Butch and Sundance in Bolivia

(September 17 – written by Dave)

Yesterday and today we have been staying in the Butch Cassidy Hostel in Tupiza, Bolivia.  According to some historical tellings (there appear to be many), it was near Tupiza that Butch (Robert Parker) and The Sundance Kid (Harry Longabaugh) allegedly committed their last great robbery.  On the 3rd of November of 1908, a mailman from a nearby silver mine was carrying salaries for the miners when he was attacked and the salary money stolen by two American bandits.  References are fuzzy here as in some cases the bandits are only noted as “English speaking” and in others they are referred to as American.  Naturally, conspiracy theorists conclude that the robbers may not have even been Butch and Sundance.

Three days after the robbery, the Bolivian army and some local law enforcement tracked the two perpetrators to the small nearby town of San Vicente.  The army surrounded the house where the bandits were held up and the bandits refused to come out – a gunfight ensued.  The army had superior weapons and this was only going to end one way.

During a lull in the shooting, a shot and scream, followed by a second shot were heard coming from the house.  The authorities remained circling the house until the next morning when the cautiously entered to find two dead men – in an apparent murder-suicide.  Both men had sustained wounds from the army guns but they were not considered fatal.  Note that the famous final scene from the Butch and Sundance movie where Paul Newman and Robert Redford come out guns a blazing is not what happened in real-life – Hollywood took creative license to make the movie more exciting.

The bodies of the men were buried in a nearby cemetery but to this day controversy still remains.  They were buried in anonymous graves near the tomb of a German miner named Gustav Zimmer.  While attempts have been made to find this grave site, including a couple exhumations, no matching familial DNA samples have been located.  Gustav’s familial DNA was found, but no Butch and Sundance.  There are multiple unverified accounts of Butch and Sundance living out their lives in quiet anonymity back in the USA.  The conspiracy theorists love this stuff.

With the Butch and Sundance story on our minds, we decided to stroll Tupiza and see what else we might learn.  To our surprise, the single mention in Tupiza of bandits of any kind was our hostel.  The rest of town is just a normal Bolivian town with a market, a few hotels, numerous pollo (chicken) shops and a Plaza de Armas.  There is no “Bandit’s Inn” or “Robbers Roost” restaurant, no mentions of Butch or Sundance and generally zero attempt to cash in on their notoriety.

Butch's only apperance

Our hostal and the only mention of Butch (or Sundance) in all of Tupiza

Alfredo Dominguez Romero

Alfredo Dominguez Romero – Bolivia’s most famous folk musician – he gets two statues and a plaque in town, while nothing for Butch.  Alfredo was born in Tupiza – yeah, I’d never heard of him before either…

Alamo - close

The only thing “western” in town and a far cry from “the wild bunch”


Outrageous, Italian pizza and no Butch

Tupiza catherdral

Lovely Tupiza cathedral 

Tupiza fancy tuktuk

Fancy four door tuk-tuks but no Sundance…

Tupiza muni building

Art deco municipal building, without a robber in site

Zoro mabey

Zoro perhaps.  Sign says the nation was born here.  But no mention of where Butch and Sundance may have slept…

In Australia, when we traveled the territories of Ned Kelly and Captain Thunderbolt (two famous bush rangers – robbers), nearly every local business claimed some sort of connection.  Be it Ned Kelly’s confectionaries or Captain Thunderbolt’s used cars, businesses connect with the infamous for modern marketing gain.  It’s probably refreshing that they don’t glorify the bad guys in Bolivia but it’s also odd that the story gets so little attention.  We understand that there is a small, one-room museum for the pair up in San Vicente and that their (supposed) graves have some of markings.  There is even a rumour that you can buy a t-shirt with their likeness, though some report most of the t-shirts robbers look like Paul Newman or Robert Redford (borrowed from the movie perhaps).

Lacking local support, I had to dig most of today’s post up on the internet.  Yes, the internet, home of the conspiracy theorists.  Some or all of what I’ve written here may or may not be true.  Don’t shoot the messenger.

Tomorrow we may leave Bolivia.  We are heading to Villazon, our last planned Bolivian town.  If we get there early enough, we’ll cross the border into Argentina.  There are rumours that we’ll have to give up all of our fresh fruit, vegetables and nuts upon entering Argentina.  We are snacking this afternoon on all of the above, in order to ease our entry.  As with Butch and Sundance, you find all kinds of stories about customs and immigration when you search the internet for information on a new country that you are about to enter.  We may smell a bit like raw garlic when we reach the border, but we’ll be doing our best to stay on the right side of the Argentinean authorities.

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