In the last half of the 19th century, as the Indian wars drew to a close, cowboys and outlaws began to move in. This was the time when the epic cattle drives up from Texas to Montana took place and ranchers were discovering that cattle could be raised profitably in this part of the world. The picturesque era full of adventure which so captured the world’s popular imagination was immortalized by movies like Lonesome Dove and Red River and countless books from Owen Wister to Larry McMurtry. The great cattle barons who could finance cattle drives from Texas and buy up huge herds in the 1880s and 90s often made a fortune. The completion of the railways made it possible to market cows and beef economically. The cattle barons had considerable control over state laws and many of them were utterly ruthless in their attempts to suppress sheep men and small ranchers attempting to set up homesteads and fence off small tracts of land. It led to bloody encounters like the Johnson County War and the times were chaotic. Many who would have been pillars of the community under other circumstances were pushed into defiance of unjust laws.
Probably the most colorful and appealing character to appear among the outlaws was Butch Cassidy who had many of the traits of a Robin Hood and seems to have owed much of his success to the fact that he had many loyal friends. He acted frequently in a generous and altruistic way and got along well with nearly everyone. Apparently there were two main reasons why Cassidy was able to elude his pursuers so successfully. One was because of his many friends. The other was because he had excellent horses and made careful plans to have relays of them waiting in strategic places so that his fresh mounts could leave posses on tired horses far behind.The book “In Search of Butch Cassidy” paints an attractive picture of him and makes a convincing case for a belief in his return to the US under another name after his supposed demise in Bolivia. However that may be, the Dubois area was certainly one of his preferred haunts although he covered a wide area from Montana to Arizona and moved constantly to avoid capture. In the early 1890s Butch spent a winter at the old EA Ranch very near Dubois. It took another 30 years before the first dude ranch was established in this remote part of the Rockies.
The Bitterroot Ranch feels a certain bond with Butch Cassidy because he had two hideouts near Bitterroot Ranch land. One of them is a few miles from the Bitterroot Ranch so that we can visit it easily on a half-day’s horseback ride. The old cabin is so well hidden in an obscure canyon that it took me 30 years to find it even though we knew from local lore that it was there somewhere near. Butch Cassidy’s hideout is an absolutely ideal location for someone who does not want to be found. There is a stream a few feet away for water and a sheltered pasture nearby for horses. Butch Cassidy’s hideout has a back exit up the only trail on the escarpment behind and a terrific view from a nearby vantage point of the country for miles on the other side. Our lower ranch is 90 miles away on Muddy Creek where there used to be a way station run by the Burnaugh family on the trail from Lander to Thermopolis where Cassidy used to stop. The Wild Bunch used to hide out in a cave near there on Muddy Creek. One of their numbers is supposed to have died from a wound suffered in an escape from a robbery scene and to have been buried in the Burnaugh grave yard on the edge of our property.
Butch Cassidy History and Information Links