Sitting amid prairie grasslands, 3km east of the junction of the RP-71 and the RP-15, the hamlet of CHOLILA, with its spectacular backdrop of savage peaks, seems to belong in the American West. The area’s main tourist attraction lies 12km north of the village itself along the RP-71 towards Leleque. When you reach the police commissionaire’s white house (with Argentine flag flying) at El Blanco, turn left down the track towards La Casa de Piedra teahouse. Fifty metres down this lane, there’s a basic sign for Cabañas Butch Cassidy (with a confusing arrow); jump the fence and head parallel to the RP-71. After 200m you’ll see a cluster of three buildings among trees ahead. This is the site of the cabin of Butch Cassidy, who fled incognito to this isolated area at the start of the twentieth century with his partner, the Sundance Kid, who also lived here for a short while with his beautiful gangster moll, Etta Place. The buildings were already in a lamentable state of repair when Bruce Chatwin (In Patagonia) visited in the 1970s and were about to collapse when the local authorities finally set about restoration in 2007 – overdoing the job, to some tastes; the site is nevertheless of utmost interest for Wild West fans.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Butch Cassidy, Etta Place and the Sundance Kid were fugitives together in the Argentine frontier town of Cholila between the years 1901 and 1906, as attested by both the Pinkerton Agency and provincial records of the time. Butch and Sundance had begun to grow weary of years of relentless pursuit, and had heard rumours that Argentina had become the new land of opportunity, offering the type of wide-open ranching country they loved, and where they could live free from the ceaseless hounding of Pinkerton agents.
It appears that, at first, the bandidos tried to go straight, even living under their real names – Butch as “George Parker” (an old alias derived from his name at birth, Robert Leroy Parker), and Etta and Sundance as Mr and Mrs Harry Longabaugh – and in this they succeeded, for a while at least. They were always slightly distant from the community and were evidently viewed as somewhat eccentric, yet decent, individuals. Certainly no one ever suspected they had a criminal past.
Various theories are mooted as to why the threesome sold their ranch in such a rush in 1907, but it seems as though the arrival of a Wild Bunch associate, the murderous Harvey “Kid Curry” Logan, following his escape from a Tennessee jail, had something to do with it. The robbery of a bank in Río Gallegos in early 1905 certainly had the hallmarks of a carefully planned Cassidy job, and a spate of robberies along the cordillera in the ensuing years have, with varying degrees of evidence, been attributed to the bandidos norteamericanos.
What happened to Cholila’s outlaws next is a matter of conjecture. Etta returned to the US, putatively because she needed an operation for acute appendicitis, but equally possibly because she was pregnant, as a result of a dalliance with a young Anglo–Irish rancher. The violent deaths of Butch and Sundance were reported in Uruguay, and in several sites across Argentina and Bolivia. The least likely scenario is the one depicted by Paul Newman and Robert Redford in the famous 1969 Oscar-winning film. Bruce Chatwin in his classic In Patagonia proposes that the Sundance Kid was shot by frontier police in Río Pico, south of Esquel. Countless books have been written on the trio, including In Search of Butch Cassidy, by Larry Pointer, and most recently Digging Up Butch and Sundance, by Anne Meadows.