Butch Cassidy, Sundance Kid Found a Haven in Argentina

In 1901, Americans Robert Leroy Parker and Harry Longabaugh, better known as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and Sundance's girlfriend, Etta Place, settled in Argentina's Cholila Valley after fleeing Pinkerton agents. Butch called himself James Ryan; Sundance and Etta were Mr. and Mrs. Harry Place.

The American outlaws bought a 12,000-acre ranch with loot stolen from the robbery of the First National Bank at Winnemucca, Nev., in 1900. Cassidy then built a log cabin at the foot of the Andes and acquired 300 cattle, 1,500 sheep, and 28 horses.

All three are fondly remembered here as law-abiding citizens. Cassidy in particular is recalled as a jovial person who read English medieval history and stories of the Scottish clans. In a letter to a friend, he described Cholila as an ideal home.

"I visited the best cities and best parts of South A[merica] till I got here. And this part of the country looked so good that I located, and I think for good."

Four years later, however, the three returned to banditry. In 1905, they held up a bank in neighboring Santa Cruz province and yet another in 1907. That year they sold their ranch to a beef syndicate before going off to Bolivia, where Butch and Sundance were gunned down by soldiers after robbing a mine payroll. It is believed that Etta Place returned to the United States.

In his book "In Patagonia," author Bruce Chatwin wrote that the most usual explanation for their departure was that "Etta was bored" and that she wanted to return to the United States for medical reasons, which may have been an excuse to have a baby who had been fathered by an English rancher, not Sundance.

Raul Victor Cea, Cholila's resident historian, has another version on their reason for leaving. Mr. Cea, whose father was the bandits' neighbor, says the beef syndicate forced the outlaws to sell by alerting Pinkerton to their presence in Patagonia.

"If Butch and Sundance hadn't been forced out, they would have died peacefully in Argentina and not violently in Bolivia. They could have been the most important cattlemen in Patagonia," Cea says.

Today, tourist guides show visitors the lake where Etta bathed and Cassidy's 96-year-old wooden shack - the only American log cabin in the region. There are no signs to indicate the way to the house, which is literally falling apart.

Aladin Sepulveda is the log cabin's sole resident. He was raised in the shack along with 15 siblings. Mr. Sepulveda, a farmer who survives partly from tourist donations, says that there have been plans in the past to turn his house into a museum.

"One time they promised me a house in town, but that ended in nothing," he says. "But so many people come here that I think sooner or later I will have to put up a sign."

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