About Etta Place (wife of the "Sundance Kid")
Etta Place (born c. 1878, date of death unknown) was a companion of the American outlaws Butch Cassidy (real name Robert LeRoy Parker) and the Sundance Kid (Harry Alonzo Longabaugh), both members of the outlaw gang known as the Wild Bunch. Principally the companion of Longabaugh, little is known about her; both her origins and her fate remain mysterious. Despite Longabaugh and Parker's fame, by the mid-20th century it was the mysterious vanishing of Place that sparked the most interest, which continues to the present day.
Life with the Sundance Kid According to a Pinkerton Detective Agency memorandum dated July 29, 1902, she was "said.....to be from Texas," and in another Pinkerton document dated 1906, she is described as being "27 to 28 years old", placing her birth around 1878. This is confirmed by a hospital staff record from Denver, where she received treatment in May 1902, which reports her age as "23 or 24," (therefore again, c.1878), although both records may transpire to be from the same original source, the hospital staff.
Even her real name is a mystery; Place was the maiden surname of Longabaugh's mother (Annie Place) and she is recorded in various sources as Mrs. Harry Longabaugh or Mrs. Harry A. Place. The one instance where she is known to have signed her name, she recorded it as "Mrs. Ethel Place." It is possible that she met Parker and/or Longabaugh in Fort Worth or in the brothel of Madame Fannie Porter in San Antonio, which was frequented by members of the Wild Bunch gang and which resulted in several gang members meeting girlfriends that later traveled with them, to include Kid Curry's meeting of prostitute Della Moore. Gang member Will Carver also began a relationship with one of Porter's "girls," Lillie Davis, and Wild Bunch female gang member Laura Bullion is believed to have worked at the brothel from time to time.
In February 1901, she accompanied Longabaugh, whom she may or may not have married, to New York City, where at Tiffany's jewelers they purchased a lapel watch and stickpin and where at a studio in Union Square on Broadway she posed with him for the now famous DeYoung portrait, one of only two known images of her . She then, on February 20, sailed with him and Parker (who was now posing as one James Ryan, her fictional brother), aboard the British ship Herminius for Buenos Aires in Argentina.
There she settled with the two outlaws on a ranch which they purchased near Cholila in Chubut Province of West Central Argentina. It comprised a 4-room log cabin on the east bank of the Blanco River. Under a new law of 1884, they were granted 15,000 acres (61 km²) of adjacent land to develop, 2,500 of which belonged to Place herself, who has the distinction of being the first woman in Argentina to acquire land under the new act, as land ownership had hitherto been almost the exclusive preserve of men.
However, on March 3, 1902, she and Longabaugh sailed on the SS Soldier Prince from Buenos Aires to New York City, probably to visit family and friends in the USA. On April 2, they registered at a Mrs. Thompson's rooming house in New York City. They toured Coney Island and visited his family (originally from Mont Clare, Pennsylvania but by then living in Atlantic City, New Jersey). It is also possible that they traveled to a Dr. Pierce's Invalid Hotel in Buffalo, New York State, for (unspecified) treatment. They then traveled west where again they sought medical treatment, this time in Denver, Colorado. They returned to Buenos Aires from New York on July 10, 1902, aboard the steamer Honorius, posing as stewards. On August 9, she was with Longabaugh at the Hotel Europa in Buenos Aires, and on the 15th she sailed with him aboard the steamer SS Chubut to return to their ranch.
In the summer of 1904, she made another visit with Longabaugh to the USA, where the Pinkerton Detective Agency traced them to Fort Worth in Texas and to the St. Louis World Fair, but failed to arrest them before they again returned to Argentina. In early 1905, the trio sold the Cholila ranch as once again the law was beginning to catch up with them. The Pinkerton Agency had known their precise address for some months, but the rainy season prevented their assigned agent, Frank Dimaio, from traveling there and making an arrest. Governor Julio Lezana issued an arrest warrant, but before it could be executed, Sheriff Edward Humphreys, a Welsh Argentine who was friendly with Parker and enamored of Place, tipped them off. The trio fled north to San Carlos de Bariloche where they embarked on the steamer Condor across Lake Nahuel Huapi and into Chile.
By the end of that year however they were again back in Argentina; on December 19, Place took part, along with Longabaugh, Parker and an unknown male, in the robbery of the Banco de la Nacion in Villa Mercedes, 400 miles west of Buenos Aires. Pursued by armed lawmen, they crossed the Pampas and the Andes and again into the safety of Chile.
Place had long been tired of life on the run and deeply lamented the loss of their ranch. At her request therefore on May 1, 1905, Longabaugh accompanied her from Valparaiso, Chile, to San Francisco, California, USA, where she apparently remained while he once again returned to South America. There is no evidence that Longabaugh and Place saw one another at all between 1905 and his alleged death in 1908.
