The Wild-er Bunch
We’ve all heard about Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid and Etta Place. Just the mere mention conjures up images of a smirking Paul Newman, drop-dead gorgeous Robert Redford and lovely Katherine Ross. Etta was supposedly a schoolteacher who left her job to follow the rebel-rousing duo. But if she was exclusive to Sundance, who did Butch get to play with? To get the answer, you need to first know about the gang Butch headed up. Elzy Lay was Butch’s closest friend and helped run the gang, who specialized in train robberies. At various times, other members of the Wild Bunch were Ben Kilpatrick, Will Carver, Harvey Logan, Camila (Deaf Charlie) Hanks, Flat Nose Curry, Kid Curry, Bob Meeks, Black Jake Ketchum and even a woman, Laura Bullion. They made their mark by not killing anyone in the process of their robberies. The same did not hold true for the lawmen who pursued the gang. Many were shot and killed by the outlaws.
The Wild Bunch members were a cross section of the west, all with storied pasts. Also called the Hole In The Wall gang, they roamed Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico, holding up trains, and sometimes, banks. In between heists, they would return to their hideout, the most famous of these being the Robbers’ Roost, in southeastern Utah. There they would relax with their women while planning their next adventure.
But who were these women? Only five women ever occupied Robbers Roost. Etta Place, Josie Bassett, Ann Bassett, Maude Davis and Laura Bullion. This wild bunch of women seemed to change partners as often as they changed clothes.
Etta Place was described by the Pinkerton Agency as having classic good looks. There is some indication that she had a relationship first with Butch Cassidy, but then became mostly the companion of Sundance, she accompanied him and Butch to Argentina in 1901, where they settled on a 15,000 acre ranch. 2500 acres had been deeded to Etta, making her the first woman in Argentina to own property. In 1904, she assisted in a robbery with Butch, Sundance and another gentleman and had to leave her beloved Argentinian ranch. Etta was tired of running, so Sundance accompanied her to San Francisco and the two parted ways.
Josie Bassett was raised on a horse ranch that spanned the borders of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. Even though she and her sister, Ann, received a boarding school education, they returned to the ranch as teenagers, when they first met the outlaws their father did business with.
Later, she and Ann took over the running of the ranch and continued to keep the Wild Bunch supplied with fresh horses. She was also rumored to be a cattle rustler and a bootlegger. She favored Will Carver, but was also thought to have sought entertainment with Elzy Lay and Butch Cassidy. After the Wild Bunch disbanded in the early 1900s, she returned to the ranch, where she married five times and divorced four times. She died in 1963 at age 90.
Ann Bassett, older sister of Josie, was involved with Butch Cassidy from the time she was 15 until he went to prison for 18 months. What was a woman to do? She then became involved with Ben Kilpatrick.
Upon Butch’s release from jail, he began a relationship with sister Josie until Will Carver pried her from Butch’s side again. Butch returned to Ann. In 1897, Butch Cassidy sent both Bassett women home from Robbers Roost so he could concentrate on the Wild Bunch’s next train robbery, but he continued to see Ann at every opportunity. Their relationship spanned seven years, until he moved to South America with Sundance and Etta. She married twice and divorced once. Her second husband was devoted to her, keeping her ashes with him until he passed in 1963.
Maude Davis, unlike some of the other women affiliated with the Wild Bunch, did not come to the bunch from a life of prostitution. She was a good Mormon girl. She first met Elza Lay when he worked for her brother on his farm. Elza was between heists and needed employment.
Once Elza and Maude’s involvement with each other became known to the family, they resisted giving their acceptance, but not because he was an outlaw. He wasn’t Mormon. Despite her family’s reluctance, Maude became the wife of an outlaw, meeting him whenever she could. Once their child was born, Maude pressured Elza to give up the criminal life. She quit following him and eventually divorced him. She married several times after that, outlived each of her husbands and died at age 84.
Laura Bullion, of German and Native American extraction, was for several years involved with Ben Kilpatrick, an acquaintance of her father, who also was an outlaw. She met both William Carver and Ben Kilpatrick when she was only thirteen, and became romantically involved with Carver at age 15. He had formerly been associated with Josie Bassett. After Carver became involved with a prostitute named Lillie Davis, Laura began a relationship with Ben Kilpatrick, which lasted off and on for about ten years. In 1901, she again began a liaison with Carver as well as occasional encounters with other members of the gang. Carver was killed in 1901 and Laura returned to the embrace of Ben Kilpatrick.
Laura began hanging out with the gang and was dubbed “Della Rose” by them and was often referred to as the “Rose of the Wild Bunch.” She was a willing participant in the Great Northern train robbery, for which she was caught and sentenced to five years of imprisonment. Once released, she moved to Tennessee where she passed herself off as a war widow and became a seamstress. She died in 1961, the last surviving outlaw of the Wild Bunch.
Several books have been written on these colorful ladies, if you’re interested in more information about them.
Becky Lower thought the summer of love in the 1960s was wild, but the hippies can’t hold a candle to these ladies. And considering how long they lived during these hard and turbulent times without modern medicine, Becky can’t help but think maybe living a freewheeling life is a good thing.