Book review: 'Last Outlaws' takes in-depth look at Wild West life

By Landon Walters

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, Feb. 2 2013 2:00 p.m. MST

"THE LAST OUTLAWS: The Lives and Legends of Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid," by Thom Hatch, New American Library, $26.95, 368 pages (nf)

Since the early 1800s, the West has been considered by many to be a legendary place. Tales of the frontier were romanticized during the 19th century as they reached the population centers on the East Coast, which helped fuel the westward expansion of the United States under the banner of "Manifest Destiny." For many, the Old West was a place to escape from persecutions or difficulties and begin new lives.

Trappers and traders were the first to visit these territories inhabited by Native Americans. In the case of the area that ultimately became the state of Utah, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints under the leadership of Brigham Young eventually established Salt Lake City in 1847. The Parker family — converts from England — heeded President Young's call to Zion in the late 1850s and began their new life in the Beaver area. The oldest of 13 children born to the Parker family was named Robert LeRoy Parker. He was born in 1866.

Around the same time (1867), another child was born across the country in Mont Clare, Penn. Harry Alonzo Longabaugh was the youngest of five children born to a Baptist family. Longabaugh loved reading the romanticized tales of the West and left home at the age of 14. Along the way, he and Parker crossed paths and became the famous outlaw duo of Butch Cassidy (Parker) and the Sundance Kid (Longabaugh).

In his newest book “The Last Outlaws: The Lives and Legends of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” which is scheduled to be released on Feb. 5, author and Western historian Thom Hatch attempts to separate the facts from fiction about the two famous outlaws in what amounts to a dual biography.

Tracing from the earliest information about the men after they left their homes, the author shows his readers the similarities of both Cassidy and his sidekick. Some of the similarities described in the book were that both men had been raised in religious households, both loved to read, and both took a liking to cowboy pleasures such as drinking and gambling. At the same time, the author describes Butch as the meticulous planner and leader and Sundance as the quick-tempered gunslinger.

As the book moves chronologically, the audience learns of the crimes committed by the duo as petty criminals as well as the crimes committed by the Wild Bunch including armed robberies. Finally, the author explores the disputed end of their lives in a Bolivian town.

Hatch supplies pages and pages of information about the two outlaws, adding to his own credibility by admitting throughout the book that many aspects of the outlaws’ lives are undocumented and therefore cannot be verified. “The Last Outlaws” is extremely well-written and feels more like a novel or work of fiction compared to a factual biography. It's a must read for any fan of the Old West and the outlaw life.

Landon Walters is a history and political science major at Salt Lake Community College. He is an avid sports fan and loves writing. Email: mavericksoccer_22@hotmail.com

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