The mysteries of Etta Place
There has been some speculation that she was once married to a school teacher, and at least one claim that she abandoned her husband and two children to be with Longabaugh. However, Place was little more than 20 years of age when she first met Longabaugh, and there is no evidence whatsoever to support those claims. Claims that she herself was a teacher at one time have no support, either. The claim that she met the gang while working as a prostitute is the most likely scenario. There have also been claims that Place was first the lover of Parker, becoming involved with Longabaugh later, and that she met them both while working in a brothel as a prostitute. Both of those claims are possible, as members of the Wild Bunch gang often alternated girlfriends. However, the most intriguing mystery is not her past but rather where Etta Place went after Longabaugh and Parker were killed.
There is still considerable debate over when her relationship with Longabaugh ended. Some claims indicate that Place ended her relationship with Longabaugh and returned to the United States prior to his death. Other claims indicate that the two were still involved in a relationship, and that she simply returned due to her tiring of life in South America.
As for her life after Longabaugh's death, some indications are that she returned to New York City, while others indicate she moved back to Texas and started a new life there. A Pinkerton report indicates that a woman matching Place's description was killed in a shootout resulting from a domestic dispute with a man named Mateo Gebhart in Chubut, Argentina, in March 1922. Another report indicates she committed suicide in 1924 in Argentina, while yet another report indicates that she died of natural causes in 1966.
In 1907, she was still known to have been living in San Francisco, and may have been the person who, on July 31, 1909, asked Frank Aller, the US vice-consul in Antofagasta, Chile, to contact the American Legation in La Paz, Bolivia, to enquire into the matter of a death certificate for Longabaugh. This was done in order to settle his estate following the November 9, 1908, shootout at San Vicente, Bolivia where he and Parker were probably killed. The woman making the request was described as being very pretty. After that, nothing more was ever heard of her.
Many theories have been advanced over the years as to her true identity. It has been conjectured, often without any real evidence, that she was variously a cousin of Longabaugh's (hence the surname Place), or that she was a cattle rustler named Ann Bassett (d.1956) who knew and operated with the Wild Bunch at the turn of the 20th century.
However, the dates do not match up when alleging she was Ann Bassett, plus, Bassett was a former girlfriend of Parker's, and there are several documents to prove that Bassett was in fact in Wyoming during much of the time when Place was in South America. In fact, Bassett was arrested for rustling cattle, and also entered her first marriage, while Place was in South America with Longabaugh and Parker. Both Bassett and Place were attractive women, with similar facial features, body frame, and hair color, and both were born in 1878. However, that is where the similarities end. The most conclusive evidence is that from 1902 to the summer of 1904 Etta Place was most definitely in South America, whereas in 1903, Ann Bassett was arrested and for a time incarcerated in Utah.
While the life of Place is somewhat mysterious - the only known facts being those that occurred while she was with Longabaugh - Bassett's life is well documented. When comparing the only quality photograph of Place with the best photograph of Bassett, the two women do look similar, but no identification can be made beyond any doubt, and it is doubtful that the two are the same person. Both Ann and her sister Josie Bassett no doubt knew Place, as the three women were often alleged to have been at the Robbers Roost hideout at the same times.
Eyewitnesses indicated years afterward that Place was one of only five women known to have ever been allowed into the Wild Bunch hideout at Robbers Roost in southern Utah, the other four having been Will Carver's girlfriend Josie Bassett who also was involved with Parker for a time, Josie's sister and Parker's longtime girlfriend Ann Bassett, Elzy Lay's girlfriend Maude Davis, and gang member Laura Bullion. Those who had met Place claimed that the first thing noticed about her was that she was strikingly pretty, with a very nice smile, and that she was cordial and refined, but an excellent shot with a rifle. She was said to have spoken in an educated manner, and she indicated that she was originally from the East Coast, although she never revealed an exact location.
There have been various claims, in addition to those already mentioned, about her life after Longabaugh died . One claim is that she returned to her life as a school teacher, living the remainder of her life in Denver, Colorado, while another story claims she lived the remainder of her life teaching in Marion, Oregon. Neither claim has any evidence to support them whatsoever. There are also various claims that she returned to prostitution, living out the remainder of her life in Texas, or New York, or California. Again, those claims have no supporting evidence, and are merely rumor.
Author Richard Llewellyn claimed that while in Argentina he found links that indicated Place had moved to Paraguay following the death of Longabaugh, and that she had married into wealth. There also were rumors that Etta Place was in fact Edith Mae, wife of famous boxing promoter Tex Rickard, who retired to a ranch in Paraguay shortly after promoting the famous fight between Jack Johnson and Jim Jeffries in 1910.
