Robert LeRoy Parker, the grandchild of Mormon pioneers with an impressive history, didn't die in Bolivia in the shootout portrayed in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid."
Instead, he is buried somewhere in southern Utah, in an unmarked grave — a site deliberately kept secret by his younger sister, Lula Parker Betenson.
Bill Betenson is Lula's great-grandson and grew up surrounded by the stories of his Uncle Butch. With the passing of Lula, it came time to set Cassidy's story straight, and Bill Betenson has done that — with supporting testimony, documentation and photographs.
He refutes a number of other versions of the Cassidy story, sorting fact from fiction in an absorbing, readable book.
The author lays out the early family history, the story of the Parker family's conversion in England to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, their sea journey and pilgrimage to Utah.
All kinds of details are included that bring the stories home for "fans" of the infamous outlaw. (His faithful Mormon mother is described as shedding many tears over her outlaw sons. Her son Dan was an outlaw as well.)
Cassidy was born and blessed in the Utah town of Beaver on April 13, 1866, and grew up poor in an otherwise happy home.
A small-time outlaw by the name of Mike Cassidy taught him to shoot and shared the fine points of rustling cattle to the little boy who became "Ed" or "Butch Cassidy" (after he worked for a while in a butcher shop).
Cassidy first robbed a mercantile in Rock Springs, Wyo., and gave the clothes to the townspeople. He robbed the San Miguel Valley Bank of $21,000 in Telluride, Colo., in 1889, marking his turn from a "high-spirited cowboy to a full-fledged outlaw."
He went on to rob stagecoaches and trains, yet he's known as a "good guy" outlaw — who didn't kill people, didn't drink to excess, was courteous to women and loyal to friends, and shared his loot.
Betenson meticulously dispels myths and misinformation about Parker, such as pointing out there was no Hole in the Wall gang — or actual hole.
He parallels the story of Cassidy with the antics of his brother Dan, who ended up serving a life sentence in prison for small-time crimes.
He tells an honest, enlightening story about his uncle, a man he says is the outlaw he'd choose to be related to if he got to do the choosing.
Sharon Haddock is a professional writer with 35 years experience, 17 at the Deseret News. Her personal blog is at sharonhaddock.blogspot.com.
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