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Two men and a destination in Patagonia

We tell you the myths and realities of two characters who won celebrity from a movie played by Robert Redford and Paul Newman.


Just two hours from Esquel and just ten kilometers from Cholila, taking a detour from RP 71, there is an  old log cabin  with a gable roof that suffers the passage of time, the former villagers say that the most wanted bandits stayed there between 1901 and 1905 in the United States:  Butch Cassidy  and  Sundance Kid.  Year after year, this four-room construction, located a few meters from the Rio Blanco, attracts the attention of many  travelers  and tourists who arrive to internalize the interesting and surprising history.

The reconstruction of this unique chapter in the life of the famous bandits, fugitives from American justice, appeals to unverifiable anecdotes that share conductive threads and fork their paths into their own details and names.Also to a precious and detailed judicial  file  of a thousand pages that came to light years later. Photos that have emerged from the family albums of the villagers confirm the identification of outlaws, when contrasted with the posters of Wanted that the security company Pinkerton knew how to spread, which reached the  Argentina  following in the footsteps. Books and journalistic articles widely portray the wanderings of these characters. His residence in  Patagonia  Argentina , however, continues to unveil  mysteries  .

    From right to left Sundance, Etha Place and CassidyRancho in Cholila

From bandits to ranchers

 Robert  Le Roy  Parker and Alonzo Longabaugh , aka Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid respectively, left their band, “The Wild Gang,” in the United States, when the siege of Justice stepped on their heels. The port of Buenos Aires arrived in March 1901 with false names: Cassidy chose James Ryan and Sundance called himself Harry Place. A young man, Etha Place, came with them.

Historian Marcelo Gavirati, who has investigated how much source he could to tell the  story  of these two bandits, points out that, after their arrival, they immediately stayed at Hotel Europa, which overlooked the Rio de la Plata. It is estimated that they chose Argentina as a place to hide, thanks to the publicity that was abundant in international magazines, encouraging people to populate the lands of Patagonia, which the Argentine State spread as uninhabited.

It was brothers George and Ralph Newbery, dentists and vice president of the United States in Buenos Aires, who welcomed Ryan and Place and suggested that they settle in Patagonia . The Newbery brothers, who had interests in Neuquén, north of Nahuel Huapi Lake, in the area of La Primavera estancia, longed to populate the Anglo-Saxon  immigrant  area in the future to request that they be allowed to erect a colony there.

The Newberys told the newcomers that from Bariloche to the south there were many lands available. False immigrants expressed their desire to settle in order to develop livestock ventures. Two months later, along with Etha Place, they took a train at Constitución station and arrived in  Neuquén . With the assistance of a Baquiano, they finally settled on the banks of the Rio Blanco, in Cholila , which in those days had only six families.

After opening an account in the Buenos Aires branch of the Banco de Londres and the Rio de la Plata, with the money they had brought from the United States, they acquired 50 hectares northwest of Chubut, at the foot of the  Andes mountain  range .  There they were engaged in cattle and sheep farming, and horse breeding. Investigations indicate that, in 1902, Cassidy, with his false name, filed with the Directorate of Lands and Colonies of Buenos Aires, reporting that he had colonized some 625 hectares and claiming his title of ownership.

As the bandits were advancing in their identity reinventions as Patagonian livestock entrepreneurs, the Pinkerton company had arranged to espionage all correspondence from Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid to their family and friends in the United States. So they discovered that they had fled to Argentina. Detective Frank Dimaio departed on his hunt, who arrived in March 1903 for the sole purpose of arresting them. The Patagonian climate delayed his trip. Meanwhile, from North America they looked good at the fugitives being kept at a distance.

 “ I have 500 cattle, 1500 sheep, 28 saddle horses, two pawns working for me, plus a four-room house and sheds, barn, chicken coop and some hens. The United States was too small for me over the past few years,” she knew how to tell Butch Cassidy to a friend in a letter. From that and other testimonies, it follows that the initial idea of the bandits was to establish themselves in Patagonia to live the rest of their lives in peace, away from crime and safe from the persecution of justice.

Part of the community

 Robert Le Roy Parker , was born on April 13, 1866 in Beaver, Utah, United States. Next to the age of 35, when he arrived in Argentina he had an important record as an assailant. Historian Marcelo Gavirati highlights his sharp intelligence and provocative profile, emphasizing that the name he chose to hide his true identity when embarking for Argentina was James Ryan, taking the surname of a commissioner who knew how to stop him a long time earlier. Harry Alonzo Longabaugh , had received his nickname for the Wyoming prison where he spent 18 months for horse  theft  . One year younger than his partner, Longabaugh was born in Mont Clare, Pennsylvania.

    the wild gang Sundance Kid sitting, first left and Butch sitting, first right

The robberies of La Gandilla Salvaje became famous not only for their dimensions (benches and trains), but also for the planning behind it. It is said that they used to reach places much earlier to study them well and become acquainted with people. And that, to facilitate the flight, they cut the telegraph cables and had horses located in pre-established posts. It was also stressed that they did not appeal to leave innocent dead on the path of their criminal acts.

Knowing their profiles helps to understand how they lived in Cholila until 1905 as two more immigrants, achieving a respectable concept on the part of the rest of the community. It recalls the close relationship they had, paradoxically, with a former American sheriff, from Texas, John “Commodore” Perry. He settled in Cholila in 1903 and maintained a social and commercial bond with the bandits. There are those who suspect that Perry knew the real identity of the fugitives, others dismiss that hypothesis. The truth is, when Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid decided to leave Cholila , it's Perry who sent the farewell letter to.

