Another guest post from BCC’s friend S.P. Bailey.
Learning as a child that Butch Cassidy’s real name was Robert Leroy Parker was a revelation to me. Later I learned that Butch was born in Beaver, Utah to Mormon immigrants from England (Preston Lancashire). It seems that he dropped Parker for Cassidy (after Mike Cassidy, a horse thief and Butch’s mentor in low-down villainy) in part to avoid dishonoring his parents’ good name. I asked my mom (maiden name: Parker) if we were related to Butch. She had wondered the same thing, she told me. As far as she could tell, the answer was no. Her Parkers were from Preston Candover and none of them had settled as far south as Beaver.
Why did I and even my mother want to call Butch Cassidy kin? Weren’t pioneers and early convert-immigrants good enough for us? For my part, I was grasping for a good story. Something that turned on mythic western manliness. The stuff of western movies.
At that age, I underestimated the manliness that was all around me. My uncles working the family farm, for example. Strong, hardworking, decent men. Unlike many movie cowboys, they were not tough loners out making a stand. Likewise, they did not embody mindless violence and greed. On the contrary. Like the other men I knew they tried to do their home teaching. They were far from perfect, but they meant it when they asked their home-teaching families if there was anything they could do to help them.
Shallow pamphleteers old and new have portrayed the church and its culture as fundamentally violent. These misreadings of the church fail to appreciate what it has meant in the history of the west. For the most part, Mormonism meant family and community, stability and civilization. It meant manliness more consequential even if less cinematic. The opposite of Butch Cassidy and his gang.