#Lookback: Butch Cassidy in Fremont County

    A County 10 series in partnership with the Fremont County Museum System
    where we take a #Lookback at the stories and history of our community and
    presented by Mick Pryor, Financial Advisor with Edward Jones.

    Butch Cassidy’s Fremont County Arrest Record

    When it comes to picturing scenes from the life of famous outlaw Butch Cassidy, most people’s imaginations probably jump to the cattle rustler pulling off a daring train heist with his Wild Bunch, hiding out from the law around Hole-in-the-Wall, or maybe even his final (allegedly) desperate shootout against the Bolivian army in San Vicente. Less well known is the fact that Cassidy spent an important portion of his life in Fremont County, specifically around Dubois and Lander. It was here that he was arrested for a crime that led to him serving his only lengthy stint of jail time. Ironically, it was a crime he didn’t commit.

    With his first high-profile bank robbery in Telluride, Colorado in 1889, Robert LeRoy Parker shed his birth-name for a new one which he hoped would attract less attention: George Cassidy. After a lengthy hide-out in the great natural rock fortress of Robber’s Roost, Utah, he made his way to a ranch outside of Lander owned by an acquaintance. He later found work as a ranch hand on the Bassett Ranch near Vermillion Creek.

    After a while, Cassidy decided to purchase a piece of land with another cowboy, Al Hainer, near where Dubois is now on Horse Creek in Fremont County. His intention was to sell horses. Whether those horses were to be stolen or not is anyone’s guess.

    At the same time, he became good friends with Eugene Amoretti Jr., whose father owned a bank in Lander and whose family name adorns one of Lander’s streets to this day. Before he left for South America around 1900, Cassidy would sell this land to Amoretti, who would build a hunting lodge for tourists on it.

    Cassidy did not stay on the Horse Creek land for long. He bought a property called Blue Creek in Johnson County in 1890, likely in part because the area was a hotbed for rustlers. Cassidy saw the opportunity to become part of a large multi-state horse thieving network. It’s possible that this piece of land, not far from Hole-in-the-Wall, became a relay point for criminals as outlaws from Montana tried to get their stolen horses south and safely away from their owners in order to sell them, while thieves from Utah came north for the same purpose. If Blue Creek was a stop in this network, it didn’t stay that way for long. Always cautious, Cassidy sold Blue Creek in late 1890, fearing the law was closing in.

    Fleeing to South Pass, he met up with a couple of compatriots who had helped him pull off the Telluride job: Matt Warner and Tom McCarty. After spending most of the summer of 1891 rustling with Warner and McCarty, Cassidy and his gang were forced back into honest work as large cattle companies, frustrated with the inability of the local lawmen to put a stop to the thieving of their cattle, began to hire armed men to hunt down rustlers. Soon, Cassidy began working as a butcher around Rock Springs. Good with a cleaver, it was here that he earned the nickname “Butch,” short for butcher.

    This transition between periods of doing honest work and planning and committing crime was a recurring pattern in Cassidy’s life. In part this may have been because he at times felt an honest desire to leave the criminal life behind. However, this may have been typical to a large proportion of outlaws who worked as cowboys because of the seasonal nature of their job. Many had to find new work during the winter months, some became bartenders, others were seasonal stick-up men.

    Ironically, it was during this time while Cassidy was not committing crimes that he would do something that would lead to his only prolonged stint in prison. While traveling in upper Fremont County, he purchased horses that, unbeknownst to him, happened to be stolen. Since it was illegal to own a stolen horse, whether you stole it or not, Butch was arrested on April 11 1892 and sent to Fremont County Jail where he stayed for two months while he struggled to find the $400 he needed to make bail. The affable outlaw was well-liked by many citizens in Lander and the Wind River area, especially after he volunteered to deliver medicine to them weekly in 1889 during an influenza epidemic. Now, several of them helped him by signing a surety bond in order get him out of prison.

    Perhaps surprisingly, Butch stuck around and stood trial in June 1893 in Lander. Butch was acquitted because of the inability to confirm with certainty the identity of the horse which he was accused of stealing. Frustrated with their failure to get Cassidy, the prosecution then moved to try him with stealing another one of the horses he had bought. This time the identity of this horse could be confirmed. Even though Cassidy had been good friends with the prosecutor in this second case, Will Simpson, he was sentenced to serve two years hard labor in Laramie. This was considered a lenient sentence, since the crime of possessing a stolen horse could carry a maximum sentence of ten years. And he didn’t even serve the full sentence. He was pardoned by the governor on January 6th, 1896.

    For the rest of his life, Cassidy would not spend too much more time in Fremont County, according to surviving historical sources, at least. Risk averse as ever, perhaps he wished to avoid the area where he had been tried and arrested. However, legend has it that, after robbing a train near Wilcox in Albany County in 1899, Cassidy returned to South Pass one last time. Looking for a way to hide his loot well enough so no unsuspecting person would come across it but not so well that he wouldn’t be able to find it himself, the outlaw found an open patch of land between four distinct trees in which to bury his ill-gotten gains. However, shortly after, a forest fire destroyed the trees, thus thwarting Cassidy when he returned to gather his booty. If the legend is true, Cassidy’s treasure still lays up around South Pass, waiting for somebody to find it.

    Next up for the Fremont County Museum

    December 2022-October 2023 at the Pioneer Museum, “Wind River Memories: Artists of the Lander Valley and Beyond” art exhibition

    May 13, 9-1pm at the Pioneer Museum, “Lander Area Petroglyph Trek” Wind River Visitors Council Adventure Trek Series

    May 17, 7pm at the Riverton Museum, “Gold Fever in the Atomic Age: Wyoming’s Uranium Boom” by Zach Larsen, Wyoming Community Bank Discovery Speakers Series

    Call the Dubois Museum 1-307-455-2284, the Pioneer Museum 1-307-332-3339 or the Riverton Museum 1-307-856-2665 for detail regarding their programs.

    The Wind River Cultural Centers Foundation has been created to specifically benefit The Dubois Museum, the Pioneer Museum in Lander and the Riverton Museum.  The WRCCF will help deliver the long term financial support our museums need to flourish.  In the current economic environment, the museums are more reliant than ever on donations from the private sector to continue to provide the quality programs, collections management, exhibits and services that have become their hallmark over the last four years.  Please make your tax deductible contribution to be used specifically for the benefit of the museum of your choosing by sending a check to Wind River Cultural Centers Foundation at PO Box 1863 Lander, WY 82520 or taking it directly to the museum you choose to support.  

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