In another surprising anecdote, the governor of the national territory of Chubut himself, Julio Lezama, who had assumed on May 8, 1903, in one of his first government measures, made a tour of the provincial west and in that framework, arrived through the bandoleros hut, ignoring his true identities. In the talk, the fugitives, along with other inhabitants, defended the proposal of Deputy Consul George Newbery to create a North American colony in the area and clarified that they only intended land and in no way harm their Chilean, Argentine and other nationalities neighbors, as Gavirati himself rescues in the book “ Wanted in the Patagonia ”.

The bandits also maintained relations with the Hammond family, of English origin and based in  Esquel , who used to visit them. There is precisely a photograph that accounts for this, in which a dozen people appear in front of the cottage. George Hammond's grandchildren knew how to recognize themselves in the picture, years later.

They also made relations with the Welsh family Daniel Gibbon, whose children lived in Cholila, even though he had moved to Esquel. It was precisely Gibbon who took charge, when the bandits hastily decided to leave Cholila, to settle the debts that Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid, with their false identities, had left in the region.

In the collective imagination, moreover, an anecdote shows that the forged identity of Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid would not have been so unknown (or at least their criminal profiles) to some families in the region. The story, which coincides in detail, although the aforementioned protagonists differ according to who narrates it, indicates that one of the families in the area, which may have been that of the Hammonds, the Thomas or the Perry family, visited the cabin of Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid, when suddenly a dog who was circling there, appeared with a human hand in the muzzle. The hosts reportedly asked visitors to keep the episode a secret. There are those who sense that the hand might have belonged to some detective at the Pinkerton agency, whom they could have captured while following in their footsteps. The next day, the visiting family quickly lifted up their things and returning home, keeping the story in relative silence.

    Sundancekid wantedButch Cassidy Alive or Dead (1)

It is inferred that the passage of fugitives through Cholila had no criminal interest, but rather that of finding a place to settle for a new life. As a color element, complementary to the above, it is said that the pair of bandits came to incorporate native habits such as the infusion of mate. In his book “Wanted in Patagonia,” Gavirati refers that, in the daily seat of the Jones and Neil bowling, on the Neuquino side of the Limay River, it was settled that on a halt on a trip to Buenos Aires, Harry Place, Ethel Place and James Ryan, acquired “two kilograms of yerba, one of sugar and a bulb.”

On that trip, Cassidy, using his false name, “shows up at the Office of Lands and Colonies, where he claims having occupied four square leagues in the Cholila Valley, requesting priority for purchase” in his name and his partner. Attending that the Argentine government intended to turn West Chubutense into an agricultural colony, they request the formal recognition of its settlement of the place, in order to be considered with the benefits of the “Law of the Home”, whereby the Argentine State granted a quarter square league (625 hectares) to all Argentineans, or foreigners willing to naturalize within two years, on highly advantageous terms.

The Passage to Legend

The assault on the  Bank  of Tarapacá and Argentina in Rio Gallegos on February 14, 1905, by two English-speaking bandits, precipitated the Pinkerton company to attempt to arrest Button Cassidy and Sundance Kid. who were identified as main suspects.

As stated, it is estimated that the will of the fugitive bandits was to sustain this life of landowners and to stay out of the crime they had drawn up in the United States. However, Commissioner Edward Humphreys, an Argentinean Welsh friend of Butch Cassidy, from Trelew informed them that the Pinkerton detective agency was in Patagonia, looking for them. From there, the plan was upset and the bandits began to plan the new escape. Governor Lezama had already issued an arrest warrant.

They liquidated the entire estate, sold the improvements they had made and a right of possession to a Chilean company. They settled all the debts they had held for four years with their social and commercial circle. They sent farewell letters. It tells the story that his neighbors and friends were surprised when their true identities were made public. A few would have really known who they were. The aforementioned thousand page file contains the last letters in which debts are paid, pointlyly, with each creditor.

With one of their pawns, the trio fled to San Carlos de Bariloche and embarked on the steam El Condor by Lake Nahuel Huapi. They crossed the border along Paso Perez Rosales and arrived in Chile via Petrohue, from where they followed towards Lake Llanquihue and from there to Puerto Montt. A steam train deposited them in Valparaíso and from there they followed their route to Santiago de Chile. The aforementioned itinerary was promoted as a sightseeing tour.

However, already returned from the bucolic life of mountain farmers, on December 19, back in Argentina, together with a fourth person, they robbed the Bank of the Nation of Villa Mercedes, San Luis. Chased again, they crossed back into Chile to protect themselves.

The epilogue of their stories separates them and unites them again. Etha Place returned to the United States. Butch Cassidy created a new identity, Santiago Maxwell, through which he got work at the Concordia tin mine in Santa Vera Cruz, in the central Bolivian Andes. There he met again with Sundance Kid, when he returned from leaving Etha in the United States. While it seemed that the bandits were finally going to abandon the crime to return to the idea of a more normal life, on November 3, 1908, they assaulted a mail from a mine, which carried with them the money from the workers' wages.

Three nights later, on 6 November, police and army surrounded the house they were hiding in San Vicente, and after an intense shooting, they found them lifeless inside. Forensic studies would estimate that they died not hit by the bullets of their persecutors, but killed in the face of the siege.

A sister of Butch Cassidy assured some time later that he had not really died, but had returned to the United States to live in anonymity. Other anecdotes show that Sundance Kid would not die in that episode in Bolivia, and, on the contrary, would also have fled to the United States, where he would die three decades later, in 1937.

In any case, the passage of Butch Cassidy, Sundance Kid and Etha Place through Patagonia Argentina is crossed by crossed stories and inevitably generates attraction among numerous visitors and tourists. Not probably as a tourist element, but rather as a historical attraction. The sustained hypothesis that Cholila was at some point in their lives the place chosen to retire from crime and that, around it, they came to invent new identities and weave such a close relationship with the community, makes history even more spectacular and invites you to plunge fully into the legend.

Publication Date: 12/04/2020

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