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As Americans recognized Black History Month in February, an incorrect claim about a famous outlaw appeared on Facebook.
"The ‘Sundance Kid’ was an outlaw and member of Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch in the American Old West," reads the text over what looks like an old portrait of a black man and woman. "He is pictured here with girlfriend Etta Place."
The post, which was published on Facebook on Feb. 26, was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
Etta Place was the girlfriend of the Sundance Kid, né Harry Alonzo Longabaugh. In the 1969 movie "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," Longabaugh was played by Robert Redford and Place was played by Katharine Ross.
But a photo of the real-life pair does not resemble the Facebook post. Sundance, by historical accounts, had white skin. The picture posted on Facebook is not Longabaugh and Place.
Some history: Longabaugh got his nickname after stealing a horse near Sundance, Wyo., in 1887. He met Place in the mid 1890s and the duo dovetailed with Butch Cassidy after taking up in a tent at Robbers Roost, an outlaw hideout in southeastern Utah, according to History.com.
Longabaugh was supposedly the best shot and fastest gunslinger in the Wild Bunch, a group of "robbers and rustlers who ranged through the Rocky Mountains and plateau desert regions of the West in the 1880s and ‘90s," a post on Britannica says.
In the introduction to a 2009 book about Longabaugh, one of his descendants, Paul Ernst, writes that an ancestor of the outlaw emigrated from Germany to the Colonies in the 1770s. (PolitiFact wrote the publisher of the book in hopes of reaching Ernst or his wife, Donna Ernst, who wrote the biography, but we did not immediately receive a response.)
We couldn’t find the origins of the photo on Facebook. A Reddit post from last year describes the image as a couple in the late 1800s. In 2015, a Twitter account named Black History Heroes calls it a "vintage tintype photograph of African American couple, circa late 1800s."
In the 19th century, according to PBS, "the Wild West drew enslaved blacks with the hope of freedom and wages." African-Americans made up at least a quarter of cowboys, the broadcasting system said in a post about black history facts, and it’s believed that the real "Lone Ranger" was inspired by a black man named Bass Reeves.
Of course, we can’t tell someone’s race from a photo. But two photos here of Longabaugh, including one from the Library of Congress, do not look like the image that appeared on Facebook. Neither does this one.
When we asked John Barton, a history lecturer at Utah State University, about the Facebook post he said: "good picture, but not Sundance and Etta." He shared several photos of the actual couple, including one taken in New York before they went to South America with Butch Cassidy.
"He was not black," Barton said. "The Sundance Kid," by Donna Ernst, "is quite clear on his early years. There was a black outlaw named Isom Dart that rode with Butch and Sundance from time to time. That might be the confusion."
We rate the Facebook post False.
Facebook post, Feb. 26, 2019
History.com, "6 things you might not know about Butch Cassidy," March 31, 2015
Britannica, "Sundance Kid," visited March 4, 2019
Arizona State University, "Butch Cassidy (1866-1908) and the Sundance Kid (1870-1908)," visited March 4, 2019
IMDB, "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," visited March 4, 2019
Reddit post, 2018
Twitter post, March 15, 2015
PBS, "Ten little known black history facts," visited March 4, 2019
Email interview with John Barton, principal lecturer, history, Utah State University Uintah Basin Regional Campus, March 4, 2019
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