DECIPHERING THE MYSTERY OF THE   BUTCH CASSIDY POSTCARD

 

                 When we began compiling the life and times of Butch Cassidy into a book, we had the amazing good fortune of meeting Erich Baumann, a collector of old photographs and memorabilia pertaining to the Old West.  Erich has a remarkable eye for discovering photographs of well-known and lesser-known characters of the Old West, found in antique shops, swap meets and estate sales.  Thus it was that we came into the possession of a copy of one of the most important photos ever found pertaining to Butch Cassidy. The photo appears on the reverse side of a fin de siècle postcard sent to a certain “Miss Edna Browning, 219 E. 2nd St, Hastings, Nebr.”  It shows a very handsome cowboy sporting a six-shooter in a belt holster and holding a rifle in his right hand.  The contents of the postcard, written in a scribbled hand, reads as follows:

 

                 Miss Edna.   Yes, I expect that your mind is somewhat tangled as to my identity.  For I don’t think you ever saw me to know me altho I was at the fair nearly all week.  But just because you have not made my acquaintance in person, dont let that stop our friendship.  The next will be the worse than this.                                                                                                                                                                                    Butch

 

                 The cryptic message was further mystified by the postmark on the photo/card. The ink has smeared, making it difficult to read, but it appears to have the following information: “Lincoln, Neb. 9:30 AM Dec 6 1900". The last digit of the year is somewhat illegible, but appears to be a “0".

Based upon the assumption that the year was 1900, we were immediately confronted with some problems.  It does not appear that Butch Cassidy was anywhere near Lincoln or Hastings, Nebraska in December 1900.  Moreover, a search of the 1900 federal census for Hastings, Nebraska, indicated that Edna Browning was only nine years old!

                 The census information states that Edna was born in October 1890 in Nebraska.  Her parents were Samuel Browning born August 1866 in Illinois, and Belle, born October 1865 in Ohio.  She had a younger brother, Edgar, born August 1895 in Nebraska.  Butch’s postcard is apparently written to someone much older than nine, and yet it is addressed to the exact Edna who appears in the 1900 census.  At first we thought it might be a coded message, a common enough practice for members of the Wild Bunch to avoid detection by Pinkertons and other law enforcement agencies.  Recently, the solution was brought to our attention by another very astute collector, Norm Moore of Vancouver, Washington.  Norm examined the original postcard at length and concluded that the smeared date might not be 1900 at all, but either 1908 or 1909!  If so, this is an even more important discovery, because it would prove that Butch posted the card after his supposed death in South America!

                 The proof comes from a dating of the postcard itself, that is to say, the paper it was printed on.  Norm Moore’s research indicates that the postcard is double-sided, a process which did not begin by the U.S. Postal Service until 1 March 1907.  Moreover, the right hand corner of the postcard, where it reads “VELOX PLACE STAMP HERE”, is a “Date Stamp” that shows the paper for this particular postcard was manufactured in England only during the years 1907-1917.  This information can be found in more complete detail in the book titled “Real Photo Postcard Guide/The People’s Photography” by Robert Bogdan and Todd Weseloh. Our sincere thanks goes out to our friend Norm Moore for his excellent research which decodes the mystery of the Butch Cassidy postcard.

                 We can now reasonably conclude that the postcard was posted either on 6 December 1908 or 6 December 1909, either of which dates offers irrefutable proof that Butch Cassidy was alive and well after his supposed death at San Vicente, Bolivia, on 7 November 1908.  And it answered another puzzling question.  Why would Butch Cassidy write such a note to a nine year old girl?  Because if the date was either 1908 or 1909, she would have been a lass of seventeen or eighteen.  At last the mystery of Butch Cassidy’s postcard can be resolved, and it has the added benefit of proving that Butch Cassidy was alive and well and still a romantic following his alleged death in South America.

Butch Cassidy:

The Untold Story

 

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