Butch Cassidy in Bolivia
Paul Newman as Butch Cassidy, exiled American outlaw in Bolivia
Bolivia, November 1908
Film: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Release Date: October 24, 1969
Director: George Roy Hill
Costume Designer: Edith Head
105 years ago today, a group of scared and confused law officers surrounded a small boarding house in San Vincente, Bolivia. Inside the house were two tired American men, believed responsible for a score of robberies throughout South America over the past three years. Outside the house stood the police chief, the mayor, city officials, and three soldiers – one of whom was dead.
At 2:00 a.m., the officials heard a man screaming from inside the house. A single shot ended the screaming, soon followed by one final gunshot. These were the last shots fired in a daylong gun battle that had raged for nearly 12 hours. Under the light of the morning, the officials cautiously entered the house and found the two men dead, one of a bullet wound in the forehead and the other with a bullet wound in his temple.
There remains some doubt as to who the two men really were, but they were believed to be the thieves of a mining payroll stolen five days earlier. These thieves were better known to history, and film, as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Robert Leroy Parker was born on April 13, 1866 in Utah and worked on ranches in his youth. As one small crime led to another, Parker soon was known throughout the western part of the country as “Butch Cassidy”, one of the more successful bank and train bandits whose colorful adventures with his gang, the Wild Bunch, involved much more blood than the 1969 film would have you believe.
Eventually, Butch and his long-time partner-in-crime, The Sundance Kid, hightailed to South America, where they tried their hands at working a ranch before the call to crime grew louder. Thus, the men found themselves holed up in a boarding house, facing arrest or death. They chose the latter, with murder-suicide being the accepted story for the end of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
The story doesn’t end there. Whether or not Butch and Sundance actually escaped South America is up for debate, with some saying the two lived on well into the 1950s in America. However, William Goldman wrote a highly fictionialized but radically entertaining screenplay, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which was brilliantly directed by George Roy Hill and perfectly acted by Paul Newman, as Butch, and Robert Redford, as Sundance.
It’s likely that we will never find out for sure what happened – or who really died – in that San Vicente boarding house. But if Butch and Sundance were anything like the guys played by Newman and Redford, they’d probably get a kick out of us not knowing.
What’d He Wear?
Unlike Sundance, who rotates his shirts while in Bolivia, Butch wears the same consistent everyday wardrobe throughout, consisting of a light brown corduroy jacket, a pale blue shirt, dark trousers, and the necessary hat, boots, and gun belt.
Butch’s light brown corduroy jacket is a single-breasted 3-roll-2-button sport coat with notch lapels rolling over the top button. There are flapped hip pockets but no breast pocket. The shoulders are slightly padded and there is a subtle seam running vertically down the rear center of his back. The 2-button cuffs match the three buttons on the front of the jacket. The corduroy is a standard wale, making it identifiable even from a moderate distance.
The pale blue shirt is a lightweight casual work shirt. It has white buttons down a front placket and buttons at the end of each cuff. There are two patch pockets on the chest – one on each side.
Butch’s trousers are dark olive brown flat front with large belt loops and plain-hemmed bottoms. Butch is able to wear a very wide dark brown leather belt through the large loops of the trousers, fastening it in the front with a large tarnished brass squared clasp.
When he is out riding or robbing, Butch wears a brown leather gun belt around his waist as well, with ammunition around the rear and his Single Action Army dangling from his right hip. This gun belt, with detailed edge stitching, fastens with a squared silver clasp on a front strap, giving it extra support around Butch’s waist.
This being a Western and all, Butch’s look wouldn’t be complete without his hat and boots.
His hat is a dirty off-white “cowboy” hat with a short upturned brim and a striped band in dark brown and green. Like Sundance, it has a low crown and a flat top. However, Sundance’s is black, perhaps using the classic black hat vs. white hat motif from Westerns to indicate the contrast between Sundance’s darker nature and Butch’s more carefree “I never shot anybody” nature.
Butch naturally wears a pair of distressed leather riding boots. His are brown to match the rest of the earthtones in his attire.
Underneath, Butch sports a ragged light gray union suit, leaving the top unbuttoned.
The difference in attire between Butch and Sundance is undeniably intentional. Whether in the United States or Bolivia, Butch wears earthtones. Even his suit is dark brown. Sundance, on the other hand, is always prominently sporting black. In the United States, he wore a black shirt and trousers and even had black incorporated on his jacket. His suits are differing tones of gray and charcoal. In Bolivia, Sundance even wore an all-black suit. Sundance also always wears his black hat, where Butch wears a dirtier off-white variant. In fact, all of Sundance’s accessories – hat, holster, and boots – are black, whereas Butch’s are shades of brown.
