As I do very little researching before I visit a place—it’s not because I want to arrive “tabula rasa”, but it comes down to my innate laziness—when I got to southern Utah I knew where we were going to stay and how far we would be from the Big Parks, Bryce and Zion, but nothing more.
I didn’t yet know that we were occupying the same valley where the Parkers, immigrants who joined the Mormon faith in England, had raised their 13 children on a cattle ranch shortly after the Civil War.
The next morning after arrival anywhere new I like to read my guidebooks and stuff I’ve picked up along the way—free newspapers, brochures, tourist guide pamphlets. I love looking at maps. Paper maps. And the one I’d bought online from Great Pacific Maps, was glossy, succinct, and able, to a point, to withstand constant opening and re-folding and perusal.
Having absorbed all the sights within easy driving and walking distance, on our last day in Utah we determined to find the Parker homestead, then look for a ghost town, then find a slot canyon that purported to be a short drive on a navigable dirt road (neither proved to be true and we never did find the canyon).
We did, however, find Robert Leroy Parker’s a.k.a Butch Cassidy’s homestead, despite the unhelpfulness of both Google Maps and our guidebooks. Our best advice came from a kind lady in The Cowboy Store in Panguitch, who pulled out a tourist map and indicated where the cabin was. The Cowboy store, shown in the photos below, is sadly closing at the end of the year. The owner and collector of cowboy memorabilia got an offer she couldn’t refuse. The new owner will not be doing cowboys.
The cabin, just outside the tiny Utah community of Circleville, has been cared for. A rusty donation box stands outside the propped-open door. You can walk inside, stooping to get through the doorway, and look around at the puncheon floor and out the small windows with unbroken glass. It’s a bit of a struggle to imagine a family of 13 living inside it, but I gather that probably wasn’t exactly the case.
The house occupies a flat valley devoted to hay-raising. Magpies chattered at us from a stand of cottonwoods flanking an irrigation ditch. There is a falling-down barn on the property, and some unidentifiable rusting farm equipment sitting in tall grass. Robert didn’t live here long—he left at the age of 18 to work on a dairy farm. Wikipedia tells me he did a stint as a butcher before going “illegit”, thus how he got his new name: Butch. He worked a variety of angles: selling stolen horses, racing horses, and riding horses in round-ups. I like to speculate that Mormon teachings didn’t really rub off on him.
It was a revelation to me that I was probably seeing Mormon cowboys at the round-up we happened onto.
When I got home I streamed “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”, not so much a paean to Butch as an opportunity for Paul Newman and Robert Redford to deliver funny lines and do sight gags. The film, directed by George Roy Hill (“Hawaii”, “The World of Henry Orient”, “A Little Romance”, to name a few), was always a favorite of mine. While when it comes to the Old West one can never trust that what we are reading and seeing is truthful, I think the film followed the known high (or low) points of Butch’s career. There continues to be an ongoing debate on exactly where and when Butch and the Kid were killed.
We never found the ghost town, either.