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Searching For The Sundance Kid's Spirit

Courtesy Crook County Museum (WY)



The Black Hills town of Deadwood has a reputation for ghostly encounters at all times of the year – not just on Halloween. So many, in fact, that it’s almost hard to keep track of whose spirit is floating around Deadwood – and where. Today we go in search of a spirit whose presence no one has reported…yet.

Mount Moriah Cemetery…round midnight. The streets below are quiet after a weekend of Halloween revelry; an annual tradition in Deadwood.

But up here – in the graveyard…who knows. 

The spirits are said to walk about – at night and during the day – in the Old West town where historical figures like Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane once loomed larger than life. Many are still larger than life – even in death.

I’m here in search of one not generally associated with Deadwood. His name was Harry Alonzo Longabaugh.

You may know him as The Sundance Kid. 

Legend says he was tall, handsome and fast with a gun. History says he was a bank robber. His exploits with Butch Cassidy brought him renewed world fame from the Western film that bore their names.

The Sundance Kid’s story begins in Pennsylvania, where he was born. It ends – for our purposes – in the old Lawrence County jail, in Deadwood.  Mary Kopco, executive director of the Deadwood History group, explains. 

“The Wild Bunch gang, of which the Sundance Kid was a part of…they decide they’re going to go in and rob a bank,” Kopco explains. “Because they figure there’ll be a lot of money there.”

The target is the Butte County Bank, in Belle Fourche. The year is 1897. It’s June. But it’s a botched robbery. All of the thieves get away except one named Tom O’Day.

Credit Courtesy Deadwood History, Adams Museum Collection, Deadwood, S.D.
The Lawrence County Jail - Deadwood, S.D.

“Because the jail in Belle had burned down the night before, they have to send him to Deadwood to the Lawrence County jail,” Kopco continues. “And the Sundance Kid at this point is being accused by the Pinkertons for being involved in this robbery. And he wasn’t actually involved. The Sundance Kid had been working on a ranch. And then he catches up with the gang and they decided to go to Red Lodge, Montana and rob a bank there.” 

Bad timing. The gang, including the Sundance Kid, is arrested by a posse and taken to the Lawrence County jail.  The date is September 24.

“By October, they march the guys out and take them over to the photographer and they had these mug shots taken of them,” Kopco says. “And what’s really exciting to me is that we have those original photographs in our collection. But we don’t have one of the Sundance Kid.”

Hmm. Mary Kopco says historians are certain the Suudance Kid was in the Lawrence County jail, until – that is – the night of October 31…Halloween.  That’s when the Sundance Kid…disappeared.

“In 1897, Halloween fell on a Sunday evening,” Kopco explains. “So, the deputy sheriff and his wife and just gone to church and they were coming back to put the boys back in their individual cells. So, the deputy sheriff goes in and, of course, they jump him…beat him up…grab the wife…nab here and throw her in the jail and they all took off.”

Credit Courtesy Deadwood History, Adams Museum Collection, Deadwood, S.D.
Bars from Lawrence County Jail

And that’s the last that South Dakotans ever saw of the Sundance Kid…who “reportedly” died in Bolivia in 1908.  Or is it?

“I am not familiar with any stories of the Sundance Kid….the ghost of the Sundance Kid…being seen in Deadwood,” Kopco admits. “But…it wouldn’t surprise me.”

After all, says Mary Kopco, ghostly apparitions are a common occurrence in the town.  And the Kid did escape on Halloween, she adds, which is when the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead is thinnest. 

“If I was a ghost and I had been jailed in Deadwood and I had escaped on Halloween night,” Kopco says, “I might come back and haunt that place because…you have to remember the Sundance Kid was mad because he got nabbed for a crime he didn’t commit.”

A telephone call to the current resident of the home built on the spot where the Lawrence County Jail once stood results in a comment that they prefer not to discuss the Sundance Kid…period.

That avenue of ghost hunting closed, I find myself taking the steep climb to Mount Moriah where strange things have been reported near Wild Bill Hickok’s grave. Maybe Sundance will stop by.

Here on Mount Moriah - in the cemetery, time stands still for all those who reside here. There’s no sign of The Sundance Kid…at least none that I can see.

Still, unlike the owl, our eyes can’t look everywhere. There’s no telling if anyone is with me as I make my way back down into town. There’s no way to tell if Harry Alonzo Longabaugh has finally gotten over the humiliation of being wrongly accused and confined in the old Deadwood jail.

And if anyone on Mount Moriah knows – they’re not talking.