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The Mysterious Etta Place

Updated on May 28, 2011

Sundance and Etta

Etta Place became a legendary figure for three reasons.  First, she rode with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.   Then Hollywood made her more famous with a major motion picture and she was beautiful. It’s also said she may have been the mistress of both.

People who knew her said she was the most beautiful and wildest woman in the Old West.  But she is also the most mysterious as facts about her life are shrouded in obscurity.  Not much is known about Etta. And what is known came subject to exaggeration by dime novels and the motion picture industry.

Eyewitness accounts claim she was the second woman to ride into the gangs’ hideaway in southern Utah known as the “Robber's Roost.” That was in the winter of 1896-97 when she would’ve been about 20 years old. She was allegedly 20 years old at the time. It was said she was an excellent rifle shot and horsewoman.

No one knows for certain anything else about her. Where she was born and grew up, her occupation prior to joining the gang, how many children she might have had and when she died remains a mystery.  Her date of birth is calculated to be around 1878 but the date of her passing is unknown.

What most know about the trio is based on Hollywood's version. The Wild Bunch, as the gang was known, fled to South America during shortly after the turn of the century and most members of the gang took their women with them.  South American authorities are reputed to have killed many in the gang.

So much is in question concerning this female outlaw. Was her name really Etta Place? On several documents she signed her name as Ethel. Some believe her last name was really Thayne.  Others believe it was Ingerfield.  Perhaps it may never be known.

Much contradiction exists as to she was.  Some reports describe her as a highly refined, educated woman born in the East.  On the other hand, others say she was allegedly a prostitute with ties to Texas. Some maintain she was born in Denver, Colorado and either married a schoolteacher or was one.

Did she die in the Bolivian shootout of 1908? Soldiers killed two men and a woman in a saloon ruckus then, but no one can verify if it was indeed Butch, Sundance and Etta.

According to a Pinkerton Detective Agency report Etta was killed in a shootout in March 1922. Another report states she committed suicide in 1924, while yet another, claims she died of natural causes in 1966.

Most of what is actually known about Etta comes from Pinkerton Detective Agency reports. An agency memo dated July 29, 1902, has Etta being from Texas and another document dated 1906, described her as being 27 to 28 years old, placing her birth around 1878.

Despite Butch and Sundance’s fame it was the disappearance of Etta which fueled the publics’ interest in her. Accounts have the three and others of the gang moving back and forth between South America and the United States.  Apparently, Etta tired of life on the run. Therefore on June 30, 1906 Sundance accompanied her from Valparaiso, Chile, to San Francisco where it’s thought she remained while he returned to South America.  Most generally believe Sundance died in 1908.

Etta was known to still be residing in San Francisco on July 31, 1909.  A woman using the name Ethel tried to obtain Sundances' death certificate following a shootout in San Vicente. The request was made in order to settle his estate. The woman who made the inquiry was described as being very pretty. Tat was the last anyone ever heard of her.

However, there was another intriguing theory floating around.  Etta Place might have been a woman named Eunice Gray.   Gray purportedly operated a bordello in Fort Worth, Texas and later ran the Waco Hotel there until her death in January 1962.

Gray once told the Fort Worth Press "I've lived in Fort Worth since 1901. That is except for the time I had to high-tail it out of town” she said.  “…went to South America for a few years until things settled down." The paper admitted Gray never claimed to be Etta Place.  They merely assumed it was given the similarities of their age, the period which Gray said she went to South America and Etta’s time in South America. However, there were no known photographs at the time to compare the two.

Recently, an amateur genealogist found Eunice Gray’s name on a 1911 passenger list from Panama in 2007.  Tracking that information, a niece of Eunice Gray was discovered who had two photographs of her.  A comparison of the photos determined Eunice Gray was not Etta Place.



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    • CASE1WORKER profile image

      CASE1WORKER 6 years ago from UNITED KINGDOM

      absolutely fascinating- well done

    • Seeker7 profile image

      Helen Murphy Howell 6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

      Fascinating Hub. I always wondered what some of the more realistic facts might have been about this lady, rather than, as you say, the Hollywood version.