Author and researcher Larry Pointer, who up until the late 1970s spent more time researching and chasing leads to Etta Place than any other researcher, wrote that it, "...is one of the most intriguing riddles in western history. Leads develop only to dissolve into ambiguity". He recorded each lead in his 1977 book, The Identity of Harry Longabaugh's Mysterious Lover.
Longabaugh's alleged son
Robert Harvey Longabaugh (February 21, 1901-December 18, 1972), who claimed years later to be the son of Longabaugh, claimed that Etta Place was actually Hazel Tyrone, a half-sister to his mother, Annie Marie Thayne. Robert Longabaugh claimed throughout his lifetime that his mother, Thayne, had been involved in a relationship with Harry Longabaugh, and further claims that the rumors that Etta Place was once a school teacher are confused with his mother, who was a school teacher when she became romantically involved with Longabaugh/aka the Sundance Kid. Robert Longabaugh is the reason that the town of Marion, Oregon, comes into question, due to his claim that it was in Marion that his mother taught school. In his claims, he stated that Etta Place became involved with Longabaugh after his mother told him she was pregnant.
However, the claims made by Longabaugh become very clouded and confusing, with dates that don't match up, as he often cited facts that were inconsistent with earlier claims made by him, and he often changed his story. He spent part of his life in jail in Fresno, California, where he first came to public notice due to his claims. He even claimed that he was a pallbearer at Butch Cassidy/aka Parker's funeral years after Parker was alleged to have been killed in Bolivia, and that Cassidy was buried in Spokane, Washington.
Researchers have been unable to verify any of his claims. In researching his claims about his mother, there is some evidence that she did once teach school, but also some indications that she was a prostitute. There has been no evidence to support her having a half-sister named Hazel Tyrone/aka Etta Place. Researcher Donna Ernst pointed out that Robert Longabaugh possibly was related to Harry Longabaugh, but it was unlikely he was Harry's son, and even less likely that he knew anything whatsoever about Etta Place.
Research has also detected that Robert Longabaugh possibly was told by his mother that Etta Place was in reality her half-sister, and that her real name had been Hazel Tyrone. The remainder of Robert Longabaugh's stories are believed to have been completely fabricated by him. There also is no evidence to support that Harry Longabaugh was ever in the Oregon area during the timeframe when Robert Longabaugh alleged his mother began an affair with him. There is no mention of Annie Thayne in any reports about the gang from the day, and Pinkerton detectives, who have historically been the best source for the movements of gang members, have nothing indicating a relationship with any woman other than Etta Place after 1899.
Robert Longabaugh died in a fire in Missoula, Montana on December 18, 1972. His death certificate lists his father as being Harry Longabaugh, and his mother as being Annie Marie Thayne. There is no record of his birth certificate. There were no other available documents to show any other connection to Longabaugh or Place, other than his own claims.
Was Eunice Gray actually Etta Place?
Etta Place may well have been a woman named Eunice Gray, who for many years operated a bordello in Fort Worth, Texas, and afterwards ran the Waco Hotel there until her death in a fire in January 1962. There are at least shreds of evidence to support that claim.
Gray once told Delbert Willis of the Fort Worth Press, "I've lived in Fort Worth since 1901. That is except for the time I had to high-tail it out of town. Went to South America for a few years . . . until things settled down." It is this story that has the most support from researchers. However, Willis concedes that Gray never admitted or even claimed to be Etta Place; he merely made that connection on his own, given the similarities of their age, and the period in which Gray said she went to South America coinciding with Place's time in South America. Gray was described as being a beautiful woman, but there are no known photographs of her from that period, and only one quality photograph from the period of Place. Willis believed that Place and Gray held a striking resemblance to one another, but there is no way of verifying his assumption.
Gray was described as being a beautiful woman, as Place was, relatively wealthy, and said to have been articulate in her speech, intelligent, well-mannered, well-dressed on all occasions, and seemingly educated. All of those traits have been used to describe Place, but also could be used to describe any number of other women from the period, so in themselves they only show similarities rather than actual proof.
Author Richard F. Selcer spent over ten years researching Hells Half Acre, the area in Fort Worth where Eunice Gray's brothel was located, but he was unable to prove beyond any doubt that Gray and Place were in fact the same person.
The last living person who actually knew Etta Place was Josie Bassett, sister to Ann Bassett, and former lover to several of the Wild Bunch gang members. Josie Bassett died in 1964, and there is no indication that she was ever asked to confirm whether Eunice Gray was or was not Etta Place. In reality, there are really no facts whatsoever to show beyond a doubt what happened to Place following Longabaugh's death. What is known, with little doubt, is that she simply changed her name and began a new life, essentially disappearing from history.