What does it all mean?! In my opinion, it is the symbols of their professionalism. Funny or not, these men are criminals. Sundance takes it seriously, dressing in serious blacks and grays. Butch is the more down-to-earth of the two, thus he wears earthtones.
Go Big or Go Home
So what makes Butch so different from Sundance?
Through the film, although he can banter with the best of them, Sundance is the consummate professional. He does his job cleanly, honestly (relatively, for a bandit), and without complaints. He doesn’t take things too personally, nor does he resist when he’s called on to act.
Butch, on the other hand, somehow managed to attain the position of gang leader despite a much more laissez-faire attitude toward his work. He doesn’t back down from little white lies (impersonating a train passenger) or lies by omission (“I never shot anybody…”). His work often leaves a mess (“Think you used enough dynamite there, Butch?”), and if something goes wrong, he’s gonna talk Sundance’s ear off about it.
The specialty of the house and it’s still movin’!
What’s even more surprising about Butch’s position as leader is his lack of professionalism. Harvey Logan, his only challenger to his position, may have been a Neanderthal brute, but you could tell he would’ve led a brutally successful gang that wouldn’t have blown up its own money. Butch even takes Logan’s advice about train robbery after defeating him in a clever – but again, dishonest – fight.
Butch is an idea mean, which is respectable, but he has no idea how to carry out his ideas. “Let’s escape to Bolivia!” he decides… without knowing a word of Spanish. Naturally, this lends for another of the film’s most hilarious scenes when he and Sundance attempt their first Bolivian bank job:
Butch: Manos a… Manos, um…
Unable to remember the words, Butch pulls out a crib sheet, to Sundance’s horror.
Sundance: They got ’em up! Skip on down.
Sundance: Skip on down!
Butch:Todos ustedes arrismense a la pared.
Sundance: They’re against the wall already!
Butch:Donde… Ah, you’re so damn smart, You read it!
However, Butch’s lack of professionalism is also incredibly entertaining. I’m sure if the real Butch Cassidy was around in 1969 (and he wasn’t, even the rumors that he survived the gunfight say he died prior to then), he would’ve been angrily watching and saying: “I could never run a gang like that! But, wait… was I really this funny?”
No, Butch, you weren’t that funny in real life. But Paul Newman was, and it is Newman’s classic and fun performance that helps make the film so memorable and rewatchable.
How to Get the Look
Unlike Sundance, the darkly-dressed gunman, Butch wears a more casual look that – hat and boots (and probably gun belt) aside – would still translate nicely into a good look today.
- Light brown corduroy single-breasted sport coat with notch lapels, 3-roll-2 button front, 2-button cuffs, flapped hip pockets, and a ventless rear
- Dark olive brown flat front trousers with large belt loops and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Pale blue casual long-sleeve work shirt with buttoned cuffs, two patch chest pockets, and white buttons down a front placket
- Wide dark brown leather belt with a tarnished brass squared 1-eyelet clasp
- Brown leather gun belt with ammunition carriers, RHD holster, and a tarnished silver squared 1-eyelet clasp on the front strap
- Brown distressed leather riding boots
- Off-white low-crowned flat top hat with a short upturned brim and a dark brown and green striped band
- Light gray ragged union suit
Like his buddy Sundance, Butch Cassidy carries a Single Action Army “Quickdraw Model” with a 4¾” barrel throughout the film, although he isn’t nearly as proficient as the Kid.
Butch: Kid, there’s something I ought to tell you. I never shot anybody before.
Sundance: (facing a group of angry Bolivian bandits) One hell of a time to tell me…
The Single Action Army has gained a legendary status as “the gun that won the west”. The original Single Action Army was developed by Colt in 1873 and has been alternatively known as the “Colt Peacemaker”. Although primarily offered in .45 Long Colt, the revolver has also been offered in a variety of chamberings from small .22-caliber rounds to the massive British .476 Eley rounds.
To read more about the Single Action Army and, in particular, its use in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, check out my other post about Sundance himself or just go read what the folks at Wikipedia have to say about it.
Do Yourself A Favor And…
Buy the movie.
For a moment there I thought we were in trouble…
This is a great look, and probably my idea of the most casual thing I’d want to leave the house in. I used to frequently don corduroy till I discovered (and could afford) tweed. The thing about Cor du Roi for me is that it doesn’t endure, in my experience. Just as I’d get attached to a jacket it would develop wear-spots. The cords would get crushed into a patina at various locales. They’d go threadbare and start fraying around the cuffs. Once the fabric started to relax they wanted to look rumpled. Once I find something I like I want it to last and last. Evidently I’m hard on clothes, so I guess I just need to accept the limitations.
Better than anything to do with the clothes is your take on the film itself (here and elsewhere). My hunch is you have a gift and a dedication for getting movies (at least of this kind), and it really shows here. Well done.