Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
The horseback outlaw Butch Cassidy died in a shoot-out in Bolivia in 1908.
Today at noon, Provo's Brent Ashworth will bring his discovery of a long-lost manuscript biography of Robert LeRoy Parker, AKA Butch Cassidy to Laramie, Wyo.'s Territorial Prison Museum to help liven up the city's Butch Cassidy days. The manuscript of "The Bandit Invincible, the Story of Butch Cassidy" may shed new light on the mystery of whether Cassidy died with the Sundance Kid in that Bolivian gun battle, or whether he somehow escaped, went legit, changed his name to William T. Phillips and died a respectable, if somewhat broke, citizen of Spokane, Wash., in 1937.
Ashworth, a history buff and the owner of B. Ashworth's Rare Books and Collectibles, recently found the manuscript of the biography and several other items written by Phillips. The assertion that "The Bandit Invincible" was not a biography but an autobiography was argued in 1977 by author Larry Pointer in his book "In Search of Butch Cassidy."
"I bought Pointer's book in the '70s but never read it," Ashworth said. "Then eleven years later I was going on a rafting trip and grabbed it off the shelf as I was heading out the door. I couldn't put the book down."
Ashworth read about the theories that Phillips and Cassidy were the same person. Phillips suddenly appears in the historical record several months after Cassidy allegedly dies in Bolivia. Several people who knew Cassidy said that he was Phillips. The photographic resemblance of Cassidy and Phillips is uncanny.
And then there is the biography that Phillips wrote. Pointer had access to an abridged version of "The Bandit Invincible," and through extensive research he verified events in the book that would have been almost impossible for anybody but Cassidy to have known. A copy of the abridged biography is available at the University of Utah library's online digital collections.
Ashworth began collecting Cassidy materials. He learned Phillips' widow sold the original full manuscript in the 1950s. One day on a fluke he typed in "The Bandit Invincible" on an online bookstore. Up popped a result for the manuscript. He snatched it up.
The manuscript was typed on the back of Phillips' stationary for his "General Machine Work" business in Spokane. Ashworth said the manuscript is about twice the length of the version Pointer wrote about in his book. Pointer has been poring over the manuscript looking for new clues and facts and will talk about his new discoveries today.
Along with the manuscript was another handwritten manuscript, a novel titled, "Jim Kennedy, Prospector."
Ashworth already owned the last and second-to-last letters known to have been written by Cassidy. Preliminary handwriting comparisons between the Phillips novel and the Cassidy letters are inconclusive — two experts say they are the same person and two say no. Ashworth said the three decades between the documents makes comparison more difficult because handwriting changes over time. He hopes, however, to have more in-depth analysis later.
Ashworth thinks another possibility is to look for DNA remnants on the handwritten manuscript and compare it with the DNA of known Cassidy relatives. This may be difficult, however, if there are no obvious signs of biological material on the manuscript like sweat drops or blood from a paper cut.
But more evidence isn't needed to sway Ashworth. "I'm convinced," he said. "I believed it before I saw the manuscript."
When Phillips began writing his biography of Butch Cassidy in the '30s, he needed the money, but he couldn't sell the book. Now, 77 years later, his full account of the life of Utah's most famous homegrown outlaw, may finally come to full light.
And solve a mystery to boot.
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