Pinkerton description of Place
The Pinkerton Detective Agency gave out two official descriptions of Etta Place, both differing only in the age given, due to their being released over a four year gap. The second, put out in 1906, described her as having, "...classic good looks, 27 or 28 years old, 5'4" to 5'5" in height, weighing between 110 lb and 115 lb, with a medium build and brown hair."
In 2009, a new novel about Etta Place was released. Gerald Kolpan's ETTA (www.ettathenovel.com) purports to tell the "true" story of Etta and Sundance and includes many historical figures such as Buffalo Bill, Annie Oakley and Eleanor Roosevelt.
Fact timelines generally accepted by historians
1899-1900: Place was working as a prostitute in Texas, possibly in Fort Worth, but most likely in Fannie Porter's brothel in San Antonio, during which time she met and became involved with Longabaugh.
December 1900: Place and Longabaugh marry, with him using the alias of Harry A. Place, shortly after he is photographed in the famous Fort Worth Five photo.
January 1901: Longabaugh and Place visit his family in Mont Clare, Pennsylvania.
February 1901: Longabaugh and Place visit New York City, and Tiffany's Jewelers.
February 20, 1901: Longabaugh and Place board the RMS Herminius bound for Buenos Aires, Argentina.
March 3, 1902: Longabaugh and Place sail on the ship S.S. Soldier Prince from Argentina to New York City. Pinkerton detectives find evidence that Place is homesick and wanting to visit her family, but were unable to identify who her family was.
April 2, 1902: Longabaugh and Place register at Mrs. Thompson's Boarding House in New York City, and visit members of his family in Atlantic City, New Jersey, then visit Coney Island.
July 10, 1902: Place and Longabaugh pose as stewards, and sail on the steamer Honorius back to Argentina.
August 9, 1902: Place registers them at the Hotel Europa in Buenos Aires.
Early to late 1903: Female outlaw Ann Bassett marries a rancher by the name of Henry Bernard, and shortly thereafter is arrested for rustling, having no known contact with her former lover Parker.
Summer, 1904: Place and Longabaugh sail again to New York City, to visit her family. Once again Pinkerton detectives discover she is homesick, but again cannot discover the identity of her family.
May 1, 1905: Place, Longabaugh, and Parker decide to sell their Cholila Ranch and leave South America to avoid the law there. Longabaugh and Place sail to San Francisco, where she remains, while he returns to South America.
1907: Place is living in San Francisco, without Longabaugh, and there is no evidence that they have seen one another since his departure two years prior.
July 31, 1909: Place attempts to obtain a death certificate following his alleged death in Bolivia so that she can settle his estate. There is no further activity from her, and she disappears from all historical records. With Longabaugh now dead, and Place having no real ties to any overt criminal acts, Pinkerton interests' in her location die down, and her trail goes cold.
Late 1909: A beautiful woman named Eunice Gray arrives in Fort Worth, Texas, and begins running a brothel. She is semi-wealthy, and many speculate that she was Etta Place. She never makes any indications that she is, nor does she attempt to fuel this rumor, but rather avoids the topic altogether.
1961: Female Wild Bunch Gang member Laura Bullion dies in Tennessee, the last member of the gang, and, aside from the Bassett girls, one of the only people who could have either confirmed or denied as to whether Etta Place and Eunice Gray were one and the same.
January 1962: A fire destroys the Waco Hotel operated and owned by Eunice Gray, located at 110 E. 15th Street in Fort Worth, and Eunice Gray dies in the fire. Documents salvaged from the fire indicate she was 77 years of age. Place was believed to have been born around 1878, which should have made her 84 years of age by 1962.
1963: The last person known to have actually met and spent time with Place, female outlaw Josie Bassett, dies. With her death, there remained no known person who could verify as to whether Place and Gray were or were not the same person.
In the film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid Etta Place is depicted as a schoolteacher - the role of Place is portrayed by Katherine Ross, playing alongside Paul Newman and Robert Redford in the titular roles.
A TV movie called The Legend of Butch & Sundance was released in 2006. David Clayton Rogers plays as Butch, Ryan Browning plays as Sundance, and Rachelle Lefevre plays as Etta Place .
In 2009, a critically-acclaimed new novel about Etta Place was released. Gerald Kolpan's ETTA (www.ettathenovel.com), tells the story through the eyes of Etta Place, the alleged girlfriend of the Sundance Kid. The book purports to tell the "true" story of Etta and Sundance and includes many historical figures such as Buffalo Bill, Annie Oakley and Eleanor Roosevelt.