, they gained fame and
3. Make ‘em like you. Butch Cassidy was a charmer. Everyone said so. That explains why, as he gained
fame as an increasingly daring train robber, the American public seemed to be rooting for his
continued success, not the success of the lawmen continuously in pursuit. This was in the late 1890s,
but if it had happened today, he surely would have had an impressive number of Twitter followers.
4. Leave ‘em guessing. As we all know from watching a heroic, heart-throb-inducing Paul Newman
valiantly leap to a sure death in front of relentless army, Butch Cassidy died in Bolivia along with his
pal Robert Redford/Sundance Kid. Or maybe not. Another theory has him facing his death, returning
to the U.S., becoming a machinist and living under the name William T. Phillips and dying of cancer
in 1937 in Spokane, Wash. I can’t decide which end is more plausible.
5. Take good care of your friends. Taking a brief breather from pilfering, a temporarily flush Butch
settled in Meeteetse and encouraged his friends to stash their own cash at the Meeteetse Bank,
assuring them it would never be robbed, at least not by him. Cassidy was forced to leave Meeteetse
following a dispute with a local rancher over three dubiously obtained horses. Cassidy was convicted
of grand larceny. While that verdict might have led to the hanging tree for a lesser crook, the
popularity of the thief prompted the Wyoming governor to grant a pardon. See Life Lesson No. 3.
You can’t make this stuff up.
Until next time, I’m loving life and double-checking the security of my bank account here in Cody