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Butch Cassidy: Beyond the Grave (edition 2012)

by W.C. Jameson

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2814389,858 (3.29)14
Member:BlaueBlume
Title:Butch Cassidy: Beyond the Grave
Authors:W.C. Jameson (Author)
Info:Taylor Trade Publishing (2012), Hardcover, 189 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:***
Tags:Western History, Western Outlaws

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Butch Cassidy: Beyond the Grave by W. C. Jameson

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I recently read Butch Cassidy: Beyond the Grave, by W.C. Jameson. This is probably a book I would never have read or reviewed had I not received it as part of an “Early Reviewers” program that mandates a read and a review, in good faith. Still, I did pick it out of a batch of books up for grabs and was not displeased when I turned out to be one of the lucky ones selected.
Like many people, some years ago my interest was piqued in the outlaw Butch Cassidy by the Paul Newman/Robert Redford 1969 era flick. Of course, I knew it was celluloid entertainment only loosely based on the real outlaw, but further investigation revealed that Butch – originally Robert LeRoy Parker -- was indeed quite the character in life, and rather unique for an outlaw of his day. The movie famously ends with a freeze frame of Butch and his pal Sundance in their date with destiny with a hail of bullets from the Bolivian army, but there has long been stories that the legend was just that – legend – and that Butch survived and even returned to the USA to quietly live out the remainder of a long life cloaked with still another alias.
Yet, I pretty much forgot about the Butch of film and history until a few short years ago when the monthly “Book & Beer” club I then belonged to had us reading the witty travelogue In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin. In his peripatetic sojourn to this part of the ends of the earth in the early 1970’s – an era roughly coterminous to the release of the film – Chatwin happens upon the very cabin that Butch and the Sundance Kid called home sometime before they passed out of history into legend, and devotes a chapter to Cassidy and the Wild Bunch. Naturally, my interest was piqued again. So when the Jameson book showed up on the “Early Reviewer” list, I took a chance: it might be an interesting read!
If the title of the book -- Butch Cassidy: Beyond the Grave – sounds like a hyped episode of some reality TV show, it could be because the author, W.C. Jameson, is not a historian or a biographer but a professional treasure hunter, part-time musician and poet, and a regular contributor to reality TV shows such as Unsolved Mysteries. His book jacket photo has him wearing a cowboy hat with a countenance that could have been plucked from a character in the film version of No Country for Old Men. It turns out that this is just one title from a series of Beyond the Grave books that also focus on such disparate characters as Billy the Kid, John Wilkes Booth and Amelia Earhart. As such, my expectations were primed for a rollicking adventure narrative light on fact and history.
In fact, this book is nothing of the kind. Jameson approaches his subject like an academically trained historian, with careful consideration of multiple sometimes conflicting sources for data, and reasoned interpretative skill in support or rejection of information uncovered in his research. More than two thirds of the book recounts the life of cowboy Robert LeRoy Parker as he gradually transforms himself into the outlaw Butch Cassidy, as well as a study of his friends and partners in crime. Newspaper reports and Pinkerton archives are plumbed, and these are held up against the various tales and legends that formed around Butch and the Wild Bunch. The style is every bit as scholarly as you would expect to find in a carefully researched academic historical biography about an American leading figure penned by a David McCullough, a Joseph Ellis, a Jon Meacham perhaps. However – there are no notes! No footnotes. No end notes. No notes at all. There is a “selected bibliography” at the end but without context that hardly counts. So, if an academic bio of Cassidy is what Jameson set out to produce, his lack of notes definitely disappoints.
The last third of the book is the “beyond the grave,” portion, in which Jameson considers whether or not Cassidy in fact died in Bolivia as the legend insists and the film celebrates, or whether he survived and surreptitiously slipped back into the United States and lived out the remainder of a long life shielded by another alias, as many others – including some of Cassidy’s family members – have long insisted. His segue into this portion generally follows his earlier approach, although it is soon apparent that the author’s own bias – that Cassidy indeed returned from Bolivia much alive – is underscored in his examination of competing sources and theories. Again, unfortunately – and perhaps more noticeably – there are no notes! Jameson recounts lots of Cassidy purported sightings, most of which he readily lends credence to, but the less credulous reader might question the veracity in such sightings, since Cassidy was a person of some notoriety with unanswered questions about his alleged untimely end. One only has to refer to the literally thousands of latter-day Elvis sightings in recent decades – and here we have an actual verifiable corpse that more than meets the description – to be more than skeptical about all of these random Butch Cassidy after-death appearances.
So, at the end of the day, how do I feel about this book? It is actually rather tough to pass judgment. First of all, one of the standards I hold biographers to is to do a great job of recreating the world that their subject dwelled in. Biographers such as McCullough and Flexner and Ellis and Caro and Chernow excel in this realm. Jameson is less than adequate here. If you did not know much about the life of a late nineteenth century cowboy or outlaw in the American west before, you would not learn much from this book. Second, given the “scholarly” approach, the lack of notes is utterly unforgiveable. You simply cannot write this style of a credible biography and get away without including notes. Finally, and most surprisingly, the narrative is simply not exciting or compelling. Here is a colorful figure out of history and legend and the book about him is, sadly, often simply dull. If you are someone fascinated with outlaws, the American West, and Butch Cassidy, and you wanted to read everything about this subject, don’t miss this book. If that description does not apply to you, I would recommend that you skip it. The single chapter on Butch in the Bruce Chatwin travelogue is far more interesting reading and does not demand the commitment of the Jameson book, which for all of its efforts is far less satisfactory. ( )
  Garp83 | Jul 19, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Well researched biography of Butch Cassidy. W.C. Jameson covers what is well known and excepted facts about Cassidy's life as well as theories surrounding Cassidy's death in Bolivia in 1908. A great read.
  cweller | Mar 6, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I received this book as part of the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. W. C. Jameson has written a biography of Butch Cassidy as well as an argument than it is likely Cassidy did not die in a gunfight in Bolivia in 1908 as is popularly believed.

