The Writing Traveler: Code of the West
September 17, 2021
It took a tough breed, men like Butch Cassidy, to survive in a beautiful land. But then, Butch took what he wanted, and he always wanted more.
It was a great story, he said.
It had a touch of irony.
But all great stories do.
He was standing beside an old rock shop on Highway 9 as it wandered from St. George toward Zion National Park in Southern Utah.
“Beautiful country,” I said.
“God saved his best for Utah,” he said.
I did not dispute it.
“It’s a beautiful land,” he said, “but it’s a tough land, and it bred some real scoundrels.”
“Name me one,” I said.
“Butch Cassidy,” he said.
“The man who rode with the Sundance Kid?”
“He rode all through this country,” the man said. “Good places to hide. He robbed banks, you know.”
“I heard he was like a Western version of Robin Hood,” I said.
“He robbed from the rich and gave the money to the poor.”
“He was a bank robber,” the man said. “He gave the money to himself.”
The man paused a moment, gazed across the distant peaks, and said after a long silence, “Well, there was one time, he heard about a poor widow who was about to lose her land.”
“He know her?”
“He had only heard of her.” The man shrugged. “Maybe she reminded him of his mama,” he said.” Don’t know. Never heard anybody say. But Butch did swear he wouldn’t let anybody take her farm away from her. That’s all she had left in the world.”
“Who was trying to take it?” I asked.
“What did Butch do?”
“He did what he did best.”
“He robbed the bank.” The man grinned. “Then he rode out to the widow’s ranch and gave her all the money. When the banker showed up to foreclose, she paid her farm off lock, stock, and barrel. The banker stuffed the money in his saddlebags, tore up the mortgage on the spot, and rode away.”
“Sounds like Butch Cassidy had a soft spot in his heart after all,” I said.
“Butch had a lot of spots in his heart,” he said, “but none of them were soft.”
“What makes you say that?”
The man grinned again. Wider this time. “Butch waited for the banker out behind one of those big rocks,” he said. “When the banker rode by, Butch stuck a rifle in his face and robbed him again. He removed the money from the saddlebags and headed for the high country.”
He had it once.
He had it again.
But don’t praise Butch Cassidy, the man said.
It didn’t matter how many times he had to take it, Butch always wound up with the money.
And don’t pity the banker, the man said.
He robbed everybody who did business with him.
It might have been legal.
But it was robbery just the same.
The banker was nothing more than the middleman.
He only had his hands on the money until Butch wanted it, and, sooner or later, Butch always wanted it.
The banker kept a little.
And lost a little.
It was the Code of the West.
You can find many of my travel stories in my memoir of sorts, The Man Who Talks to Strangers. Please click HERE to find the book on Amazon.