Originally written and published by Charles Kelly in 1938, this copy of The Outlaw Trail is the 1996 reprint of Kelly’s expanded and revised edition (1959) of the book. As it proclaims on the cover, The Outlaw Trail is “A History of Butch Cassidy & His Wild Bunch,” focusing on the biography and criminal feats of Butch Cassidy and his fellow bandits. The popular interest in outlaws inspired by this book reached its peak in 1969 when it served as a template for William Goldman’s screenplay and George Hill’s directing of the film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Although Kelly himself complained that Hollywood stole and abused of his material without his consent, viewers familiar with his writings feel that Paul Newman’s version of “Butch – affable, curious and nonviolent” – closely resembled the one presented in The Outlaw Trail.
In this work, Kelly focuses on specific robberies Butch Cassidy and his band of outlaws pulled off, with chapters sporting titles such as “The Telluride Bank Robbery.” His accounts include many primary source documents surrounding the events and a large number of first-hand interviews with surviving accomplices who worked with Butch Cassidy himself. Kelly also went out of his way to interview many of Butch’s friends, relatives and even enemies (e.g. Sheriff John T. Pope) so as to be able to paint a more personal picture of the famed outlaw outside of his criminal career.
Unsurprisingly, when the original edition of The Outlaw Trail was written, many “old-timers” were hesitant to talk Kelly about their relationship with Butch Cassidy. At the time, citizens of Utah felt that Kelly’s unabashed “history of the West [was] still too recent, and [that] delving into the lives of those on the wrong side of the law [could] be extremely touchy.” Yet after the book’s great success following its privately funded publication (though a man of simple means, Kelly himself was a printer by trade), Kelly received numerous letters from previously silent parties, which expanded on the events he had described and corrected errors in his work. The steady flow of information he received ultimately allowed him to release his greatly revised edition of the book over twenty years later.