Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Butch Cassidy’s Girlfriend

For many years, John Stewart was the secretary of the National Association for Outlaw and Lawman History, an association that is now defunct. He lived in Logan, Utah, where he was a professor of English at Utah State University. He wrote of meeting Josie Bassett Morris, who was a girlfriend of Butch Cassidy (Robert LeRoy Parker) and other outlaws of that era.

Stewart made a special trip to Diamond Mountain, a high plateau near Flaming Gorge, located midway between Vernal, Utah, and Brown’s Hole, a famous outlaw hideout.

According to Stewart, Josie lived in a lonely cabin far from the nearest ranch. Steward knocked on the cabin door, but there was no answer. He was about to leave when he noticed a silver-haired lady coming toward him, a rifle held in the crook of her arm.

Rumor had it that Josie had offed several husbands and disliked men in general, so Stewart was somewhat concerned to see her toting a rifle. She turned out to be warm and hospitable, and promptly invited Stewart into her one-room abode. To explain why she carried the rifle, Josie claimed to have been after a mountain lion that was bothering her cows.

Some said she was a rustler. Stewart chose to believe her mountain lion story. Stewart inventoried her furniture as a bed, a stove, a table and two chairs. The floor was a flat slab of native stone upon which Josie had built the cabin herself, she said.

Josie was born in the early 1870s, which put her in her 80s when Stewart visited – eighty, yet out hunting mountain lions! Or maybe rustling cattle.

The Bassett family lived in Brown’s Hole, where Josie was born, and she and her younger sister Ann were well acquainted with Butch, Sundance, Matt Warner, Elza Lay, Tom Horn, Isom Dart (the Outlaw Mail), and Speck Williams.

Minnie Crouse Rasmussen, a Brown’s Hole pioneer and friend to outlaws, believed the rumors that Josie was a rustler and a husband-killer. Minnie claimed to “know for certain” that Josie poisoned one of her husbands. Stewart, however, wrote that he was “well impressed with her and find it impossible to believe that she was a husband killer or a cattle rustler.” He goes on to say that if she did any of those things, it was for “good reason.”

Stewart signed off his account with “To me, on that lovely spring morning atop Diamond Mountain, Josie Bassett Morris seemed a beautiful. Gracious, queenly woman who had survived a difficult life in the rugged Old West, and who in her old age was still fiercely independent – a trait I particularly admire.”