Previously on this blog I’ve found links between Tyneside born musicians Chas Chandler, Jack Brymer and Kathy Stobbart, connecting them to world famous music acts The Beatles, Radiohead and Jimi Hendrix. But connecting Hollywood big time movie stars to Tyneside is a stretch – but it can be done.
In 1969, American film actor Paul Newman played one of the Wild West’s most like able outlaws. Along with co-star Robert Redford, they robbed banks, trains and were part of notorious criminal gang, the Wild Bunch. The film won numerous awards including an Oscar for best original song ‘Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head’. The outlaws life has been immortalized in books, TV and Film – and here’s the link – he was the son of Newcastle born, Annie Gillies. The film – Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kidd.
WILD WEST WAGON TRAIN
The story starts in the USA during the 1800’s, Mormons were persecuted so decided their future lay in the American West – the wagon train headed for the Missouri Rivers, Salt Lake City and eventually Utah.
In time the Utah community grew to over 100,000 with more than half of them UK immigrants. This was the time the first transcontinental railway was built from Iowa in the east to San Francisco on the Pacific coast.
Back in the North East of England, Annie Gillies was born on 12th July 1846. She lived at 49 Brandling Place, Newcastle with her Scottish parents and three brothers. When Annie was 14 the family emigrated to the USA.
In Accrington, Lancashire, Maximilian Parker was born on 8th June 1844. When he was twelve years old his family also emigrated to the United States. Both families had converted to the Mormon faith back in the UK – they arrived in Salt Lake City as Mormon Pioneers.
Max Parker and Annie Gillies married in 1865 in Utah. In 28 years of marriage the couple had 13 children, their first son was born on 13th April 1866 – Robert LeRoy Parker.
Parker grew up on his parents’ ranch, as a teenager he left home and got a job with a butcher where he got the nickname ‘Butch’. Then he met cattle thief Mike Cassidy and worked on a few ranches. He added Mike’s surname in honour of his old friend and mentor.
HANDS UP IT’S A ROBBERY
It was reported that Butch Cassidy committed his first offence when he was 14, he broke into a shop and stole a pair of jeans and some pie – leaving an IOU. With three other men, 23 year old Cassidy robbed his first bank stealing over $20,000 – worth around half a million dollars today. They fled to The Robbers Roost, a remote hideout in Utah. In 1890 Cassidy bought a ranch on the outskirts of Wyoming. The ranch was near the Hole in the Wall, another popular hideout for outlaw gangs.
A couple of year later Butch was romantically involved with rancher and outlaw Ann Bassett, whose father was a rancher and supplier of horses and beef to Cassidy. During his relationship with Bassett, Butch was caught stealing horses and running a protection racket among local ranchers. He served a two year sentence sharing a cell with a wide circle of criminals.
THE WILD BUNCH
William Lay, Ben Kilpatrick, Harry Tracy, Laura Bullion, Harvey ‘Kid Curry’ Logan, Will ‘News’ Carver and George ‘Flat Nose’ Curry, became known as the ‘Wild Bunch’. Soon after robbing a bank, Cassidy recruited Harry Longabaugh, also known as ‘The Sundance Kid’. In Utah they ambushed a payroll of the Pleasant Valley Coal Company, then fled back to the Robbers Roost where they would plan their next robbery.
When they robbed a Union Pacific Overland Flyer passenger train it earned them a great deal of notoriety and a manhunt was planned. After another train robbery there was a shootout where William Lay was caught, convicted of murder and sentenced to life for killing two Sheriffs. The Wild Bunch separated, later reuniting at Fannie Porters brothel in San Antonio, Texas.
ROUND UP A POSSE
1900 saw a number of arrests, shoot out’s and retaliation killings leading to Cassidy posing alongside The Sundance Kid, Logan, Carver and Kilpatrick in Fort Worth, Texas for the famous ‘Fort Worth Five’ photograph, copies began circulating and used for wanted posters.
It went quiet until a year later when a Great Northern train was robbed of more than $60,000. The gang split up, but a Sheriff and his posse caught up with Will ‘News’ Carver, and killed him. Ben Kilpatrick was captured along with another member of the gang Laura Bullion. She was in a hotel lobby checking out her luggage stuffed with thousands of dollars from the Great Northern train robbery. The gang was falling apart.
With continuous pressure from the law, Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid fled to New York then onto Argentina. The Sundance Kid’s companion Etta Place was with them and the trio settled on a ranch they bought near Cholila.
There was reports that two English speaking bandits held up a bank near Cholila, with the pair vanishing north across the Patagonian grasslands. Fearing that the law had found them Cassidy and The Sundance Kid sold the Cholila ranch then fled north to Chile. By the end of the year they returned to Argentina and robbed a bank taking 12,000 pesos, then fled back across the Andes to reach the safety of Chile.
WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE
By 1906 The Sundance Kid’s girlfriend Etta Place had enough of life on the run, so he took her back to San Francisco. Cassidy obtained honest work under the alias James ‘Santiago’ Maxwell at a Tin Mine in the Bolivian Andes, where the Kid joined him.
Their last job together was robbing a payroll for the Aramayo Mine. Witnesses saw them three days later lodging in a small boarding house. Their suspicions were raised when a brand on Cassidy’s mule belonged to the Aramayo Mine. A nearby cavalry regiment of three soldiers, police chief, local mayor, and some of his officials surrounded the lodging house.
A massive gunfight started, killing one soldier and wounding another. Then two shots were heard coming from inside the house. The authorities entered and found two bodies with bullet wounds to the arms and legs. The man assumed to be The Sundance Kid had a bullet wound in the forehead, and the man thought to be Butch Cassidy had a bullet hole in the temple.
The local police report speculated that Cassidy had probably shot the fatally wounded Kid to put him out of his misery, then killed himself. The police identified the bandits as the men who robbed the Aramayo payroll transport.
Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid died on 7th November 1908 in San Vicente, Bolivia. There is speculation that Cassidy survived and returned to the family home in Utah and ‘ate blueberry pie‘ and that his sister Lulu was reported to say ‘He was full of regrets particularly at having disappointed his mother’. Or maybe he got on a steamer ship and headed for Newcastle!
Gary Alikivi August 2020.
Sources: BBC, Ancestry (1851 census) Wikipedia, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969).