Riding the Outlaw Trail
Simon Casson and Richard Adamson
(Eye Books, London, England, 2011), 291 pp., soft cover, $12.95
Review by Mike Youngman, posted 2 February, 2013
The two authors and Barbara Whittome, all British adventurers, decided to retrace the “Outlaw Trail” from Mexico to Canada as ridden by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Inspired by the William Goldman movie about the outlaws, the trio was warned of the difficulty of their task by ranchers native to the area, but they persevered despite little experience with the terrain.
Interspersing daily accounts of their travails with historical accounts of the outlaw adventures, the authors give their viewpoint of the events of the day, which often include disagreements, bickering, and unforeseen difficulties with horses, supplies, equipment, maps, rendezvous, injuries, and disappointments. The Code of the West was tested many times during the trip.
The weary crew was frequently welcomed unconditionally to food, bed, and camaraderie by strangers. There were significant exceptions, as once in a while they were told to “git” in an unfriendly manner. But American hospitality received high marks from the travelers as they wended their way to the Canadian border.
Daunting physical hardships and philosophical differences about the treatment of animals prompted Whittome to abandon the trip halfway. Casson and Adamson found the absence of Whittome simplified interpersonal harmony and the logistics of packing and unpacking, camping, main- taining horses, and decision-making.
Casson in particular marveled at the toughness and endurance of the frontier outlaws who routinely traveled this escape route while evading pursuit. The Trail winnowed the weak, the unreliable or the contentious as they fell by the wayside. In the beginning, Casson romanticized about the traveling trio as the embodiment of Cassidy, Longabaugh, and Etta Place in flight, but hard-bitten realities of daily survival soon evaporated the daydreaming. The authors’ constant concern was for the horses, for fear they might pull up lame, fall unexpectedly and break equipment, suffer wear wounds from packs, or exhibit unruly temperament. Inaccurate and outdated maps were another source of frustration, causing extended detours that increased fatigue and lengthened riding time for both man and horse.
Many aficionados of the history of the American West wonder how the outlaws survived in that daunting environment, and if it was an exciting existence. As Riding the Outlaw Trail amply demonstrates, each generation in its own environment provides its own unique and daunting challenges, and perhaps we are all born into the situation that fits us best.