On a late summer day when Agatha Applegate Nay was nearly 12, she was sent out collecting money for the newspaper her family ran in the little town of Circleville. One of the homes that she stopped at was that of Maximillian Parker, a red brick house in the center of town.
"Mr. Parker - his wife was dead by then - stepped into the kitchen, and then here came (his son) Butch," said Nay, who at age 84 has lived in Circleville most of her life. "He stood over against the wall, and he started asking all about my family."She remembers Butch as being rather short. "My father was a tall man, but Butch was short. He was nice-looking. He wanted to know all about the Applegates."
This would have been 1925, long after the outlaw had supposedly been killed in Bolivia. "I know for a fact he didn't die there," said Nay. But she never told her mother about seeing Butch. "My mother had told me to hurry back, and I was late getting home. I was afraid she'd ask where I had been. But she didn't. I'm glad she didn't ask; I couldn't have lied."
Nay, in fact, never did tell her mother, never told anyone for a long time.
"The Parkers were good people," said Nay. She thinks Butch first got in trouble because "one of the old guys got him to take the blame for something he didn't do."
Of all the West's notorious outlaws, probably no one is remembered more fondly in film and folklore than Butch Cassidy, the leader of the Wild Bunch.
Born in Beaver on April 15, 1866, as Robert LeRoy Parker, he moved with his family to a ranch outside Circleville shortly after. Butch spent his youth there; it was after he left that the family moved into town.
As a teenager, Butch hooked up with a cattle rustler named Mike Cassidy. For a while, after leaving home, he wavered between being an outlaw and a migrant cowboy. He worked on several ranches, as well as in a Wyoming butcher shop - where the name Butch originated. After a two-year stint in a Wyoming prison for cattle rustling, Butch adopted the name of Cassidy, partly so he wouldn't bring shame to his family, and turned to outlaw ways.
His Wild Bunch included several well-known Western figures, including Harry Longabaugh, known as the Sundance Kid, Harvey Logan, Ben Kilpatrick, Harry Tracy and Elzy Lay. Together they pulled off what one writer calls "the longest sequence of successful bank and train robberies in the history of the American West."
When the railroads hired the Pinkerton Agency to chase them down, Butch and Sundance went to South America, buying a ranch in Argentina. However, money was easier to come by on the outlaw trail, and the pair turned to robbing banks and mine payrolls until they were finally trapped by soldiers in Bolivia.
What happened next is the stuff of myth and speculation. Some say both outlaws were killed; some say that neither were killed but allowed another pair of dead outlaws to be misidentified as Butch and Sundance. According to one account, Sundance was killed and Butch escaped. Others say they both were able to get away and lived out their lives under aliases in the American Northwest.
Those who know for sure are all dead now; but evidence such as Nay's account indicates that Butch, at least, came back to the States and lived out his life in relative peace and obscurity, probably dying about 1937.
Lula Betenson, Butch's sister, wrote a book in 1975, debunking the idea that Butch was killed in Bolivia. "Lula always said she knew where he was buried," said Bill Betenson, Lula's great-grandson. "But she was not willing to reveal it. She was afraid people would dig him up." Lula took the secret to her own grave. "There's a lot we'll probably never know," said Bill. "There are a lot of myths tied to Butch. It'll be debated for years."
Like much of the history of the Old West, myth and reality mix and mingle, and as more time passes, more polish is added to the patina.
But from all reports, Butch was one of the better of the bad guys, even earning a nickname as the "Robin Hood of the West." Historians are pretty sure that he never killed anyone until he went to South America, and maybe not even then. That's part of his appeal; that and the character created by Paul Newman in the wildly popular 1969 movie, and all of the mystery surrounding Butch's life.
"At the time, he was a big embarrassment to his family and siblings," said Bill Betenson. "It hurt a lot." But enough time has passed now that most family members don't care. "We're far enough removed at this point that we just want to know about the family. It's a part of history, a big part of Utah history."