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Wyoming grad student chasing history of Butch Cassidy

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"The warden actually liked Butch because he was charismatic," Amend said.

"As charismatic as he was, he wasn’t caught talking. He obeyed the rules," she added, citing the prison’s enforced codes of constant silence among convicts.

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The south wing features photos of Cassidy — one of him and the Wild Bunch and another of him just before lock up at the territorial prison — and two posters from the 1969 movie, "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," starring Paul Newman as Butch and Robert Redford as Sundance. It also includes Butch and Sundance comics, dolls and other collectibles issued following the movie’s release.

Blewer’s research included pouring over countless documents and books, interviewing Cassidy researchers, authors and family descendants, and visiting places where the outlaw was rumored to have stayed. He’s even visited some of the 50-odd sites believed to be Cassidy’s final resting place.

The burial site, like Cassidy’s death, is subject to debate.

It’s believed by some that Butch and Sundance died in a shootout with authorities in November 1908 in San Vicente in southern Bolivia, however, there have also been witnesses who contend the outlaws survived and later returned to the U.S.

The 2011 movie, "Blackthorn," fictionalizes Cassidy’s life 20 years after the 1908 Bolivian incident.

Blewer said the unsolved mysteries propel the Cassidy myth.

"We know today the man is dead," he said. "We just don’t know where he died."

The myths, legends and speculation surrounding Cassidy are indicative of a culture still fascinated by the outlaw, he said, his likeness forever freeze-framed by Newman’s portrayal with "Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head" humming in the background.

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"It’s almost like people didn’t want to let these legends die," Blewer said. "And that kind of epitomizes Butch Cassidy."

He believes Cassidy returned to the U.S. from Bolivia.

"Exactly what happened, I think that would be incredibly arrogant for me to say (definitively)," Blewer said. "We don’t know what happened. Personally, I believe Butch Cassidy did come back."

Over the years, people in the West have reported meeting or seeing Cassidy post-1908, testimony that helps shape Blewer’s belief.

"I don’t think they were delirious," he said. "Josie Bassett, of Browns Park. Hank Boedeker, a lawman from Lander. His own family. However, if it wasn’t Butch Cassidy they met and it was an impostor, like William Phillips, who impersonated Butch Cassidy in later years, and he fooled all of these people — that would have been the perfect performance, worthy of an Oscar."

Blewer, whose nickname is short for his middle name, MacGregor, will graduate from UW in December with his master’s in historical geography. He completed his undergraduate degree in environmental biology from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

A Laramie resident for three years, he said he’s open to staying in the community following graduation. His book will also be released to the public in January.

Following graduation, he’d like to find a research or teaching position. Somewhere in the West, he said, with its rich histories and traditions of outlaws and bandits, would be ideal, but returning home to the Northeast is also appealing.

No matter the career path or projects he takes on in the future, Blewer believes it’s unlikely he’ll ever find a research subject as compelling as Cassidy, the anti-hero whose legend lives on.

"In the pantheon of American outlaws, he’s up there," he said. "If he’s not Zeus, he’s Apollo. I think Butch Cassidy and Jesse James take the cake.

"Researching any historical figure is fascinating, but I don’t think there is anyone like Butch Cassidy."

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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