Sundance Kid mystery unearthed as forensic testing continues
Is a Duchesne County farmer who died in 1936 actually one of the Old West's most legendary outlaws?
Etta Forsyth isn't so sure.
Forsyth is the step-granddaughter of William Henry Long, the man whose remains were exhumed from the Duchesne City Cemetery in December for forensic testing to determine whether he is really Harry Alonzo Longabaugh, alias the Sundance Kid.
Forsyth, 91, still refers to Long as her "Uncle Billy."
"When grandma married Bill Long all the kids by Silas Morrell were older and I think they called him Uncle Billy," Forsyth said. "So we all called him Uncle Billy."
Long married Morrell's widow, Luzernia, in November 1894. She was 36 and had six children from her first marriage, including Forsyth's mother Clara. Long listed his age as 27 on the marriage license filed in Wayne County, which is seven years younger than he should have been according to the birth date listed on his headstone. (The Sundance Kid was 27 years old in 1894.)
Clara Morrell would later marry I.G. Robison and give birth to Forsyth and five other children. Forsyth said Long worked for her father on his ranch near the Henry Mountains in central Utah earning $2 a day.
"He'd sit you on his knee and hum to you," Forsyth said. "I can't see how he was a mean man. He was an outlaw, we knew that right from the first, but I don't think he was Sundance."
Long was a good cook who kept a clean house and doted on his wife, according to Forsyth, who was 19 when he died. He was also an accomplished marksman, able to shoot the heads off nails on the family garage with a pistol. It was a pastime he engaged in with his son-in-law, Robison, who served as Wayne County sheriff from 1913 to 1915.
Forsyth said she never heard Long talk about his past.
"If he did, he talked about it to my dad," she said. "Dad couldn't say anything, he was the sheriff."
Still Long did, on at least one occasion, display a propensity for violence. The Oct. 24, 1910, the Deseret News reported that Long had pistol whipped a relative in a dispute over irrigation water. The gun had discharged during the incident, grazing the man's head.
"Uncle George was a water thief," Forsyth said when asked about the incident. "He lived right by the canal and he got (the water) first."
Long, fearing that he'd mortally wounded the man, fled Fremont and vowed never to return if the man died. When he survived, Long returned.
Forsyth said her grandparents later moved to Duchesne at the urging of their daughter, Evinda, who had married a man from the Uintah Basin. She said her father told her Long was gone for two weeks and came back with the money to pay off the land for the family's new ranch.
"He had something hid up to Fish Lake," said Forsyth, who taught in the Granite School District for 20 years.
"Butch Cassidy's nephew was one of my students," she said. "He told me Butch died on his mother's porch, not in South America."
Diann Peck, Forsyth's daughter, said she's found census records that list Luzernia Long as the head of household during the years that Butch and Sundance were living in South America. There are also at least two instances of Luzernia Long purchasing property in her husband's name during the same time.
"I think he and Butch figured on going to Bolivia and making some money," Peck said, "and I think they did."
Historians say Butch and Sundance left the U.S. in 1901 for South America with Sundance's common-law wife, Etta Place. That couple's union would have occurred after Long had married Luzernia, something that doesn't surprise Forsyth.
"I think he was still kind of an outlaw when he went and married (Place)," she said, seeming to concede, at least for a moment, that Long and Sundance may have been the same man.
Place, whose true identity also remains in dispute, later returned to the United States. No one's been able to prove definitively though whether Butch or Sundance ever returned to the country permanently.
Many believe Butch and Sundance were killed in a 1908 shootout with Bolivian authorities following a payroll robbery. The slain men were buried together in an unmarked grave that remains undiscovered, leaving doubt about whether they were in fact the infamous American outlaws.
Peck said her grandfather told her about meeting Cassidy after he was rumored to have died in South America. She said the outlaw was sick when he showed up on the former sheriff's doorstep. After being nursed back to health, Cassidy offered Robison his rifle out of gratitude, Peck said. Her grandfather initially refused the gun, but ultimately accepted it.
"He said, 'Butch told me he never shot a man, but don't turn your back on Sundance,'" Peck recalled with a laugh.
Still Forsyth maintains that Long was "tenderhearted." He had to hire out the slaughtering of livestock, she said, and therefore is an unlikely candidate for the role of bloodthirsty outlaw. But her son-in-law, Jerry Peck, believes anything's possible.
"I don't think whether he was a gentleman or not is really a criteria because some real gentlemen aren't always that gentle," Jerry Peck said.
In fact, family members said they're now unsure whether Long's death was actually a suicide, the official cause listed on his death certificate. Forsyth said one of Long's grandsons found him lying next to a .22-caliber rifle on Nov. 27, 1936, and everyone assumed Long had taken his own life.
"But it could have been someone who caught up to him from the past," she said.
Marilyn Grace, president of St. George-based Story Teller Productions, said she can't discuss why Forsyth and the Pecks now suspect Long may have been murdered.
Grace has been on a quest to find out what happened to Butch and Sundance for the past 12 years. She is working with producer/director Michael Karr and Long's great-grandson Jerry Nickle on a documentary film about the search.
"If it weren't for Jerry, we would never have found (Long)," Grace said. "He's always suspected his great-grandfather was the Sundance Kid."
Grace said four samples have been collected from Long's remains by Sorenson Forensics in Salt Lake City. The samples have been sent to an undisclosed lab for testing against known DNA from the Longabaugh family. Results are expected in four to eight weeks.
The skeletal remains have also been examined by biological anthropologist John M. McCullough. The University of Utah professor's comparison of photos of Longabaugh and Long helped secure a court order to exhume Long for further study.
Grace said McCullough's analysis revealed identical traits in both men including a notch in an ear, evidence of a broken nose, and a cleft chin. There are also matches in height, hair color, and eye color. And Grace noted that in the famous "Fort Worth Five" photo of the Wild Bunch, the Sundance Kid's fingers on his right hand are curled under. Long's fingers on his right hand are also curled under in the same manner in a later photograph taken with Luzernia.
"Before DNA in 1992, we could have gone into a court of law and convicted William Henry Long of being the Sundance Kid," Grace said. "But because of DNA, we're just waiting. ...We really do have him. You can't argue against the photo analysis; it's science."
But for Grace, it was her own interviews with Forsyth that brought history to life.
"Bill Long was just a picture - a flat, non-dimensional picture - and she helped us put it all together," Grace said.
Asked again how certain she is that her step-grandfather isn't Sundance, Forsyth answered: "I sure feel like I'm sure, but I'd be glad to see it solved."