Friday, February 20, 2015

Mormon Outlaw: Butch Cassidy's Gun

A Mormon outlaw? It seems like it should be an oxymoron. Latter-day Saints take pride in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, and virtuous, and in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law. Cassidy may have struggled with that last bit, but small things in his mild manner like a commitment not to drink alcohol or gamble ring familiar to practicing Mormons. He may have left the Church, but the influence of his Mormon upbringing never completely left him.

Born in 1866 in Beaver, Utah, as Robert LeRoy Parker to pioneers Maximillian Parker and Ann Campbell Gillies, Cassidy came from faithful Mormon stock. It is likely he was baptized into the Church at the age of 8, but by the time the time he was 13, he had stopped attending almost entirely. The reasons for his decline in faith range from blaming the example of his father who also only attended meetings sporadically to a brush he had with the law where he was unjustly accused and treated poorly by officials. Certainly, though, it was the influence of his friend and mentor Mike Cassidy that played the largest role. Whatever all the contributing factors were, Robert changed his name to protect his family and left home at 18 to become one of the most well-known bandits in the Old West.
He committed his first robbery in his early 20’s. He acquired a gun at that time, a .45 caliber Colt Single Action Army revolver. Relentlessly pursued by lawmen and the Union Pacific Railroad, in late 1899 or early 1900 he allegedly sought amnesty from Governor Heber Wells of Utah. But first, as an act of good faith, he surrendered his Colt, his holster and a Winchester rifle to a sheriff named Parley P. Christison.
This same gun brought $175,000 at an auction in 2012. It was described as “the most fully documented Butch Cassidy gun in existence.”
In 1873, Colt submitted a new pistol to the U.S. Army. It utilized an improved single-action mechanism coupled with a greatly-improved frame design. It was chambered for the newly-designed .45 Long Colt cartridge. The Army promptly adopted the new revolver as the new standard-issue sidearm. Colt also offered the pistol on the civilian market.
This was a very popular gun of the time.
In 1895–96, the Government returned 2000 SAA (Single action Army) revolvers to Colt to be refurbished; 800 were issued to the New York Militia with the 7 ½” barrel and 1200 were altered to a barrel length of 5½". In 1898, 900 of the SAA revolvers were altered the same way by Springfield Armory. The original records of the War Department do refer to these revolvers with the shortened barrel as the “Altered Revolver”. The name “Artillery” is actually a misnomer, which, it’s speculated, may have originated because the Light Artillery happened to have the first units armed with the altered revolver.
Though Butch Cassidy was an outlaw, he and his gun have ties to the LDS Church. I wonder what would have been different had Governor Wells given Cassidy amnesty?
Semper Paratus