The Mystery of Ann Bassett and Etta Place

There are many women who lived in the Old West who have fascinating histories. Unfortunately, their life stories have not been very well documented. When people have tried to research their stories, their findings have raised more questions than they have answered, and this has given the women a sense of mystery. Two particularly mysterious women are Ann Bassett and Etta Place.

According to records, Ann Bassett was born in 1878 and raised on a cattle ranch in Brown’s Park, which was an area that covered Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado. Although there were members of the cattle baron’s association who wanted their ranch, her parents refused to sell, and this led to them becoming victims of cattle rustling.

Not wanting to be done down by these events, Elizabeth Barrett, Ann’s mother, decided to play them at their own game and began rustling from the barons. Within a few years, Ann had taken over the rustling game and became known as ‘Queen Ann’.

Frequent visitors to their ranch was the outlaw Butch Cassidy and his Wild Bunch as they were moving stolen cattle and horses through the ranch. At the age of 15, Ann began an on-off relationship with Butch Cassidy. She never saw him again after he fled to South America in 1901.

She soon found love again as in 1903, she married Henry Bernard who was the manager of a rival branch. The early years of their marriage didn’t go too well because Ann was arrested for cattle rustling, although she was later acquitted, and her husband was fired from his job. Their marriage ended after six years. Barrett then married for a second time, this time to cattle rancher Frank Willis. The couple lived in Utah and Barrett remained there until she died in 1956.

Etta Place was also born in 1878, although it is believed that this was not her real name. Very little information is known about her childhood as she only became a person of interest when she began dating Harry Longabaugh, who is better known as the Sundance Kid. His mother’s maiden name was Place, so there are theories that Etta adopted this name as her own.

Longabaugh and Place traveled to New York in 1901 and this is known because the couple had a portrait done there. It is also thought that they married at this time. In the February of that year, the couple went to Argentina with Butch Cassidy and the trio bought a ranch together. The law was after both Longabaugh and Place. Although they both returned to the United States in 1902 and 1904, the law was unable to catch up with them.

Etta Place finally returned to the United States for good in 1906, but without Longabaugh. Although there are no official records and their remains were never identified, it is believed that both Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid died in 1908 in a shootout in Bolivia. The following year, a woman who is said to have fit the description of Etta Place requested a copy of the death certificate of Longabaugh but did not receive it. Nothing is known of what happened to Etta Place after this.

This has led to much speculation about who Etta Place really was and various theories have been bandied around. Other than the period between 1900 and 1907, there is little evidence of her existence. Just some of the theories about her identity have suggested that she was a prostitute from Fannie Porter’s Place in San Antonio or a schoolteacher from Texas who became a runaway mother.

One of the most interesting theories is that Etta Place is actually Ann Bassett as their descriptions and photographs are remarkably similar. Historian Doris Karren Burton concluded that they were the same woman in a book she published in 1992. Her view was supported by Dr. Thomas G. Kyle. He compared photographs of the women on a computer in Los Alamos National Laboratory and the data revealed that the two women were one and the same. This was confirmed as both women had a small scar on their scalp.

According to the theory, Ann Bassett simply changed her name for the period of time when she was on the run with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. When she returned to the United States, he simply reverted to her former name. This makes sense as they are not mentioned together in the same parts of history. Relevant dates seem to have either Ann or Etta in them but never both.

The exception to this is the period between 1904 and 1905. While Ann Bassett was definitely in the United States as she had married and been arrested, there is evidence that Etta Place was in several locations in South America during this period. This puts some doubt over the theory that they were the same woman. Could it possibly be the case that the women simply looked very much alike but were, in fact, two different women? It is unlikely that this mystery will ever be solved.

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