Etta Place was the girlfriend of the American outlaws Butch Cassidy (Robert LeRoy Parker) and the Sundance Kid (Harry Longabaugh), who were both group members of the famous outlaw gang, the Wild Bunch.
Even though little is known about her, she is thought to have been born in Texas, and to have fled to Argentina at some point before returning to the US. She also dated the Sundance Kid during his infamy. But as the saying goes, “behind every great man, there stands a great woman” (Bill Clinton).
So that brings into question, who exactly was Etta Place?
Mrs. Sundance Kid
Now whichever name Etta went by, she was always known for telling everyone her racy encounters. Even though she changed her name many times, and relocated almost every year, her story remained alive.
She also went by the name Ethel Bishop (an unemployed, 22-year old music teacher who lived at a similar establishment to a brothel in Fort Worth).
According to historical records, the name Ethel Bishop is associated with a prostitute and music teacher living in Fort Worth at the same time as Etta. Thus it’s thought that Etta Place maintained a double life, prior to hooking up with the Wild Bunch.
Other names & lives
She also went by Eunice Gray (a bordello owner), and Madaline Wilson (a girl who worked in Fannie Porter’s brothel).
Apparently, there were five girls in Fannie’s “boarding house,” and most were 22-year-old immigrants without official birth records.
These recounts vary in how realistic they are.
But there is no contemporary account of her existence at all.
Not until she appeared at Sundance’s side in a photo taken in 1901. Both her birthplace and her fate are still shrouded in mystery. The Sundance Kid’s famous companion isn’t mentioned much throughout history, and that’s likely because she was a woman.
At the time women weren’t allowed to work regular jobs, or allowed into bars, or gambling houses. They were basically housewives, widows, or prostitutes.
Because of this, there are tons of fanciful tales about Place being the “leader” of the Wild Bunch, a prostitute, and even a dominatrix.
Fact or Fiction?
According to historians, the only holdup she actually took part in occurred in December 1905. The robbery of the Banco de la Nación in Villa Mercedes in west-central Argentina was carried out by Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid, and “Ethel” or Etta Place – just before she fled back to the United States.
One specific recount claims she was running a brothel in Fort Worth; then marries a boxing promoter while living in Paraguay. Then she marries a diplomat while still living there after her career with the Wild Bunch ended.
Another tale claims that she dated Pancho Villa or Emilio Zapata after Butch Cassidy.
According to a rumor spread by a traveling salesman, Etta’s life ended alongside Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in a shoot-out with police.
Here’s why she’s so important.
According to a memorandum, the Pinkerton Detective Agency found Etta Place linked to the Sundance Kid from 1899 to 1907. That means that for 8 years, the most dangerous criminal around had a partner.
If you’ve ever been in a relationship, I’m sure you know how close you might actually become with long-term partners. It would be nearly impossible for Sundance’s girlfriend to avoid participation in gang activities. Therefore, she probably had an incredible amount of influence over the decisions he made.
With so much speculation and very little factual info about Place, it’s hard to discern what info about her is factual. Ultimately, we know one thing – she was one of five women known to have entered the “Hole-in-the-Wall” hideout or the “Wild Bunch” hideout at Robber’s Roost.
Right between the Colorado River, Dirty Devil River, and the Green River is a savage, barren piece of land. That piece of land served as a hideout for outlaws for more than 30-years. Robbers Roost was a second home to the Wild Bunch, Butch Cassidy’s gang of bank robbers, train robbers, and cattle rustlers.
Other than Place, Will Carver’s girlfriend Josie Bassett was allowed. Josie’s sister and Parker’s longtime girlfriend Ann Bassett, Elzy Lay’s girlfriend Maude Davis; and gang member Laura Bullion were also allowed in the hideout.
We know that Etta Place played a very important role in the Sundance Kid’s life, and therefore in Western history around the turn of the century. However, her exact story, and what became of her after she returned to the USA is still unknown…