Charles Leerhsen brings the notorious Butch Cassidy to vivid life in this surprising and entertaining biography that goes beyond the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to reveal a more fascinating and complicated man than legend provides.
For more than a century the life and death of Butch Cassidy have been the subject of legend, spawning a small industry of mythmakers and a major Hollywood film. But who was Butch Cassidy, really? Charles Leerhsen, bestselling author of Ty Cobb, sorts out facts from folklore and paints a brilliant portrait of the celebrated outlaw of the American West.
Born into a Mormon family in Utah, Robert Leroy Parker grew up dirt poor and soon discovered that stealing horses and cattle was a fact of life in a world where small ranchers were being squeezed by banks, railroads, and cattle barons. Sometimes you got caught, sometimes you got lucky. A charismatic and more than capable cowboy—even ranch owners who knew he was a rustler said they would hire him again—he adopted the alias “Butch Cassidy,” and moved on to a new moneymaking endeavor: bank robbery. By all accounts, Butch was a smart and considerate thief, refusing to take anything from customers and insisting that no one be injured during his heists. His “Wild Bunch” gang specialized in clever getaways, stationing horses at various points along their escape route so they could outrun any posse. Eventually Butch and his gang graduated to train robberies, which were more lucrative. But the railroad owners hired the Pinkerton Agency, whose detectives pursued Butch and his gang relentlessly, until he and his then partner Harry Longabaugh (The Sundance Kid) fled to South America, where they replicated the cycle of ranching, rustling, and robbery until they met their end in Bolivia.
In Butch Cassidy, Charles Leerhsen shares his fascination with how criminals such as Butch deftly maneuvered between honest work and thievery, battling the corporate interests that were exploiting the settlers, and showing us in vibrant prose the Old West as it really was, in all its promise and heartbreak.
Charles Leerhsen is a former executive editor at Sports Illustrated. He has written for Rolling Stone, Esquire, and The New York Times. His books include Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty; Crazy Good: The True Story of Dan Patch, the Most Famous Horse in America; and Blood and Smoke: A True Tale of Mystery, Mayhem, and the Birth of the Indy 500. He is a winner of the SABR Baseball Research Award. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, the writer Sarah Saffian. Visit him at Leerhsen.com.
“Combining first-rate research with a lively narrative, Charles Leerhsen has given readers an impressive, compelling portrait of the charming, debonair, ranch hand-turned-outlaw, Butch Cassidy. I felt throughout both wonderfully educated and entertained.”
– Ron Hansen, author of The Kid and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
“Even if you loved the classic movie about Butch and Sundance, Charles Leerhsen’s Butch Cassidy: The True Story of An American Outlaw will convince you that real history can be more interesting than mythology, and more entertaining, too.”
– Jeff Guinn, author of the New York Times bestseller The Last Gunfight: The Real Story of the Shootout at the O.K. Corral—and How It Changed the American West
“Leerhsen refuses to buy into the Hollywood hype and instead offers the true tale of Butch Cassidy, which turns out to be more fascinating and fun than the myths. This book reveals that Butch lived a full American West life before and during his time with the Sundance Kid.”
– Tom Clavin, bestselling author of Tombstone
"Perhaps the most successful of the frontier outlaws, Cassidy receives an entertaining and likely definitive account."
– Kirkus Reviews
"A lyrical and deeply researched portrait of Wild West outlaw Butch Cassidy. . . . [Leerhsen] enriches the story with a nuanced reading of social and economic conditions in 19th-century America. The Cassidy that emerges in this version of events is more of a populist outlaw than a swashbuckling gunslinger. . . . Old West history buffs will be thrilled."