Offbeat

Promise of Movie Profits Delay DNA Results of Sundance Kid Project

The remains of the legendary Sundance Kid, known in not-so-polite circles as William Henry Long aka Harry Longebaugh, may or may not lie in a grave in eastern Utah where DNA tests have been underway for a few months. There will be no quick answers here as the fickle finger of greed has crept into the world of forensic anthropology as it has everywhere else in the modern world.

sundance

The delay in identifying the bones so far has been understandable as it is the result of a difficult and painstaking scientific process. The team of anthropology experts are having a hard time because of the scarcity of DNA discovered at the grave site. In the words of Dr. John McCullough, a professor of biological anthropology:

“The DNA is probably all fragmented. The bones were not in very good condition; they had been washed by water and maybe mixed with the DNA of other individuals, although we’re not sure of that.”

Still, it is likely that even when they do discover the truth, they may not be so quick to tell because of marketing considerations for an up-and-coming documentary on the subject.

Jerry Nickle is funding what has become known as the Sundance Kid Project with up to $200,000 of his own money. He wants to prove his step-great-grandfather, William Henry Long, was really Harry Longabaugh, aka the Sundance Kid. Why he would want to do this is anyone’s guess, as it seems that some people might pay that much just to keep such a fact a secret!

“Having an outlaw in your family tree, I don’t know what there is about it but, uh, it’s just pretty exciting really.”

Nickle hired Marilyn Grace to produce a documentary film on the subject. In her words:

“The plan is we still need to keep it secret. We have a film we’ve invested money and time in, and we don’t want to reveal that. It’s like, ‘Why come see the movie if you already know the results?”

The legacy of the Sundance Kid is both colorful and notorious. So named for his 18-month stretch in the Sundance, Wyoming jail back in 1887, where he served time for his conviction as a horse thief. Supposedly, Sundance and his sidekick, Butch Cassidy died in Bolivia and were buried there. Longabaugh most likely met Butch Cassidy (Robert Leroy Parker) around 1896, shortly after his release from prison.

butch_sundance

They formed the “Wild Bunch Gang,” and with other outlaw cohorts committed the longest series of train and bank robberies in the annals of the Old West. Little is known of Longabaugh’s life and exploits before he hooked up with Parker and began their notorious crime spree.

Even though for a time the Wild Bunch was renowned for their lack of violence during their robberies, that depiction of the gang belongs on Hollywood movie sets. They did kill five law enforcement officers and “wanted dead or alive” posters appeared throughout the country, with as much as a $30,000 reward for information leading to their capture or death.

The man named Wiliam Long was buried in Utah, but how he got there may never really be known. It is known that Parker and Sundance were hounded by a group of Pinkerton detectives led by Charlie Siringo, intent on their capture, and that the duo left the United States on February 20, 1901, in search of fresher targets. It is also known that Longabaugh sailed with his “wife”, Etta Place and Parker aboard the British ship, Herminius, which was bound for Argentina.

Harry Longabaugh

No one can say whether they really married or not, and it is unlikely that they wed. Her name as well as her fate remains a mystery. It is a rather odd coincidence that the maiden surname of Longabaugh’s mother was Annie Place. It is likely that Etta met Longabaugh while working as a prostitute, although this cannot be positively ascertained. Her life after parting company with Longabaugh and her fate remain an open Pinkerton file to the present day.

Facts surrounding Longabaugh’s death are equally shrouded in legend and conjecture. As the story goes, two American bandits were killed in a shootout in 1908 near San Vicente in southern Bolivia, but whether the two were Parker and Longabaugh has never and can never be more than a moot point of conjecture. It is precisely this uncertainty that has led to the many claims that one or both of them returned to The United States and lived on under other identities.

One of these claims asserts that Longabaugh lived under the name of William Henry Long in the small town of Duchesne, Utah. Long died in 1936 and was buried in the town cemetery. His remains were exhumed in December 2008, and the current testing is seeking to determine whether he was Harry Longabaugh. To properly research this goal, scientists have been trying to match some of Long’s DNA with a known relative of the Sundance Kid.

Is he or isn’t he?

In this case, the answer may come in time for next year’s Sundance Film Festival. Then again, it may not.

Will the bones of the real Harry Longabaugh please stand up!

Maybe too much to ask.

In the meantime, my money is on either Robert Redford or Paul Newman.

Leave a Comment

  1. Gaylen Robison says:

    I can explain how the bones of the Sundance Kid got there. He is my great grandfather and I can prove it. I am Gaylen Robison. I was raised at Midvale, Utah by my grandmother Who's name is Viola Ehlers. Grandma told me many stories about her dad but she did not know his real identity. Many in the family suspected he was an outlaw but did not know which one. In 1894 he came from Robbers Roost into Loa Wayne County, Utah and married the widow, my great grandmother Luzernia Allred morrell. Luzernia had six minor children at home along with a mortgage on the ranch and sawmill. Bill Long came to see her and to get a hair cut. He brought her enough to pay off the mortgage. He married her left for quite a spell. Viola was their first child born June,1895. She was several years old before she saw her dad for the first time. He was a very kind and loving father and very strict. He was a good provider, he sent or brought a lot of money home and they bought several nice properties. In 1917 great grandpa Long moved the family from Wayne County to Duchesne County. He bought a ranch, the Hanson ranch, East of Duchesne. He left home for about three weeks and brought home all the money to pay for the ranch. If what I told you so far isn't enough to link up, consider the rest of the clues: Later on research established the fact that a nephew in Pennsylvania was named William Henry Longabaugh. G.grandpa just used that name and dropped the last six letters. He had a sister named Sammana. Her first daughter she named Elva. That's my mother's name. Sammana had a second daughter who she named Viola. My grandma's name. G grandpa had a picture on his two sisters, Sammana and Emma. That picture hung on on the wall in grandpa and grandma's home in Utah for years. My mother (Elva) remembers it from when she was child. In just recent years, long after that picture hung on the wall in two different homes in Utah, someone in the Longabaugh family in Pennsylvania published a book about their wayward Harry Alonzo Longabaugh. The picture in the Longabaugh book is identical to the picture in grandpa and grandma's home in Utah. What is it when you get one coincidence after another that way? Are there any more doubts? One more convincing clue: A very prominent forensic scientist Dr. John McCullough, with irrefutable credentials, of the University of Utah, performed a photo transparency. He compared a transparency of the Sundance Kid to a transparency of William Henry Long. He concluded and you will too, once you see the transparency yourself, that the two men are one and the same. Mystery solved. If you want to know more, look me up. I' in the book. Woodruff, Utah. Gaylen Robison

  2. Nannette says:

    Did they ever finish the DNA test?

  3. Onlooker says:

    Gaylan,

    Which Longabaugh book has the exact picture that hung on the wall?