The Outlaw Butch Cassidy
around 1978, while working as a bureau reporter in Sanilac County, a man named Harry Longabaugh entered my office with a request
for help with a book he was working on. He heard I was a local historian and asked me to help research the origins of a young
man named Robert LeRoy Parker, an orphan who he believed was raised by a family named Phillips living in our area in about
said he had reason to believe that Parker, who later became the noted western outlaw Butch Cassidy, was possibly born and
raised in Sanilac County. Longabaugh was in Sandusky, the county seat, to see if the story might have been true.
to say Longabaugh stirred quite a little excitement in the area that year. I naturally jumped into the project. We went to
the courthouse and searched through old records. Unfortunately, the original courthouse that existed in the 1870s and all
of the county birth records were destroyed in the Great Fire of 1881. We did, however, confirm that a Phillips family existed
in the area at the time.
told the story, Parker was an orphan raised by the Phillips family. When he was a young teenager, however, Parker got involved
in some kind of a fight and struck another man in the head with a hammer. Thinking he had committed a murder, Parker fled
the area and went west where he learned to work on a cattle ranch and eventually joined up with an outlaw gang.
said he also had evidence that Cassidy and the Sundance Kid did not die in a shootout in Bolivia, as depicted in the Hollywood
film. He said he thought Cassidy returned to the United States, married, and lived out his life as William T. Phillips in
Spokane, Washington, until his death in 1937. He planned to write a book about his discoveries.
was interesting about the story was that Longabaugh produced photographs of Phillips that, when compared to pictures of Butch
Cassidy, showed a striking resemblance.
with all of this information, and copies of the photographs, I wrote a story for my newspaper that caused a sensation. While
I thought people in and around the Sandusky area would be pleased to think the community might have been connected to such
a well known outlaw, we discovered that descendents of the Phillips family, still living in the area, were not amused. The
editors received a telephone call from an irate family member who wanted the story retracted. They did not like being associated
with Butch Cassidy.
not retract the story since it was based upon information furnished by a western historical research project. We did, however,
publish a follow-up story in which the Phillips family denied any connection to Butch Cassidy.
be interesting to note that someone else beat Longabaugh in producing a book that claimed Butch Cassidy’s ties to William
Phillips of Spokane. Larry Pointer published “In Search of Butch Cassidy” in 1977, within months after Longbaugh
made his visit to our area.
the web for more information about this subject, we came across a letter written in 1938 by the widow of William Phillips
who, even then, was denying rumors that Phillips was Cassidy.
is interesting about her letter was that she said Phillips “was born and raised in an eastern state until he reached
the age of 14 years, at which time he ran away and headed for the Black Hills.” She does not mention which “eastern
state” he came from, or why he ran away from home.
Phillips admitted in the letter that while working on a western ranch, Phillips met Cassidy and over the years, knew him well.
secret die with Phillips?