Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Warm Memoir or Literary Fraud?

Fact or fraud? For some reason that question always intrigues me...

Robert Leroy Parker, aka “Butch Cassidy”, lives, with his pal the “Sundance Kid”, in history and legend, and his exploits, both factual and imagined, have been told and retold in book, story and movie in the years since his death, or at least disappearance, in Bolivia in 1908.

In 1975 his sister, Lula Parker Betenson, wrote a book, "Butch Cassidy, My Brother", claiming that he survived the infamous Bolivia shootout and actually returned home some years later. According to Betenson, Butch drove a black Ford automobile up to the family homestead one night for a touching reunion with his father and other members of the family. While telling the story of his life she also puts to rest, in her own mind at least, many other “lies” which had been told about him.

What do we make of all this? Opinions conflict. The state of Utah’s website appears to be at least somewhat sympathetic to the idea that Butch did indeed fake his death in Bolivia and return to America, to die in 1937.

On the other hand, Daniel Buck and Anne Meadows have written a very well-documented article suggesting that not only is Betenson’s story bad history, it may even have been an attempt at fraud, noting that historian Roger McCord recalled that he was sitting with Lula and she said “Roger, let's make some money. Six movies have been made about Butch, and the family's never got anything."

So what is this book? A touching memoir of a long-lost wayward brother sneaking back for a last reunion with his loving family, or an attempt at literary fraud almost on par on the chutzpah scale with Clifford Irving’s “biography” of Howard Hughes? Personally, I tend to doubt Betenson’s story, but then I’ve always preferred a good tale of deception to a heartfelt reunion. But it could all be true… that’s something for the reader to decide.

We have a nice copy of the book up for auction on eBay this week, signed by Betenson and her co-author. If you're interested in the book you can see it on our List of Ebay auctions.

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