The jail wagon slowly pulled up to the prison doors before stopping, allowing each of the convicted outlaws and criminals to exit and walk in shackles to be processed inside. One of those criminals, George “Butch” Cassidy, is walking into a prison for the first time in his long career as an outlaw across the Wild West.
Residents will get to relive that fateful day during Butch Cassidy Day at the Wyoming Territorial Prison State Historic Site from 3-7 p.m. Friday, celebrating 125 years since Cassidy’s sentencing to the site in 1894. The event is full of re-enactments, history and a special prison tour.
“These convicts they just saw come in the doors will be in stripes in the cells,” said Deborah Cease, the historic site’s superintendent. “They will have actually been processed, put in the cells, so they can talk with Butch and kind of interact with those convicts as they go through.”
Cassidy, born Robert Leroy Parker, led a life of crime stealing from banks and trains all over the Rocky Mountain region with his Wild Bunch gang of criminal outlaws at the end of the 19th century. Cease said he was more than just a “smash and grab” robber like many of the outlaws at the time; he was a “criminal mastermind.”
“He was brilliant; the National Pinkerton Detective Agency could not catch this guy,” Cease said. “(Pinkerton) says because (Cassidy) used the land to disappear into, his jobs … they were planned to the T, he had escapes, he knew where he was going.”
Despite his big train and bank heists, Cassidy was eventually arrested for buying a stolen horse for $5 in Fremont County. Besides his jail time as he awaited trial in Fremont County, Cassidy’s steps into the Wyoming Territorial Prison were his first into any prison – and his last.
“When he did leave here, it was reported saying that he’d never be caught again, and he wasn’t, he really wasn’t,” Cease said. “I think that Butch came into this prison as George Cassidy, he left here as Butch Cassidy. He figured out how to manipulate and work things, and he learned from others’ mistakes that he talked to.”
She admits it is kind of “interesting to be celebrating a bad guy,” but it’s hard to deny the impact Cassidy had on American culture; his name is still referenced in countless TV shows, movies and more all over the country. Cease said the Territorial Prison even used to have a Miss Butch Cassidy pageant years ago. One thing that’s kept people’s interest for this long, she said, is not knowing the end to his story.
Attendees will get to witness re-enactments and tour the prison’s exhibits, including the Cassidy exhibit completed in 2014. Cease said the event is a chance for people to immerse themselves, “knowing that you’re standing where Cassidy stood.”
“That prison wasn’t torn down and rebuilt,” she said. “You’re walking the same halls that Cassidy walked, you’re in the broom factory where Cassidy worked — him and all the other infamous outlaws of that time.”
The event will also feature gunfighters, food trucks, a 5 p.m. screening of the 1969 Oscar-winning film “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and a chance for a sneak peek at the museum’s upcoming Winchester Rifle exhibit.
Butch Cassidy Day will even feature a special appearance and speech from Robert Fuller, star of the hit western television show “Laramie.”
Cease said the event used to be a staple in the Territorial Prisons’ lineup, but as attendance fell, they decided to retire it. This year, the Wild West History Association decided to host one day of their annual conference in Laramie at the Territorial Prison, and it matched up too perfectly to the anniversary of Cassidy’s sentencing to resist making it into a public event, Cease said.
Butch Cassidy Day is a little more low-key than many of the Territorial Prison’s other events, but she said it was more about honoring and reliving history.
“You know, it’s one thing to read history books about where history happens — it’s another thing to be where history happened,” she said. “That’s pretty special, and that’s what we try to do — we try to let you feel where history happened.”
The Territorial Prison’s daily entrance fees will be charged for the event.