03 September 2008

Women: The Wild Bunch

By Carrie Lofty

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were notorious train and bank robbers, the most successful such outlaws in the American West. Although both men served jail time for minor crimes in their youth, they were never apprehended once they founded the Wild Bunch and began their exploits.

But the Wild Bunch was also unusual in that a number of women consorted with the outlaws, participated in their hijinks, and lived in hiding at the Robber's Roost. No mere arm candy, these women aided in the crimes like no other outlaw women before them.

Ann BassettAnn Bassett: Daughter of a cattle rancher in Utah, Ann was educated with her sister, Josie, at a finishing school in Kentucky before returning home to manage the family business--business that often had dealings with outlaws, either to rustle cattle or to intimidate other ranchers. Ann became romantically involved with Elzy Lay, Butch's friend from youth, then with Butch himself and another Wild Bunch member, Ben "The Tall Texan" Kilpatrick. After a colorful life, Ann died in 1956.

Josie Bassett: To Ann's three romantic partners, Josie added Will "News" Carver to the list of Wild Bunch men she became involved with. Apparently these pairs changed with some fluidity and very little acrimony between either the outlaws or the sisters. She died in 1963 after complications of a fall from a horse. She was 90, the last member of the Wild Bunch gang to pass away.

Laura Bullion's mugshot, 1901Laura Bullion: Although her father had been an outlaw, Laura's family was considered respectable, if poor, by the time she met up with Ben Kilpatrick. She was convicted in 1901 for her part in the Great Northern train robbery and served 3 1/2 years. She waited for Ben to be released from his 15-year sentence, but once he was free, he robbed another train and was killed before he and Laura could be reunited. She went on to pose as a WWI war widow in Atlanta and was convicted of writing bad checks before becoming a seamstress. She died in 1961 at the age of 85.

Etta Place and the Sundance Kid in New York, 1901Etta Place: Probably the most mysterious of the Wild Bunch women, the details of Etta Place's life are almost completely unknown. No one knows where she was born or what her real name was, but in 1901, she traveled across country with Sundance as either his common law or actual wife (they registered at hotels as a married couple). They visited New Orleans, Sundance's family in Pennsylvania, and New York City (where this photo was taken), before settling with Butch on a ranch in Argentina.

She was the first woman in Argentina to make use of a law where women could own property, purchasing a 2,500 acre spread in her own name. She was an expert horsewoman and a crack shot, and she held the horses or managed crowds while Butch and Sundance robbed banks. The truth about Etta's ultimate fate is also lost to history, because no one can prove what happened to her after she left Butch and Sundance in Argentina in 1905. She dropped out of the public eye and was never heard from again.

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