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Book review: 'Butch Cassidy and other Mormon Outlaws of the Old West' shares stories about Utah history

By Mike Whitmer

For the Deseret News

Published: Sunday, Sept. 1 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

"BUTCH CASSIDY AND OTHER MORMON OUTLAWS OF THE OLD WEST," by Kathryn Jenkins Gordon, Covenant Communications, $15.99, 179 pages (nf)

One of the most famous outlaws of the rough and tumble days of the Wild West was Butch Cassidy. With his pal “the Sundance Kid,” they cut a path of crime across much of the Intermountain West for nearly two decades. Many people know that Butch was based in Utah for much of his career, but it might surprise some to know that he was raised a faithful member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Beaver.

In her recent book, “Butch Cassidy and other Mormon Outlaws of the Old West,” author Kathryn Jenkins Gordon chronicles the lives of famous and not-so-well-known Latter-day Saints who drifted to the other side of the law. Some were mean-spirited and earned reputations for vicious actions while committing their crimes, but most seemed to retain a spark of the goodness they had learned before they left their families and the church.

Many of these outlaws were generous with the poor and earned friendships with farmers and ranchers who helped hide them as they were chased by law enforcement. The common thread with each of the scoundrels was their early training in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Born Robert Leroy Parker on April 15, 1866, Butch Cassidy’s family felt he drifted into the criminal life as a result of unsavory company: primarily Jim Marshall and Mike Cassidy (from whom he later borrowed his famous name). While working with these men and others, he began rustling cattle and horses from surrounding ranches. Over the years he graduated to robbing banks and trains and joined with other like-minded men who had abandoned — to one degree or another — the faith of the Saints settling Utah.

Gordon’s research for this delightful book is impressive and includes information relating to the families, pre-criminal careers and locations the men used for hideouts. Of particular interest are the descriptions of Brown’s Hole and Hole-in-the-Wall, two of Butch and Sundance’s favorite places to hide out. She has also included a chapter on the lawmen whose work was to capture these infamous outlaws.

“Butch Cassidy and other Mormon Outlaws of the Old West” is easy to read and has no offensive language or experiences. The author is the managing director of Covenant Communications, a book publisher in American Fork.

Mike Whitmer is a teacher and loves to read good history. His email is at grundelwalken@gmail.com or he blogs at mtwhitmer.blogspot.com.

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