I should probably explain that while I have a cell phone, I don’t use it much. That’s because I don’t care for phones mobile or otherwise. I keep it mainly for emergencies. I seldom text or take pictures with it because I do all the work I need to do with a computer or digital cameras. Anyway, it all started about 2 weeks ago. (On October 1st) when I receive an unexpected text on my cell.
This person (he introduced himself as Chris from Aurora Colorado) texted me to say, in part, that he’d been researching an amazing woman named Bessie Roscoe who he thought might be my great-grandmother and wanted to discuss his “incredible findings” with me. I told him she was actually my grandmother and that I wasn’t really interested in what he might have found.
Nonetheless, he continued to tell me (although he said he didn’t want to embarrass me) that she, as well as both her parents, my great-grandparents, had assisted Harry Alonzo Longabugh (aka. The Sundance Kid) and Robert Leroy Parker (aka. Butch Cassidy) in the robbing of banks etc. while she taught school as a very young lady. He said grandma was Harry’s (Sundance’s) girlfriend and went by the name of Etta / Ethel Place. The three were said to be members of the outlaw gang known as Butch Cassidy’s “Wild Bunch”.
Searching for information regarding Ms. Place I discovered that the first thing some noticed when they met Place was that she was strikingly pretty, had a very nice smile, and that she was very cordial, articulate, and refined in speech and manners. They also say that she was an excellent shot with a rifle. She is said to have spoken in an educated manner, and indicated she was originally from the East Coast. However, no one could ever give an exact location.
In truth, very little is known about Ms. Place then or now. Some speculate that she was a schoolteacher. Some say she was a prostitute. Some say she was both. In 1906 The Pinkerton Detective Agency described her as having “classic good looks, 27 or 28 years old, 5’4″ to 5’5″ in height, weighing between 110 and 115 pounds, with a medium build and brown hair.”
Generally, that description does seem to describe my grandmother. And as she was born on the 19th day of February in 1879 - a date that jibes with that of Ms. Place who is said to have been born around 1878. But my grandmother was born in Minnesota Territory. She was not from the east but did move east to Milan Ohio with her family around 1897. Grandma was also a teacher. She had been a good student in her younger years and as a result began teaching primary school at the age of 15 in Minnesota and later in the Berlin-Milan rural schools. [NOTE: One should note that it was not unusual for a young person to teach youngsters that were not much youngerr than themselves. To be sure potential teachers were tested to qualify, but times were different, and some students used to pay attention in class.]
The basic mix-up may be because that Etta Place was almost certainly not Longabaugh’s girlfriend’s real name, but no one knows for sure what it might have been. Moreover, little to nothing is known about her early life prior to her meeting “Sundance”. And to make things foggier (or not) it seems that “Place” was Longabaugh's mother's maiden name.
What is known however is that in 1901, Ms. Place accompanied Longabaugh to New York where the accompanying portrait of the couple was made. They were thought to have been married around this time. In February, the couple is said to have traveled to Argentina with Butch Cassidy, where they bought a ranch. According to information from the Pinkerton Detective Agency, Place and Longabaugh returned to the US in 1902 and in 1904. They were, however, gone before the law caught up with them. Place is said to have returned to the US for good in 1906, and Longabaugh (along with Butch Cassidy) is, as those who have seen the movie know were thought to have died in a shootout in Bolivia in 1908. In 1909, a woman fitting Place's description requested Longabaugh's death certificate in Bolivia, but never received it. After that, the fate of Etta Place is completely unknown, although many have speculated about her later life under another name.
While all that was taking place my grandmother married my grandfather, Pearl Roscoe on the 27th day of June in 1900 in Erie County, Ohio. She was, and had been, working as a schoolteacher in a one-room school in the Berlin-Milan district for two years by that time. In 1901 the couple purchased The Vermilion News weekly paper and print shop. And in 1906 my mother was born there.
Researcher Larry Pointer, author of the 1977 book In Search of Butch Cassidy, wrote that Place's identity and fate are "one of the most intriguing riddles in western history.” While I certainly don’t deny that to be the case; and I kinda wish that Grandma was in fact the “Outlaw Queen” Etta Place, I am sorry to report to Chris from Aurora Colorado and others that Elizabeth “Bessie” Bottomley-Roscoe wasn’t her. As an amateur historian I would advise ye that chasing shadows is an occupational hazard. Just ask my cat.
Vermilion resident Rich Tarrant is Curator of the Vermilion History Museum and a son and a grandson of the late proprietors of The Vermilion News (1897-1964). Readers may email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org