A new find details the deadly chapter in Butch and Sundance’s escape to South America
tTwo outlaws spent their nights partying in a mining town in the far west where they holed up, running from the law. One night, a runaway gets into a fight in an after-hours restaurant. The lawmen arrived and ordered everyone out into the street, but the drunken bandit drew his gun. Fire a shot. An officer died.
The 1905 scene did not take place in the United States, but in the Chilean port of Antofagasta—a boomtown that was at the time as wild as any scene in the American Old West—and is detailed in a judicial report recently rediscovered in the country’s National Archives.
Protagonists were notorious outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and the eared dossier revealed a previously unreported incident on their trip to South America, later immortalized in the 1969 film of the same name.
“It’s an unknown chapter in their lives,” said Ann Meadows, who discovered the file with her husband, Dan Buck. The pair spent decades tracing their escapes to South America, a search that continued even after the publication of their book Digging Up Butch and Sundance in 1994. The couple returned to South America 15 times, visiting every hiding place outlaws in Argentina, Chile and Bolivia looking for clues.
But the newly discovered document — which Meadows and Buck found in June — not only proves that Sundance, whose real name was Harry Alonzo Longapo, killed a police officer in Chile, but also that an American diplomat helped him escape.
“It happened in this period between Argentina and Bolivia when nobody really knew what they were going to do,” said Meadows, speaking by phone from their home in Washington. “Sundance was at the Antofagasta bordellos that evening, and many other evenings, with Butch Cassidy,” Buck added.
Wild West outlaws had escaped to Argentina in 1901 after a series of brazen train robberies in the US put the notorious Pinkerton Detective Agency on their tail. With Sundance sweetheart Etta Place, they board the British ship Herminius to Buenos Aires.
They settle in a small cabin in Cholela, a small town in southern Argentina, enjoying an idyllic life until mid-1905, when Pinkerton alerts the Argentine police and they begin hunting them down. Sundance accompanied his wife on a ship back to the United States, then returned alone to join Cassidy, who had gone into hiding in Chile. In Argentina, he called himself Harry Bliss, but once he crossed the border, he reverted to the alias he once used in the States: Frank Boyd.
Sundance’s reckless action on Antofagasta set off the chain of events that, three years later, would lead to their deaths in a shootout with a Bolivian army unit, imagined in the film’s famous final scene where Paul Newman and Robert Redford are immobilized as they toss, guns blazing, in a volley of lead.
The Chilean document relates the events of August 21, 1905 in microscopic detail. “Based on your account, either Sundance shot his gun or it went off by accident,” Buck said. “It wasn’t until later in the morning that Butch Cassidy found out,” Meadows added.
Cassidy enlisted the help of Frank Alier, the US vice consul in Antofagasta, who signed a bond, equivalent to $50,000 today, for Frank Boyd’s release. “Allaire provided a home for house arrest at the Sundance House,” Meadows said.
The killing was reported in the pages of the industrial daily Antofagasta. The newspaper reported that “a decently dressed gentleman, of Yankee nationality, professing in manners and in everything to be a gentleman” shot the officer at point blank range, “killing him on the spot.”
Sundance was caught at his hotel trying to hire a rickshaw to leave town. He had approximately $70,000 in cash, a firearm and ammunition, as described in an article published by Meadows and Buck in this month’s magazine for the Wild West History Society.
Twenty-four-year-old Officer Arturo Gonzalez was buried the next day with full honors, including a procession, marching band, and a corsage covered in flowers followed by his young widow and two-year-old son.
Witnesses said Boyd’s shot was “steady and measured…he must have been well versed in the handling of a revolver”. Boyd claimed that “the shot was fired by accident, which happens many times and very easily with a Smith & Wesson revolver without an open trigger, which is what I carried.”
Butch testified for Sundance under the pseudonym Thomas Fisher. “I am Frank Boyd’s partner,” he said, “and we have come from the United States to study the cattle trade.”
Sundance was eventually released into the care of a US vice-consul. Predictably, Sundance fled, leaving Allier responsible for paying a $50,000 bond. It is not clear if he did. “We believe Cassidy may have paid Alier the money,” Meadows said.
The pair returned to Argentina, got into trouble again for robbing a bank there, and then fled north to Bolivia, where they had their last stand in November 1908.
Meadows and Buck gave up on finding the missing pieces of the puzzle. Unbeknownst to them, however, copies of Chile’s old El Industrial newspaper have been digitized.
An internet search Buck conducted turned up a trove of articles about the Frank Boyd case, which led the couple to uncover the court dossier. “It arrived out of nowhere, by accident,” Buck said.
The movie that made a legend…and became a legend
In 1969, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid made Hollywood history — and rewrote American history. This gripping Western has taken the already stellar careers of Paul Newman and Robert Redford to new heights. Their impossibly handsome and suave intelligence made them almost divine.
The film also took little-known 19th-century bank robbers Robert Leroy Parker (aka Butch Cassidy) and Harry Longbow (aka the Sundance Kid) from the murderous Wild Bunch and reshaped their lives, reinventing them as brilliant outlaws who are against culture, not It’s also different from Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda in Easy Rider. And the imagining of these men escaping to South America in the company of Sundance’s girlfriend, played by Katharine Ross, made them gaudy bohemians and French-style thralls, like Jules Et Jim or Godard’s Bande à Part – despite Ross’s sexual treatment. Tractors little character now.
The goofy Newman rides around on a bike to Burt Bacharach’s Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head, which is phenomenal, although with anyone less attractive it would be a sheer sham. And Redford’s terse delivery was amusing: “Do you think you used enough dynamite in there, Butch?” Sundance says when the whole train car explodes.
Essentially, Butch and Sundance invented the “buddy comedy” of Hollywood cinema that turned out to be a modern-day extravaganza. And the Sundance Kid, that stalwart American icon who, in fact, lent his fading American authenticity and toughness to the films still coming out of Redford’s Sundance Film Festival.
The movie made a legend, which is a legend in itself. Peter Bradshaw
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