The first half of the book is dedicated to Cassidy's rise to infamy as a horse and cattle thief and successful robber of banks and trains. Jameson goes out of his way to assure the reader that Cassidy was a kind and thoughtful bandit, more a Robin Hood than a Billy the Kid. While I found the history here interesting, I was often troubled by how often the author seemed to be reading Cassidy's mind, telling us often about how Butch felt about various events and moments of his life. It is never clear where this information comes from. Assumedly, this is from the manuscript The Bandit Invincible, discussed in a bit, but again, it isn't clear how the author 'knows' Cassidy's mind.

Some of the narrative moves decently, but too often, the text jumps around, giving us names and histories of people we only meet once in the book and who have no part to play in the greater narrative. Also, there are disjointed moments where the author describes in detail how a secondary character in the narrative meets his end before jumping back into several chapters which include that character. It leaves the flow feeling very jagged and in need of a kind hand of an editor.

The second part of the book deals with theories surrounding Cassidy's fate in Bolivia and after. What worries me most about this section, and the author's thesis that Butch lived in the US until the 1930s is that he seems to depend strongly on the aforementioned The Bandit Invincible, a manuscript written by a man named William T. Phillips.

One popular 'Cassidy survived' theory holds that Phillips was really Cassidy. The manuscript is a biography of Butch and includes a lot of details only Cassidy or someone close to him would have known. Jameson uses this script, and the controversial testimonies of friends of Cassidy to draw a strong link to Phillips. While the author assures us the weight of the evidence is not in, he clearly leads the reader toward the Phillips-is-Cassidy theory.

I feel there was a significant downplaying of the evidence against Phillips being Cassidy. Several Cassidy experts have determined it is much more likely that Phillips was William T. Wilcox, a man who ran with Cassidy and who would have known many of the inner secrets of the man. The Bandit script includes details which appear to match Wilcox, rather than Cassidy.

Not a bad read for the time, certainly information here is interesting to those of us who knew little of the Cassidy story. However, the author relies far too often on the work of other researchers to tell his story, presents a jagged narrative in need of polish, and depends a bit too much on the Phillips-is-Cassidy angle for my taste. ( )
  IslandDave | Feb 22, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
If you follow my blog, you know I read some quirky books now and then. My interests are so eclectic that you just never know what will appeal to me. This one I can't really explain very easily though. I was a huge fan of Paul Newman and Robert Redford, yet I've never seen the movie where they starred as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Still, I am interested in outlaws of the Old West and wanted to know more about their real story.

The author of this little book is one of many people who have researched Butch Cassidy's real life story and tried to figure out whether he was killed in Bolivia or made it back to the U.S. and lived to be an old man in the State of Washington under the alias William T. Phillips.

There are photographs in the book and although they didn't look at all like Newman and Redford, it was fascinating to see the real men. Their wives, legal or common law, are pictured too. There are also facts about his early life. He was born Leroy Parker, Jr. and used many aliases during his outlaw life. He loved children. People found him charming and anyone who got to know him loved him. He never robbed an employer, no matter how easy it would have been.

If you're looking for definitive answers, though, you'll be disappointed. This book presents the different theories and the "proof" behind them. I'm a born researcher so this really caught my interest. I'm almost convinced that the two men killed in Bolivia were misidentified, and that Cassidy did live in the U.S. until he died between 1937 and 1941. However, I'm not totally convinced and neither are most people who have looked into it. Guess it's one of those mysteries that will never be solved. I think Cassidy would get a kick out of that; he had a great sense of humor.

Source: Win from LibraryThing
Recommended reading ( )
  bjmitch | Jan 1, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
W. C. Jameson takes on the legends of Butch Cassidy and attempts to refute some of them, particularly the notion that Butch & Sundance were killed in San Vincente, Bolivia in 1908. The part of the book that is the known history of Butch Cassidy's life is very fascinating. But, as happens frequently when a legend is being refuted, it's hard to separate out the real truth, especially so much later. Jameson makes a compelling case for the most part, but there is an awful lot of "Butch wouldn't have done that," and frankly, I don't think we can make statements of fact based on one person's opinion of what they would or wouldn't do. I believe he is probably correct in his hypothesis; I just wish there had been more solid evidence. Still, an interesting story. ( )
  tloeffler | Dec 25, 2012 |
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W. C. Jamesonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
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The noted American outlaw who came to be known as Butch Cassidy was born Robert LeRoy Parker on April 13, 1866, in Beaver, Utah.
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This well-researched biography of the life- and controversial death- of Robert LeRoy Parker, aka Butch Cassidy, is a journey across the late nineteenth American West as we follow Cassidy's exploits in Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah, where he made his name as a surprisingly affable outlaw. More importantly, this book answers the following question: did Butch Cassidy, noted outlaw of the American West, survive his alleged death at the hands of Bolivian soldiers in 1908 and return to friends and family in the United States? The evidence suggesting he did is impressive and not easily dismissed, but how he lived and which identity he assumed are still being debated.… (more)

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